The Story of Marble, Part 4: Presidential Visits
Excitement filled the Marble Valley in August 1891. The President of the United States was coming to visit the little village of Proctor. President Benjamin Harrison was a personal friend of Redfield Proctor, who served as Secretary of War during Harrison's administration. His 1891 trip to Vermont holds the record as the most extensive visit any president has made to the state.
Earlier in the day, President Harrison stopped in Rutland, which was beautifully decorated in honor of his visit. His speech to the public dealt with Vermont's role in the Civil War and the struggles the war caused for this country.
The town of Proctor was urged to give a "genuine Vermont welcome" to the President. A handbill advertisement invited everyone in town to welcome President Harrison with a torchlight parade, beginning at the Vermont Marble Company offices at 7:30 in the evening. Townspeople were asked to "illuminate their residences and make the town as attractive as possible" for the President and his entourage.
In his book "Proctor: The Story of a Marble Town" David Gale described the festivities, recounting part of a Rutland Herald story of the celebration.
"Early in the evening the houses of Secretary Proctor (Secretary of War in Harrison's Cabinet) and the offices of the Company were lighted up. Then colored lights began to show on the piazzas and to fringe the edges of the road. They came from Chinese lanterns hung at brief intervals. Before the blackness of the night had come on, the little village was in colored lights, while from an arch in front of Secretary Proctor's house, the word 'WELCOME' gleamed in letters of fire. At 8 o'clock a procession started from the Company's store. It was headed by the Proctor band. The line of march was through the town whose streets wind around the village of the hills in which Proctor was built. The village people to the number of nearly a thousand had gathered on the lawn of Mr. Proctor's house and in the roadway before it.
"As the torchlight procession approached the Proctor mansion, a great flame leaped up from the top of the mountain, more than a mile away. In answer, signal fires flamed from a dozen hilltops all around, while through the village columns of fire from great torches of pitch and shavings made the cloud-hung heaven red with their glare. From the hills to the left, rockets and bombs were set up. Across the valley was stretched a half a mile of Chinese lanterns. It was five minutes of nine when the head of the procession reached Secretary Proctor's house."
Harrison spoke to the citizens of Proctor, saying, "I shall carry this community in my thoughts as one of the best of American life. I have found him (Secretary Proctor) a most valuable contribution to the administration of the Government. You cannot know fully how he has grown into the respect and confidence of all who have been associated with him in the Cabinet, and of all our legislators in Congress without distinction of party. I regret there is some danger that you may reclaim him for Vermont. Yet it is quite natural that it should be so, and I shall do the best I can to find a substitute."
Harrison's words hinted to a change in his administration. Proctor left the War Department that November to become a United States Senator, filling a vacancy caused by the resignation of George F. Edmunds. He was re-elected to the Senate in 1892, 1898 and 1904, serving from November 2, 1891, until his death in 1908.
The presidential parade of visits continued. In August 1897, Proctor hosted President William McKinley overnight in his home. Again, over one thousand people were on hand to welcome the President, Mrs. McKinley, and General Alger, Secretary of War. Gale quoted the Rutland Herald as saying:
"All Proctor and the children were there; four hundred of Rutland's citizens were there; the Proctor Brass Band was there. The eye and the ear and the imagination had enough to feed on last night. About the Senator's house, there is a formidable barricade of shrubbery. Last night an artist had hung in this choice vegetation a profusion of incandescent lights—red, white, and blue. Dark hedges were transformed into intricate brackets for brilliant color effects. Handsome trees were articulated in electric rays. A fountain had no end of sport playing with nearly every color of the rainbow. The American flag, attached to a pole surmounted by a circle of electric lights, posed in patriotic attitude in the still night air, and every arch, cornice and line of the house was so accentuated by electricity that the moon overhead seemed to shed a dim apology for living. To add to the festive occasion the Proctor Band was on hand to play operatic and patriotic selections."
Five years later, the town entertained yet another president.
On September 1, 1902, President Theodore Roosevelt arrived in Proctor on a special train. It was reported that he stayed from 11:50 am until 12:20 pm. He addressed the large crowd gathered before him from the piazza of Senator Proctor's home and departed to Rutland at 12:30 pm. In what was now a tradition, the Proctor Band greeted the President upon his arrival.
Since President Roosevelt's visit was short, the town's spruce-up efforts were considerably less. Gale quotes an article from the New York Commercial, which playfully mocked the town's preparations:
"One end of the covered bridge—the only one the President was to see—was given a whitewash bath; the railway station was painted for the first time since its roof was raised, with freshly washed windows bidding further defiance to a fixed policy; and also a special hemlock hedge was imported overnight to hide an ugly fence along the line of parade.
However, these small jokes did not detract from the renown that Proctor has earned as an entertainer of Presidents.