Grover Cleveland 22nd President, 1885-1889 24th President, 1893-1897

Birthplace, Caldwell, New Jersey
Our 22nd & 24th President’s birthplace was built in 1832 as the Manse, or pastor’s residence, for the first Presbyterian Church in Caldwell, NJ. Stephen Grover Cleveland was born there on March 18, 1837. Cleveland’s father, the Reverend Richard Falley Cleveland, a Yale-educated Presbyterian minister, was minister there from 1834-1841.

Grover, the fifth of nine children, was named after Stephen Grover, whose church Grover’s father had recently taken over. Grover was very adventuresome in his early years. Once, when he was four years old he ran into the road and fell under the wheels of a horse drawn apple cart. Luckily a school teacher happened to be passing by and saved our future president. Grover was just four years old when his father packed up his family’s bags and headed for Fayetteville, NY. His father died when Grover was sixteen years old.

Boyhood Home, Fayetteville, New York
In 1842, when Grover was four years old, his family moved to this home in Fayetteville, New York, a small farming community on the Erie Canal named for the Marquis de Lafayette. His father, Reverend Richard Falley Cleveland, became pastor of the Presbyterian Church. Grover attended the local one-room, one-teacher school until his family moved to Clinton, New York in 1850.

In 1853, when Grover was 16, his father died suddenly. Grover had hoped to go to college to study law, but now, with four young children for Mrs. Cleveland to take care of, there was no money for college. One of his older brothers was a teacher at a school for the blind in New York City, and Grover got a job there as an assistant instructor. But after a year in the school, he made up his mind to go someplace where a young man’s chances were better. He decided on the city of Cleveland, Ohio.

On the way he stopped to visit an uncle who had a fine herd of dairy cattle near Buffalo, New York. His uncle made Grover an offer. If he would stay and help him, he would pay Grover $50 and would also try to find him a permanent job as clerk in a lawyer’s office. Cleveland accepted the offer, and his real career began in Buffalo.

Summer White House, “Woodley”, Washington, DC
Philip Barton Key, the uncle of Francis Scott Key, bought this 250 wooded-acre estate in 1797. In 1803, he built “Woodley,” the Federal style house on the hill that would later become home to a number of statesmen, including U.S. Presidents. Martin Van Buren, John Tyler, James Buchanan and Grover Cleveland all used the mansion as a summer residence while in office. Its last resident owner was Henry Stimson, Secretary of War during the Roosevelt and Truman administrations, who helped direct the American war effort from the study, which is now the library computer room. For one hundred and fifty years, the woods, parks, and vistas of Woodley provided a quiet retreat for politicians and presidents. Today, the property is home to the prestigious Maret School.

Home, Westland, Princeton, New Jersey
Grover Cleveland and his wife first visited Princeton in October 1896 when he made an address at the Sesquicentennial Celebration. At that time, too, he began his friendship with Andrew Fleming West, the chief organizer of the celebration, who was later to be dean of the graduate school. The Clevelands liked Princeton so much they decided to live here at the close of his second terln as president. With Professor West’s help, Cleveland arranged for the purchase of a colonial mansion surrounded by spacious grounds at 15 Hodge Road which he named “Westland.” The Clevelands moved into Westland in March 1897, and soon took a central place of honor and affection in the community. During their visit at the Sesquicentennial they had reviewed a torchlight procession of alumni and students from the steps of Nassau Hall; one of the signs the undergraduates carried read “Grover, send your boys to Princeton.” This invitation was somewhat premature since the three Cleveland children were all girls. But the next fall, the Clevelands’ first son, Richard Folsom, was born, and the undergraduates welcomed his arrival with an oracular announcement, on the campus bulletin board, that he would enter Princeton with the Class of 1919 and play center on a championship football team all four years. Westland became the mecca for undergraduate processions after triumphs in athletics or debating or other times of student jubilation. Cleveland would come out on the porch and respond with a few pleasant words and sometimes, even lead a locomotive cheer. The students paraded to his house every March 18th to cheer him on his birthday and when he reached seventy gave him a silver loving cup, which Professor John Grier Hibben presented on their behalf. “I feel young at seventy,” Cleveland told them, “because I have here breathed the atmosphere of vigorous youth.” The ex-president made many acquaintances and some close friends in the faculty. West was the closest and was a frequent caller at Westland. Hibben also went there often. Paul van Dyke, the historian, was Cleveland’s favorite hunting and fishing companion. Cleveland befriended John Finley when he came to Princeton as professor of politics, and built a house for his use in a corner of his spacious grounds. Years later Finley recalled that, as the house was nearing completion, he had discovered water in the cellar. When he felt obliged to mention it Cleveland replied, “Well, my dear fellow, what did you expect, champagne?” Cleveland once heard Woodrow Wilson read Wordsworth’s “Character of the Happy Warrior,” and it became his favorite poem.

