From the city’s earliest days to today, Winston-Salem has welcomed a variety of notable individuals. Some of the names are easily recognizable, while other names are lost to time. This is the first of a three-part series of articles on notable visitors. A notable visitor is anyone whose name might be recognizable to a large portion of the informed community.
In 1941, Henry A. Wallace was a household name because he was elected to the office of Vice-President of the United States. He came to Winston-Salem just three weeks after he took office to speak to a group of bankers. While he was in town, he visited several farms because he once studied animal husbandry, and he played tennis at the home of Ralph Hanes. Wallace ran for President of the United States in 1948, but he was defeated and later returned to farming. Other vice-presidents who came to Winston-Salem are Spiro Agnew (1972), Joe Biden (2012), Hubert Humphrey (1968), and Alben Barkley (1950 and 1952).
While the names of our American Vice-Presidents tend to fade from our memories if they do not continue to work in a public or government capacity, the visits of our American Presidents tend to be remembered. President George Washington spent two days in Salem in 1791. His visit was so memorable that there is a historical marker in Old Salem that commemorates his visit, and many visitors speculate on which room he occupied in the Salem Tavern. The visit was reenacted in Salem in 1932, complete with prominent individuals wearing period costumes and acting the parts of President Washington and other officials.
General Dwight D. Eisenhower stopped by the Robert E. Lee Hotel in 1947 to visit with his friend, Frank L Swadley. Eisenhower was returning to Washington after a two-week tour of major Southern military installations. Swadley was the manager of the Robert E. Lee Hotel, and he and Eisenhower knew each other when Swadley worked in Washington. General and Mrs. Eisenhower visited with Swadley during a luncheon at the hotel, while crowds gathered outside when word spread about the general’s visit. General Eisenhower and Mamie returned to Winston-Salem in 1952 during his presidential campaign, and they were warmly greeted by Mayor Marshall Kurfees.
Thomas Dewey and his wife came to Winston-Salem during his presidential campaign in 1940. He spoke to a large crowd in the gymnasium at Reynolds Park. Lyndon Johnson campaigned for Senator John F. Kennedy in the Memorial Coliseum in 1960, and Kennedy’s mother, Rose, also came to Winston-Salem in 1960 to put in a good word for her son. Senator Kennedy made an earlier appearance in town in 1956 when he spoke to the Young Democrat Club.
President William Howard Taft was the only living former president when he came to Winston-Salem in 1920 as a guest of the Rotary Club. He spoke in Salem College’s Memorial Hall on the subject of “Americanism and Bolshevism.” The newspaper article that recounted Taft’s visit stated that he was the second American President to visit the city, and noted that it was 129 years after Washington’s 1791 visit. While he was in town, Taft toured R. J. Reynolds Tobacco Company, Reynolda Estate, Salem Academy and College, the Moravian graveyard, and the Salem Tavern.
President Harry Truman broke ground for Wake Forest College in 1951. Governor Ronald Reagan came to Winston-Salem in 1968 as a presidential candidate and spoke at Smith Reynolds Airport with Congressman Jim Gardner before he attended a rally at the Statler Hilton Inn.
Congressman Gerald Ford came to Winston-Salem in 1970 to help boost the congressional campaign of Wilmer Mizell. President and Mrs. Ford made other trips to Winston-Salem to visit their son, Michael, and his family. They even spoke to students in their granddaughters’ classes at Speas School in 1989.
Politicians comprise just one group of visitors to Winston-Salem over the years. Aviators, religious leaders, industrialists, sports figures, and entertainers also made headlines with their presence in our city and prompted many a conversation that began, “Do you remember when…?”
Coming in August: Welcome to Winston-Salem! Notable Visitors. Part 2.