by Ann Kessler
President Harry S. Truman loved to walk. He did so almost every morning of his adult life.
“I go every morning at 6:30 to 7:00 for a half hour’s real walk usually doing two miles,” Truman once wrote to his mother. And for a few years, his starting point was 4701 Connecticut Avenue, on the east side of the avenue at Chesapeake Street NW.
The Truman family – Harry, Bess and their daughter Margaret – lived in #209, a five-room apartment, from January 15, 1941 until April 16, 1945. Their rent in 1945, according to the Evening Star newspaper, was $120 per month.
When the Trumans moved in, Harry Truman was representing Missouri in the United States Senate. He served from 1935 until January 20, 1945, when he was sworn in as President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s last vice president.
During his time in the Senate, Bess and Margaret Truman frequently traveled home to Independence, Missouri to visit with family and friends. When Bess was out of town, Harry would wander down Connecticut Avenue at different times of the day, looking for some place to eat. More often than not his choice of restaurant was the Hot Shoppes in the 4300 block of Connecticut Avenue NW.
On July 28, 1942 he wrote to Bess: “I have been drinking tomato juice at home and eating at the Hot Shoppe and Senate lunchrooms.” Truman’s letter to his wife on August 27, 1942 is another good example of Truman’s lifestyle: “Got up at six-thirty and went down to the Hot Shoppe for breakfast.”
Sometimes Truman had to eat elsewhere in the neighborhood. On August 25, 1942 he wrote: “I had one heck of a time getting something to eat that evening. I started out in my raincoat and went down to the Hot Shoppe. It was full to the doors. Came back and got in the car…. Finally stopped at the chicken place [Chicken in the Rough restaurant, 5031 Connecticut] at Connecticut and Nebraska and ate at the counter.” On August 14, 1944 he wrote: “Slept all afternoon, got up at six instead of five, and the Hot Shoppe was packed, so I came down to the office and ate at the Carroll Arms. Chicken dinner costs $1.75 there and $1.00 at the Hot Shoppe.”
Truman also walked to the homes of friends in the neighborhood. William M. Boyle, Jr., a political activist who served as the chairman of the Democratic National Committee from 1949 to 1951, lived at 5144 Nebraska Avenue. That was a short walk for Truman, and he told his wife in one letter that Boyles rewarded him for his effort with a roast beef dinner on July 27, 1942. Truman also played poker, a favorite game of his, at the home of Rhode Island Senator J. Howard McGrath, who lived at 5100 39th Street NW.
Truman also just liked to walk on Connecticut Avenue. On March 23, 1941 he wrote Bess: “…walked out to Chevy Chase Circle and back this morning before I came down here.” At other times he would take an early morning walk with his administrative assistant, Edgar C. (Bud) Faris, Jr. Faris remembers that Truman would call “…at five o’clock in the morning and tell me that he was going to walk for thirty-five or forty-five minutes down Connecticut Avenue and would I pick him up so that we could have breakfast together. Well, I would do this, maybe two or three, sometimes four times a week. And we’d go have breakfast and we would be in the office in the Senate at seven o’clock in the morning.”
In 1945, Truman’s political career had a quick ascent from senator to vice president to president. He was vice president for only 82 days in 1945. Then, on April 12, 1945, after President’s Roosevelt sudden death, Truman became president of the United States. That fateful day, Truman was with Speaker of the House of Representatives Sam Rayburn when he received an urgent call from Steve Early, Roosevelt’s press secretary, telling him to rush to the White House. There he heard the sad news from First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt that President Roosevelt had been struck with a fatal cerebral hemorrhage while vacationing in Warm Springs, Georgia. The rest of Truman’s day was spent in a state of shock. He was sworn in as president at 7 p.m. in the Cabinet Room of the White House.
He presided over a hurriedly called Cabinet meeting, then “decided the best thing to do was to go home and get as much rest as possible.”
“By 9:30 he was back at 4701 Connecticut Avenue,” the Evening Star reported. He found that Bess, Margaret (then a junior at George Washington University) and his mother in law had gone to the apartment of neighbors Brigadier General and Mrs. Leonard L. Davis in apartment 208. Their daughter, Annette Davis Wright, was a friend of Margaret’s. The new president, having missed dinner in the crisis of the day, ate a turkey and ham sandwich with a glass of milk at the Davis’s. He then went back to his apartment, called his mother, and went to bed.
Apartment 209 of 4701 Connecticut Avenue was now the home of the president of the United States. As vice president, Harry Truman had a small Secret Service detail. Now agents surrounded the apartment house, aided by the local police. The Truman days at 4701 were numbered. The security details plus the press made the lives of their neighbors difficult. So the Trumans moved into Blair House until the White House could be readied for them.
”This afternoon we moved to this house diagonally across the street (Penn. Ave.) from the White House, until the Roosevelts have had time to move out of the White House,” Truman wrote in a letter to his mother and sister on April 13, 1945. “We tried staying at the apartment, but it wouldn’t work. I can’t move without at least ten Secret Service men and twenty policemen. People who lived in our apartment couldn’t get in and out without a pass. So – we moved out with suitcases. Our furniture is still there and will be for some time…. But I’ve paid the rent for this month and will pay another month if they don’t get the old White House redecorated by that time.”
The Trumans would remember their time at 4701 fondly. In her biography of her mother, Margaret Truman Daniel describes 4701 as “a pleasant place to live. We had a second floor apartment with French doors that opened on a small porch…. In the spring, irises and azaleas bloomed on the lawn around us.”
In September 1946, Harry Truman wrote that he would rather return to 4701 than live in the White House. Historian David McCullough writes: “More and more [Truman] disliked living [at the White House]. Better it be made a museum, he thought, and give the President a rent allowance. That way, he told Bess, they could move back to the apartment on Connecticut Avenue, an idea he knew she would welcome.”
The Trumans had spent four years living at 4701 during a remarkable time in United States history. 4701 Connecticut Avenue NW, now called the Truman House, has earned its place in history, too. And we, as neighbors, can remember when a future president of the United States lived and walked here.
Acme News Pictures, Washington Bureau. “4701 Connecticut Avenue.” April 14, 1945. D.C. Public Library Washingtoniana Division.
Boyd’s Directory of the District of Columbia. Washington: W.H. Boyd, 1943.
Cochran, Bert. Harry Truman and the Crisis Presidency. New York: Funk & Wagnalls, 1973.
Duggan, Ervin. “William Boyle Dies Here at 59,” The Washington Post, September 1, 1961, B6.
Faris, Edgar C. Jr. Interview by J.R. Fuchs, March 8, 1971. Oral History Interviews, Harry S. Truman Presidential Library and Museum.
“J. Howard McGrath.” Wikipedia.
McCullough, David. Truman. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1973.
“Truman Goes Home and Bars Visitors After Taking Oath,” Evening Star, April 13, 1945, p. 4.
Truman, Harry. Dear Bess: The Letter from Harry to Bess Truman, 1910-1959. Columbia, MO : Univ. of Missouri Press, 1998.
Truman, Harry. Off the Record: The Private Papers of Harry S. Truman. Columbia, MO: University of Missouri Press, 1997.
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Truman, Margaret. Harry S. Truman. New York: William Morrow & Co., 1973.
“Truman – Walking – 1946.” 59-955-1. Photo from the collection of the Harry S. Truman Library & Museum.
“William M. Boyle.” Wikipedia.
Wymer, John P. “Commercial Buildings on Connecticut Avenue NW South of Nebraska Avenue.” John P. Wymer Photo Collection, WY 0803.19. April 17, 1949. Historical Society of Washington.