By Richard F. Palmer
Soon after noted politician James G. Blaine was tapped as the Republican candidate for President of the United States, he hit the campaign trail which was mostly aboard a “whistle stop” train as at time it was the best way to visit masses of people. Having held many high ranking and very responsible positions in government (including Speaker of the House), Blaine was a very popular and important figure in American politics.
His popularity was similar to that of Theodore Roosevelt of a slightly later period. In the 1884 presidential election he faired very well in the popular vote. It was the Electoral College vote that was the clincher with a score of 219 to 182 in favor of Grover Cleveland.
After traveling by train throughout the Midwest, he arrived aboard a special Erie train in Jamestown on Sunday, October 30, 1884 where he was an overnight guest of ex-Governor Reuben E. Fenton. On Monday he was given an enthusiastic welcome in town and made a speech in the rain to a large crowd. The clock chimed at noon and the train was off again.
Brief stops were made at Randolph, Salamanca, and Olean. There were immense crowds gathered at the stations to hear Blaine's remarks. A 20-minute stop was made at Allegany station in Cattaraugus county, where he spoke to a large crowd. As the train passed St. Bonaventure College, students and faculty cheered and waved their handkerchiefs.
Blaine's train, consisting of a locomotive, baggage car and two coaches, switched to the Buffalo, New York & Philadelphia (later, Rochester Branch of the Pennsylvania) at Cuba. While it stopped there for 10 minutes for servicing a large crowd gathered. But was lunch time and Blaine didn’t seemed to be inclined to appear on the rear car platform. The disappointment was partially allayed by some musical selections by the Buffalo Glee Club.
At Belfast Junction, about two miles south of the village, the train was turned over to the Lackawanna
& Pittsburgh Railroad. At 3:30 p.m. it arrived in Angelica, stopping at Olean Street where carriages were in waiting to transport Blaine and his entourage to the park in the center of town. The delegation was escorted by 60 members of the "Plumed Knights," a ceremonial unit of the Republican Party. Several other units of the Knights from throughout the region, had chartered nine coaches, but arrived too late to participate in the festivities. After Blaine had left, they marched in a parade through the village. Between 4,000 and 6,000 people poured in to Angelica from all over. Preceding the speeches there was a 50-cannon salute.
A stand had been erected in the park in the center of town from which several speeches by local dignitaries were made. The event coincided with the 30th anniversary of the founding of the Republican Party which was said to have occurred at the old court house at Angelica on Oct. 17, 1854. However, many other communities throughout the country lay claim to this. The village of Seneca Falls holds the official government designation.
Interestingly many speakers pointed to the Democrats’ major weaknesses in their campaign speeches in that “they have nothing to talk about, so they direct their entire attention to throw mud at the opposing candidates.” (Where have we heard that before?)
Blaine was introduced as the next President of the United States. But Blaine cautioned, “That depends upon New York.” He spoke on numerous current issues. He said, “Now that this campaign draws to a close, like all other campaigns, the issues narrow down. In this case the parties throughout the length and breadth of the land confront each other join that question which goes to every doorsill and to every fireside in the land—the question of a protective tariff against free trade.”
He said in New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio, and other states the value of farm land had increased in proportion to the development of manufacturing industries. This had resulted in a home market— the price of farm products being put into the farmer’s pocket instead of being eaten up in the cost
The crowd stood in the drenching rain under umbrellas quietly and patiently listening to his remarks. When he was finished, he moved toward his carriage, but was “delayed by the many who pressed around to take him by the hand. He made his escape finally and was driven to the depot,” a local reporter wrote. The train left about 4:30 p.m. The 21 miles over the recently-standard gauged line to Swains was made in 26 minutes, where it was turned over to the Erie Railroad.
The editor of the Canaseraga Times wrote: “The correct supposition that most of the Republicans of Canaseraga would attend the Angelical celebration, was sufficient reason for omitting the stop here, so the Blaine special went east, past our station at a good rate of speed, about 5 p.m.”
But a crowd gathered there anyway to show their respects, even knowing that Mr. Blaine would not stop.
It wasn’t every day that a Presidential candidate passed through here. Brief stops were made at Hornellsville and Corning. Elmira was reached at 6 p.m., where there he was met by one of the largest crowds in the history of the city. After spending the night there, the train sped on to New York.
Cuba Patriot, October 30, 1884
Canaseraga Times, October 31, 1884
Friendship Register, March 21, 1919