Bush Is 11th President to Visit Nothern Nevada

By  | 

Friday's campaign stop by President Bush in Reno marks only the 13th visit to northern Nevada by a sitting president and the first since Bill Clinton attended the Lake Tahoe summit seven years ago.

Ten presidents have visited the northern part of the state while they were in office, beginning with Rutherford B. Hayes in 1880. The only repeat visitor was Ronald Reagan in 1982, 1986 and 1988.

"We were not a major stop for presidents in the early years. They may have passed through by railroad, but not for any event," said state Archivist Guy Louis Rocha, who chronicled the visits.

"It has generally been, with a few exceptions, an afterthought," Rocha said.

Presidents have made numerous trips to southern Nevada, lured by its much larger population and sometimes private fund-raisers.

Bush, who visited Las Vegas last fall, plans a speech about employment figures due out Friday when he appears at the Reno-Sparks Convention Center.

Hayes was the only president who ventured across the Continental Divide to Nevada in the 19th century. He stopped off in 1880, 11 years after the completion of the transcontinental railroad and one year after Ulysses S. Grant became the first former president to visit northern Nevada.

Hayes, his wife, Lucy, and William Tecumseh Sherman stopped in Reno and Carson City, but spent most of their stay in Virginia City. The party also took the steamboat Meteor across Lake Tahoe.

The dawn of the 20th century brought William McKinley - briefly - to northern Nevada in May 1901. Officials in Reno and Elko were miffed as the eastbound presidential train sailed through. The only stops were in Carlin to add engines before the climb over the grades east of Elko and in Wells, where the locomotives were removed.

In May 1903, Theodore Roosevelt became the first president to visit the University of Nevada in Reno. His major speech was in Carson City, where he praised reclamation in the West six months after Congress approved the Fallon-area's Newlands Project.

Woodrow Wilson breezed through Reno in September 1919 to pitch the League of Nations in what proved to be one of the last speeches the frail president made before suffering a massive stroke the next month. He died in 1924.

Nevada achieved a brief level of historic significance on election eve in November 1932 when Herbert Hoover made his final campaign broadcast as president from a railroad car parked on a siding in Elko.

Hoover's 11-minute address was a re-election pitch that fell on deaf ears. He continued the next day to his home in Palo Alto, Calif., and cast his futile ballot against the landslide of Franklin D. Roosevelt.

Roosevelt passed through Nevada in July 1938, stopping in Carlin, Imlay, Sparks and Reno. His speech in Carlin - this time while the eastbound locomotives were removed - made the tiny Elko County community the most presidentially visited spot in northern Nevada after Reno.

Harry S. Truman whistle-stopped through Reno and Sparks on a re-election swing in September 1948.

Sixteen years and a transportation revolution later, Lyndon Johnson flew into Reno on Air Force One for an election-year speech.

Presidents who never visited northern Nevada while in office include Dwight Eisenhower, John F. Kennedy and Bush's father, George H.W. Bush. Kennedy, then a U.S. senator from Massachusetts, campaigned in northern Nevada in 1960, but made his only presidential appearance in Las Vegas.