Cleveland presided at Princeton-Yale debates and other campus meetings, and at Commencement each year walked at the head of the academic procession at the side of the president of the university. In 1899 Henry Stafford Little, of the Class of 1844, founded a public lectureship, stipulating that Cleveland should be its incumbent as long as he lived. Cleveland accepted and lectured once or twice each year before capacity audiences in Alexander Hall on such subjects as “The Independence of the Executive,” “The Venezuelan Boundary Controversy,” and “Government in the Chicago Strike.”

In the fall of 1901 Cleveland was elected a trustee and thereafter took an active part in University affairs until his death. He thought it “a serious thing to be a trustee of Princeton” and gave painstaking attention to all the details of the operation of the University that came before the board. He spoke for the trustees at Woodrow Wilson’s inauguration in 1902 and at the dedication of the Faculty Room in Nassau Hall in 1906. In 1904 he was appointed chairman of the trustees’ committee on the graduate school and became a staunch advocate of the plan for its development. He wrote a fellow trustee that it was “laying the foundation of Princeton’s largest element of future greatness.” He sided with Dean West in his dispute with Woodrow Wilson about the location of the graduate college. Cleveland also opposed Wilson’s quad plan, in part because he feared it would delay realization of the graduate college. He sought to influence Andrew Carnegie to contribute to the university’s endowment and it was during one of Carnegie’s visits to Westland that the scheme of creating a lake for Princeton was first broached.

Gravesite, Princeton Cemetery, Princeton, New Jersey
Grover Cleveland died as he had lived determined to be in control. In the grip of a gastro-intestinal disease complicated by ailment of the heart and kidneys, Cleveland suffered great pain in the late spring of 1908. A severe attack hit him while on vacation in late March of 1908, causing him to think that the end was near. With great secrecy, he was rushed by automobile to Princeton. Early on June 24, Grover Cleveland died. His last words were: “I have tried so hard to do right.”

Two days later, he was buried. The simple funeral services at the house, attended by the family, President Roosevelt, others eminent in the government, and Princeton friends closed with Henry van Dyke’s reading of “The Happy Warrior.” Venezuela sent word that its nation’s flags would be flown at half-mast. Theodore Roosevelt’s eulogy compared him to a ” happy warrior,” a leader who had risen to command by open means; one who had served on honorable terms, and who understood that the presidency was a “public trust” bestowed upon him by the people.

The Princeton Cemetery is owned by the Nassau (formerly First) Presbyterian Church located opposite Palmer Square in the center of town. The Square was named after Edgar Palmer, a benefactor of both the University and the community. The Cemetery was established in 1757, and the oldest surviving monument is that of Aaron Burr, Sr., located in the Presidents’ Plot. The cosmopolitan character of the Cemetery continues, and interment has never been restricted to Church members and their families. Grover Cleveland (1837-1908), a New Jersey native and a lawyer, was mayor of Buffalo, governor of New York, and twice president of the United States from 1885 to 1889 and from 1893 to 1897. His birthday (March 18) is celebrated at the Cemetery with a short eulogy and wreath-laying ceremony by a military honor guard from Fort Dix.

Memorial, Buffalo, New York
This statue of Grover Cleveland stands in the front of Buffalo City Hall in Niagara Square and was sculpted by Bryant Barker in 1930. Its inscription reads: “Grover Cleveland, 1837 – 1908; Mayor of Buffalo, 1882; Governor of New York State, 1883 – 1884; President of the United States, 1885 – 1889, 1893 – 1897.”