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W&J College Unveils New Presidential Walking Tour

Washington & Jefferson College is unveiling a unique way to celebrate and honor past American Presidents that have spoken, stayed, or visited Washington, PA.

Professors Jennifer Harding and Thomas Mainwaring developed a walking presidential tour which offers a historical look at the connection between fifteen Presidents and the City of Washington.

She originally discovered that there had been several Presidents that had visited this city of nearly 14,000 (current population) because she was teaching the class “The American Presidency in Fact, Fiction, & Film.”

“I wanted to get the students walking around town, I just like to do that to get them out in the community a little bit; so I just tried to find out if there had ever been a President who had come here that they could go visit the site. And as I began to research more and more, I discovered that not just one but actually fifteen Presidents had visited Washington.”

Those Presidents include: James Monroe, Andrew Jackson, William Henry Harrison, John Quincy Adams, Benjamin Harrison, Zachary Taylor, Ulysses S. Grant, William Howard Taft, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Warren G. Harding, Harry Truman, John F Kennedy, Bill Clinton, & Barack Obama all visited before, during, or after their time in office.

Harding said the main reason for the visits was because of the National Road, U.S. Route 40, which took the Presidents (whether it was by stagecoach or horseback) right through Washington, PA on their way to Washington D.C.

“They would have often come to Wheeling by way of maybe a steamboat, gotten off at Wheeling, and then traveled from Wheeling to Washington D.C. And later, Presidents came for different reasons: some came because they knew people here, one came because he was actually paid to deliver a speech (that was William Howard Taft), and some came for campaigning reasons.”

Harding explained that one of the strongest connections to the area was Ulysses S. Grant, who had a friend, William W. Smith, who lived in the area and was the cousin of Grant’s wife Julia; so they came multiple times and stayed for a few days or a week or two each time. He would meet people in the town, go to church, and even laid the cornerstone of the town hall that was built in 1869 in Washington.  

“Some of my favorite stories are about him coming and I guess he had this thing that he didn’t like to give speeches, he didn’t like crowds. So even when he agreed to lay the cornerstone of the town hall, he did it on the condition that he wouldn’t have to give a speech. And so they didn’t make him do that because everybody knew him and sort of knew that he didn’t like that kind of attention.”

Each stop on the tour is connected to a Presidential visit with the goal to connect place with the history of that place and to actually be in the geographical setting where things took place.

“It’s nice to see artifacts, but it’s also very meaningful to be in the spot where you can look at a building and say ‘You know, I’m standing where Barack Obama, you know, came to speak in 2008’ or ‘I’m at the restaurant where Bill Clinton came in 1992’ or ‘I’m at the spot where John Quincy Adams spoke at in 1843.’”