Visitors (Presidential and Otherwise) Have Made the Scene

History and Landscape
Published May 13, 1999

Visitors (Presidential and Otherwise) Have Made the Scene

| Published May 13, 1999

President Franklin Delano Roosevelt spoke at the Robert Treat Hotel in 1936. The Newark Public Library

Famous visitors have beaten a path to Newark from earliest days to present times.

President Clinton recently appeared before a $2.1 million fund-raiser for Sen. Robert Torricelli at the New Jersey Performing Arts Center. A dozen and a half other U.S. presidents have made stops in Newark. George Washington, John Adams and James Monroe were all here before 1817 in their respective roles as soldier, campaigner and president. President Lincoln stopped briefly on his way to his inauguration. In 1865, his funeral train slowly passed through the city. Ulysses S. Grant appeared at the great Industrial Exposition of 1872, and Benjamin Harrison came to town to visit state Sen. William Sewell. William Howard Taft was in Newark at a Newark Board of Trade dinner in the old Krueger Auditorium to mark the 150th anniversary of St. John's Lodge. He also took part in a Lincoln Birthday celebration. Herbert Hoover spoke to a packed house at the Mosque Theatre (Symphony Hall) after an earlier address at New York's Madison Square Garden in 1932. Woodrow Wilson was in Newark as governor. Grover Cleveland was originally from Caldwell, and Teddy Roosevelt helped dedicate the seated Lincoln statue in front of the Essex County Court House in 1905. Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt assured the country of its stability during the Great Depression, Harry Truman visited Newark City Hall, Eisenhower used the airport and John F. Kennedy rode in an open car up Broad Street to an adoring array of admirers.

George Washington

Washington spent five days in Newark in November 1776, beginning on the 22nd. As his tired troops crossed over the Passaic River at Aquackanonk (modern-day Belleville), their defeat seemed inevitable. Washinton's troops had suffered losses at Long Island in August; Kips Bays in September; White Plains in October and Fort Washington and Fort Lee in mid-November. While the war could have ended at Newark, it did not, for Cornwallis and his troops were tired, too. A temporary halt to military plans was mutually agreed upon. Washington's Newark headquarters was never really known. Some thought he stayed at the Coe House, near today's Star-Ledger building, but it was not yet built. Others speculated that he stayed in the north end of town; that was unlikely, since it was too close to enemy lines. Probably, he lodged at the Eagle Tavern on old Broad Street, near the site of William Street. Or, perhaps he stayed with his friend and compatriot, the Rev. Alexander McWhorter. Washington also is thought to have dined on several occasions at Capt. Nathaniel Camp's home at the southeast corner of Camp and Broad streets. Farther uptown, Thomas Paine, author of 'The American Crisis,' is believed to have been living in a tent in Military Park when he wrote his famous first line 'These are the times that try men's souls. The summer soldier and sunrise patriot will in this crisis, shrink from the service of history and country; but he that stands by it now deserves the love and thanks of man and woman.'

Blennerhassett and Lafayette

On August 18, 1796, Harmon Blennerhassett, friend and associate of Newark's Aaron Burr Jr., who became vice president, visited town. He wrote, 'Newark possessed sufficient attractions within itself to induce me to tarry there for some days. Newark as a village, which it more resembles than a town, is perhaps the handsomest in the world. Of extent nearly three miles, it is seated in a plain, clear and level as a parlor floor, on the banks of the Passaic by gently swelling hills. Its academy, courthouse and two neat buildings for public worship, added to nine stages, which, beside an infinity of wagons, pass through it every day, give an air of business and gaiety to the place. It is also the residence of many private families of respectability.' In 1824 and 1825, the Marquis de Lafayette visited Newark. The general entered town from Jersey City, across the Bridge Street bridge. The bridge's 13 arches, each representing one of the colonies, were decorated with flowers. During Lafayette's stay and that of his son, George Washington Lafayette, stops were made at St. John's Lodge, the Morton Hotel and the Third Presbyterian Church.

Andrew Jackson

Jackson's visit came during a national election year. He was accompanied by his vice president, Martin Van Buren. Jackson spent his time campaigning for his second term in office. He rode from Philadelphia to New Brunswick by coach, traveled to Elizabeth by horse, and from there took the ferry to New York City. In Manhattan, Jackson was at the Castle Garden when a bridge over which he was to pass gave way. One hundred people, including the secretary of war, were thrown into the water. Fortunately, there were no fatalities. Jackson next traveled to Jersey City for breakfast at the home of Cadwallader Colden. He crossed the Meadows and approached Newark via the old turnpike, where he was met by a committee of citizens and thousands of spectators. The President rode a noble charger with unusual grace. His head was uncovered, and he bowed continually as he passed through the principle streets of town. The purpose of his trip was political, although his task was to view the newly completed Morris Canal. Today the canal's site is occupied by the Newark City Subway and paved over by Raymond Boulevard. After a reception, Jackson gave a speech at Military Park, visited Park House on Park Place, and enjoyed lunch at the home of William Wright. The local press described him as 'a man of ordinary size, with erect and graceful form, lean and striking and usually wearing spectacles.'

