Remembering Brooklyn Square: Teddy Roosevelt and BROOKLYN SQUARE

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Teddy Roosevelt in Jamestown November 1, 1900
Teddy Roosevelt in Jamestown November 1, 1900

One hundred and nineteen years ago on the evening of November 1, 1900, New York Governor Theodore “Teddy” Roosevelt, who was President William McKinley’s vice-presidential running mate on the Republican ticket, arrived in Jamestown, NY to deliver several campaign speeches. Roosevelt spoke to a record crowd gathered in Brooklyn Square. In the words of the reporter for the Jamestown Evening Journal, Roosevelt’s visit was proclaimed as the “largest and most enthusiastic celebration in the history of the city…a remarkable campaign [with] thousands of men, mounted and on foot in the line of march [as] thousands listened to the stirring utterances of the gallant Rough Rider.”

Roosevelt spoke at four venues in this order: Brooklyn Square, where he delivered his first political speech in western New York, the Sherman House at W. Third and Cherry Streets, the First Swedish Lutheran Church on Chandler Street, and the Veterans’ McKinley and Roosevelt Club on Third Street. Although there are not any extant photographs of Roosevelt’s 1900 visit to the city, we know from the newspaper account that he spoke from a platform, lit by electric lights, possibly in front of the imposing Gifford Building, and that the entire scene in Brooklyn Square was illuminated by torch light among the massive crowd and intermittent light engendered by flares, rockets, and cannon fire.

Roosevelt’s next speaking engagement was at the beautiful Sherman House Hotel where he was taken in an electric illuminated flat car. The crowd was so thick that Roosevelt was unable to say much because of the almost suffocating atmosphere. He did, however, thank the people of Jamestown for such a tremendous turnout, then was hustled into the hotel.
Roosevelt’s third speaking engagement took place at the First Swedish Lutheran Church that was built in 1892 to replace the original wooden church established by Jamestown’s Swedish immigrants in 1856. The nave can hold close to a thousand people, and Roosevelt spoke to a packed church that evening. It was the longest speech he gave that day, calling attention to the prominence of Scandinavians in recent American history and addressing them as “fellow citizens.” At the end of his speech, Roosevelt was rewarded with cheers, applause, and a patriotic flag drill given by seven young ladies of the congregation.

Roosevelt’s last speech was at the Veterans’ McKinley and Roosevelt Club. There was very little newspaper coverage of this event, but it was interesting to note that among the parade divisions there were many McKinley-Roosevelt Clubs represented not only from New York but also the neighboring state of Pennsylvania.

Teddy Roosevelt’s long day in Jamestown ended where it began—in Brooklyn Square. He spent a night of well-deserved rest at the Humphrey House at 15-23 South Main Street, a hotel known for its excellent kitchen and spacious accommodations.

At 9:00 on the morning of November 2, 1900, Roosevelt and his traveling companions boarded their train at the Erie Depot on First Street to make their way east with the governor making whistle-stop speeches along the way. He finished his tour at Owego, NY and made his final speech on November 5, the eve of the 1900 election, at Oyster Bay, NY, the site of his family’s homestead. The next day McKinley and Roosevelt won the national election.

As much as I have researched archives for photos of Roosevelt’s 1900 visit to Jamestown, I was unable to discover any. I know from the Evening Journal account that A.N. Camp took several photographs as the train pulled away, and a 17 year old photographer’s apprentice named J. Stuart Husband went to the depot to take a picture of Teddy Roosevelt leaving Jamestown after a campaign speech. But the whereabouts of those photos has remained a mystery to this day. Nevertheless, Theodore Roosevelt was one of the most prolific speakers in American history, and many iconic images of him making speeches do exist that attest to his dynamic and powerful delivery. And this photo could very well be similar to what Jamestonians saw as his train pulled away from the city, where he would return to make a speech in 1910 on the campus of the original Jamestown High School.