The Aegis

From Washington to Obama, many presidents have visited Harford

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No United States president was born in, lived in, died in or is buried in Harford County, but many of them, from George Washington to Barack Obama, crisscrossed our county during their lifetimes, either before, during or after their presidencies.

According to research by Historical Society of Harford County volunteer Walter Holloway and other local sources, at least 18 United States Presidents have either visited or passed through Harford County while in office, or before or after they became president. This group does not include those presidents who are likely to have motored through the county during the automobile age on their way to someplace else.


Washington traveled the Old Post Road (present day Maryland Route 7) between Baltimore and points north in journeying from his Virginia home as a military leader and as one of the founding fathers of the new nation, including to lead the Constitutional Convention of 1787 in Philadelphia. It is believed he would have stopped at the Bush Tavern and hotel, as most travelers on the Post Road did, Holloway said.

Thomas Jefferson, the third president was also a frequent traveler on the Post Road from his home in Virginia to important gatherings in Philadelphia and New York before, during and after the Revolution. He also stayed at Bush Tavern, according to Holloway's research.


Another guest at Bush Tavern was Andrew Jackson. The seventh president stayed there while campaigning in 1824 and again in 1828.

Abraham Lincoln and Harford County will forever be entwined.

The sixteenth president passed through Harford on the Philadelphia, Wilmington & Baltimore Railroad (today's Amtrak) in February 1861 en route from New York to his inauguration in Washington. He traveled in disguise because of fears of an assassination attempt.

Lincoln made it safety to Washington and would govern for just over four years before he was assassinated in April 1865 by one John Wilkes Booth, who was born near Bel Air in 1838).

Grover Cleveland, the only president to serve two non-consecutive terms, was a waterfowl hunting enthusiast who hunted and fished at the San Domingo Farm Club on the Magnolia area of the Gunpowder Neck in March 1886, according to "Waterfowling on the Chesapeake 1819-1936" by Harford County based author and water fowling historian C. John Sullivan Jr.

The are other reports of Cleveland visiting Harford to shoot and fish while he was in office – and when he wasn't.


The bizarre campaign of 1912 brought one sitting president and one former president to Harford County, a day apart.


"Never before in its history was Harford honored with a formal visit from the President of the United States, nor is it likely to be repeated in the near future; but to generations yet unborn the inspiring incidents of last Saturday will be recounted and a love of country and respect for its constituted authorities will be inculcated by parents and grandparents when they tell about having viewed the benevolent face, grasped the warm hand and listened to the cordial language of our genial President."

So wrote John D. Worthington, owner and publisher of The Aegis, as he summed up the May 4, 1912 visit of President William Howard Taft to downtown Bel Air. It was that visit by a president, who was on the political skids, but still had an enviable future ahead.

Taft, a Republican, was locked in a fierce three-way battle just to get this party's nomination for a second term, pitted against his predecessor and mentor, former President Theodore Roosevelt and Wisconsin Senator Robert LaFollette, during the first campaign the national parties had state primary elections in addition to their conventions.

Roosevelt arrived first, on May 3, speaking in front of the Opera House in Havre de Grace, according to various accounts in The Aegis and other Harford County newspapers from the time. He also spoke in Cecil County.

Taft was greeted by thousands of people, as he moved through Havre de Grace, Churchville and Aberdeen, according to The Aegis account, and into Bel Air on a sunny Saturday. He gave "an informal" speech in front of the courthouse on Main Street, which was decked out in patriotic bunting and signed the clerk's register book. He grabbed a "hasty sandwich" at the Kenmore Inn, on the site of present day Looney's Pub, and was on his way. for a speech the same night in Baltimore.

The same night in Bel Air, the Democrats had a rally for one of candidates seeking their nomination, Woodrow Wilson. He didn't attend the rally, but Sen. Thomas Gore was there in his stead.


Taft would go on to secure the GOP nomination, and Roosevelt would bolt the party and run as the Bull Moose Party candidate. Wilson would get the Democrats' nomination and win the presidency.


Warren G. Harding, the 29th president, came to Harford County in 1923, where he gave a talk on the state of government at a tea house along the old Chesapeake and Tidewater Canal, according to Holloway's research. A photograph in the Historical Society's collection looks like it was taken in the summertime, which means the visit took place not long before his death on Aug. 3, 1923.

President Franklin Roosevelt made what might be considered the first "official" presidential visit to Harford County, an inspection tour of Aberdeen Proving Ground on Oct. 1, 1940.

With war already raging on the other side of the world, security was tight for Roosevelt's APG visit. Local newspapers were not notified, and the president did not travel with a White House press corps in those days. The Army, however, recorded the visit with photographs.

One photograph shows the president, sitting in his signature open car, holding his hands over his ears, while armaments are being fired.


Eleven years later in February 1951, President Harry S. Truman made a similar inspection tour at APG, as the Army unveiled its newest weapon, the T-41 light Bulldog Tank. Truman watched the tank, which was being tested at APG, as it was put through its paces.

Truman traveled to APG by train. Holloway, who helps curate the Historical Society's photograph collection, has a number of shots from the visit, including of the president in a mess hall and standing on the observation platform of his train.

