So many candidates are tossing their hats into the presidential ring this year that it made me think about some of the candidates and later the winners who visited Denison. In June 1936 one of the best known and best loved presidents, Franklin D. Roosevelt, visited our town. Probably the largest turnout in Denison history at that time was on hand to greet him at the MK&T Railroad Depot.
That was the first time a U.S. president had been to Denison since 1905 when Teddy Roosevelt paused briefly on his way to Sherman. Teddy Roosevelt was on his way from St. Louis to a Rough Riders’ reunion, an encampment in San Antonio, and stopped off at Durant and Caddo, the home of a member of the group.
Denison was Roosevelt’s first welcome to Texas before he went on to Dallas where he called North Texas the “Garden of the Lord” with its April fields of bluebonnets and paintbrushes. He stopped for about an hour in Sherman, the first United States president to visit that city, and was taken from the train to the Sherman Square escorted by veterans in Union and Confederate uniforms. The escorts included several Rough Riders led by U.S. Marshall Ben Colbert.
Dr. Ed Phillips, Austin College professor, had researched Roosevelt’s trip to Texas and discussed the events in 1979 with members of the Tuesday Junior Literary Club in Sherman.
When President Franklin D. Roosevelt came to town he thrilled a crowd estimated at 25,000 by saying, “I hope that someday very soon this great project of the Denison Dam will be started.” That was two years before the building of the dam was certain, but more than 10 years after the dam was more than just a dream of a hydro-electric flood control project.
President and Mrs. Roosevelt stopped here on June 13, 1936, while on a train tour of the Southwest. Needless to say, but we will say it anyway, his prophecy for the Denison Dam project was a highlight of that day that made history for the area.
Plans for the president’s visit had been developing for weeks and no stone was left unturned to welcome Roosevelt. This marked the first stopover visit to Denison of a United States president. Even though the president did not leave the train, the town was decorated for the occasion. A crowd estimated to be the largest in history at that time, gathered at the depot to hear his message. The crowd almost blotted out the downtown Katy yards as only a narrow lane allowed the special train through, then closed in behind the last car.
Sam Rayburn was on hand to present the chief executive with the customary introduction: “Ladies and gentlemen, the President of the United States.”
The crowd roared with excitement as the president stepped to the observation platform to speak. After saying he was glad to be in Denison in person, after hearing from Congressman Rayburn of the problems of Denison and this part of the country, he said he knew our geography very well.
“We are taking steps to have a survey of this part of the Red River made and I hope that someday very soon this great project of the Denison Dam will be started. As you know through Sam Rayburn, I have been very much interested in electricity in the people’s homes. I am told that in this congressional district there are 31,000 farms and of those 31,000 farms, only about 700 or 800 are equipped with electric power.”
Roosevelt lived to see the project completed before he died in April 1945. At that time Harry S. Truman became President of the U.S., but it wasn’t until 1957 that the new president came to Grayson. Also traveling by train, he visited Denison while on the way to Bonham where he made a political speech in the football stadium. He again stopped in Denison in November 1961 when he was traveling to Bonham to attend Sam Rayburn’s funeral.
Also attending Rayburn’s funeral were three other persons who were to become President of the United States: Dwight Eisenhower, John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson.
Their airplane flew in to Perrin Air Force Base and they were transported to Bonham by helicopter. Truman was succeeded as president by Denison-born Eisenhower, who left here as a small child, but made several visits to his birthplace.
Donna Hunt is former editor of The Denison Herald. She lives in Denison and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org. She has been a longtime contributor to the Herald Democrat with her column. The views and opinions expressed here are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect those of the Herald Democrat.