Railroad has made North Vernon a popular stop among presidents
NORTH VERNON, Ind. (August 2014) – On the most historic day in Jennings County, Ind., history, President Richard M. Nixon came to Vernon to dedicate a historical marker in memory of his mother, Butlerville, Ind., resident Hannah Milhous Nixon. Interestingly, the strategic location of this old railroad center has brought other presidents to town and through town.
On April 1, 1969, a crowd of several hundred gathered somberly at the old railroad station and stood along the old B&O railroad tracks to watch the 12-car funeral train transport the casket of President Dwight D. Eisenhower and family members en route from Washington, D.C., to Abilene, Kan. Tears were as scarce as the few drops of rain on that 40-degree day. Children held tightly to their American flags, and no one waved as the black-shrouded car went by.
“The crowd was calm and quiet. They talked about Eisenhower as a “great man” and an honest one. The day stirred up nostalgia for the passing era of the railroad and for the friendly president who seemed like “everyone’s grandfather.”
However, this was not President Eisenhower’s first trip through North Vernon. In addition to earlier trips by “Ike,” Presidents William Howard Taft, Warren Harding, Franklin D. Roosevelt and Harry Truman all had gone through North Vernon via the B&O Railroad.
During a train campaign stopover in summer 1928, Roosevelt stopped for lunch in North Vernon. His dog, Fala, was walked up and down the train platform, while Roosevelt lunched across the street at a restaurant then owned by George Fox. FDR sat in a light maple curved-back chair that was displayed in the restaurant and later moved to another restaurant owned by the late Maude Moore.
On Sept. 27, 1935, President Roosevelt stopped again in North Vernon to confer with feuding politicians from Kentucky and met with Indiana officials. According to the United Press International article in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Roosevelt had journeyed by train “over the rain swept prairies of the Middle West ... which brought him smack into the middle of a Democratic feud in old Kentucky.”
That feud involved the Kentucky Gov. Ruby Laffoon and his defeated candidate for nomination, neither of whom went aboard the train, and Sen. Alben Barkley and Lt. Gov. A.B. “Happy” Chandler, who got on the train in North Vernon to confer with the president.
Later, the president received Indiana leaders, headed by Gov. Paul v. McNutt, who then rode with him across the state from North Vernon to East St. Louis, Ill. Gov. McNutt dined with the president, said to be “cheery ... in genial spirits.”
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