There is a telling story about President James Buchanan, who regularly passed through York County on his way to his home, Wheatland, in Lancaster County.
His practice was to leave his conveyance and walk across the mile-long covered bridge connecting York County and Lancaster.
One time he slipped, fell, got up and, unfazed, continued his walk.
Some would say there was a certain poetic justice in his fall. His inability as president, and as a particularly weak president to boot, to hold the union together ultimately resulted in the rebel army's visit to York County in late June 1863.
The very bridge where he slipped on slipped into the Susquehanna River itself after Union troops torched it to stop the Confederates from crossing.
After his fall, Buchanan returned through York "in excellent health and fine spirits," a newspaper reported.
Too bad, many Americans then believed, that he didn't depart from office with his country in similar circumstances.
Here's a sampling of York County visits by America's chief executives before, during or after their terms of office:
George Washington: In a 1791 visit, the president worshipped at the German Reformed Church on West Market Street. ". . . I went to hear morning Service performed in the Dutch reformed Church, which, being in that language, not a word of which I understood, I was in no danger of becoming a proselyte to its religion by the eloquence of the Preacher." Passing through York County in 1794 after addressing the Whiskey Rebellion, the president experienced an uneasy Susquehanna River crossing: ". . . I rode yesterday afternoon thro' the rain from York Town to this place, and got twice in the height of it hung (and delayed by that means) on the rocks in the middle of the Susque-hanna. . . ."
John Adams: The president sharply criticized York during his brief stay as a member of the Continental Congress in 1777-78. Turning the other cheek in 1800, York residents gave the then-president of the United States a warm reception in an overnight stop. In addressing residents, Adams noticed growth in businesses, residences and cultivated farmland since his last visit: "In return for your kind wishes, I pray for the confirmation and extensions to you and your posterity of every blessing you enjoy."
Andrew Jackson: In 1819, before his presidential years, the noted general complained about an overcharge. Jackson lost his temper when informed he owed $50 to Cornelius Garrettson for conveying him from the Shrewsbury area to York in a sled. Jackson countered with $30, which Garrettson accepted. Still, Jackson received a warm reception from residents seeking a glimpse of the Battle of New Orleans.
Abraham Lincoln: On his way to Gettysburg for his famous address in 1863, Lincoln's train paused in Hanover. "Father Abraham," someone called out, "your children want to hear you." The president emerged from his car. "Well, you have seen me," Lincoln said, "and according to general experience, you have seen less than you expected to see." Two years earlier, Lincoln's train, without Lincoln aboard, paused in York. Lincoln had been rerouted because of a suspected assassination plot. His absence disappointed a large York crowd. In 1865, Lincoln's body was aboard his touring funeral train when it stopped in York. Within earshot of a Philadelphia Inquirer reporter, an elderly black man proclaimed, "He was crucified for us."
Theodore Roosevelt: The president's 1906 visit made county news when The York Dispatch published a rare front-page photo. This marked one of the last times -- if not the last time -- the Dispatch would depart from a gray, eight-column front page without photos for the next 82 years. Roosevelt, just back from dedicating the new capitol building in Harrisburg, rode in an open carriage from York's Centre Square to the fairgrounds where he touted York's growing prosperity.
John F. Kennedy: As a presidential candidate in 1960, Kennedy spoke before a crowd of 4,500 people at the York Fair. He watched a harness race with former state Gov. George M. Leader and purchased a brick at the Salvation Army tent for $1. The brick sale helped to build a new citadel in York.
Lyndon B. Johnson: The president and his wife, Lady Bird, keynoted the Dallastown Centennial on Sept. 4, 1966. Congressman N. Neiman Craley Jr. served as grand marshal of a parade to celebrate the borough's 100th anniversary, where President Johnson spoke.
Richard M. Nixon: In 1946, when Nixon was first elected to the U.S. House, Nixon's parents moved to a Menges Mills farm. Their famous son visited them several times. Nixon stopped by Staub's Drug Store in Hanover in 1968. Nixon also visited his namesake park near Jacobus in 1988. He donated $5,000 to the park after his visit and regularly contributed funds until his death.
Ronald Reagan: The president toured Harley-Davidson's plant in Springettsbury Township in 1987. Matt Gladfelter, then a student journalist at Central High School, covered the event. "When he spoke, everybody was quiet," Gladfelter recalled. "He just had a way of being able to connect with people and draw them to whatever he had to say."
George H.W. Bush: The president was the main attraction at a political fund-raiser in Monaghan Township, in northern York County. His efforts raised $800,000 for U.S. Sen. Arlen Specter's campaign. The president endorsed Specter and made the statement, "This is not a normal kind of endorsement. I really mean it."
