George Washington was
Everyone talks about George Washington's connections with Berkeley Springs, but he wasn't the only president who visited Berkeley Springs and Morgan County.
At least eight of the nation's 43 presidents have been here, and that doesn't include First Ladies, VPs and Also-Rans.
The first president was a 16-year-old surveyor's assistant when he first saw what he called "ye Fam'd Warm Springs" and the village that later became Town of Bath.
Washington's March, 1748 visit was only the first of at least nine documented visits over the next 46 years, with stays as long as a month. And, Washington was probably here many more times due to his work and travels as a surveyor, as a French & Indian War officer and as a member of the Virginia House of Burgesses.
He owned property in town and along the Potomac River in western Morgan County, though he never had a satisfactory house that his family could use when they vacationed here.
Washington's only known visit during his presidential years of 1789 to 1797 was in October, 1794. He spent the night in Berkeley Springs while on his way to Cumberland, Md. to review troops that were gathered to put down the Whiskey Tax Rebellion.
Martin Van Buren
The next president known to have laid eyes on the Warm Springs was Martin Van Buren, the eighth chief executive.
Van Buren, who was in the Oval Office from 1837 to 1841, was a New Yorker who allied with Andrew Jackson's new Democratic Party. He is best remembered for trying to do away with laws that put people in prison for their debts.
Around 1830, while serving as
Jackson's Secretary of State, Van Buren stopped in Berkeley Springs, according to Fred T. Newbraugh's Warm Springs Echoes, Vol. 1. He was on a tour of northwestern Virginia and also visited Martinsburg and the Back Creek Valley.
James K. Polk, the 11th president (1845-1849), came to the Strother Hotel in Berkeley Springs on August 26, 1848. He had been in Cumberland and was on his way back to Washington.
Polk, a Democrat from Tennessee, stayed for a couple days at the hotel, which was located where The Country Inn is today.
He rather enjoyed the baths, but remarked: "I could not discover that it was in any respects superior to a bath taken anywhere else."
On Sunday morning, the president reportedly talked politics with some of the hotel guests and found himself arguing with Innkeeper Strother, the father of local hero David Hunter Strother, known by his pen name Porte Crayon.
When it came time for Polk to leave, Strother sent him on a particularly long and bumpy route.
Polk later wrote: "Strother pretends to belong to the mock aristocracy, but must be a low bred man. I attribute the bad treatment I have received to his vindictiveness in politics."
Polk's vice president – George M. Dallas – also visited here. There's no record of what he thought about Strother. Perhaps no one cared what Dallas (or most vice presidents) thought about much of anything.
Three years after Polk's stay, Millard Fillmore of New York, the nation's 13th president (1850-1853), brought his family to Bath. Mrs. Fillmore was suffering from an infection and the president hoped the waters would do her some good.
They, too, stayed at the Strother Hotel, but, as a member of the old Whig Party, he may have been more to Strother's liking and registered no complaints.
Fillmore's successor — Franklin Pierce (1853-1857) — may have visited Berkeley Springs as well, according to local historian Newbraugh. If so, it was a brief 1853 visit during which he may have signed a fisheries treaty.
Pierce could have heard about the place from his vice president, William Rufus King of Alabama, who relaxed in Ye Olde Town after he and Pierce were nominated at the 1852 Democratic convention in Baltimore.
A New Hampshire native, Pierce is usually remembered for accommodating the South to try and stave off a split in the nation. Of course, that split would come four years after he left office, resulting in the Civil War.
Abraham Lincoln, the president of the Civil War years, is not known to have visited Berkeley Springs or western Virginia, but he signed the papers making West Virginia the 35th state.
John DeFrees, the man who nominated Lincoln at the 1860 Republican Convention, owned a house in Berkeley Springs. As a reward, Lincoln appointed DeFrees as Superintendent of Public Printing. He later moved to Berkeley Springs and built what is now Hunter-Anderson Funeral Home.
In 1976, a page of Lincoln's 1865 message to Congress, in the 16th president's own handwriting, turned up among items in the estate of Ralph Allen of Berkeley Springs. It was assumed that Allen's grandfather, a strong Lincoln supporter, was given the document by DeFrees.
