A History of Presidential Visits to Wheeling
While on an expedition along the Ohio and Kanawha Rivers, Founding Father and future first president of the United States, George Washington, wrote in his journal, July 25, 1770, "About five miles from the Vine Creek comes in a very large creek to the eastward, called by the Indians Cut Creek, from a town or tribe of Indians, which they say was cut off entirely in a very bloody battle between them and the Six Nations. This creek empties just at the lower end of an island, and is seventy or eighty yards wide; and I fancy it is the creek commonly called Wheeling by the people of Red-stone." (1)
Occurring less than a year after Wheeling's own founding father, Ebenezer Zane, was said to have tomahawked the tree to claim to the land for the future Friendly City in 1769, this may, unofficially, have been the first of many presidential visits to Wheeling.
There is perhaps no place in town that is more familiar to presidential visits than the McLure Hotel. On President's Day, February 18, 2008, The Wheeling News-Register recounted that according to published reports, at least 11 presidents stayed at the McLure including Ulysses S. Grant, James A. Garfield, Chester A. Arthur, Benjamin Harrison, William McKinley, Theodore Roosevelt, William Howard Taft, Woodrow Wilson, Harry S. Truman, Dwight D. Eisenhower, and John F. Kennedy.
In 1920, Warren G. Harding and Franklin D. Roosevelt made campaign stops in Wheeling on consecutive days, September 28 and 29, both speaking at the Market Auditorium. Roosevelt would return, as President, to Wheeling on October 19, 1932, when he would be photographed shaking the hand of Elm Grove coal miner Tony Fiorino, a picture that came to be one of the most recognizable images of the Depression era (See photo at gettyimages.com).
Dwight D. Eisenhower (September 24) and Harry S. Truman (October 23) came through Wheeling within a month of each in 1952, both on campaigning on whistle-stop train tours. Eisenhower would ask Richard M. Nixon, his vice-presidential running mate, to meet him "face-to-face" on this Wheeling stop following Nixon's televised "Checkers" speech. Eisenhower met Nixon late that night, in his airplane at the Ohio County Airport. During a campaign stop in Wheeling four years later, September 28, 1956, Nixon was asked about that meeting by a Wheeling Intelligencer reporter. Nixon replied that no one was more surprised than he was when he learned Eisenhower was sitting in a parked car on the airfield ramp waiting for the plane to land. "I was just pulling on my coat when someone said Mr. Eisenhower was boarding the plane." (2)
One of several visits to our city, then U.S. Senator John F. Kennedy first spoke to the people of Wheeling at the Virginia Theatre, October 14, 1956. He would later come back to Wheeling on the campaign trail, April 27, 1960 (See Eddie Martin photo of Kennedy in North Wheeling), and again as President, September 27, 1962.
While running for the Republican nomination, future U.S. President Ronald Reagan spoke at the Field House at Wheeling Jesuit University May 3, 1976 (See a photo, taken by Wheeling historian Margaret Brennan, of Reagan arriving at the Ohio County Airport for this event).
Future president Bill Clinton was in Wheeling campaigning with his running mate Al Gore on July 19, 1992. Clinton addressed a group at Stone Presbyterian Church while Gore led a rally at Bridge Street Middle School.
President George W. Bush first came to Wheeling on August 29, 2004, and spoke at WesBanco Arena during his Ohio Valley re-election campaign. President Bush made a second visit to Wheeling on March 22, 2006, conducting a town hall meeting at the Capitol Music Hall.
Most recently, President Donald J. Trump flew into the Ohio-County Airport on September 29, 2018, in support of the Republican candidacy of Patrick Morrisey, who was at the time challenging U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin, a Democrat, for the U.S. Senate seat. President Trump returned to Wheeling on July 22, 2019, for a private 2020 re-election campaign fundraiser hosted by Robert E. Murray, then president and CEO of Murray Energy.