By: Matthew James Watros
Without a doubt, the most recognized event in Newfield’s history must be President Theodore Roosevelt’s visit on October 24, 1910. The fact that there is photographic evidence of the occasion probably has a lot to do with the event’s fame. Anyone who has lived in town for a few years or more has likely seen the photos of the former president gracing the balcony of the old Newfield Hotel.
For the majority of current citizens of the town, that is the extent of their knowledge of President Roosevelt’s visit. There is, however, more to the story.
Before coming to the village to give his speech, the retired president motored his way through Trumbull’s Corners, Connecticut Hill, and Pony Hollow, where he visited a couple of family farms. Then, after his speech given at the hotel, he and his entourage of congressmen and reporters traveled with the townsfolk up to Picnic Corners for a meal.
Picnic Corners, for those who don’t know, is located at what we know today as the intersection of Van Kirk Road and Irish Hill Road. Back then though, it was nearly a four-corner intersection, as Stark Road used to meet Van Kirk just a few yards east of the Van Kirk/Irish Hill intersection.
Throughout much of his time in Newfield, Mr. Roosevelt seems to have enjoyed himself and was apparently in a very playful and quick-witted mood. At Picnic Corners, it was reported that he spent around an hour with the locals, “eating and fooling around,” and that “passerby would never have known that an ex-president was in that luncheon.”
Being the outdoors lover that he was, the former president must have surely enjoyed the beautiful and hilly countryside that our town offers, as well as the informality of the occasion.
A little reminiscent of current affairs, an Ithaca newspaper even told of him poking a little fun at the media and his political opponents. As he was about to down a glass of water before moving along, he was reported as saying, “Now I suppose they will say I stopped at a picnic and drank heavily.”
Currently, the site of Picnic Corners has been mostly reclaimed by the forest, and a few new houses have popped up along the roads in the area. A fine grass can still be seen growing at the old picnic grounds, though, under the trees on the southeast corner of the intersection.
A lingering piece of the past, the grassy area reminds the modern Newfielder that the intersection was once much more open and inviting for the townsfolk to come park their buggies or wagons. Surely, many a picnic was enjoyed there, spread out over a homespun blanket on a sunny day.
Just this past summer (2016), a new blue-and-yellow New York State historical marker was erected at the old intersection to commemorate President Theodore Roosevelt’s brief but memorable time there. The sign was paid for with funds from a grant awarded to the town by the William G. Pomeroy Foundation.
Matt Watros Jr. is a lifelong resident of Newfield whose family in Newfield goes back generations. He is a Marine veteran who served in Iraq, a firefighter/E.M.T. for the Ithaca Fire Department, and a former Civil war reenactor. His interest in Newfield history is broad, involved, and informative. Due to his efforts, Picnic Corners is now recognized as a historic site worthy of the Pomeroy historic marker.
“Teddy Roosevelt’s Visit to Newfield,” Newfield Historical Society
Githler, Charley. “Newfield Marks 100-Year Anniversary of Roosevelt Visit,” Ithaca Times, September 29, 2010.