Perhaps true to his nature, Truman made what might be considered the most "unofficial" of visits to Harford a year after he left office.

In 1954, Truman, his wife, Bess, and their daughter, Margaret, were motoring from Washington to New York on Route 40 when they stopped at the Howard Johnson's restaurant in Havre de Grace for lunch, creating quite a stir among the other patrons and the restaurant staff, according to local newspaper accounts of the brief visit.


In spite of his ties to the military, there are no reported President Dwight Eisenhower sightings in Harford, possibly because the county didn't have any world-class golf courses in those days. President Richard M. Nixon, however, made a campaign stop in Aberdeen as Eisenhower's vice presidential running mate in early October 1952.


Nixon's one-hour visit at the Aberdeen Recreation Center drew a large, enthusiastic crowd. A month later, the Eisenhower-Nixon ticket swept to victory in Harford and around the county. Nixon drew strong support from Harford's voters as an unsuccessful presidential candidate in 1960 and then as a successful candidate in 1968 and 1972, although he never campaigned in or visited in the county after 1952.

President John Kennedy, who beat Nixon in 1960, made a brief campaign stop in Havre de Grace in May 1960. At the time, Kennedy was a senator from Massachusetts who was still considered a long shot to get the Democratic nomination. Even so, he received a warm welcome from city officials and local political leaders, who presented him with a key to the city and lined up to have their pictures taken with the photogenic future president.

During his abbreviated presidency, Kennedy is believed to have made a number of visits to the Oakington Farm home of his Maryland campaign manager, friend and a future senator, Joseph Tydings. In one visit in 1962, which was reported in the local press, Kennedy and his brother and senate successor, Teddy, flew from Washington to Oakington via helicopter.


During the lifetime of Sen. J. Millard Tydings, Joseph Tydings' stepfather and a national political figure in the 1930s, '40s and '50s, Oakington Farm hosted a number of American and international statesmen. In a 1998 interview with The Aegis, Joseph Tydings also recalled visits to the farm by Truman and by then-senator and future vice president Lyndon Johnson.

As to how many unreported visits John Kennedy and his brothers, Robert and Teddy, made to Oakington prior to the president's assassination in 1963, only Joseph Tydings knows for sure, but there are believed to have been several.


On Nov. 14, 1963, Kennedy motored north from Washington through Harford County to the Maryland-Delaware state line just east of Elkton to dedicate the new Northeast Expressway, I-95. Eight days later he would be dead, felled by an assassin's bullet in Dallas, and the highway he dedicated running through Harford County would be renamed in his memory.

The main house at Oakington Farm was sold by the Tydings family in 1983 and turned into the Ashley drug and alcohol rehabilitation center. But the house would host one more president in 1992, when former President Gerald Ford and his wife, Betty, visited as part of fund-raising event for the center, which also featured the Oak Ridge Boys country music group.


President Jimmy Carter never visited Harford as president, but he Carter campaigned in the Bel Air area during the 1976 primary and returned to the county seat in 1997 for a book signing at the defunct Bibelot store behind Harford Mall. One photograph from the event shows him with Bel Air Mayor and future state delegate Susan McComas and future Bel Air mayor and District Court Judge David Carey.

Probably the best-publicized presidential visit in Harford County was Dec. 4, 1985 when President Ronald Reagan addressed the student body of Fallston High School in the school's auditorium.

While at Fallston, Reagan spoke about his recent meeting with Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev at a Geneva Summit.


He called Fallston "a pretty outstanding high school," and during his 1 ½-hour hour-and-a-half visit also spoke with a group of students who got to ask the president questions. of the president. Michele Parks asked Reagan for a kiss and he complied, making for a memorable moment for the seventh-grader.

Reagan departed by helicopter from Fallston's football field, waving to the crowd gathered in the bleachers.

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President George H.W. Bush visited the Riverside community in 1992 in an effort to give a boost to the nation's home-building industry during an economic downturn. Like Reagan's visit to Fallston six years earlier, the first President Bush's visit was arranged by Harford's then-congresswoman, Helen Bentley.

President Bill Clinton made two visits to Harford during his eight-year presidency, the first to Aberdeen Proving Ground in 1994 for a church service commemorating the start of the new Youth Civilian Conservation Corps. The same night, an Aberdeen man, Frank Corder, stole a private plane from the Harford County Airport at Aldino and flew into the side of the White House, killing himself. Clinton and his family weren't home, however.

Clinton and Vice President Al Gore visited the Havre de Grace promenade in 1995 to celebrate Earth Day. They were accompanied by their wives, which means if Hillary Clinton is elected president this month, Harford will have hosted at least 18 men and the first woman to hold the nation's highest office.


President George W. Bush did not make any official visits or campaign stops in Harford.

Obama came through, literally and briefly, when his train to Washington, D.C. for his first inauguration slowed to a crawl at the Edgewood station and he and Vice President-elect Joe Biden walked out on the train's observation platform and waved to enthusiastic crowd on Jan. 17, 2009.

Obama was retracing Lincoln's route to his inauguration 148 years earlier, though in a much more public way.