Throwback Thursday by Matson Insurance: Presidential Visitors

Matson Insurance is partnering with Jefferson County History Center to offer exploreJeffersonpa.com readers a look into Jefferson County’s past. Today, Presidential visitors are being portrayed.

(Pictured above: Despite its size, Brookville has entertained presidents. Former President Bill Clinton drew crowds when he campaigned for his wife in 2007.)

HAIL TO THE CHIEF!

It was a big day when former president Bill Clinton rode into Brookville, drove up the hill to “Knowledge Knob” (that’s what the hill where the old Central School once stood was called a century ago), and stood on the porch at 300 Barnett Street to campaign for his wife Hillary.

But, contrary to what some folks thought, his visit was not the first time a former president had come to town!

Among the documents housed in the History Center archives are the programs of annual teachers’ institutes that began in 1856 and continued for more than a century. Most of the teachers in schools large and small throughout Jefferson County would come to Brookville during the Christmas holiday, stay in one of the many hotels on Main Street or in private homes, and attend lectures and performances. These institutes were intended to improve the skills of the young women and men who had begun teaching when they were barely older than some of their students and to inspire and entertain them, too.

In 1918, with the ink barely dry on the armistice ending World War I, most of the 353 teachers in the county gathered in the newly-opened Columbia Theater and listened over several days to speeches and lectures delivered by education experts. They watched an illustrated lecture presented by a Colonel Havers and heard the Adelphi Concert Artists. Then on the last evening of the institute, they moved to the Methodist Church where an audience of 1300 welcomed former President William Howard Taft.

Taft spoke on The Great War and elaborated on Wilson’s proposed League of Nations for about ninety minutes.

The next day at noon, a select group of gentlemen who had named themselves the “Three-fifty Club” gathered in a local banquet hall to have dinner with the president. Prior to Taft’s visit they had decided to keep the event small, and in order to limit the diners, the expense for each would increase. The fee of $3.50 was assessed, the equivalent of nearly $50.00 today. They had decked themselves out in top hats, white vests and ties, and their best suits.

Nothing was amiss. “But, lo! And behold!” wrote the editor, “The seat of honor at the head of the table was vacant!” President Taft had been spirited away to the teachers’ institute in Clarion!

Throwback Thursday is brought to you by Matson Insurance in Brookville.

[email protected] County Historical Society, Inc.

Submitted by the Jefferson County History Center.


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