"Glenwoodites and residents of the surrounding communities were given an opportunity last Tuesday morning they will probably only get once in a lifetime - a chance to see and hear the President of the United States."
- Glenwood Post, Sept. 23, 1948
In the late 1800s, even with advancements in communication and technology, very few citizens of the vast United States had seen, much less had the opportunity to see, a sitting U.S. president.
However, getting the message to the people was important, and in 1891, President Benjamin Harrison, with the financial backing of former California Gov. Leland Stanford, went on a national speaking tour. His tour lasted one month and covered 9,000 miles. It was a tour that put Glenwood Springs on the map for political visits for the next 60 years.
Glenwood Springs was not originally on the Harrison tour's itinerary. It was through the influence of Harrison's personal secretary, who was a friend of a Carbondale rancher, that set the Glenwood Springs visit for Sunday, May 10, 1891.
Harrison, a strong observer of the Sabbath, envisioned his visit as a quiet one, with church services at the Presbyterian Church on Cooper Avenue. However, his day expanded to include breakfast with Colorado dignitaries at the Hotel Glenwood. He did make a general speech to the public, promising to work in the best interests of all citizens.
Fellow Republican President Theodore Roosevelt visited the area twice and became the second president to visit Glenwood Springs. His first visit occurred while he was vice president, in January 1901, when he came to hunt near Rifle and Meeker.
As president, in April 1905, Roosevelt spent three weeks in the Divide Creek area near New Castle on another hunting trip. The physically robust and charismatic Roosevelt addressed the throng of admirers from the back of his private car, Rocket, at the start of the hunt, again at a Sunday service at the Little Blue School near Divide Creek, and finally from the Hotel Colorado balcony at the end of the hunt. He stressed patriotism during his speeches.
William Howard Taft brought his sunny smile, humor and clear voice to Glenwood Springs in the early morning hours of Sept. 23, 1909. From the same Hotel Colorado balcony used by his predecessor Theodore Roosevelt, Taft's brief speech on his one-hour stop during his 13,000-mile national speaking tour impressed hundreds who gathered to catch a glimpse of the physically large president. Taft urged patriotism and the unification of country.
Democratic vice presidential candidate Franklin D. Roosevelt campaigned at the Hotel Colorado in 1920, setting the groundwork for his 1932 presidential campaign.
Glenwood Springs courted the visit of President Warren Harding in 1923 during Harding's "Voyage of Understanding" national speaking tour. Unfortunately, the president died in San Francisco during the tour, never making it to Glenwood Springs.
Former President Herbert Hoover met with Colorado Republicans at the Hotel Colorado in 1939, giving his interpretations of political issues, all of which were to be "off the record."
In 1948, President Harry S. Truman was embroiled in a close and bitterly fought campaign for his re-election. On Sept. 17, he began a 33-day cross-country crusade, speaking plainly and directly to the people. On Sept. 21, Truman's train made an early morning 15-minute stop in Glenwood Springs, where he spoke briefly, shook hands and posed for pictures. His determination was rewarded in November 1948 when he won the presidency by a mere 2 million vote margin. Truman returned to Glenwood Springs in 1952 campaigning for the Democratic presidential nominee, Adlai Stevenson.
Technology has made the presidential message a part of everyday life, with images and words coming to our homes and work daily. However, there is still nothing like seeing our leaders, hopeful leaders, and former leaders in person, and to have the ability to be physically close to those who govern the nation.
Willa Kane is former archivist of and a current volunteer with the Frontier Historical Society and Museum. "Frontier Diary," which appears the first Tuesday of every month, is provided to the Post Independent by the museum, 1001 Colorado Ave., Glenwood Springs. Fall, winter and spring hours are 1-4 p.m. Monday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday. For more information, call 945-4448.