Wednesday, May 8, 1912, and Friday, May 17, should rank as two of the most important days in the history of Jackson County and May, 1912 as one of the newsiest months in the county’s history.
Do you know why? I will guess that most of you do not. In honor of the upcoming Presidents Day holiday next Monday, I am going to answer my own question.
On May 8, 1912, U.S. President William Howard Taft gave a speech from the steps of the Jackson County Courthouse in downtown Jackson. Based on my research and the knowledge of other local historians which I have soaked in, it’s believed to be the only visit to Jackson County ever made by a current President in Jackson County history.
Taft, who was one of eight Presidents claimed by Ohio and the only chief executive to also serve as Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court, came to Jackson as part of his re-election campaign for a second term. Taft, who had been vice president under Theodore Roosevelt, had won election to his first term in 1908, in no small part because he was Teddy’s hand-picked successor. Roosevelt was eligible to run for a second full term in 1908, but reluctantly kept his public promise to step aside after one full term. (Actually, he had served close to a full term from 1901 through 1905 when he succeeded the assassinated William McKinley, who was also an Ohioan.)
However, it didn’t take long for Roosevelt to get restless on the political sidelines and he also became disappointed in Taft, whom he felt was not progressive enough. When 1912 rolled around, the Republican Party stayed loyal to Taft and nominated him as its candidate. Roosevelt then mounted one of the most impressive independent runs for President in the nation’s history as the candidate of his own Bull Moose Party. 
Coincidentally enough, Roosevelt campaigned in Jackson on Friday, May 17, 1912 just nine days after Taft’s big speech. Roosevelt arrived in Jackson by train and spoke near the former Hocking Valley/C&O Railroad Depot on East Broadway Street at the current location of Jackson Historical Society’s developing historical park, Salt Lick Village.
Prominent Jackson Historical Society leader and Salt Lick Village project leader George Kitchen told me that Roosevelt’s speaking platform was situated near the current spot where the McCoy Cabin now stands. Due to a problem with the train, Roosevelt’s departure was delayed and he was given a tour of Jackson before he left town.
A photo of Roosevelt’s speech from the depot site is currently among the historical items on display at the depot, which is being maintained by the Jackson Historical Society and that photo is included with this column. Kitchen and other volunteers have put in a lot of time to clean up and reorganize the depot as a mini-museum and display area. Work is still being done, but it is already quite impressive. 
At any rate, Roosevelt’s local appearance constituted the only visit by a former President to Jackson County.
Predictably, the addition of the immensely popular Roosevelt into the Presidential derby wound up splitting the Republican vote and opening the door for a big victory by the Democratic candidate, Woodrow Wilson. In Jackson County, Wilson was the top vote-getter, but with only 33.1 percent of the vote. Taft received 30.1 percent and Roosevelt 25.6 percent. Obviously, either Taft or Roosevelt would likely have won Jackson County if only one of them was in the race. An interesting sidebar: Eugene Debs, the Socialist candidate in 1912, received 9.9 percent of the vote in Jackson County.
Part 2 of our Community Connection on U.S. Presidents will be published in next Wednesday’s edition and will provide information about the men who visited Jackson County before they were elected President.
That’s About It… Be Seeing You.