By Derek M. Otto
This week marks the inauguration of the 45th President of the United States and it has me wondering if and when a President came to Springville?
I am sure the thirteenth President of the United States, Millard Fillmore, probably heard of Springville before his tenure of office in the 1850s; he had practiced law in East Aurora, though there is no record of him ever coming to town.
There were the claims that Thomas and Americaus Lincoln, who lived on Central Avenue, were cousins— or relatives of some sort— to Abraham Lincoln. Thomas Lincoln was notable as the architect that designed the 1879 Saint Aloysius Church. Still, there is no record that Abraham Lincoln ever came to Springville to visit his relatives.
There are many stories of people from who had contact with various presidents. Most recently, Springville-Griffith Institute graduate Katie Cole was featured in the Buffalo News in 2010 for having lunch with President Obama and Vice President Joe Biden.
More famously, George Schuster would be called to Oyster Bay to visit with Theodore Roosevelt after his winning of the Great New York to Paris Race in 1908. At that meeting, it is recounted that George Schuster was asked by Roosevelt, “How did you protect yourself?” Schuster pulled out his pistol and showed it to the Teddy. (Imagine what would happen if you tried that today?) Schuster would use that same pistol as security guard for Winsmith during World War II.
Of course, we can’t forget the picture of our own Thomas Reynolds with Ronald Reagan that appears in the Springville History book. I am sure Mr. Reynolds visited President George W. Bush many times when he was head of the House Republican Caucus. But still, that is not the President coming to Springville.
Very few candidates running for President have ever passed through our town. William Jennings Bryan, who ran against William McKinley and Theodore Roosevelt in the 1890s, famous for his Cross of Gold Speech and was Secretary of State during Woodrow Wilson’s presidency, spoke at the Springville Lyceum in 1922. He even spent the night!
The closest Hillary Clinton came to Springville was when it was decided to split the 716 area code into the 716 and 585 area codes. Clinton came to Arcade to show her support as the newly-elected New York Junior Senator. With her help, Pioneer Central Schools would fall under one area code.
George Pataki, a 2016 candidate, came to Springville in 1994 while running for governor of New York. He never came to Springville after that.
One governor of major importance did come to Springville in 1963. Nelson Rockefeller came to Springville to open West Valley Nuclear Services. In 1974, Rockefeller became Vice President under President Gerald Ford.
With that said, Andrew Cuomo’s recent visit to blow up the bridge could count for something, him being only the third sitting governor to come to Springville and that he was the Housing and Urban Development Secretary under Bill Clinton, almost a cabinet member.
It is surprising after looking to find which president that would come and spend time in Springville. He wasn’t President of the United States at the time. He was Grover Cleveland.
According to his biographers, Cleveland was born in New Jersey and educated on the east coast. Mr. Cleveland decide to move west in 1855. His first stop was Buffalo, NY, where his uncle, Lewis Allen, gave him a job in his law firm. Shortly, he took work as a clerk in the Rogers, Bowen and Rogers law firm. He was admitted to the New York State bar in 1859.
In 1865, a young and ambitious lawyer, he ran for district attorney and lost to his friend and roommate Lyman Bass. Still with political ambitions, Cleveland, backed by his friend Oscar Folsom, ran for Erie County Sheriff in 1870 and by a margin of 303 votes, Cleveland won.
The sheriff years were, as some would call, the politically dead period for him. However, it was also the time that would mark several scandalous moments for Cleveland that would haunt him in his bigger political runs.
First was in 1872, when Patrick Morrissey would be executed for murdering his mother. Cleveland had reservations about the hanging, but took the noose into his own hands and executed Morrissey himself. Cleveland was the one President of the United States to hang a man. He also executed John Gaffney on Feb. 14, 1873. By both accounts, the men were Irish and it wouldn’t be surprising if the executions were ethnicity biased and accounted for Cleveland’s reservations.
To complicate matters even worse, Cleveland began a relationship with widower Maria Halpin. During this time, Halpin gave birth to a daughter and Cleveland supported Halpin and her daughter for the rest of their lives.
During the 1884 Presidential Campaign, the Halpin scandal would be the focus of the Republican Party with the anti-Cleveland chant, “Ma, Ma, where’s my pa…”
Cleveland left the Sheriff’s office in 1881 to run as the Democratic candidate as the mayor of Buffalo. In 1882, Cleveland was elected governor of New York and became the best choice for Democrats in 1884 when he ran for President. He was elected. He would be defeated in 1888 and later run and win in 1892.
As for the Springville connection: It was during the tumultuous sheriff years that Grover Cleveland would become with the notable trout fishing spots throughout Erie County. Actually, there was only one and there still is: Spring brook. The small stream starts in East Concord and makes its way through Springville to the Cattaraugus Creek that is the spawning ground to the best brook trout in Erie County. Today it is the only native population of brook trout. It was here that the future President found peace.
And so, President Cleveland, as of today’s inauguration, remains the only person to hold office to have actually been in Springville.