On May 25, 1903, the president of the United States made a brief appearance in North Yakima, and the city went all out to celebrate.
Businesses closed, a committee worked out all the fine details, down to who would sit on the stand with Theodore Roosevelt. It even assigned someone to ensure the president got only the best apples from the Valley’s orchards as a gift.
Roosevelt was on a 25-state tour promoting conservation. Nearly a year before, Congress passed the Reclamation Act at Roosevelt’s urging. The law allowed the federal government to get involved in irrigation projects.
Yakima Valley residents, who depended upon the irrigation to water orchards and farms, applauded the federal government’s involvement and supported Roosevelt’s pro-reclamation stance.
And the people of Yakima were prepared to provide a hearty welcome, one they were determined wouldn’t be a whit behind Seattle, which was Roosevelt’s first stop in the Evergreen State.
A “Citizen’s Committee” was organized to work out the details. It was decided Roosevelt should get several boxes of apples grown in the Valley, with the Yakima County Horticultural Union searching out the best varieties.
The L.B. Kenyon company was given the job of packing the apples, which were individually wrapped in papers reading “Yakima Valley Apples, Grown by Irrigation. Presented by Yakima County Horticultural Union.”
Two days before Roosevelt’s arrival, the committee had worked out the seating arrangements on the stand at the intersection of Naches and Yakima avenues, as well as who would ride with Roosevelt in an open carriage from the Northern Pacific rail station on North Front Street.
Mayor H.J. Shaw, it was reported, had several good jokes to entertain Roosevelt as they rode to the speaker’s stand in a horse-drawn carriage.
Shopkeepers and business owners were asked to close from 9:30 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. for the occasion. The public was advised to not come to the train station, as it would impede Roosevelt’s travel to the stand.
A passenger train scheduled for a 10:30 a.m. arrival that day was ordered sidetracked to the cattle yards until the presidential train cleared the station.
Roosevelt arrived at 10 a.m., taking an overnight train from Seattle, and was greeted by a crowd of about 15,000 people — almost five times the city’s population of 3,500 — who lined Yakima Avenue.
In a 23-minute speech, Roosevelt first acknowledged the presence of Civil War and Spanish-American War veterans, and spoke about the importance of education.
Then, he touched on irrigation, noting that the Reclamation Act was “the beginning of a policy more important to this country, more important to this country’s internal development than any other since the Homestead Law.” Irrigation, he said, allowed places like the Yakima Valley to “blossom as the rose.”
After concluding his remarks, Roosevelt was greeted by a delegation of Yakama Indians in full regalia. Roosevelt, who had not shook hands with anyone at that point, heartily shook hands with the Yakamas.
By 11:15 a.m., Roosevelt was back on his train, headed toward Walla Walla.
North Yakima and other communities spent $450 — $12,191 in today’s money — on decorations and the grandstand. But the Yakima Herald reported that the event was a rousing success, as “nothing of an unpleasant nature occurred during the morning in any way to mar the pleasure of the occasion ... and everyone feels that the time and expense gone into arranging for even so brief a reception was well spent.”
The next time a president visited Yakima was 1909, when William Howard Taft came for a visit. But that’s a story for another day.