McKinley traveled by train to vacation spot in New York

Editor’s note: This is part of a weekly series marking the 120th anniversary of Niles native William McKinley’s U.S. presidency.

By late July 1897, the arrangements for President William McKinley and his travelling party to vacation at Lake Champlain in New York had been completed.

They travelled by train from Washington, D.C., to their destination on the Pennsylvania Railroad with transfers to other lines at Jersey City, N.J., and Albany, N.Y.

It was the president’s intention to remain at Lake Champlain until Aug. 23, when he would go to the Grand Army of the Republic encampment at Buffalo, N.Y. From there, McKinley would travel to Ohio to attend the reunion of the Civil War regiment, the 23rd Ohio Volunteer Infantry Regiment. While in Ohio, McKinley planned to attend the wedding of the daughter of the late President Rutherford B. Hayes on Sept. 2. President Hayes had been McKinley’s commanding officer in the 23rd OVI during the war.

McKinley’s vacation schedule would be completed by spending a few days with Ohio Sen. Marcus A. Hanna of Cleveland aboard Hanna’s yacht on the lake. Hanna had raised several million dollars to assure McKinley’s election as president.

During the first full week at Hotel Champlain, the president and Mrs. McKinley were entertained each morning by military dress parades presented by the 21st Infantry of the U.S. Army stationed at Plattsburg, N.Y. The McKinleys viewed the parades from the balcony of their own apartments. Following the parade, the band of the 21st held a one-hour lawn concert.

On the afternoon of Aug. 4, the presidential party took a boat trip on Lake Champlain. A newspaper story reported the following:

“The big steamer Vermont carried the party across the lake and back to the summer hotel. During the trip home Mrs. McKinley appeared to be very feeble, requiring much assistance from the President in walking, although she says she has been benefited by the bracing air.”

On the next day, the following was reported:

“This afternoon the President and Mrs. McKinley went alone on a long drive of 12 miles around Cumberland Head, which juts out into Lake Champlain some three miles, and a magnificent view of the lake and mountains was enjoyed by the President and his wife as they rolled around its bold cliffs.”

McKinley’s second week of vacation time began with a boat trip on Lake Champlain to the island home of Vermont Lt .Gov. Nelson W. Fiske on Isle la Motte. The steamer Moquam left the hotel dock at 11 a.m. to convey the president to the midsummer meeting of the Vermont Fish and Game League. A dinner was served in a huge tent with a seating capacity of 800. Every seat was filled. A St. Albans glee club serenaded the group. One of the songs performed was a campaign song dedicated to McKinley, “We want you, McKinley, Yes we do.” More was demanded by the audience, and the glee club responded with, “We’ve got you, McKinley, Yes we have.”

The president was called upon to speak.

“I promised myself I would not make a speech while away on my vacation and had assurances that I would not be called upon today, but I cannot help responding to your generous welcome. I am glad to meet and greet you as Americans. We have a right to be proud of our civilization. This country owes much to Vermont for our splendid civilization. Cling to your Puritan heritage. It is one of your greatest gifts.”

Cheers greeted the president’s remarks, which pleased the Vermonters mightily, and he made a life member of the Fish and Game League on the spot, and upon leaving was saluted by all the yachts in the harbor.

McKinley, a Niles native, served 120 years ago, beginning with his March 1897 inauguration.

Wendell Lauth of Bristol is a Trumbull County historian.

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