POTUS among us
This story was originally published in the Summer 2020 issue of West Virginia Living Magazine.
Whether it was to take the waters or to ask for the vote, hopeful, sitting, and past presidents have been coming to West Virginia since before presidents were a thing.
Since he was a Virginian and served as governor of the Commonwealth, John Tyler was one of the most frequent presidential visitors to The Greenbrier—or White Sulphur Springs, as it was known at the time; he would have said he was going “up to The White.” He visited before, during and after his term of office.
Tyler spent part of his 1844 honeymoon with second wife Julia Gardiner at White Sulphur. He was 54 and she was 24 and, impressively, he fathered seven children with her, bringing the total number of his offspring to 15.
Former congressman and senator and future president Franklin Pierce visited Capon Springs in June 1851 to attend the grand opening of the Mountain House at the springs. After winning the presidency in 1852—at 48, the youngest man to have been elected to the office to that time—he stayed in what is now known as the President’s Cottage.
Another president, though not of these United States, visited Capon Springs, too: Jefferson Davis visited on several occasions with his friend Robert E. Lee before he became president of the Confederacy.
Harry S. Truman
Harry Truman’s presidency ended in January 1953. The following summer, he did something unheard of before or since: He and wife Bess stole away on June 19 without bodyguards for a road trip from their home in Independence, Missouri, to the East Coast and back. They reached Wheeling on the evening of June 20. The night clerk at the McLure Hotel recognized Truman and called the manager, who asked why they didn’t notify him they were coming. “I told them that if I had, the street in front of the hotel would be so full that we would have a hard time getting through.”
When the Trumans called their daughter, Margaret, later that evening, she said she’d been fielding calls from reporters trying to figure out where they’d gotten away to.
Franklin Delano Roosevelt
In May 1938, President Franklin D. Roosevelt visited Arthurdale in Preston County to tour the New Deal community and give the high school commencement address. During his tour, a homesteader walked his prize cow over to meet the president, who patted the cow’s nose and quipped, “If you really want to know what the breed is, it’s what they call a West Virginia moose!”
Dwight D. Eisenhower
Before he became president in 1953, Dwight D. Eisenhower was already a superstar, having become a five-star general in the Army during World War II and served as Supreme Commander of the Allied Expeditionary Force in Europe. He received great honors on a visit to Morgantown on September 23, 1947: Five thousand WVU students and faculty gathered to hear him speak on a sunny Tuesday dubbed Eisenhower Day. The university conferred an Honorary Doctorate on the general.