Close this search box.
Close this search box.

Washington’s Birthday and Presidential Visits

This week we mark President’s Day which is a federal holiday. The history of President’s Day is
interesting and demonstrates a growth in the appreciation we have as a nation for our chief
executives. As his biographer once stated about George Washington,” He was first in war, first
in peace and first in the hearts and minds of his countryman.” Upon his death in 1799
Washington’s Birthday of February 22 nd , became a perennial day of remembrance. This was the
custom for much of the first century of our country’s history with special celebrations making
the centennial of his birth in 1832 and the commencement of the building of the Washington
Monument in 1848. In 1879 congress made it official and President Rutherford B Hayes signed
a bill into law making Washington’s Birthday February 22 nd a federal holiday. In 1969 amidst
strenuous objection from some members of Congress, President Nixon signed an executive
order that moved federal holidays to Monday’s to create three day weekends with it taking
effect in 1971. Thus, since then President’s Day was shifted to the third Monday in February
and referred to as Presidents Day while technically never formally be changed from
Washington’s Birthday. Many States today still observe Washington’s Birthday on February 22 nd
in addition to the third Monday in February.


All of that being said it is pretty interesting to look at the instances when our Presidents have
visited our County and beloved Clarkstown. In days past a Presidential visit would receive
significant attention of the people and the press. We have had seven Presidents who were from
New York with an eighth President Bill Clinton moving here post presidency. Visits of past and
future presidents have been the most common. George Washington traveled through and
stayed in Rockland numerous times prior to his presidency. Franklin Delano Roosevelt served as
Governor and visited Rockland numerous times traveling through both as Governor and
President. The first sitting President believed to have been in Rockland was our 8 th President
Martin Van Buren. Tradition has it that Van Buren and Washington Irving visited the Oblenis
family farm in West Nyack, stopping at the Clarksville Inn for food and repairs to their carriage
in 1837. However, a number of years ago Washington Irving journals were published and it
appears the trip actually occurred when Van Buren was sitting Vice-President on September 24,


Some of the other notable Presidential visits to our Town occurred in between the two terms of
President Grover Cleveland who was both the 22 nd and 24 th President of the United States, the
only person to serve two non-consecutive terms. Cleveland visited Nyack in July of 1889 staying
at Prospect House and taking a carriage ride to Hook Mountain in Clarkstown. Cleveland was
said to be captivated by the beauty of the area. He was well received and crowds gathered with
a band playing” Hail to the Chief” outside the hotel calling for a speech. Cleveland did not oblige
instead he asked to personally greet and shake hands with the crowd said to be in the
hundreds. He left the next morning and returned in September of 1889 this time with his wife
Frances Cleveland again staying in Nyack this time at the St. Georges Hotel. On the second trip
the couple stayed for two days, took a boat ride viewing the shoreline and marveling at one of the Victorian Homes in Nyack owned by William Gray that inspired Cleveland to use as a model
to renovate his home on Cape Cod which he later renamed “Grey Gables.” Cleveland promised
to return but never made it back as far as we are aware.


Benjamin Harrison who Cleveland defeated later did come to Rockland on a vacation through
the state as did Theodore Roosevelt, Herbert Hoover who came to the Tolstoy Foundation in
Valley Cottage and FDR. Two other sitting U.S Presidents came to our county during hotly
contested Presidential campaigns, Truman our 33 rd President and Ford our 38 th President. Harry
Truman, who famously defeated New York Governor Thomas E Dewey, but had some in the
press erroneously declare Dewey the winner held a famous barnstorming railroad trip across
the country to take his case to the people. In 1948, Truman made a stop in Spring Valley holding
a rally off the back of the train along with Governor Averill Harriman seeking votes on his
famous whistle-stop tour. Likewise, in 1976 in one of the closest elections of the 20 th Century
President Gerald R Ford visited Clarkstown speaking at the New City Courthouse On October
13 th with over 10,000 said to be in attendance. The visit took place less than three weeks before
the election that Ford lost to Jimmy Carter. Among the highlights of that visit is a wonderful
photo of a sleeping cat in a stroller in the crowd with a Ford-Dole sticker on its head and a sign
underneath it saying “Ford is my Man!” The photo was picked up by the wire services and ran in
papers across the country—it went viral in the pre-social media days.


In all forty-six men have served as President of the United States. While our attitudes about our
Chief Executive have changed over time from the reverence accorded George Washington to
the seeming lack of respect we see towards some of our most recent presidents; the fact is that
being President is difficult. The other fact is that presidential visits while rare have become
common in more recent times and do accord an area with some notoriety.