Hail to the Chief; Truckee-Tahoe stops popular with our nation’s leaders
The attention of a nation will briefly focus on our region when President Bill Clinton and Vice President Al Gore visit North Tahoe later this week.
This summer’s summit meeting represents a longstanding tradition of visits from current and former residents of the White House to the Sierra.
During the past few years, both former President Bush and his running mate Dan Quayle have visited Tahoe -Bush was the guest of casino mogul Steve Wynn and Quayle tried his hand at golf during South Shore’s annual celebrity tournament.
Because of its location along the lines of the Central Pacific Railroad, Truckee has been the setting of several historical presidential visits, which included former presidents Grant, Hayes, Roosevelt, Garfield, Cleveland and McKinley.
Ulysses S. Grant, commander of the Union army during the Civil War and 18th president, made a historic stop in Truckee in October 1879 while campaigning for a third presidential term. Grant had served two terms as a Republican between 1869 and 1877, and was seeking nomination by the Stalwarts (Old Guard Republicans) in 1880 against Rutherford B. Hayes.
Prior to his stop in Truckee, Grant had visited Sacramento where he was greeted by thousands of supporters, including a large contingent from Truckee. Although not originally planned, his visit to Truckee stemmed from his urge to see Lake Tahoe. The trip also included stops in Virginia City and Carson City.
The arrival of the special train was slightly delayed by several stops along the way during which Grant observed the spectacular views of the summit lakes. He also visited the snowsheds and made a special stop to take in the splendor of Donner Lake.
Meanwhile in Truckee, town residents excitedly prepared to greet its most prestigious visitor. Flags and banners decorated most of the buildings along Front Street. A large crowd gathered near the freight depot to catch the first glimpse of the approaching train.
In those days, passenger trains stopped directly in front of J.F. Moody’s Truckee Hotel, which burned to the ground April 26, 1900. The huge hotel was located south of the railroad tracks between today’s Taco Station and Andy’s Truckee Diner.
Moody not only owned the town’s largest hotel, but also the passenger depot and stage lines which carried freight and people to Lake Tahoe, Donner Lake and Sierra Valley.
In anticipation of Grant’s visit, hundreds of men, women and children thronged the porch and platform in front of the hotel, waving and cheering as the train approached.
The Truckee Fire Department’s band played snappy marches as the excitement grew.
As he stepped from the special passenger car, President Grant smiled and seemed pleased. He doffed his hat in acknowledgment to waves and cheers of the crowd. He received and shook hands with Moody, C.F. McGlashan and many other leading residents.
The Truckee Republican later reported: “As the party stepped from the Palace Car, Moody’s magnificent excursion coach the ‘Big Bonanza’ stood waiting to receive them. The coach had been tastefully decorated with flags and evergreen. Coach driver Eli Church sat on the box holding the ribbons over six of Moody’s best horses.”
A number of Truckeeans accompanied the party to Lake Tahoe. President Grant drove the coach part of the way and, upon arrival at Tahoe City, the swift iron boat “Meteor” received the party before traveling to McKinney’s and then to Glenbrook. Accompanying the Meteor were the vessels “Niagara” and “Stanford,” both handsomely decorated and loaded with waving passengers.
It was later reported that President Grant seemed delighted and pleased with every portion of the trip. Less than a year later, President Rutherford B. Hayes, 19th president, greeted another cheering crowd in Truckee Sept. 9, 1880. Hayes’ visit came during his effort to seek his second term in office.
Hayes’ presidential party included Civil War Gen. William T. Sherman. After making stops in Reno and Virginia City, the entourage proceeded by rail to Lake Tahoe; it then traveled across the lake by steamer where it was met by Moody’s coaches and returned to Truckee.
President Hayes was greeted by California Gov. Perkins and brief speeches were made by both the president and Gen. Sherman. Mrs. Hayes was loudly applauded when she appeared. The Truckee Republican later reported: “The whole affair went off smoothly and satisfactorily to all concerned.”
Truckee’s third presidential visit was May 25, 1901, when McKinley came through town on his return to Washington. He greeted a waving crowd from the rear platform of the train. The Truckee Republican reported: “His brief stop in Truckee will be cherished with a grateful, happy sense of satisfaction and pride by all who saw him and the memory of his kind face will not fade with the passing years but live to stimulate love, loyalty and devotion to the highest office of our land and the great, grand, good government over which he presides.”
On May 19, 1903, the largest crowd ever assembled in Truckee congregated near the depot to greet President Theodore Roosevelt. The Truckee Citizen’s Committee presented the president with a large basket of Donner Lake trout and a handsome Indian basket. It was reported Roosevelt was greatly pleased with the gifts as he took time to shake hands with many Truckeeans.
The Sierra Sun’s late columnist Doug Barrett reported in his column, “My Place in the Sun,” Feb. 12, 1942, that Truckee was also visited by President James Garfield, who took breakfast with J.F. Moody. He also reported that President Grover Cleveland was an occasional fishing visitor in town.
Truckee’s proximity to crystal clear alpine lakes and to the Central Pacific Railroad has frequently attracted many notable visitors. Other early visits included those of writers Mark Twain and Jack London, naturalist John Muir, Wells Fargo’s famous detective James Hume, prizefighters John L. Sullivan and Jack Dempsey, inventor Thomas Edison and industrialist Henry Ford.
While it is probable other presidents or ex-presidents may have passed through the area, these earliest visits were widely reported and created much excitement and fanfare in the community.
Guy H. Coates is the Truckee-Donner Historical Society’s research historian.
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