Monday, July 15, 2024

Stratford: The Stories We Tell

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U.S. Presidents Visit Stratford

By David Wright
Town Historian

As we remember our U. S. Presidents during the month of February, you may be interested to learn that several have visited Stratford over the past 220 years, or so.  George Washington visited Stratford seven times during his lifetime. His first visit to Stratford was as a Colonel in the British Army in February of 1756. During the Revolutionary War, Washington stayed at the Benjamin Tavern with Lafayette. One of Washington’s last trips through Stratford was with his wife Martha. Washington wrote about the poor conditions of the roads between Fairfield and Stratford in his diary.

Lincoln also passed through Stratford after a stop in Bridgeport on March 10th, 1860.  Lincoln gave a speech, and met with Republican leaders, at McLevy Hall. He sampled his first oysters during his Bridgeport stop, and little Mary Curtis of Stratford “presented him with a bouquet of flowers and a bunch of salt hay from the Stratford meadows. … Where the flowers came from at that season, and how the hay could be cheerfully green, is not explained.”

Years later in a Stratford Times article from February 14, 1913, Jeannette Booth described Lincoln’s visit to our area.  …Lincoln passed through Stratford twice in March, 1860 going to Phillips Exeter Academy, New Hampshire, where his son, Robert, was at school preparing for college. On his return trip he made campaign speeches at Hartford, Meriden, New Haven and Norwich.   It was in New Haven that Lincoln consented, through the urgency of two Bridgeport gentlemen, to honor their city with his presence.  He sent word that he would stop off the train Saturday evening, March 10, 1860 and make a speech at seven o’clock—provided they would get him to the 9:07 for New York.

…Stratford was aroused with enthusiasm that this cabin boy, this self-educated boy, this rail spinter [sic] of the West should compete with Stephen Douglass and Seward and Cassius M. Clay. The quiet old farmers and stay at homes of Stratford were aroused.  Political discussions of the vital question ran high. Whig had changed to Republican, and Abolitionist. The Locofocos became Democrat and Secesh. All were awake to see and hear this wonderful orator, the Hon. Abraham Lincoln of Illinois.

…The Stratford men have all passed away except one, Dr. Lemuel J. Beardsley, who was eighty years old a few months since. In the days following, these men were never weary of recalling this never-to-be-forgotten speech of Lincoln’s. It was related after the meeting that James Booth – a very positive man – and Seymour Curtis – a very enthusiastic man – both life-long residents of Stratford, sat together at the meeting.  When Lincoln arose before his audience Booth said: “Seymour, he is the homliest [sic] man I ever saw in my life.”  As Lincoln warmed up in his speech, Mr. Booth became very excited and brought his hand down with a whack on Seymour’s knee and said, “I swear, Seymour, he is not as homely as he first looked. He is good looking – he is handsome; and I swear he is the smartest man I ever heard.”

Seymour Curtis and Lemuel J. Beardsley hurried to the old depot at the foot of Union street to get a chance of seeing the Westener [sic] again.  While sitting there Lincoln came and sat down near them.  Seymour Curtis at once grasped his hand and shouted, “I hope you will be the next President of the United States.”  Lincoln’s reply was “O, that is a long way off.”  Mr. Beardsley grasped his hand …(unreadable)… not the President …(unreadable)… be.”  Lincoln answered …(unreadable)… got to be?  There are many men who are able and capable of being President of these United States, but there are few who can place their hands on the pulse of the Nation and recognize the wants of all its people, North, South, East and West and deal justly and wisely with them.”

1 COMMENT

  1. JFK drove through Stratford when he was running for president. I saw him as he waved to the crowd.
    I was eight years old and tried unsuccessfully to follow him on my bike.
    I think it was 1961.
    It was quite a thrill and a long lasting memory

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