Bill Clinton: York became the Democratic nominee's first campaign stop in 1992. An estimated crowd of 3,000 awaited him at 10:15 p.m. In his memoirs, Clinton placed the rally at a much later time. "On the first day," Clinton wrote, "we worked our way through eastern and central Pennsylvania, reaching our last stop, York, at 2 a.m." He continued: "Thousands of people had waited up for us. Al (Gore) gave his best 2 a.m. version of the stump speech. I did the same, and then we shook supporters' hands for the better part of an hour before the four of us collapsed for a few hours sleep."
George W. Bush: In a visit to Harley-Davidson in 2006, President Bush got aboard a hawg, unlike his predecessors Reagan and Clinton. President Bush sought -- and gained -- permission from Joel Toner to start a Harley. Bush observed that Toner had a cool job. Toner said: "I agreed and said, 'Yeah, I think I got one of the greatest jobs in the world.' "
Sources: Adapted from original report published in the York Daily Record and gleaned from newspaper accounts and from James McClure's book: "Never to be Forgotten"
Newcomers to York County might assume Republicans, with their traditionally big registration advantage, have always led the county election parade.
The fact is that York County took a liking to Jeffersonian and later Jacksonian politics in the 1800s and continued to hold onto their Democratic Party registrations for decades.
That's, in part, why Abraham Lincoln did not carry York County either in 1860 or 1864.
Although no study of county registration has been undertaken over the decades, it is known that Dems held a 10,000-vote lead in 1979. Ten years later, they trailed by 12,000 votes.
The year 1984 appears to be the moment that Republicans took the lead that they hold today after a couple of years of nip and tuck. That year's registration stats stood at: GOP, 65,793; Dems, 61,085. Today, that the GOP's registration lead is about 45,000.
The following excerpt from "Never to be Forgotten," based on newspaper reports, provides some explanation:
Pundits credit the popularity of President Ronald Reagan, the demise of Democrat-heavy York city and the organizational skills of Republican Party chair John Thompson. Meanwhile, the Democrats lack organization, leadership and cooperation within the party and suffer public embarrassment when a federal grand jury indicts several of their county leaders in 1980. They are charged with taking payments for county contracts.
The GOP dominance grew in the 1990s. By 1997, the Republicans enjoyed a 101,783 to 71,420 registration lead. In another twist, the traditionally Democratic York Daily Record endorsed Republicans Ronald Reagan in 1984 and George Bush in 1988. The traditionally Republican York Dispatch endorsed Democrat Bill Clinton in 1992.
Even numbers-impaired folks might enjoy the following stats from York County election history:
--- Vote in 1796 presidential election, the first such national race: Thomas Jefferson, 141; John Adams, 3,222.
--- Vote in 2004 presidential election: George W. Bush, 114,270; Kerry, 63,701.
--- Current voter registration: Republican, 141,297; Democrat, 101,580.
--- Current known totalregistered voters, 18-24: 20,335
--- Current known Democratic registered voters, 18-24: 6,907
--- Current known Republican registered voters, 18-24: 8,859
--- York County (No. 1) vs. Lancaster County (No. 2) Democratic registration (November 2007) : 94,986/81,476.
--- Percentage of vote for Abraham Lincoln, 1860: 43.
--- Percentage of vote for Lincoln, 1864: 37.
In a presidential election year, it's easy to overlook the adage: "All politics is local."
In that spirit, here is a sampling, by no means exhaustive, of female and minority pioneers who have assumed key York County appointed and elected offices since the late 1960s:
York City School District
--- First Latino school board president: Jeanette Torres
--- First Latino school superintendent: Carlos Lopez
--- First black school board member: W. Russell Chapman
--- First black female school board member: Doris Sweeney
--- First black school board president: Douglas Smallwood
--- First black school superintendent: Frederick D. Holliday
--- First black female superintendent: Tresa Diggs
--- First appointed female mayor of York: Jessie M. Gross
--- First elected female mayor of York: Elizabeth Marshall
--- First black chief of police: Thomas Chatman
--- First black city councilman: Roy Borom
--- First black candidate for mayor: Ray Crenshaw
--- First black elected York County row officer: Mattie Chapman
--- First female county commissioner: Lorraine Hovis
--- First female York County Common Pleas Court judge: Sheryl Dorney
Other community positions
--- First black member, York County Chamber of Commerce Board: Bobby Simpson
--- First black chairman, York County Chamber of Commerce: Vernon Bracey
--- First black member, Lafayette Club: Vernon Bracey