June 25, 1934 – President Roosevelt Passed Through Derby Saturday A.M.
With less than three hours’ notice of his coming, President Franklin D. Roosevelt found Derby turned out in thousands with flags and huzzas to greet him on Saturday1morning when he passed through here en route to Hyde Park by way of Danbury, having attended the boat races in New London on Friday. Already a movement has been started to change the name of River Road to Roosevelt Drive as a result of his passing along that boulevard.
The presidential party reached East Derby at 12:10 o’clock, noon and already at that time many had been waiting to see him for over three hours. The news flash at 9:30 o’clock reported him leaving New London at that time and it had been an impatient populace that began gathering at that hour. Flags were run up, work in local offices and stores ceased, and by 12 o’clock the entire city was in a holiday mood.
Arriving at the Orange town line with an escort of state troopers on motorcycles and in cars, followed by secret service men, the presidential party was met by Chief of Police Thomas E. VanEtten and Motorcycle Officer Ivan Cable, who furnished an escort of honor to the Stevenson Dam. From there, Officer Cable accompanied the escort to Newtown.
Every available place was taken by automobiles from Stevenson Dam in Oxford to Derby Avenue in New Haven. Many are the stories which are told concerning the coming of the President, and among them is this one.
One of the Stories
A party of Derby people had been shopping in New Haven Saturday morning when the news flashed that the President was coming. The children in the party were most anxious to see him, but the driver remained indifferent tot he occasion.
“Poof”, she said. “after all he’s only a man. I can’t see anything in waiting for hours just to see him go by”.
In vain they pleaded: she was obdurate. Although after much urging she agreed not do drive too fast, homeward, she made up for this concession with an enthusiastic lecture on the folly of such childish curiosity, until the remaining members of teh party had been pretty well convinced that no adult in full possession of her senses would be guilty of such conduct. Nearing the Derby line, they met some friends gathered upon their lawn, obviously eagerly awaiting the arrival of the chief executive. While exchanging a few words of greeting here, the motorcycle escort hove into sight.
In less time than it takes to write it, the heretofore disapproving driver had pulled her car to the side and jumped from the machine to the curb.
“Heigh!” she greeted with a flourishing salute just as the President’s car came along.
“Heigh!” answered the President, while the flabbergasted group about her stared in utter amazement.
Eyes wide with excitement, shaking with enthusiasm, she flounced around to her companions, shouting “He spoke to me! He spoke to me! He spoke to me!”.
–All along the way, wherever there was a single car or a group, however small, children or adults, the President and Mrs. Roosevelt did not neglect the friendly hand wave and the famous “Roosevelt smile”. All who saw the procession spoke again and again of the miracle of personality that made every smile such as completely personal one that it was impossible for the recipient to believe that it was not somehow or other just a little more than a routine greeting.
–Senator Henry M. Bradley, whose authority is never questioned on points historical, says that it is the first instance of a President visiting Derby2 during his term of office. He points out that ex-President Taft visited here and spoke here, but after he had served his term.
–A movement is well under way, it is said, to have the aldermen take formal action at their next meeting, changing the name of River Road to Roosevelt Drive
–Mayor William F. Riordan and his staff greeted the President at the junction of Main and Elizabeth streets.
–The procession slowed up in East Derby and crowds there gave the President a vociferous welcome. As the Presidential car slowed down in making the turn into Main Street at the East Derby trolley terminal, an individual yelled “Most of us are Democrats here, Franklin, but the few Republicans we have are with you”. The President replied with a smile and a wave of greeting.
June 26, 1934
We have read with interest the suggestion that Derby might remember the passing of President Roosevelt through the town by renaming the River Road Roosevelt Drive. Long years ago Oxford had its Governor’s Hill Road3 and it still is used by one of the highways of the town. Incidentally, it is said the governor thus remembered was also aJeffersonian. Why not connect Roosevelt Drive with Governor’s Hill and call it Jefferson Boulevard?
June 27, 1934
A group of Squantuck residents, having been informed that President Roosevelt would pass that way at 11 o’clock Saturday, collected in front of the home of R. G. Preece and waited diligently until 12:30 where they were rewarded by a fleeting glimpse of the Presidential party as it sped along on its way to Danbury and Hyde Park. In spite of the high speed maintained, the President was plainly recognized and was seen to smile and wave his hand. One is led to wonder whether this is the first President who has, while in office, traversed the beautiful valley of the Housatonic.
1. The actual date of President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s visit was June 23, 1934.
2. This statement may or may not be true, depending on one’s perception. Both Taft and Roosevelt actually interacted with residents, even if Roosevelt never actually got out of his car. However, we know that President Woodrow Wilson used to pass through Derby and Shelton while in office, on his private railroad car attached to the Federal Express train, on his way to and from the “Summer White House” in Cornish, New Hampshire. Normally the train would pass at night, and was reported after the fact, and President Wilson never interacted with residents, if he was awake at all.
3. See this page on Oxford’s Record: The First 125 Years, by Dorothy DeBisschop on the Oxford Past website regarding the namesake of Governor’s Hill.