Six presidents have visited Walla Walla County over the years


Editor's note: This is a reprint of an August 2003 story that appeared in advance of a visit to the region by then-President George W. Bush.

President Dwight D. Eisenhower slept here. And so did President Rutherford B. Hayes.

President George W. Bush, however, won't spend the night in Walla Walla County.

The current president's visit on Friday will be brief -- a quick tour of the Ice Harbor Dam at the western tip of the county.

Nevertheless, Bush will be the sixth U.S. president to visit Walla Walla County.

Hayes was the first president to visit, coming here in 1880.

The last president to visit was Richard M. Nixon, who spent about 30 minutes at the Walla Walla Airport on Sept. 26, 1971.

A crowd estimated at 11,000 was on hand to catch a glimpse of the president. The Whitman College football team was also there to make Nixon an honorary co-captain. The president was given a jersey with his name and the number 1.

The town's excitement over Nixon's visit was reflected in the Union-Bulletin's coverage of the event.

State political leaders, including Gov. Daniel J. Evans and Walla Walla's Tom Copeland, then the House speaker pro tem, were at Nixon's side.

Advertisers in the U-B got into the action. Even the colonel -- as in Kentucky Fried Chicken's Col. Harland Sanders -- welcomed Nixon to Walla Walla.

Eisenhower's visit to Walla Walla in 1954 was on Sept. 22 and 23. It was a civic celebration that has been mentioned frequently in recent years because of the renovation of the Marcus Whitman Hotel.

An original banner from Eisenhower's visit -- Welcome Mr. President -- hangs in a glass case on the Second Avenue side of the hotel as part of the landmark's 75th anniversary celebration.

The president spent the night in 705, a corner room now dubbed the Eisenhower Suite.

Bush isn't the first president to be drawn to the region for a dam. Eisenhower was in Walla Walla for the dedication of the McNary Dam near Umatilla, on Sept. 23. And, although this does not count as a presidential visit, President Lyndon B. Johnson came through Walla Walla in 1962 when he was vice president, for the dedication of the Ice Harbor Dam.

President William Howard Taft arrived in Walla Walla in 1911 by train. The president was here for only about two hours -- from 7 a.m. until 9 a.m. Taft gave a short speech from the bandstand at Pioneer Park.

The highlight of the trip, according to the news accounts of the day, came as Taft -- who weighed well over 300 pounds -- arrived.

"When Taft stepped off the train," the paper reported, the president noted Jack Kaufman, who was standing on the platform and said: 'My God! There is a bigger man than I am. I am going to shake his hand.' And he did."

President Theodore Roosevelt also arrived by train. During his visit in 1903 he gave a speech on the Whitman College campus and was honored at a reception at Fort Walla Walla.

The first presidential visit to Walla Walla came nine years before Washington was even a state. The 19th president, Hayes, visited in 1880.

The president spent the night at the Ward family home at 228 E. Poplar St. A reception was held for Hayes at the First Methodist Church, Second Avenue and Poplar Street, and he had dinner at the Stine house.


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