Once popular with presidents
February 13, 2003
In 1880, after his term, Ulysses Simpson Grant was the first U.S. president to visit “The Cloud City.” For years, Union Army Veterans had invited the president to come visit so they could honor him. Finally, as a stop on the president’s world tour, Grant and his family arrived in Leadville on July 22.Early reports by the Leadville Daily Chronicle and other newspapers paint a grand picture of the arrival and welcome, befitting any person of Grant’s fame and position. The Denver and Rio Grande Railroad spur was not quite complete clear into town, so the president and his entourage had to stop west of town “1/4 miles west of the foot of Third Street, where the D&RG crossed the Boulevard.”The president’s train had been traveling all day, arriving about 10 p.m. Lighting was no problem, however, as “over 100 bonfires lined the Boulevard to light the way into town.”The president’s party travelled by carriage east up the Boulevard to Spruce Street, where they crossed over to Chestnut. From Chestnut they continued to Harrison Avenue and finally north on Harrison to about Sixth Street.From there they returned back to a speaker’s stand draped with flags and bunting in front of the Clarendon Hotel. At Chestnut and Harrison, a grand arch stretching 30 feet high by 60 feet wide was erected . It was “surmounted with pine boughs and interlaced with flags.” The words “Welcome President” were printed in large letters on one side while the opposite side declared “True to Liberty.”A second similar arch was located at Third Street and Harrison stating “Welcome Citizen” and “Peace Hath her Victories No Less Than War.”Even though Grant’s visit was shrouded by clouds, fog and rain the entire time, it appears he and his family had a thoroughly enjoyable time.Presidential toursDuring those days, the president and his male guests took carriages out to see the Iron Mine, where the president went underground and explored the workings. He also visited the Morning Star Mine, but refused to go underground, stating he “didn’t like the looks of the bucket.” Meanwhile, the women in the party generally enjoyed the comforts and hospitality of the Clarendon Hotel.While in town, the Grant party attended “Our Boarding House,” presented at the handsomely decorated Tabor Opera House. The president entered to “Hail to the Chief” and enthusiastic cheers from the full-house audience.The highlight of Grant’s visit surrounded a grand public reception dinner located at the old City Hall on Sixth Street. According to the reception menu the lavish feast included speckled trout, beef tenderloin, cutlets of spring Chicken, young duck, wild pigeon and mayonnaise of shrimps. There were numerous desert selections, and reportedly the champaign flowed as freely as the conversation and speeches – “all except for the president who partook of no beverage other than black coffee.”Gifts were presented to the president, his wife and others in the party, but it seems one was particularly meaningful to President Grant. The Chronicle presented a copy of the day’s addition printed on white satin to the president. He commented specifically regarding the special place of honor it would hold.”Thus ended one of the most brilliant events in the history of Leadville,” the Chronicle reported.Hail to another chiefThe second presidential visit occurred May 11, 1891, when President Benjamin Harrison came through Leadville on a campaign tour from Salt Lake City to Denver.Leadville was supporting the Republican Harrison’s campaign against challenger Grover Cleveland, a Democrat. Harrison continued to support the Sherman Silver Act while Cleveland was an outspoken opponent advocating the return of gold as the nation’s standard.Preparations by Leadville citizens were nearly as grand for Harrison’s visit as they had been for the earlier visit by Grant. Flags, banners and bunting dressed nearly every storefront and building on Harrison Avenue.A special, 80 ounce, pure silver brick had been designed and cast to give to the president. The brick was 4 inches long by 2 and a half inches wide by 1 inch thick. Inscribed on the back was “To Benjamin Harrison, President of the United States – From the Smelters of Leadville, May 11, 1891.” The reverse side stated, “$159,633,078.87 in 12 Years.”The first lady, meanwhile, was presented with a solid silver miner’s candlestick, a bouquet of flowers grown by Leadville women, an album of Colorado views and pressed wildflowers, and a solid silver spoon engraved with the name of the host city.Others in the visiting party received 17, 2-ounce silver bricks engraved with “Compliments of the Arkansas Valley Smelting Company, Leadville, Colorado, Branch of the Kansas City Smelting and Refining Co.”The Herald Democrat and the Leadville Daily Chronicle reported that the party arrived by Midland Train at 7:30 a.m.President Harrison spoke from a specially decorated balcony looking over Harrison Avenue. He was introduced by Judge L.M. Goddard of the Fifth Judicial District of Colorado. He was welcomed as a distinguished guest and given the silver brick. The women of the party waited in the carriages.Carriages also took the men of the party on quick tours of the Maid and Henriett mines before the party returned to the train station at 8:45 for their departure to Denver.In 1892, Harrison lost the election to Cleveland. By 1893, the Democrat Cleveland was successful in efforts to repeal the Sherman Sliver Act, sending Leadville into a downward economic spiral. Neither Cleveland or his follower and future president and gold advocate McKinley ever visited Leadville, which is likely fortunate since it is doubtful they would have received as warm a welcome as Grant and Harrison.Teddy came, tooThe last recorded presidential visit was by Theodore Roosevelt, though there was little reported. Apparently he came through Leadville on August 29, 1910, on a campaign swing. The conservationist and candidate of the National Progressive Party continued to Denver by train the same day he was in Leadville.It was during this visit that Roosevelt was introduced to Silver Dollar Tabor and the famous picture of them shaking hands was taken.