JFK at Stewart AFB Courtesy of JFK Library
Newburgh, during its long history, has been the destination for the rich, famous and powerful. This has included future U.S. Presidents as well as past presidents. Some of these visitors have included George Washington, Theodore Roosevelt, Ulysses S. Grant, Gerald Ford, John F. Kennedy, Franklin D. Roosevelt, Grover Cleveland, and most recently Bill Clinton.
Although he was not president in 1782-1783, George Washington made Newburgh his military headquarters. This future first president took the oath of office in 1789. During his two terms, as president, he did not visit Newburgh. Washington was not the only future president to visit Newburgh. Congressman Gerald Ford visited Newburgh for a “Gilman for Congress” dinner in September 24, 1972. Grover Cleveland was another future president to visit Newburgh. He was in Newburgh to celebrate its Revolutionary War past.
Grover Cleveland was Governor of New York when he attended the 1883 celebrations at Washington’s Headquarters. This centennial marked the disbandment of the Revolutionary Army. He would become president two years later. Finally, a third future president, Andrew Jackson allegedly “received his first public nomination for President of the United States.” However, The Hermitage, the house where Jackson lived a good part of his life, has no records of this visit.
The first well-known president to visit Newburgh was the former Union General turned president, Ulysses S. Grant. He not only toured the city on August 7, 1869, but also toured Washington’s Headquarters before returning to West Point aboard the Steamship M. Martin. His trip was boycotted by a number of veterans who felt he was not being fair to some Civil War Veterans.
Theodore Roosevelt visited Newburgh both as a future and a past President of the United States. The first time was campaigning for Governor of New York on a 600 mile Whistle Stop Tour. Two decades later he would visit Newburgh again to boost the war effort. This time Teddy Roosevelt visited the Newburgh Shipyard Fabrication Plant in September 1918.
Roosevelt attended a ceremony commissioning the USS Newburgh. One of Roosevelt’s more memorable quotes from his speech praised the shipyard; “ I am convinced that generally speaking, there is a fine spirit of patriotism in shipbuilding labor on all parts of the country.” He did voice concerns, in the same speech, “that in certain yards men have loafed individually, and that in certain yards unions have actually limited the output.” He saw these men as traitors to the country. He continued, he would send such men to Europe into the most dangerous places without a rifle.
Teddy Roosevelt in Newburgh on a "Whistle Stop Tour" in 1898 Courtesy of the Historical Society of Newburgh Bay and the Highlands
Theodore Roosevelt was not the only Roosevelt to visit Newburgh. Teddy’s cousin Franklin Delano Roosevelt, in 1944, also visited a Newburgh shipyard. In addition, he toured the upper part of Newburgh. The crowd was reported, in local papers, as larger than his first visit in 1940. The president noted his attachment to Newburgh because his mother, Sara Delano Roosevelt, was from Newburgh. Perhaps one of the more memorable visits was a young U.S. Senator from Massachusetts, John F. Kennedy.
Senator Kennedy made a campaign stop in Newburgh in October 1959. He arrived at Stewart Air Force Base. According to the JFK Library in Massachusetts, Kennedy spoke in the Green Room in the Hotel Newburgh. James M. Landis in a letter to Joseph P. Kennedy reported that his son, “made a wonderful impression,” even though the weather was grim. He was not deterred by this though, and added that “the Bible says that the rain falls on the just and the unjust alike.” He continued that the rain also falls on members of both political parties. Senator Kennedy departed Newburgh between 2:30 and 2:45. He would visit again in 1962, landing at Stewart Air Force Base on his way to West Point.
A former president who has visited Newburgh quite a bit is Bill Clinton as well as his wife. Hillary Clinton visited Newburgh in 1998 to tour Washington’s Headquarters, and did so again with her husband in the summer of 2008. As late as October 2015, former President Clinton dazzled local Newburgh residents when he walked into a Dunkin Donuts on his way to West Point.