Decades would pass before another president came our direction. And it was another War President – Woodrow Wilson (1913-1921), the Democrat who guided the U. S. through World War I.
Wilson, the 28th president, visited the Woodmont Club, just west of Hancock, Md. While it's unclear if he made a side trip to Berkeley Springs, his vice president, Thomas R. Marshall, did come here. Marshall is known to have attended some sort of reception at the DeFrees House.
The story goes that either Wilson or Marshall heard Morgan County fiddler Harvey VanGoshen play and invited VanGoshen to perform his mountain tunes for a White House gathering.
There's no record of Wilson's successor, Warren G. Harding, coming to town, but Mrs. Harding came here in 1923 to take the waters.
She arrived just before the start of the trial of coal union organizer Frank Keeney, who was charged with crimes allegedly committed during the Coal Wars of the early 1920s. The trial was moved here from southern West Virginia in an attempt to secure an impartial jury.
Mrs. Harding's visit was seen by some as a political act, since her husband had called out federal troops against striking miners.
In 1928, Herbert Hoover, the 31st president (1929-1933), whistle-stopped through the area while campaigning and made a speech at the Hancock, W. Va. station.
Hoover, a Republican, was running against Al Smith, who promised to end Prohibition. S. S. Buzzerd, founder and editor of The Morgan Messenger, was a staunch Prohibitionist and printed lots of good words about Hoover. Buzzerd later received a letter from President Hoover thanking him for his editorial endorsement.
Franklin D. Roosevelt, who defeated Hoover in 1932 during the depths of the Depression, also visited here. Roosevelt, a Democrat, was president from 1933 to 1945.
FDR was over at the Woodmont Club on June 27, 1935 when he and his entourage drove through Hancock and crossed the Potomac River Bridge, which was then behind what is now the Lockhouse Restaurant.
The 32nd president came to Berkeley Springs to see the kids at the Crippled Children's Hospital, now War Memorial Hospital. It was more than a public relations gesture for a man who was himself crippled by polio.
Roosevelt's visit was remembered in 1982 when his son, James Roosevelt, came to town for an event that both honored his father's 100th birthday and showed off improvements made to War Memorial Hospital.
Since FDR, the only president known to have visited Morgan County is Jimmy Carter, a Democrat who was the 39th president ( 1977-1981).
After leaving office, Carter apparently traveled through the area on U. S. 522 a few times, sometimes stopping for a snack south of town at Don & Lil's Market, now Gray Walls Market.
President George Bush (1989-1993) visited neighboring Hampshire County in the early 1990s to recognize a National Teacher of the Year.
In 2004, his son, President George W. Bush, held a reelection campaign rally even closer — in Hedgesville, Berkeley County.
Bush's Democratic opponent, John Kerry, also campaigned in Berkeley County in the last presidential election.
They also ran
Also-rans have come to Berkeley Springs from time to time, as well.
In 1824, William H. Crawford spent a chunk of time here when he was seeking the presidency. He was the candidate of a faction of Thomas Jefferson's old Democratic-Republican Party, which was splintering.
Crawford won the county vote, but finished third nationally. Historians say his main accomplishment was splitting the vote so John Quincy Adams beat Andrew Jackson, who had to wait until 1828 to be elected.
In 1960, Hubert H. Humphrey came to Morgan County while making a bid for the Democratic nomination for president. He lost the West Virginia Primary Election to John F. Kennedy. Humphrey won the Democrats' nod in 1968, but that time he was done in by his association with an unpopular president, Lyndon Johnson, and the Vietnam War.
In the late 1970s, a Morgan County legislator got the notion that Rt. 9, the road Humphrey traveled, should be renamed Hubert Humphrey Memorial Highway in order to get federal funds for an upgrade. There was little or no support for the idea.
Al Gore, the Democratic presidential candidate in 2000, stayed at Coolfont Recreation as a U. S. senator and in late 1992, shortly before taking office as Bill Clinton's vice president. The story leaked out that Gore got lost in the wilds of Coolfont, but it was apparently more publicity yarn than fact.
So, Morgan County may not seem like the #1 place to "Meet The President," but you have just as good a chance here as almost anywhere else to see the kingpins up close.