A President Visits The “North Country”

NotSoLongAgo_Blog

by Robert Hanaford Smith, Sr.
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Weirs Times Contributing Writer

When the President of the United States takes a vacation it is bound to arouse the curiosity of the people of the country, and when his destination is the State of New Hampshire, you can be sure it won’t go unnoticed by its citizens.
President Warren Harding chose Lancaster, in New Hampshire’s north country, as his August, 1921, vacation location. Thanks to an account of that trip published in the Boston Globe newspaper on August fifth of that year and other sources I can pass on some details of his vacation.
President Harding’s specific destination was the home of Secretary of War John W. Weeks on Mount Prospect. Actually, the Globe article said that the President’s trip would not be called a vacation but “…a period of recreation in the life of one of the busiest men of the country.” He travelled to Portland, Maine, on the Presidential yacht, Mayflower, after a stop at Plymouth, Massachusetts, and then went by automobile the 140 miles to Lancaster.

President Warren Harding (right) with his Secretary of War John Weeks at Weeks’ home in New Hampshire.
President Warren Harding (right) with his Secretary of War John Weeks at Weeks’ home in New Hampshire.

“ The President must have his golf…” we are told, and interrupted his trip intending to play nine holes, but played eighteen instead, putting him behind schedule. It was after eight in the evening when he arrived in the town of Whitefield where people had been waiting since 2 p.m. to see him. Pres. Harding stopped to greet the crowd and give a short, well-received speech before proceeding to Lancaster and going to bed at 11:00 p.m.
The next morning the President, who was described as being fond of outdoor activities, had breakfast at eight and was on the golf course at Weeks’ estate on Mt. Prospect at ten, but the small links were not good enough for Harding, so he went to a larger course. Personnel from golf courses from miles around tried to persuade the President to use their facilities, with one reportedly even offering to erect a bronze plaque at the spot the chief executive’s first golf ball landed.
It seems that when a United States President takes a vacation that some kind of controversy is likely to arise, and the one in August of 1921 was on a local level. The people of Lancaster had been instructed not to plan a big event during President Harding’s visit, and they complied with the request; however, when they heard that the neighboring town of Whitefield had not only had a demonstration of some sort for him, but that he also delivered a short address, they were not happy. So what does a town do when it is confronted with a problem? Appoint a committee, of course. Secretary Weeks did the appointing, the committee met, President Harding agreed to speak in Lancaster on a Thursday evening, the residents were impressed with the speech, and all was well.
The Boston reporter, M.E. Hennessy, appeared to be as much interested in the citizens of Lancaster as he was in the activities of the President. To illustrate their independent mindset he wrote that Secretary Weeks had decided to establish an Old People’s Home in honor of his mother who felt it her mission to look after the unfortunate and poor people in the community. The reporter related that because “… the old people of Lancaster were either too proud, too independent, or too well-to-do to accept such charity…” that after a few years the Old People’s Home was closed. Only one person had chosen to live there.
When the Republican convention began in 1920 Warren Harding was not one of the favorites to win the nomination to be the party’s candidate for President. Interestingly, one of the favorites at the beginning of the convention was Major General Leonard Wood, a native of Winchester, New Hampshire, who won the primary in New Hampshire, and received the most votes in the first four ballots at the national convention, but Harding ended up becoming a compromise candidate. Harding, an Ohio resident, won the nomination on the tenth ballot.
From all appearances the President enjoyed “ his period of recreation ” in the North Country and the independent citizens up there were apparently happy to have him there. Harding had been to Lancaster before becoming President as a lecturer for the Chautauqua Institution and was paid $150 for his speech and The Boston Globe reporter noted that in the 1921 speech there was no charge for the people to hear the President speak.
The reporter did have one gripe of his own about the trip to Lancaster that he could not resist addressing. The problem? Reckless driving. He wrote “ Neither the President nor Mrs. Harding seem to regard the speed they travel as dangerous, but it is dangerous, nevertheless, and somebody in authority in these Presidential trips over the country should see to it that reckless driving is stopped. The life of the President of the United States is too important and precious from a public standpoint to be jeopardized by unnecessary speeding.” He suggested that the President was a subject for drastic governmental regulation. Remember that was in 1921.
In his speech in Lancaster during his “ period of recreation ” President Harding included these comments: “I am glad to come here and have the experience, as one of the Middle West, in gazing on the works of your wonderful land. I wonder sometimes if you appreciate the indescribable charm of the section in which you live….. If I am ever doubtful …of the wonderful goodness of God, I would only have to journey to this section to see the mountains in their eternal glories and the valleys glorified and then see them all crowned with our works of modern civilization and I would have my faith unalterably renewed.”
It was almost exactly two years after his New Hampshire vacation that President Warren Harding died of an apparent heart attack on August 2, 1923, in a San Francisco hotel room at the age of 57.

Robert Hanaford Smith, Sr., lives in New Hampton.