On Nov. 4, 1908, newly elected President William Howard Taft headed for a visit to Savannah. A special presidential reception committee, led by Mayor George W. Tiedemann, Congressman Charles G. Edwards and Postmaster General Henry Blunt Jr., met the president’s train at the Central of Georgia Railroad depot at Dover.
Taft and his escort soon arrived at Savannah's first DeSoto Hotel (not the Hilton DeSoto), which was designed by architectural genius William Gibbons Preston and opened in 1880. Here, chefs of Savannah had prepared a sumptuous feast for Taft.
The menu for the banquet included Daufuskie oysters, Ogeechee River trout, Saddle of Ossabaw venison, Isle of Hope terrapin, Liberty County quail and more. The beverages for the festivities included an offering of the potent “Chatham Artillery Brew.”
This beverage was blamed over the years for the downfall of many inebriated high government officials, with one of Georgia's governors actually dying from imbibing too much of the punch.
The next day was officially declared “Taft Day” by the Savannah Morning News. Taft visited the Bethesda Orphan House, the Savannah Automobile Race Course and the Thunderbolt Casino, where he was honored at a special lunch.
That afternoon and evening were filled with many more events, including a concert by the Savannah City Band in Wright Square, a performance by the Six Flying Banvards (a well-known gymnastic troupe) in Forsyth Park and flyovers by several airships (Zeppelins, not airplanes), followed by a presidential inspection of a squadron of U.S. Navy torpedo boats docked on the river.
Soon-to be-president Woodrow Wilson came to Savannah on April 19, 1912, while he was still governor of New Jersey. Curiously, when Wilson entered politics, he dropped his first name, Thomas, because he thought it was undignified.
Wilson was on a tour of the Deep South to boost his candidacy for president. He gave several speeches in Savannah, and every location was standing room only.
There was a very good reason for his popularity: Mrs. Wilson, also known as the former Ellen Louise Axson, was a native-born Savannahian. Unbelievably, Wilson actually met Ellen for the first time when he was 3 years old and she was a baby, while visiting his cousins in Rome, Ga.
In fact, his father, Rev. Joseph Wilson, and her grandfather, Rev. Dr. I.S.K. Axson jointly performed the marriage ceremony in Rev. Axon's home in Savannah on June 24, 1885.
President P.A. Stovall of Savannah's Wilson Club and Judge George T. Cann escorted Governor and Mrs. Wilson around the city. That evening, Mrs. Wilson was feted at a women’s reception held in her honor by long-time family friend Mrs. B. Palmer.
Roger Allen is a local lover of history. He provides a brief look at the area's historical past. Email Roger at firstname.lastname@example.org.