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INTERACTIVE: Presidential Visits to The Bronx Throughout History

By Eddie Small | May 27, 2015 7:28am
 Presidents have been making trips to the borough for decades.
Presidents Visiting The Bronx
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Barack Obama may have been the latest U.S. president to visit the borough when he gave a speech at Lehman College on May 4 — but he is far from the only commander in chief to pay The Bronx a visit.

The history of presidents traveling to the area dates back to George Washington, and the reasons for their visits range from throwing out the first pitch at a Yankee game to calling attention to the borough's problems with urban decay.

However, Bronx Historian Lloyd Ultan said that most of the visits have been motivated by one main factor.

"In most cases, they were looking for votes," he said.

Washington began the tradition of presidential Bronx visits by riding through the borough on his way to New England in 1789, taking care to note that the area was still recovering from the American Revolution and had rather stony ground.

John Adams came in 1797 on his way to Philadelphia, when he heard that the City of Brotherly Love was dealing with a yellow fever outbreak and decided to change his travel plans, according to Ultan.

"Being fairly intelligent, he said, 'I’m not going there,' so he stopped off at the farmhouse of his daughter and son-in-law, which was in The Bronx," Ultan said.

In 1870, Ulysses S. Grant came as part of a funeral procession for Civil War veteran Admiral David Farragut, who is buried at Woodlawn Cemetery, and although he did not visit the borough during his presidency, Theodore Roosevelt made multiple trips before and after his time in office for events including a vacation in Wave Hill and a ceremony in Van Cortlandt Park with his Rough Riders from the Spanish-American War, according to Ultan.


Several presidents have also been drawn to The Bronx because of Yankee Stadium. In recent years, the ballpark has seen visits from Bill Clinton, who came to deliver the 2011 NYU commencement address, and George W. Bush, who threw out the first pitch at game three of the 2001 World Series.

Herbert Hoover threw out the first pitch at a Yankee game as well in 1959, but his reception was slightly less welcoming than that given to other presidents, according to Ultan.

"He couldn’t stay because he was booed," he said. "The moment they mentioned his name over the loudspeaker, the crowd booed heartily."

Although not as well known as Yankee Stadium, Charlotte Street in the South Bronx was the site of a trio of presidential visits.

Jimmy Carter came to visit the area in 1977 to help call attention to the problems of urban blight, while Ronald Reagan followed suit during the 1980 presidential campaign to criticize Carter and promise to revitalize the area.

Clinton then came to the street in 1997 to draw attention to how much improvement the neighborhood had seen over the past 20 years. However, this did not attract the same level of attention as Carter's visit, to the point where many people still associate The Bronx with the images of the late 70s, Ultan said.

"Anything that is not devastation never gets the headlines," he said. "So it never got the same headlines as in 1977."

Several presidents came to the borough on campaign trips, including Harry Truman, Dwight Eisenhower and John F. Kennedy, according to Ultan, and many came to visit Fordham University, including Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Truman and Richard Nixon.

Other presidents to visit the borough include William Howard Taft, who came to visit the famed sculptors at Piccirilli Studios, and Woodrow Wilson, who was attending a Liberty Bond rally in New York on Oct. 12, 1918 when he received a telegram and asked his friend Cleveland Dodge if he knew any place where they could discuss the message in private, Ultan said.

Dodge took him to his mansion in Riverdale, and Wilson sat down to write a reply to the telegram, which was from the German imperial government asking him about peace terms to end World War I, according to Ultan.

"So the process for the armistice actually started in The Bronx," he said.