CNY Rewound: Presidential past

George Washington never slept here, but some of his successors did. And so did some of their friends and relations.

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

by John Doherty, staff writer

There's plenty of presidential history in these parts, everything from a birthplace to a boyhood home to an assassin. They're right here in Central New York. You just have to know where to look.

Here are just some of the sites, some obvious and others not, associated with presidents in Central New York.

Cayuga County

  1. Secretary estate: Politically connected William Henry Seward wanted to be president but lost the 1860 GOP nomination to a lanky rail splitter from Illinois. After wining election, Abraham Lincoln chose Seward to be his secretary of state. After Lincoln's death, Seward remained on the job and bought Alaska from the Russians for $7.2 million. His house is an Auburn landmark.

  2. Doctor Nurse: Dr. Susan Ann Edson, who attended the mortally wounded President James A. Garfield, was born in Fleming Jan. 4, 1823. One of the few female doctors at the time, Edson was the Garfield family doctor. After the shooting the male doctors treating the president relegated Edson to a head nurse position. Subsequent reviews of Garfield's wounds conclude the president probably would have survived if the doctors had washed their hands.

  3. Our 13th president: Generally regarded as among the worst presidents, Millard Fillmore was born in Summerhill, then part of the town of Locke, on Jan. 7, 1800. He left Cayuga County in 1823 to work as a law clerk in Buffalo. He returned to his boyhood home to marry school teacher Abigail Powers on Feb. 5, 1826, in St. Matthew's Church, Moravia. In 1848, he was elected Zachary Taylor's vice president. When Taylor died on July 9, 1850, Fillmore became president. He was not nominated by his party for president in 1852 and was the last Whig president.

Oswego County

  1. Presidential cousins: Early Fulton settler John Van Buren was the first-cousin of President Martin Van Buren. The eighth president visited his cousin in September 1839 and addressed local residents about northern New Yorkers encouraging Canadians to revolt against Great Britain. John Van Buren's home, called the Pillars, and his tavern are still standing on the east side of the Oswego River.

  2. Broadway to the White House: Future first lady Betty Ford lived at 409 E. Broadway, Fulton with her first husband William G. Warren. Married in 1942, the Warrens lived in Fulton for about a year where he worked at Sealright and she held a job at Birdseye. Fortunately, for future president Gerald Ford, the Warrens divorced in 1947.

  3. Cottage industry: Syracuse University graduates Marion Dickerman and Nancy Cook were teaching in Fulton schools when they threw themselves into World War I relief effort and left for London. When they returned, Dickerman found Fulton Democrats had nominated her to run for the state Assembly. She lost, but caught the attention of state Democratic leaders. She and Cook became close friends with Eleanor Roosevelt. The three went into business and built Val-Kill, about two miles from President Franklin D. Roosevelt's' Hyde Park home, where they made furniture and other items. After 15 years Dickerman and Cook left Val-Kill and moved to New Canaan, Conn.

Onondaga County

  1. A family name: Samuel Montgomery Roosevelt, cousin of Theodore Roosevelt, bought a 25-room mansion on the shore of Skaneateles Lake in 1899 and renamed it Roosevelt Hall. His cousin visited in 1915 and Franklin Roosevelt visited twice. When Robert Kennedy was running for U.S. Senate in 1964 he considered buying and using the estate as an Upstate home. The deal fell through because the dining room was too small.

  2. Take me home: Zachary Taylor's plans to be the first president to sleep in Syracuse were not meant to be. Taylor was to spend a few days at the State Fair, then held in Syracuse, in 1849. After arriving from Oswego on Sept. 16 he was so ill that he walked from the Oswego train to one waiting to take him to Washington. Taylor died the following July. His vice president, Millard Fillmore, became the first chief executive to spend the night in the Salt City on May 21, 1851.

  3. Nurture vs. nature: Stephen Grover Cleveland lived in the Presbyterian parsonage at 109 Academy St., Fayetteville for nine years. But living in a strict religious household apparently had little affect. During the Civil War he avoided the draft by hiring a substitute for $300. While a lawyer in Buffalo he was known to frequent saloons and enjoy late night poker games. While running for president in 1884, his Republican opponents learned of a child he fathered out of wedlock. Cleveland often visited his sister Anna, who lived in Fayetteville and is buried there.

Madison County

  1. A presidential suite: Grover Cleveland stayed at the Lincklaen House in Cazenovia in July 1897 when he took his new and young wife on a tour of upstate and his childhood haunts. During their stay in Cazenovia, the Clevelands were entertained at Lorenzo, the home of the president's treasury secretary Charles S. Fairchild.

  2. Unlucky in love: Charles Guiteau was a disappointed office seeker when he shot President James A. Garfield in 1881. But not getting a government job wasn't the first time the nation's second presidential assassin struck out. Guiteau lived in the Oneida Community, a religious commune that practiced a 19th century version of free love, for nearly six years and repulsed more of the commune's women than he attracted. He later recalled that he "remained strictly virtuous .. aside .. from three distinct women in a very short time."

  3. Mr. and Mrs. Smith: In 1807, after several bad business ventures Abigail "Nabby" Adams Smith, daughter of President John Adams, and her husband William Stephens Smith moved to the town of Lebanon, where Smith had purchased 250,000 acres that would be known as Smith Valley. Four years later, Nabby Smith was diagnosed with breast cancer. She died in at her parents home in Quincy, Mass. in 1813 and was buried in the Adams family crypt. Smith died in 1816 and is buried beside his mother and brother near Sherburne in Chenango County. A historical marker stands on what was the Smith's front step on Route 12B.

2005 The Post-Standard.