On the Road Again: Presidential Visits to the West, Part I

Today’s post was written by Cody White, Archivist at the National Archives at Denver.

Campaigns. Dedications. Even family vacations. For one reason or another United States Presidents have found some excuse to visit the American West and scattered throughout the National Archives at Denver holdings are photographs of 11 presidents on just such trips. Some like President Johnson only show up in our records under a different role, in his case that of Vice President, while others like President Kennedy have a half dozen official presidential trips documented in our photographic holdings. While these images have popped up in series often with little or no additional information other than a caption, by using historical newspaper accounts along with university and government web pages we can further flesh out the context of these visits for, as Paul Harvey used to say, “the rest of the story.”

In 1902 President Theodore Roosevelt signed the Newlands Reclamation Act into law, setting in motion irrigation projects across the west and ultimately leading to the creation of the Bureau of Reclamation headquartered in Denver Colorado. One of the five original projects, and the first completed, was the Theodore Roosevelt Dam on the Salt River in present day Arizona. Though out of office on March 18, 1911, Roosevelt was on hand for the dedication and to personally push the button starting the flow of water through the completed dam. In this photograph from our Record Group 115 Records of the Bureau of Reclamation holdings we see Colonel Roosevelt, as he is addressed in the caption, speaking to the assembled crowd. Amazingly enough given the date of the dedication, which preceded even Arizona statehood, the Library of Congress has a very short silent film clip of him that day available to watch online.

President Roosevelt-res

“Salt River Project. Dedication ceremonies of Roosevelt Dam, Colonel Roosevelt speaking. March 18, 1911. Photographer Walter J. Lubkin”

 

In this next Bureau of Reclamation photograph dated September 23, 1909, we see Roosevelt’s successor President William Howard Taft at the dedication of the Gunnison Tunnel in western Colorado, a 5.8 mile tunnel cut through the Black Canyon to divert water from the Gunnison River to the Uncompahgre Valley. Nearby Montrose Colorado rolled out the red carpet for the president, constructing a two story high memorial arch across the main street and holding a parade. In his remarks that day Taft joked about the valley’s pronunciation stating it was an “incomparable valley with the unpronounceable name.”

President Taft

“President Taft speaking at the opening of the Gunnison Tunnel. On his right is C.E. Adams. To his left are Major J.Q. Allen and Frank D. Catlin. Photo taken September 23, 1909 State Historical Society of Colorado negative #F-2441”

 

On August 2, 1923, President Warren G. Harding passed away from a massive stroke while staying in San Francisco. Harding had been on a tour of the American West prior to his death and only one month earlier had visited Yellowstone National Park, seen here in a photograph from our Record Group 79 Records of the National Park Service holdings. In this photograph is President Harding, far left, with the Secretary of Interior Hubert Work, National Park Service Director Stephen Mather, and Yellowstone Superintendent Horace Albright. Newspaper accounts from the time remark that Work suggested Harding try his hand at trout fishing but “Mr. Harding isn’t generally regarded as much of a fisherman” and so did not. However, Harding did get a chance while visiting the park to feed a bear named Max, a practice that is widely discouraged today.

President Harding

“President Harding, Secretary of Interior Hubert Work, and Director Stephen Mather of the National Park Service with Superintendant Horace Albright at Grand Canyon, Yellowstone Park, July 2, 1923”

 

The morning after Harding’s untimely death Vice President Calvin Coolidge was sworn in as President of the United States by his father, a notary public, while at his family home in Vermont. Four years later the new president also visited Yellowstone National Park, seen here in this image along with Park Superintendent Albright. According to the August 21, 1927, edition of the Chicago Tribune the trip was “a family holiday” and the president “has put his foot down on all political and junketing aspects of this vacation within a vacation.”

“Superintendant Albright with President Coolidge in Yellowstone, 1927”

“Superintendant Albright with President Coolidge in Yellowstone, 1927”

 

 

This summer, choose your own POTUS Vacation with 13 of our Presidents.  Your first destination is @USNatArchives on Instagram. The adventures begin on Wednesday, August 8th.


Photographic Sources:

  • “Salt River Project. Dedication ceremonies of Roosevelt Dam, Colonel Roosevelt speaking. March 18, 1911 Photographer Walter J. Lubkin;” Personnel Presidents; Public Relations Photographs, 1981 – 1983, NAID 562813; RG 115.
  • “President Taft speaking at the opening of the Gunnison Tunnel. On his right is C.E. Adams. To his left are Major J.Q. Allen and Frank D. Catlin. Photo taken September 23, 1909 State Historical Society of Colorado negative #F-2441;” Miscellaneous Dams Photographs Uncompahgre Project; Photographs 1902-2002, NAID 2107149; RG 115.
  • “President Harding, Secretary of Interior Hubert Work, and Director Stephen Mather of the National Park Service with Superintendant Horace Albright at Grand Canyon, Yellowstone Park, July 2, 1923;” A-8215 Special Events 1955-1964; Subject Files, 1949 – 1965, NAID 1048616; RG 79.
  • “Superintendant Albright with President Coolidge in Yellowstone, 1927;” A-8215 Special Events 1955-1964; Subject Files, 1949 – 1965, NAID 1048616; RG 79.

Extra Sources:

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2 Responses to On the Road Again: Presidential Visits to the West, Part I

  1. Debbie Weinkamer says:

    Loved this article! Any photos of Congressman James A. Garfield (later 20th US President) negotiating with the Flathead Indians in Montana in the 1870s?

    Like

  2. Cody White says:

    Debbie, unfortunately not. The only place in our collection here in Denver that might show up would be within our Bureau of Indian Affairs Flathead Agency Holdings but those records only go back to around 1898 and even then contain very few photographs.

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