Here’s a wonderful historical post by Olga Luz Tirado, executive director of The Bronx Tourism Council on US Presidents who visited The Bronx. Our borough has a rich presidential history that you may not be aware of!
17 U.S. PRESIDENTS WHO VISITED THE BRONX
By Olga Luz Tirado
On February 12th we celebrate Abraham Lincoln’s birthday and a week later on the 19th George Washington’s. Both presidents have some tie (albeit a little bit of a stretch for Lincoln) to The Bronx. We decided to ask some of our favorite Bronx-centric folks, historians, and tour guides and counted 17 presidents who had visited The Bronx.
Not only was General GEORGE WASHINGTON the first President of the United States, he was also the first Commander in Chief of the Continental Army. It was in this capacity that he visited Van Cortlandt House, first in October of 1776, according to Laura Myers, the Van Cortlandt House Museum’s Executive Director. Washington’s final documented visit to Van Cortlandt House took place in November of 1783 when he and his entourage stopped overnight on their way in to Manhattan to take possession of the island back from the defeated British Army. This was a considerably more festive occasion than his first visit.
Traveling south on Boston Post Road from his estate in Massachusetts to Pennsylvania, President JOHN ADAMS learned that a yellow fever epidemic had broken out in Philadelphia, which was then the temporary site of the nation’s capital. Angel Hernandez of the Bronx County Historical Society, tells us that Adams decided to stay at the farmhouse of his daughter and son-in-law, Abigail and Col. William Smith. The property was located in the area we now know as Conner Street and Boston Road. The 2nd U.S. President corresponded with officials, governing the country. Thus, for two weeks in October 1797, the center for the executive branch of the U.S. government was in The Bronx. Today car dealerships and auto repair shops occupy this historic site.
There is no evidence that the 16th President ABRAHAM LINCOLN visited The Bronx, but the Lincoln Memorial located in Washington, D.C. has roots in the borough. Sculpted by a family of renowned marble carvers who emigrated from Italy to The Bronx, the Piccirilli brothers played a role in the design and development of the impressive sculpture.
On October 1, 1870, the 18th President of the United States, ULYSSES S. GRANT, visitedThe Woodlawn Cemetery. Grant, a hero of the Civil War, was among the distinguished guests who rode the funeral train that transported United States Navy Admiral David Glasgow Farragut’s remains to his final resting spot. Some Bronx historians have rumored that it was one of the largest funeral processions of that time.
Jacob Lorillard was a very wealthy leather merchant and owned land in the Belmont section of The Bronx, according to Susan Birnbaum of Susan Sez Walkabouts. As the land was being developed he needed to designate streets with names. Of course, Lorillard Place was a given, but his niece, Catharine Lorillard Wolfe, was a big fan of CHESTER A. ARTHUR, so she implored her uncle to name one of the streets Arthur Avenue after the 21st president. Today Arthur Avenue is synonymous with “the real little Italy” and was named Best Street in America by the American Planning Association in 2016.
A very curious twelve-year-old known as TR or “Teedie” among his family members, was already a young naturalist and taxidermist, collecting specimens for his own “natural history museum” when they summered at Wave Hill, according to a historian there. He would pay children from the neighborhood to bring him interesting specimens and when he wasn’t on the premises, one of his sisters had to accept the offerings, something she didn’t particularly enjoy. Little TR, or THEODORE “TEDDY” ROOSEVELT grew up to first become Governor of New York State then the 26th President of the United States of America.
Financier and philanthropist Cleveland Dodge lived in the Riverdale section of The Bronx and was very active in politics, according to Bronx historian Lloyd Ultan in his book “The Northern Borough”,published by The Bronx County Historical Society. On October 12, 1918, Ultan writes, 28th PresidentWOODROW WILSON attended a rally and parade in New York City when he received a note from Germany indicating it was willing to accept peace terms based on the president’s Fourteen Points. The next day, he and the first lady rode to Riverdale to have lunch with Dodge and the two drafted Wilson’s reply to Germany. It was the first step to ending World War I.
In 1959 31st President HERBERT HOOVER threw out the first pitch at Yankee Stadium. The Bronx Bombers went on to beat the Kansas City Athletics 3 – 0.
Among the other presidents that have been awarded an honorary degree from Fordham University, (Harry Truman, Richard Nixon, and John F. Kennedy) was FRANKLIN D. ROOSEVELT. The 32nd U.S. President came to deliver a speech at the college campus in October of 1940. Roosevelt also campaigned in The Bronx.
While on the 1948 campaign trail, HARRY S. TRUMAN came to The Bronx to appeal to supporters in his successful bid to be elected the 33rd president of the United States.
Although his Bronx residency was short, when running for the presidency in 1960, JOHN F. KENNEDY followed a proven path for success which brought him to the Concourse Plaza Hotel located on 161st street and the Grand Concourse, according to Sam Goodman a city planner with a penchant for Bronx history and who hosts walking tours of the area (see tours). To be sure, the Concourse Plaza was a “must stop” for any Democrat, given the borough’s staunch support for Democrats and the fact that in those days every Bronx voter made it their business to participate. As he would often do, the 35th president knew how to appeal to his audience as he remarked, “I said up the street that I was a former resident of The Bronx. Nobody believes that, but it is true….Now Riverdale is part of The Bronx.” He lived on 252nd Street and Independence Avenue.
On October 5th, 1960, then Vice President RICHARD M. NIXON gave a speech at the Bronx campus of Fordham University. He had already received an honorary degree from the institution. Nine years later he became the 37th President of the United States of America.
In 1977, President JIMMY CARTER made what he called a “sobering” visit to The Bronx in the aftermath of the devastating fires. The 39th U.S. President’s motorcade toured the rubble-strewn streets of the South Bronx. The president walked along the route meeting and greeting people along the way. There was a lot of optimism from the communities after this visit that Federal funding would come through to help rebuild.
Three years later almost to the day, RONALD REAGAN made his rounds and, as not much had changed, was not received well. The community blamed the White House for inaction and the 40th President accused Carter of breaking his vows to the borough.
It would be nearly another 20 years before a sitting president visited the borough, and the story was much different than the ’77 and ’80 visit. In 1997 President WILLIAM JEFFERSON CLINTON lauded The Bronx as a model for urban renewal. By that time the urban blight Carter and Reagan witnessed a decade prior gave way to tree-lined streets and landscaped homes. The 42nd president was quoted as saying “Look at where The Bronx was when Ronald Reagan came here…look at The Bronx today.”
43rd President GEORGE W. BUSH threw out the first pitch in game 3 of the 2001 World Series at Yankee Stadium. The New York Yankees beat the Arizona Diamondbacks 2-1, but ended up losing the Pennant. It would have been their 24th World Series win. They finally achieved 24 in 2009.
It would be nearly another decade before a sitting president would come to The Bronx. In May of 2015 President BARACK OBAMA arrived by helicopter and much fanfare, landing on Harris Field. The 44th president was giving a speech at Lehman College to announce the formation of the My Brother’s Keeper Alliance, a non-profit organization established to address issues faced by boys and young men of color.