The Golden Lamb: Presidents of our Past
By Golden Lamb historian John Zimkus
Throughout its more than 215-year history, the Golden Lamb has hosted, entertained and provided lodging for many notable guests. From its early days as a stopping point between Cincinnati and National Road to its historic legacy as a political stop in a battleground state, United States presidents have visited the Golden Lamb before, during, and after their time in our nation’s highest office.
With Presidents’ Day near, we want to take the time to recognize the 12 United States Presidents who have roamed our halls—eight of whom have direct connections to the Buckeye State.
John Quincy Adams
The 6th President of the United States was one of two presidents to visit Lebanon after his term in office. He visited on November 7, 1843 while on his way to dedicate the cornerstone of the Cincinnati Observatory on a hill called Mount Ida.
During his visit to Lebanon, Adams sat for a pencil sketch by local Quaker artist Marcus Mote, who had a studio across the street from the Golden Lamb and now has a hotel room at the Golden Lamb named for him. Adams recorded in his diary that, “a young Quaker limner took an egregious character likeness of me in pencil and told me that he took it for the bold and intrepid manner in which I defended and sustained the right of petition.”
From Lebanon, it took Adams half a day to reach Cincinnati, where he made a speech at the Cincinnati Observatory. At the end of his speech, the crowd by unanimous shout voted that Mount Ida should thenceforth forever be called Mount Adams.
Martin Van Buren
The 8th President and first to be born in the United States (all others prior were born in the American Colonies), was the other of two presidents to visit the Golden Lamb after their presidencies. He lost his re-election bid in 1840 to William Henry Harrison but was still considered the frontrunner for the 1844 Democratic presidential nomination when he came to the Golden Lamb on June 4, 1842. After dining at the Golden Lamb (then known as The Bradley House), he traveled to Columbus.
“On arrival in front of the Bradley House, he received a hearty and cordial welcome,” the newspaper reported. Ohio Governor Tom Corwin, a Lebanon citizen, and others welcomed him to town.
According to local historian Josiah Morrow, the grandson of Ohio Governor Jeremiah Morrow, “Mr. Van Buren replied briefly, speaking in so low atone that his remarks were heard only by those nearest to him.”
William Henry Harrison
The 9th President of the United States, visited the Golden Lamb at least three times. On July 22, 1825, he was one of several dignitaries at a dinner in Lebanon celebrating the beginning of the Miami and Erie Canal in nearby Middletown. At the time, Harrison was a U.S. senator from Ohio.
As he ran for president in 1840, Harrison passed through Lebanon on June 4 on his way to his first presidential campaign speech at Fort Meigs, near Toledo. On September 12 he spoke in Lebanon in a grove near what is now the fairgrounds north of town. A parade took Harrison and the crowd from the front of the Golden Lamb to the speech location.
Ulysses S. Grant
The 18th President of the United States grew up in Georgetown, Ohio. As a child, he traveled throughout the region, including Lebanon – which during the 1820s and 1830s was one of the largest towns in the state. It was during this era that Grant first visited the Golden Lamb.
Rutherford B. Hayes
The 19th U.S. President came to Lebanon on August 5, 1867, to begin his campaign for governor of Ohio. He and his Democratic opponent agreed to start their campaigns on the same day; Hayes chose Lebanon and Allen G. Thurman picked Waverly, Ohio.
Hayes spoke at Washington Hall, located at the southwest corner of Silver and Mechanic streets, two blocks north of the Golden Lamb. His speech lasted two hours.
The Western Star, a Republican newspaper, then reported, “He was occasionally interrupted by the enthusiastic applause of the audience… at the conclusion [Hayes] was warmly congratulated by our citizens who crowded around him anxious to take by the hand the next Governor of Ohio.”
James A. Garfield
The 20th President of the United States visited the Golden Lamb on August 26, 1871. He was a member of Congress when he spoke that night at Washington Hall.
The Western Star called his speech, “One of the finest political addresses ever delivered in Lebanon… General Garfield is an orator of great power and a statesman of broad views.” The newspaper went on to state, “By his speech, General Garfield has placed himself at the head of the progression wing of the Republican Party in Ohio.” It predicted, “If he has the courage to pursue the course he has adopted an important political future is yet before him.
The 23rd president of the United States was entertained at the Golden Lamb while he came to address a reunion of Civil War soldiers from the 35th and 79th Ohio regiments at the Warren County Fairgrounds.
Harrison was a gifted speaker, whom Josiah Morrow referred to as, “one of the ableist speakers on great public questions in our country.”
The last time that William McKinley, the 25th President of the United States, visited the Golden Lamb was October 24, 1893. McKinley was running for re-election as Ohio governor and spoke at the Lebanon Opera House, located across the street from the Golden Lamb. He was elected president in 1896.
It was said of his visit in The Western Star that, “The largest crowd that ever entered [the Opera House] doors, were present and gave them a hearty welcome… The oft mentioned resemblance of face and figure to Napoleon in not wholly a fancied one . . . he was a picture of the highest type of American manhood. Could he have heard the whispered exclamations of admiration from the ladies on the stage and in the audience, it would have made even so level headed man as the governor a little vain.”
McKinley also visited in 1889 as a U.S. Congressman.
William Howard Taft
In 1898, William Howard Taft, the 27th president of the United States, sat on the sixth U.S. Circuit Court bench in Cincinnati. Taft traveled to Lebanon for the funeral of a judge whom he respected greatly. Taft dined with those that made the trip for the funeral at the Lebanon House (now known as the Golden Lamb).
Warren G. Harding
The 29th U.S. president visited the Golden Lamb while in Lebanon to speak at the Lebanon Opera House. His first speech at the Lebanon Opera House was on October 16, 1910, during his unsuccessful campaign for governor of Ohio. Exactly four years later, on October 16, 1914, he spoke there again during a successful campaign for the United States Senate.
The 40th U.S. President visited the Golden Lamb on September 19, 1968. At the time, he had been governor of California for two years and was here to campaign for the re-election of Congressman Donald E. Lukens. Thousands of people, many of them movie fans, watched the fanfare in front of the Golden Lamb. Reagan also spoke to about 100 people in the Black Horse Tavern. Before he left, he reportedly made it a point to shake the hand of everyone in the room.
George W. Bush
The 43rd president of the United States visited the Golden Lamb on May 4, 2004. Of the 12 presidents who have visited the Golden Lamb, President Bush was the only one to do so while in office.
Bush’s visit was part of a re-election campaign for president. His security team established a four-block perimeter around the Golden Lamb during his visit.
Bush began his speech saying, “I am proud to be the first sitting president to have visited here—Actually I’m a standing president today.”
During his visit, he was taken to a second-floor guest room that would be renamed the “George W. Bush Room.” It was the room in which his mother, Barbara Bush, stayed on April 12, 1988, during her husband’s—George W. Bush’s father’s—first campaign for president.