'Little Washington' has walking tour for sightseers

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Educators at Washington & Jefferson College found a way to truly "walk the walk" this Presidents Day.

Tori Haring-Smith, college president, and about 40 walkers from the college and the Washington, Pa., community took a mile-long tour of the campus and neighborhoods of the town that has been host to 15 presidents who either spoke, visited or stayed in what is commonly referred to as "Little Washington."

"More than a third of our 44 U.S. presidents have been to Washington at one time or another," said Thomas Manwaring, professor of history. He and Jennifer Harding, associate professor of English, co-authored the newly released brochure, "A City of Presidents: A Self-Guided Walking Tour of Washington, Pa."

The free brochure is available at the college library at 60 S. Lincoln St.; LeMoyne House -- home of the Washington County Historical Society -- at 49 E. Maiden Street; Washington's Citizens Library at 55 S. College St.; and Washington County Tourism Promotion Agency, 273 S. Main St.

The first stop on the 15-stop tour is the college's oldest building, McMillan Hall, where construction on the middle stone section was begun in 1793. In 1817, James Monroe, who was president from 1817 to 1825, was the first president to visit Washington as part of a national tour to build unity a few weeks after his inauguration.

Records show that Andrew Wylie, college president at the time, welcomed Monroe, who eventually made his way to David Morris' Tavern on South Main, another stop on the tour.

Morris Tavern eventually became the Globe Inn, which boasts documented visits from five presidents: Monroe, Andrew Jackson (1829-1837), William Henry Harrison (1841), James K. Polk (1845-1849) and Zachary Taylor (1849-1850).

The building still stands and is now office space.

Ironically, the two presidents who loaned their names to the college never visited the town.

George Washington (1789-1797) led troops as far west as Bedford, Pa., during the Whiskey Rebellion, which lasted from 1791-1794, and the stone house of one of the main rebellious antagonists, David Bradford, is a tour stop.

"Washington did once get as close as 12 miles from the city when he visited Miller's Run in present day Mount Pleasant Township, where he owned land," Mrs. Harding said.

The president who may have been the city's most frequent visitor was Jackson, who made at least five trips into town, including one while on his way to his first inauguration.

"The easiest way for him to get to the nation's capital from his home in Nashville, Tenn., was to take a boat from Kentucky up the Ohio River to Pittsburgh, then travel overland to Little Washington, where he could pick up the National Road and head south," Mr. Manwaring pointed out.

The president with the closest ties to Washington, Pa., was Ulysses S. Grant (1869-1877). His wife, Julia, had a cousin in town by the name of William Smith, who reportedly was also a close friend of Grant's. During one of the president's visits, he laid the cornerstone for the new town hall. Several of Grant's personal items are now part of the collection of the Washington County Historical Society, where they are on exhibit in the society's Civil War Room.

President John F. Kennedy (1961-1963) came to town on Oct.13, 1962, and delivered a speech to a large crowd from the portico of the county courthouse.

President Harry Truman (1945-1953) drove into town with his wife, Bess, following his last term of office on an excursion from New York to their home in Independence, Mo. Not only did the couple arrive without Secret Service protection, but the president was behind the wheel all the way.

Both President William Jefferson "Bill" Clinton (1993-2001) and President Barack Obama made several campaign stops in Washington as president. A photo of Mr. Clinton hangs in the main dining room of the town's Union Grill, where he is shown standing with the restaurant owner.

Two possible presidents the researchers may have missed are Richard Nixon (1969-1974) and William McKinley (1897-1901). Rumor has it that Nixon stayed at a home in East Washington, and another has McKinley making an appearance at the fair grounds, but Mr. Manwaring said he wasn't able to find any documentation of their possible visits.

"While doing our research, I saw the tour as a benefit to the community," Mrs. Harding said. "A lot of people don't know their own local history, and the tour is one way of getting the word out."

neigh_south - neigh_washington

Dave Zuchowski, freelance writer: suburbanliving@post-gazette.com.


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