When Theodore Roosevelt Visited Asheville

T heodore Roosevelt became president after the murder of William McKinley. President McKinley was visiting the Pan-American Exposition in Buffalo, NY, when he was shot by Leon Czolgosz on September 6, 1901, and died eight days later. Roosevelt was the youngest man to become president. (John Kennedy was the youngest man elected president). Previously, Roosevelt had been the governor of New York, the Assistant Secretary of the Navy, a member of the New York General Assembly and a member of the New York City Board of Police Commissioners.

President Roosevelt almost did not make it to Asheville. When he was in Pittsfield, MA, a few days before his planned visit to Asheville, his carriage was hit by a speeding electric streetcar. A secret service agent, the carriage driver, and the horses pulling the carriage were all killed. The president’s face was injured. (It’s my guess the streetcar driver was fired.)

Roosevelt was traveling in a private railcar, which parked for the night in Hot Springs after visiting Chattanooga and Knoxville, TN. September 9, 1902 was a pretty day in Asheville, with rain stopping early in the morning.

A speaker’s platform had been built—40 feet by 60 feet and 5 feet tall—in front of the Vance memorial downtown, facing west down Patton Avenue. A large picture of Roosevelt was placed behind the platform. Thousands of people were waiting around Pack Square, as well as along Clingman Avenue, Depot Street and Patton Avenue. Huge American flags were stretched across both South Main (Biltmore Avenue) and North Main (Broadway). All the stores downtown were decorated with flags and red, white and blue banners.

Carriages lined up in front of the depot. A shrill blast of a train whistle was heard, and locomotive number 304 pulled five train cars into the station. President Roosevelt’s private car, “Riva,” was at the rear. Just in front of the president’s car was “The Atlanta,” said to be the “handsomest club car in existence.” The train arrived exactly on time at 9:30 am.

North Carolina senator Jeter Connelly Pritchard, the head of the reception committee, and its chairman, Charles McNamee (George Vanderbilt’s attorney), were waiting on the platform. Pritchard and McNamee entered the president’s car first, then welcomed in the rest of the reception committee. Roosevelt greeted each of the men individually. The committee members then greeted the people from the other railroad cars.

Roosevelt and his party walked through the train station and came out on Depot Street. A loud cheer went up, and the president waved and smiled at the crowd. Company F and K of the North Carolina State Guard were waiting outside.

Roosevelt got in his carriage with Asheville Mayor F. M. Miller and Senator Pritchard. The carriage moved out, led by mounted marshals and followed by Civil War veterans.

When the party reached the (original) Battery Park Hotel, school children stood in a group and sang “Columbia, the Gem of the Ocean.” The president saluted them with his hand. Roosevelt said to the mayor, “I always make a point to speak to all the children. They appreciate it so much.” The party then headed back to Patton Avenue on the way to Pack Square.

The crowds on Patton Avenue were so large that the police and Company F of the NC State Guard had a hard time clearing a path. H. A. Gudger, a former state senator, introduced the president. Gudger gave a long speech, after which the crowd cheered thunderously. Whether it was for Roosevelt or for Gudger finally ending his speech was a matter of opinion.

The president spoke about the Mecklenburg Declaration of Independence and of his ancestors fighting for independence in the Revolutionary War. He mentioned they fought at Kings Mountain and Cowpens.

Roosevelt said he had visited Chattanooga and the battlefield at Chickamauga, the site of a great battle during the Civil War. The battle was fought both in Tennessee and Roosevelt’s mother’s home state of Georgia. He said a delegation of young men came to him there and presented him with a walking stick, made from a tree from the battlefield, that had the names of three generals from the north and three generals from the south that fought in the battle. One of the Union generals, General Boykin, showed him around the battlefield. One of the Confederate generals, General Joe Wheeler, had been his commander in the Spanish–American War. Roosevelt said it was a good thing for a president to travel through different sections of the country in order to realize how trivial are the points of difference between Americans. A good American is a good American whether he is from the north, south, east or west.

Roosevelt toured the Biltmore House after his speech and then returned to the train station. J. F. Lowe, the train conductor, looked at his watch and said, “Four minutes to spare.” The president waved to the crowd and entered the train. He went to his private car’s rear platform and bent down to shake hands with the crowd. The train pulled out of the station as the president waved. He smiled and bowed his head to the crowd as the train left the station.

You can Google “Teddy Roosevelt Asheville” to find photos from the visit.

Bruce Whitaker documents Fairview-area genealogy. To get in touch with him, contact the Crier at [email protected] or 828-771-6983 (call/text).

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