Henry Clay

On November 20, 1833, Sen. Henry Clay visited Newark. He was welcomed with open arms 'because of his powerful and effective championship of the protective tariff.' Clay also approached the city by way of the Newark Meadows. He was met in New York and was escorted to town by a committee of Newarkers who accompanied him to the Park House on Military Park, where he was greeted by Amzi Dodd. A large crowd also waited for the popular statesman to arrive. It is difficult to describe the reputation that Henry Clay enjoyed. One source said, 'His enemies denounced him as a pretender, a selfish intriguer, and an abandoned profligate; (but) his supporters placed him among the sages and even among the saints.' When he began to speak or debate, his voice was once declared to be 'the most musical instrument ever heard.' Almost single-handedly, Clay pressed for a high tariff of tremendous benefit to Newark's factory owners. In his honor, they hosted what the press called the 'most brilliant reception ever known in Newark with the possible exception of that given in 1824 to the Marquis de Lafayette.' Following the festivities, Clay toured Rankin's hat factory, where he was given a beaver hat. He also went to Smith and Wright's saddle and leather factory, where John P. Jackson urged him to 'accept these memorials from those who are indebted to your liberality and enlarged policy of protecting the domestic industry of our country.' Before his return to New York, Clay and his 'respected lady' received a Newark-manufactured carriage from the company of John Clark and Son. Clay profusely thanked his Newark friends for the other gifts showered upon him.

Louis Kossuth

One of Newark's most colorful and exotic 19th century visitors was Louis Kossuth, a Hungarian revolutionary, lawyer, fiery orator and anti-Austrian agitator who visited Newark in 1852. Kossuth, for whom a street in the Ironbound section is named, briefly served as president of an independent Hungary before Russian intervention on behalf of Austria caused its dissolution. Years later, the country was reunified under the dual crowns of the Austrian-Hungarian Empire. Kossuth fled to Turkey, later visited the United Kingdom and the United States, and eventually took up residence in Great Britain. His American visit led him to Philadelphia in April 1852, and later to Burlington, Trenton, Jersey City and Newark. On the day of his arrival in Newark, the city experienced a tremendous rainstorm. Unpaved Broad Street was reduced to a muddy river, so messy that the greater part of the military parade had to be abandoned. Instead of being transported in a carriage, the Hungarian visitor rode in a flat-bottom boat pulled by four horses. The town leaders were so embarrassed they soon called for the paving of all of Broad Street. At the Centre Street railway station, crowds gathered in Kossuth's honor were so great it was hard to move. Guns boomed a salute as the procession arrived at Military Park. The sidewalks were filled with all manner of soldiers and German club members dressed in colorful uniforms. The parade marshal, Col. A. C. M. Pennington, and his colleagues, were on horseback and wore Hungarian hats and tri-colored scarves. At City Hall, Mayor Quimby and ex-Chancellor Halstead greeted the foreign statesman from a second-floor balcony. As the procession left City Hall and proceeded down Broad Street, the 'scow' was drawn by four horses. Horns blew, and the muddy waves splashed into the bottom of the boat, creating a real mess. The next day even more honors were bestowed upon the distinguished visitor, including a banquet and a torchlight parade. As a result of the festivities, money was raised for Kossuth's cause, and Broad Street was finally paved.

Abraham Lincoln

Abraham Lincoln was in Newark on his way to Washington for his inauguration. In death, his funeral train traveled through the city on its way to Lincoln's resting place in Illinois. Lincoln first came to Newark on February 21, 1861, when a train from Jersey City brought him to Newark's Morris and Essex Railroad station to meet with Mayor Bigelow. In a brief speech, Lincoln thanked the mayor and assured the city of his devotion to the Union. 'I hope to be sustained by Divine Providence in the work I have been called upon to perform for this great, free, happy and intelligent people,' he said. 'Without this I cannot succeed.' The president-elect was then driven down Broad Street in a coach drawn by four white horses. Traveling with him were Col. Ellsworth of the Chicago Zouaves, who was later killed in Alexandria, Va., when he moved a Confederate flag from the Marshall House. Heavy snow fell on the procession as it went down Broad Street past the thousands of onlookers who had come to catch a glimpse of their next president. A reporter noted, 'The scene in Broad Street while the procession was passing was magnificent, and must have made a favorable impression upon the mind of Mr. Lincoln.' An estimated 25,000 people crowded the street as the entourage passed down Broad Street to another railroad station. As it went by, children from the Chestnut Street Public School sang and cheered Lincoln.

The day that Lincoln's funeral cortege passed through Newark—April 24, 1864—was one of the saddest days in the city's history. Superintendent of Schools George B. Sears declined to close schools, fearing that school children might be hurt. He made their parents take the responsibility for their safety. Shortly before 9 o'clock, the members of the common council, city officers, clergy, a detachment of Veteran Reserve Corps and the city police, took possession of the Market Street station. After removing the crowd, they awaited the arrival of the train, whose approach had been announced by the arrival of the pilot locomotive heavily draped in mourning. The train's appearance was heralded by the tolling of bells and firing of minute guns. As it passed slowly along, heads remained bowed and many tears were shed.

Ulysses S. Grant

Both Grant, who was president, and Horace Greeley, his challenger, took part in the Newark Industrial Exhibition of 1872 at the old skating rink on Washington Street. Greeley, during his September 17 stay, said his view of Newark 40 years before was the city was then 'a smart, rather struggling but busy village of almost ten thousand inhabitants one-twelfth of its present population being about the same characteristic it does now.' A few days later, Grant visited the exhibition. He, too, expressed his amazement at the many Newark-made goods so lavishly displayed in the exhibition halls. Another visitor, Benjamin F. Butler of Massachusetts, said he did not 'believe any other city in the United States could do what Newark had done in the way of an industrial exhibition.' The Right Rev. William Henry Odenheimer, Episcopal bishop of New Jersey, took note of 'the superb specimens of skilled handicraft ranging from the most delicate to the most ponderous, all displayed with remarkable taste, must place Newark workmen and workwomen in the first rank of inventive and operative genius.' If any one impression beyond all others was left in the visitors' minds, it was the perfection of Newark work.