Eight U.S. Presidents who visited Sterling are painted on the west side of the Martin Building. The single thing they have in common, other than being President, is that they all came to our fair city at one point in time.
July 18, 1856 - The first visitor, Abraham Lincoln, who, as a lawyer, delivered a two-hour speech on behalf of John C. Fremont who was the first candidate of the new Republican Party. Lincoln spoke out against the Kansas-Nebraska Act which would allow new territories to decide for themselves to be free or slave states.
September 16, 1880 – The former general and President Ulysses S. Grant and his wife, Julia, came to Sterling as guests of the Whiteside County Agricultural Society, on the occasion of the Whiteside Fair.
1896 – Republican William McKinley made a brief stop in Sterling during the campaign for his presidency.
1900 – Theodore Roosevelt had gained fame as a leader of the Rough Riders during the Spanish-American War two years earlier. He assumed the presidency when McKinley was assassinated. Roosevelt was well received in Sterling where he spoke at Central Park appealing to Americanism.
1912 – Democrat Woodrow Wilson made campaign stop. It is said that in a vote taken at a Whiteside County teacher’s institute he was top vote-getter among women. Of course this was eight years before women in this county gained the right to vote. He was also the favorite among male teachers.
August 30, 1920 – Only twelve days after women received the right to vote by Constitutional amendment, Franklin D. Roosevelt visited Sterling as a Democratic Vice-Presidential candidate. He made a brief speech from the back of a train and spoke about the League of Nations.
February 24, 1976 – Ronald Regan returned to the county of his birth, arriving in Sterling from Tampico. He participated in a question and answer session in front of a crowd of 1500 at the Coliseum.
September 20, 1979 – George H.W. Bush kicked off his presidential campaign, attending a pork chop barbeque sponsored by Northern Illinois Republicans at Harvey Arabian Farms.
An Historical Sidelight:
Lincoln spoke here. Lincoln slept here. How many communities can say that? While you are looking at murals, visit the statue of Abraham Lincoln, erected in 2006 in honor of his visit and speech in Sterling 150 years earlier on July 18, 1856. Mr. Lincoln at the time was 47 years of age, a lawyer, a former state representative, a one-term Congressman, and already an ardent foe of the expansion of slavery. He spoke at a rally on behalf of John C. Fremont who was the presidential candidate for the newly formed Republican Party.
The life size bronze by sculptor Don Morris depict Lincoln before he grew his beard; it is placed in Propheter Park (corner of 6th Avenue and 7th Street), very near the location where he made his speech.
The statue commemorates a great American.