As you may recall, last week’s “Community Connection” told the story about the important local history which was made when a sitting U.S. President (William Howard Taft) and a former U.S. President (Teddy Roosevelt) visited Jackson County in a span of just nine days in May of 1912, when both men were campaigning for President.
It marked the only time in Jackson County’s nearly 203-year history, which began on March 1, 1816, that a sitting U.S. President or a former U.S. President visited. We dredged up this local history in honor of the Presidents Day holiday this past Monday and we continue with part two in this week’s column.
In addition to being graced by the presence of President Taft and former President Roosevelt, Jackson County also threw out the welcome mat for two men who would become future Presidents -- Warren G. Harding and William McKinley, who both happened to be Ohioans.
Harding’s local visit, which occurred on Wednesday, Oct. 20, certainly qualifies as another red-letter day in Jackson County history. Not just because a then Presidential candidate made an appearance, but because of the size and scope of the event. In 1920, Harding, who was a U.S. Senator from Marion, Ohio, was the Republican candidate for President and was a favorite to win the election as he promised “a return to normalcy” after World War I, which occurred under the watch of Democrat President Wilson.
While Harding was famous for his “Front Porch Campaign” in which he made speeches from his own front porch in Marion, his campaign organizers also planned some campaign appearances away from home. One of those events happened to be a Burgoo Day event near Jackson, which would be organized by the Southern Ohio Harding Club with the aim of drawing 50,000 to 60,000 supporters. There was even an article in The New York Times reporting on plans for the big rally.
The chosen location for the huge rally was situated just south of the city of Jackson on property which is now part of the Robin Hill subdivision, and which for many years before that was home to a large commercial apple orchard (first Southern Orchards and later the Henry Brothers Orchard). Local historian Bob Ervin is fairly certain the big rally took place in the front portion of the subdivision between what is now Robin Hill Lane and State Route 93.
Burgoo Day was so named as Burgoo, a stew-like concoction of meats and vegetables similar to Irish Stew or Mulligan Stew, was said to be peculiar to Southern Ohio and Kentucky. The Burgoo was to be cooked on site in large boilers and served along with barbecued beef, free of charge to the attendees. Burgoo was often the prime fare at outdoor parties and events in that era.
In addition to Harding, other scheduled speakers were to include Teddy Roosevelt’s oldest daughter, Alice Roosevelt Longworth; her husband, Congressman Nicholas Longworth; and former Ohio Governor Frank Willis. Many other political leaders of a national stature were also invited.
According to the New York Times article, 75 special trains would be routed into Jackson bringing spectators from not only other areas of Ohio, but also from Kentucky, West Virginia, Southern Indiana and Western Pennsylvania. Others would arrive via automobile and plans were made to park 5,000 cars. Burgoo Day was to be “an all-day affair with a wide variety of entertainment.”
As it turned out, Harding was easily elected President a couple of weeks later, but his Presidency turned out to be a tragic one. He was unhappy shouldering the great responsibilities of being the Chief Executive, and on Aug. 2, 1923, while on a Western trip, Harding died in San Francisco of what was believed to be a heart attack. By that time, details of the great corruption within his administration were beginning to become known and this greatly tainted his reputation that history remembers.
Those in Jackson, however, fondly remembered Burgoo Day and the national spotlight it put on the community. After Harding’s unexpected death, the Jackson city fathers renamed Railroad Avenue as Harding Avenue in his honor. It was an enduring and fitting tribute which forever will link Jackson to one of the most memorable days in the community’s history.
Harding was not the first future President to visit Jackson County. That distinction belongs to William McKinley who visited Jackson County at least once while he served as Ohio Governor (1893-1896), prior to being elected President in 1896.
For certain, McKinley came to Jackson in 1895 for a birthday party to honor Congressman H.S. Bundy of Wellston. That big event was held at the Crescent Opera House, which was located at the current site of the Arch & Eddie’s Gathering House property at 181 E. Main Street. The opera house, which was torn down circa 1928, was situated on the current site of the blacktop parking lot directly west of the restaurant building.
McKinley may also have come to Wellston at some point to visit Wellston’s founder and namesake, Harvey Wells, who had some political clout of his own. Wellston Historical Association President Shannon Weber says he has heard a reputable oral account of a McKinley visit to Wellston to see Wells, but he knows of no written history which documents or verifies such a happening. If it did happen, it would have been prior to McKinley being elected President as Wells died in October 1896, just weeks before McKinley was elected President.
Neighboring Vinton County can claim some Presidential history as well, as Presidential candidate Richard Nixon made a stop in Hamden in 1960. Furthermore, both Nixon’s father and grandfather were born in Vinton County and the now former late President reportedly has distant relatives, including a second cousin, still living in Vinton County.
That’s About It… Be Seeing You.