Batavia is celebrating its bicentennial this year, and The Clermont Sun is publishing a series of historic vignettes. The following column first appeared in the Batavia’s 125th anniversary edition of The Clermont Sun and The Clermont Courier in 1939. The editor noted that Minnie Griffith, the writer, was apparently researching in her Aunt’s papers.
By Minnie T. Griffith
Mr. [James] Wiseman, the Mayor of Batavia, came to the door and gave me a paper saying, “A committee had met the previous evening and had definitely decided to celebrate the 125th birthday of Batavia, and wanted me to write a history …”
Delving into trunks and chest in the attic, reading old papers, I have found some data which I hope will be interesting.
When Ulysses S. Grant was President of the United States, he, with his wife and family, visited Grant’s relatives in Batavia: the Simpson Griffith family and Mrs. Mary Griffith Ashburn, a cousin of Grant’s.
To the late Mrs. Belle Griffith Kennedy, I am indebted for the following description of the President’s visit:
“Batavia was planning to have a great celebration in his honor. He was coming down from Georgetown. The band and everyone who could get away drove over to the Ohio Pike to meet the President. Buggies, carriages, jolt wagons were all filled with people from all over the country. They waited and waited but the President and family did not appear. I was standing at an upstairs’ window looking out, when I saw a carriage had driven up in front of our house, also a buggy had stopped. In the carriage sat the President and his wife was sitting by his side, on the back seat sat Nellie and one of the boys. In the buggy Fred and the other son were riding. The President was doing his own driving. He was wearing just a soft hat and a dark business suit. I cannot remember how Mrs. Grant was dressed. Instead of coming down the Ohio Pike, they came by the way of Williamsburg. My mother met them at the door. The greetings were cordial and familiar. ‘How are you, Cousin Amelia, so glad to see you. Where is Simpson?’ were the Presidents words. My father had gone over with the crowd to meet them. A messenger was sent on horseback to notify the people of the President’s arrival.
“After dinner, which was served in the Simpson Griffith home, the President and wife held a public reception in the parlor. A young girl by the name of Hannah Belle Moore, who was rather stout and breezy, came in to pay her respects. She rushed up to the President and said, ‘Well, I am terribly excited. I never expected to have the opportunity of shaking hands with the great General, the distinguished President of the United States here in Batavia.’ A cannon, which was fired in front of the Griffith home, broke every pane of glass in the transom over the front door, where the President, Fred, and Will Griffith were standing, some of the shattered glass falling on the President’s head and neck. He rubbed his neck with his handkerchief, but it was only slightly stained with blood. The President laughed, saying he as wounded.
“In the afternoon the President addressed the crowd from a grandstand erected on Main Street. One of the oldest citizens of the town, Mr. John Jamieson, approached the President and asked him if he was in favor of women voting. Grant replied, ‘To a certain extent, but if he had to depend upon the women to elect him, he would rather be defeated.’
“In the evening when just the relatives were having a real visit, President Grant noticed hanging on the wall of the living room, a picture of himself mounted on his horse Egypt. He stepped across the room to look at if more closely. ‘That’s a splendid picture of Egypt,’ he said, ‘but I never wore a feather in my hat in my life.’
“Ulysses Grant’s next visit to Batavia was shortly before he left with his family on a tour of the world. He, with Colonel Ammen, drove up from Covington one morning. Ulysses first had his horse taken care of at the livery stable, then, carrying a small traveling bag, he walked into the law office of Simpson Griffith and Son. He said, ‘Hello Simpson. I have come to say goodbye. I was not willing to start my world tour without seeing you again.’ He took dinner in the Simpson Griffith home, and once again we had the pleasure of visiting with him. Just before leaving, he said to me, ‘Belle, where does the cheery fat girl now live who came in to shake hands with me when I was here before.’ I replied, ‘Washington.’ Ulysses said
I was sure I saw her not long ago on the streets of Washington. She waved her hand as I was riding by.’ I wrote her at once about it, and she answered, ‘Yes, I waved and waved.’ What a wonderful memory for faces he must have had for during those two years or more, perhaps he had gazed into thousands of faces.”
Hannah Belle Moore taught school in Batavia for several years. There are many of her former pupils now in Batavia.
Ulysses Simpson Grant, the great General-President of the United States, without doubt is the most distinguished visitor that has ever been entertained in Batavia.