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Greenville grows as presidential stopover


President Donald Trump walks to his car after getting off of Air Force One at Pitt Greenville Airport ahead of speaking at Minges Coliseum on July 17, 2019.


The Daily Reflector

Thursday, July 18, 2019

Wednesday’s visit by President Donald Trump marked the third time a sitting president has visited Greenville, although the trend seems to be on the rise.

Trump’s visit comes 18 years after one by President George W. Bush in April 2001. The only other presidential visit before that came 210 years earlier, when the nation’s first president, George Washington, passed through.

Washington was making a tour of Southern states by horse and carriage in 1791 when he stopped to eat lunch in Greenville. He spent the night about 14 miles out of town at an inn.

The president did not have much to say about his brief stay — he famously called Greenville a “trifling” place — but local historian Bill Kittrell told The Daily Reflector on the 225th anniversary of the visit that it was a big event for the small town on the Tar River.

“The people along the way would drop their work and watch as George Washington passed by,” Kittrell said. “That would be an outstanding occasion in 1791 for someone that important to visit our county.”

President Bush visited East Carolina University a few months after his turbulent win over Democrat Al Gore in the 2000 “hanging chad” election that required hand recounts of votes in Florida — a few month before the Sept. 11 attacks that defined his presidency.

Bush was introduced by then-ECU Chancellor Richard Eakin, who presented the former majority owner of the Texas Rangers an ECU baseball team jersey and hat. The president used his speech to promote his tax and budget proposals and promised: “Tax relief is on the way.”

A president’s wife, Eleanor Roosevelt, visited Greenville in November 1941 and several presidential candidates have visited, including John F. Kennedy in 1960.

As North Carolina has become a battleground state for presidential elections, Greenville and Pitt County have become a more routine stopover for hopefuls and their proxies.

President Bill Clinton campaigned here for his wife, Hillary Rodham Clinton, in 2008 and 2016, and presidential hopeful Barack Obama packed Minges on April 17, 2008.

Trump, himself, visited Greenville as a candidate in September 2016 during a rally at the Greenville Convention Center.