By Jerry V. Ramsey, Ph.D.
William Howard Taft — lawyer, judge, Solicitor-General, Governor-General of the Philippines, Secretary of War, acting Secretary of State, Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States, and 27th President of the United States — was a guest, on at least four occasions, aboard the famous and historic luxury yacht El Primero.
Therefore, the deductive historian says tongue firmly in cheek, he visited Filucy Bay in Longbranch four times.
It is a fact that Taft went aboard the 120-foot steel-hulled boat just about every time he visited Tacoma.
It is also a fact that Filucy Bay in Longbranch was a favorite destination of the old girl.
You make your judgement.
The first time President Taft went aboard the El Primero was a year after Chester Thorne brought the vessel from San Francisco to the Puget Sound.
Thorne took Taft on his prized toy in 1907 on a cruise from Tacoma to Seattle, before the president sailed for Japan on an around-the-world trip.
Two years later, while attending the Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition in Seattle, the President again accepted Thorne’s invitation to board the El Primero and head south to Tacoma. Taft’s stay in Seattle was brief but hectic, deciding to leave all the hubbub for a round of golf.
One can only speculate about conversations aboard the El Primero. At the time, he was not yet fully convinced that Alaska should become a state.
It is easy to imagine the freedom the President had without inquisitive reporters around, while sitting on the fantail of the sleek vessel.
Considering her speed and ability to outrun most boats of the time, it stands to reason the president visited Longbranch — because the El Primero certainly did.
President Taft’s frequent passage on the El Primero lent the impression that “Taft practically lived here,” Tacoma historian Ron Magden said. This is not surprising given Tacoma’s prominence in West Coast politics, as the western terminal of the second transcontinental railroad.
And the El Primero was certainly an elegant venue for a sitting U.S. President.
Conversations must have hopped from Alaskan statehood to trade with Asia while the President was aboard. Taft was the former Governor-General of the Philippines and a key cog in all things pertaining to Alaska.
One might even speculate that discussions during one of the President’s earlier cruises on the El Primero included what to do with an open prairie next to Thorne’s castle in Lakewood.
The Defense Department Military Reservation at Point Defiance was about to lose its home. Point Defiance was about to become a city park. Years later, Camp Lewis was fortuitously established as a military training post.
The President’s fourth cruise on the El Primero came in 1911, after he visited Mount Rainier.
President Taft disembarked from the El Primero to board a Tacoma and Eastern Railroad car to Longmire. At Longmire, a convoy of auto carriages carried Taft over unpaved trails to Paradise. It was a grueling ride, made just a little easier by the mechanics who kept the cars moving on the treacherous course.
“The county road commissioners have done a marvelous job building that road to Paradise,” Taft declared back in Tacoma. “But I think the (federal) government ought to build a proper 16 Foot roadway. After all, it is a National Park.”
Mount Rainier was the fifth national park, but the first with a paved road.
Dr. Jerry V. Ramsey, a retired public school teacher and university professor, was educated at the University of Puget Sound, University of Washington, and Columbia Pacific University. He has written two books, “Economic Geography for High School Social Studies” and “A Fur Trade Era Anthology” which is a collection of his most recently published northwest history essays. Ramsey has written for a number of historical societies and museums. Soon his book “British History of Puget Sound and Pierce County” will be released. Ramsey also offers short local history lectures in support of the Tacoma Historical Society.
Ramsey can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org