One of the most distinguished guests that Wayne has ever had was General Ulysses S. Grant, when he came here on September 14, 1881, to preside at the Aztec Club banquet, the opening function of the Bellevue Hotel after its completion by George W. Childs and A. J. Drexel in the summer of that year. General Grant was but one of the many notables assembled for that occasion, the guest list for which included not only the most distinguished military men of that era, but some of its most famous financiers and newspaper men as well.
Mr. Childs’ special personal guest was Mr. John Walter, the publisher of the London “Times”, “the recognized exponent of English opinion” to quote from an article which appeared in “The Record” on the following day.
The Aztec Club was founded in Mexico City on October 13, 1847, in the course of the United States’ war with Mexico. Its original purpose had been to give young officers a social center within their means, since living costs in Mexico City were high. Its original quarters were in the mansion on “The Street of the Silversmiths”, belonging to Senor Bocanagra, former Mexican Minister to the United States.
As the club membership grew to some 166 young army officers, Grant, then a lieutenant of 25 in General Scott’s army, spent much of his time there. The war over, the Aztec Club continued in existence for many years, with General Robert Patterson as its president from 1847 until his death in 1880.
During these years the Club made its headquarters at his home at the corner of 13th and Locust streets, in Philadelphia. An interesting old picture shown to your columnist by Dr. Arms is that of a group of members of the club assembled on the second floor porch of this stately stone mansion. The photograph is by F. Gutekunst, of 712 Arch street, Philadelphia.
This affair at the Bellevue was the first annual banquet of the Aztec Club for many years to be held anywhere but in General Patterson’s home, the latter having been “its leading spirit and binding it together from year to year by the force of his geniality and personal influence.”
With his beautiful hotel on Lancaster avenue in Wayne, completed only the summer before, it was a gracious gesture on the part of George W. Childs to offer the hospitality of the Bellevue to “a company of celebrities such as had seldom been gathered under one roof.” Besides, it provided opportunity for him to bring his distinguished English guest, Mr. Walter, “into social contact with the most distinguished of the nation’s military celebrities”.
Mr. Walter, it seems, had been visiting Mr. Childs at Long Branch until the morning of the banquet, when accompanied by his host and General Grant, he arrived in Philadelphia.
Special trains, leaving Philadelphia early on the afternoon of September 14, took Mr. Childs and his guests to Wayne station. From there they were driven in carriages to the Bellevue Hotel, where the business session of the Aztec Club was already under way, in order that club members might be ready to join other guests at the dinner, scheduled for three o’clock. In describing the scene that met the eyes of the visitor as they alighted from their carriages, the Philadelphia “Press” of the following day says:
“A more desirable site could hardly have been chosen. Finished in Queen Anne style, the broad verandas overlook many miles of fruitful valley. Flags fluttered from every window yesterday, and among foreign ensigns the British colors predominated in honor of one of the guests of the day, John Walter, member of parliament and the proprietor of the London “Times’.” The “Record” adds still further color to this picture in a description which states that “flags were flying from every peak and corner of the unique structure, while over the main entrance was a display of Mexican and American flags.”
At the business meeting of the Aztec Club which had preceded the dinner General W. S. Hancock was elected President to succeed the late General Patterson. In General Hancock’s absence on this auspicious occasion, General Grant, the vice-president, stat at the head of the table. On his right were General Hoyt and General William T. Sherman, then head of the army. On his left were General Joseph E. Johnson, of Virginia; Mr. A. J. Drexel, the Philadelphia banker; General Preston, of Kentucky, and Mr. John Walter, of London. Mr. Childs was seated by Mr. Walter.
In addition to many famous members of the Aztec Club, there were a number of celebrities among the invited guests, including George B. Roberts, president of the Pennsylvania Railroad and A. J. Cassatt, its first vice-president; Colonel A. Louden Snowden, Director of the United States Mint; Frank S. Bond, president of the Philadelphia and Reading Railroad; J. Pierpont Morgan, of New York; William Henry Hariburt, Editor of the New York “World”; Colonel W. C. Church, editor of the “Army and Navy Journal”; Joseph Patterson, president, Western National Bank of Philadelphia; Colonel A. K. McClure, editor of the “Times”; Colonel Clayton McMichael, editor of the “North American”; Charles E. Warburton, editor of the “Evening Telegraph” and Charles E. Smith, editor of “The Press.”
Never before nor since has Wayne seen such a gathering of well-known and famous men as these who gathered at the Bellevue Hotel on September 14, 1881.
(To be continued)