On Monday, Americans will celebrate Presidents Day, honoring the men who have held the country’s top leadership position. Texoma has had its share of presidential visits and one town can even boast of being the birthplace of a United States president.
The area’s first visit by a president came in 1874 when Ulysses S. Grant arrived in Denison via train. The late Dr. Edward H. Phillips, a Sherman historian and then professor at Austin College, said that Grant rode the Missouri Pacific and MKT railroads south from St. Louis to Sedalia, Missouri where he was joined by Gen. William T. Sherman, to come through Indian Territory to Denison. Another source said that President Grant climb the steps leading to the roof of the new Denison Educational Institute and praised Denison for its effort to promote education. It was also reported but not confirmed that, after visiting the school, President Grant and General Sherman spent several hours in Denison saloons before departing.
On Oct. 14, 1890, in a two-story home in Denison, the nation’s 34th president, Dwight D. Eisenhower, was born. The family remained there two years before moving from Denison to Abilene, Kansas.
In 1905, President Theodore Roosevelt was traveling by train to attend a reunion of his Rough Riders in San Antonio. He made stops at Caddo, Oklahoma, the home of his “Rough Riders;” Durant, Oklahoma; Denison; and Sherman. In Denison, he was greeted at the MK&T Railroad station by a large crowd. School children presented him with a floral wreath designed as a Texas flag. The wreath was a gift from “The school children of the first free public school building ever erected in Texas,” according to an article in Volume One of the History of Grayson County Texas by the Grayson County Frontier Village.
Following his Denison visit, President Roosevelt went to Sherman and was greeted by an estimated 30,000 people which was double the population of Sherman at that time. Dr. Phillips had reported that veterans in Union and Confederate uniforms escorted the president from the railroad station to the Grayson County Courthouse square. The contingent included Rough Riders led by U.S. Marshal Ben Colbert and 10 wagons lavishly decorated with flowers. Cecil A. Lyon of Sherman was President Roosevelt’s main Texas host and had asked the president ahead of time to stop in Sherman and speak to the crowd. The speech lasted 15 minutes, after which the president shook hands with each Rough Rider present as they rode their horses up to the review stand. Those present also reported that Roosevelt tipped his hat in tribute to the Confederate monument on the courthouse square.
It wasn’t until June 0f 1936 that another U.S. president visited. It was Franklin D. Roosevelt, cousin of Theodore Roosevelt. Franklin Roosevelt, like his predecessors, rode the rails into Denison and was introduced by the late Rep. Sam Rayburn, longtime Speaker of the House who hailed from Bonham. An estimated 25,000 people greeted Roosevelt who spoke to them from the train’s observation platform, stating his enthusiasm for the soon-to-be-done Denison dam project. The dam was completed before he died in April of 1945.
Harry S. Truman assumed the presidency after Roosevelt died. In 1957 he came to Grayson County, traveling by train because he didn’t like to fly. He was heading to Bonham for a political speech in the football stadium.
Truman, along with President John F. Kennedy, Eisenhower and soon-to-be President Lyndon B. Johnson, all came to the area in November of 1961 to attend Sam Rayburn’s funeral. Truman, arrived by train and took his morning walk on Denison’s Main Street, accompanied by the editor of the Denison Herald, Claud Easterly who interviewed Truman during the walk. Eisenhower was met by a driver from Sherman and taken by private car to Bonham, but not before stopping at a Sherman Dairy Queen for hamburgers. Kennedy and Johnson were taken by helicopter from Perrin Field to Bonham.
Eisenhower made three visits to Denison, the first when he was a military general, the second as a candidate for president, and the third as the former president just before his death. His birthplace, a state historic site, along with a large bust of Eisenhower situated at Loy Park in Denison, alongside U.S. Hwy. 75, are both popular historic sites for tourists and locals alike.
In 1970, a young George W. Bush visited Texoma. His father, George H.W. Bush, swung into the area in 1967 and again in 1979, speaking at Tanglewood Resort and Conference Center on Sept. 24, 1979 and also visiting Sherman during his run for the presidency against Ronald Reagan. He lost out and served two terms as vice president under Reagan until winning the 1989 presidential election.
A courtesy photo shows President Bill Clinton at North Texas Regional Airport — Perrin Field in 2009, reportedly to attend the funeral of a cousin. Local historians believe that Clinton’s birth father was born near Sherman and some family members still reside in the area.
The most recent visit from a U.S. president was on July 15, 2015 when President Barack Obama landed Air Force One at North Texas Regional Airport — Perrin Field. On hand to meet the president were mayors from Denison and Sherman, along with other local city officials and supporters. Obama then traveled by Marine One, flying to Durant, Oklahoma to meet with Choctaw Nation leaders at the Durant High School. He also met with youths from the Choctaw, Cherokee, Muscogee (Creek) and Chickasaw Nations before returning to Air Force One and heading Tinker Air Force Base in Oklahoma City.
The information above was compiled from Herald Democrat archives and from a previous history column by local historian, author and past editor of the Denison Herald, Donna Hunt. The photos were compiled by Hunt and Herald Democrat photographer Chris Jennings.