On October 11, 1880, U.S. President Rutherford B. Hayes (1822-1893) visits Seattle. Hayes is the first president to travel west of the Rocky Mountains while in office. The president is accompanied by General William Sherman (1820-1891), who led the march on Atlanta, Georgia, during the Civil War, and by Secretary of War Alexander Ramsey. During his visit the president also visits the coal towns of Renton and Newcastle in King County.
Whistles, Booms, and Bells
The presidential party arrived on the steamship George E Starr and docked at the Yesler wharf at the foot of Mill Street (later renamed Yesler Way). Hayes was greeted with cannon booms, steam whistles, and church bells. A sign was attached to an archway of evergreens stretched across Mill Street that read:
WELCOME OUR PRESIDENT
The president gave a brief speech from the balcony of the Occidental Hotel, located between Mill Street and James Street. He was introduced by Washington Territory Chief Justice R. S. Greene, who congratulated him for traveling long and far to arrive at the center of the nation, based on various territorial definitions. Greene went on to note that:
"You are aware that our Territory aspires to be a State. This aspiration has a better basis than local pride or selfishness. It is not a mere question of population ... here germinal interests of high national consequence exist" (Daily Intelligencer).
Not the Gettysburg Address
Then President Hayes made a short speech, as follows:
"The acquisition of new information is always agreeable to me. Ever since I have left home, gentlemen, I have been adding to my store of geographical knowledge. I feel grateful to Judge Greene for additional geographical information, he has just given me in his remarks of welcome -- that Seattle is the geographical center of our land. In Ohio it is supposed that the center is not far from Cincinnati. In Tennessee they also claim to be in the center; but now, after having traveled westward so many thousands of miles, I am informed that I have just reached the center of the country. Well, I suppose it ought to be, and know of no reason why Seattle, with all her varied resources, and situated on one of the finest bodies of water in the world, should not be, figuratively speaking, in the very center of the commercial interests of the United States. Gentlemen in California and also in Portland, Oregon, informed me in each of those places that I had reached the coveted point; but ladies and gentlemen, to all intents and purposes the center of our country is wherever this flag floats" (Daily Intelligencer).
Hayes took a train to the Newcastle and Renton coal mines and gave a brief speech at each place before returning to Seattle.
In the evening of October 11, 1880, Seattle was brilliantly illuminated with candles, lamps, and coal gas. According to the Daily Intelligencer, the three floors of the Opera House are "ablaze with light." A bonfire attracted hundreds to Occidental Square. A reception was held at Squire's Opera House (east side of Commercial Street -- 1st Avenue S), at which President Hayes shook hands with more than 2,000 people.
President Rutherford Hayes left Seattle early the next morning.