The President Comes to Dinner
Have you ever wondered what you might serve if the President of the United States came to dinner? I would hope you’d offer something besides a slice of pizza or a burger.
Now, it’s not often a president visits Nyack, but it has happened. Our 22nd and 24th President, Grover Cleveland, visited Nyack on July 10, 1889, when he took the train and stayed overnight at Prospect House, then located at the northwest intersection of South Highland and Bradley Hill Road, (now the location of Nyack College.)
Cleveland was the luncheon guest of the Nyack Fishing Club but there is no record of what was on the menu that day. President Cleveland liked Nyack so much he returned in September 1889 for a clambake on a plateau west of the hotel. In the issue of September 29, 1889, the editor of the Rockland County Journal wrote, “The table was a large one and President Cleveland sat at the head. He was served lunch by head waiter Walter Poindexter.” However the editor never mentions what was served to eat. From what I have read in the old papers, it’s my guess the editor was more interested in politics than food. His reporting changed when the next president visited.
Benjamin Harrison from Indiana, our 23rd president, was a former Brigadier General in the Civil War, who lost his reelection bid to Grover Cleveland in 1892. In July of 1894 he was visiting New York with his future second wife, Mary Scott Dimmick and his grandson, Benjamin Harrison McKee.
A trip up river and dinner in Nyack was arranged. President Harrison and his guests boarded the yacht Vamoose after they tele-graphed the manager of Hotel St. George to have dinner ready for them when they arrived. Their yacht docked at Main Street about seven o’clock on Saturday, July 28, 1894 a little more than a year after Harrison left office. From the dock the party walked up Burd Street to the hotel; Harrison walking in the middle of the street, his small figure erect, leading his grandson, while he chatted with other members of his party.
George Bardin, manager of the St. George, met them at the front door of the hotel and guided them to the dining room.
Nyack being a small town in those days, word spread quickly around the village of the former president’s visit, and, while Harrison and his guests enjoyed an elaborate dinner, a number of Nyackers strolled past the hotel and peered through the window to get a glimpse of their celebrated visitor.
So what did Nyack serve the president for dinner? From the account in Cornelia Bedel’s Now and Then and Long Ago, it was an elaborate meal fit for royalty. It started with Little Neck Clams followed by Anchovy Toast, Celery, Salted Almonds, Potage Torte Verte Claire and Hors d’Oeuvre. The entrees included Timbale Reyniere, Turban of Chicken, a molded pate-style ring made from mushrooms and minced chicken, Halibut in wine sauce Au Perigord, potatoes with Dutchesse sauce, Sweetbreads Graumont, Filet Mignon du Richelieu, Petis Pois à l’Anglaise, Poulet de Grain au Cresson, Salade Fantaisie Russe, and for dessert, Apple Savarin, Ice Cream, Fruit, Cakes and Coffee. Along with dinner the following wines were served with each course: Haut Sauterne, Amontillado, a full-bodied sherry from Spain, Grand Vin Chateau Lafite de Rothschild and a fine Bordeaux. Champagnes included Leroy Brut and Perrier Jouet. Liqueurs and cigars concluded the evening’s meal.
It was after nine o’clock with the moon just rising when President Harrison and his party boarded their yacht for the return to New York City, having first signed the register at the St. George. It contains the signature: “Benj. Harrison, Indianapolis, Ind.” followed by another in a child’s bold writing. “Benjamin Harrison McKee.”
While there is no indication that our current president plans to dine in Nyack,
I truly hope someone with epicurean training will save this little piece of history just in case he changes his mind. Wouldn’t you hate it if the meal served didn’t top the one enjoyed by Harrison?
We are indebted to longtime Nyack Historian Virginia Parkhurst for her research and the notes she left which I used to bring you this tasty information.
The Nyack Villager thanks Jim Leiner for helping us all ‘Remember the Days .’