Cleveland, Grover

Cleveland, Grover (1837-1908) 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.

Cleveland died at Westland on June 24, 1908. 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.'' (``Who comprehends his trust, and to the same / Keeps faithful with a singleness of aim.'') He was buried in the Princeton cemetery.

Woodrow Wilson wrote in his President's Report that the trustees had felt the power of Cleveland's character in all their deliberations, that ``there was an unmistakable tonic in mere association with him. . . . He did much more than give the prestige of his great name to the university: he se~rved it with thoughtful intelligence and conscientious devotion.''

Cleveland's association with Princeton is commemorated by the Cleveland Tower of the Graduate College erected in 1913 by popular subscription -- ``a tower of strength and beauty,'' ex-President Taft said at its dedication, ``and most expressive of his character.''

*This prophecy was fulfilled in part. Richard Cleveland did enter, and did graduate, with the Class of 1919. But he played football only one year -- he was fullback on his freshman team which beat the Yale freshmen -- and thereafter concentrated on track. However, his son, Thomas Grover Cleveland '49, was a varsity guard for three years, in two of which the team beat Harvard and Yale.


From Alexander Leitch, A Princeton Companion, copyright Princeton University Press (1978).

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