A Page from North Quabbin History: Taft Visits Athol

By Carla Charter

Published: 02-24-2023 4:40 PM

Many well-known people have visited Athol. Among them was former President William Howard Taft, who visited on June 16, 1919, serving as the main speaker at a day-long homecoming celebration welcoming soldiers home from World War I.

According to Ruth Horstman, park ranger at the William Howard Taft National Historical Site in Cincinnatti Ohio, “Taft loved public events. He enjoyed getting out with the public.”

“The former president received with the most enthusiastic applause,” according to the June 24, 1919, Athol Transcript. When he rose to speak, according to the article, “Mr. Taft said in the beginning that he was more than glad to be present; that he wished to offer heartiest felicitations to Athol on this great festival of homecoming on the fact had 600 men in service; that its honor roll contains the names of 25 fine and true lads and of the town had given in the recent war.

Taft, according to the article, said he was particularly proud of the fact that he was in Worcester County because he felt an interest in that county himself. Taft explained that in the town of Mendon was a plaque with the names of the 24 citizens who had founded the town and he believed he was descended from 23 of them, the Transcript continued.

“Mr. Taft then dwelt on the patriotic welcome Athol was giving and asked What is Patriotism. It is deeper even then the love of country, or of the love of flag, it is the greatest spirit of sacrifice that “your servicemen before us have endured” that makes for citizenship and love of country and nation,” according to the article.

“He had great confidence veterans of the Great War would all find themselves and in due season being taking up again the duties which they were now fitted to take up,” the Transcript continued.

Mr Taft according to the article also discussed the idea of the league of nations, a forerunner of the United Nations. “In touching on the great league of nations (Taft) said that in the future there will be no great neutrals such as the United States has been in the past. There is no escape because we must share in the future world responsibilities.”

The article continued that “He said in closing that the boys who were before him and were scattered all over the country and were still in France and in Germany, were the ones upon whom the great future of the country rests. They are a part of it. You love the country and the country loves you and we look to you for the maintenance of right and justice of our great country.” Among others speaking at the event included Frank E. Wing, treasurer at L.S. Starrett Company, who was involved in the creation of Athol Memorial Hall (Athol Town Hall) and the World War I Honor Roll at the hall. Athol was the first town in the state to create a World War I Memorial, according to the “History of Athol, Massachusetts” by William Lord. Also speaking was John F. Herbert, former Commander of the 102nd Field Artillery, temporary state chairman and member of the National Executive Committee of the American Legion. Congressman Calvin Paige spoke at the event as well.

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Taft served one term as president from 1909-1913 and during that term was the first to fight for a balanced federal budget and permanently instituted a federal income tax for federal services. “Other presidents before him had instituted temporary federal income taxes such as Lincoln to pay for the Civil War. Taft’s however, was the first one which was permanent,” said Hartsman. Taft also served as Secretary of War under Theodore Roosevelt in 1904 and after his presidential term served as Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court. From 1921-1930.

Prior to Taft’s speech a large parade was held to welcome the soldiers home. World War I soldiers Sons of GAR veterans, Spanish American War Veterans and Gold Star Mothers all participated in the parade. Also in the lineup were a variety of floats, marching bands and other community groups marching as well as automobiles full of dignitaries. Following the speech, the celebration moved to Brookside Park on the border between Athol and Orange, where that evening there was music by Starretts and Greenfield Bands, dancing, singing and fireworks to cap off the celebrations of the day.

More information on the William Howard Taft National Historic Site can be found at https://www.nps.gov/wiho/index.htm

Carla Charter is a freelance writer from Phillipston. Her writing focuses on the history of the North Quabbin area. Contact her at cjfreelancewriter@earthlink.net.