William Howard Taft National Historic Site

Location: Cincinnati, Ohio

Webpage: National Park

General Description: The William Howard Taft National Historic Site is the boyhood home of the 27th President and the only President to also serve as Chief Supreme Court Justice.  His home on Auburn Street in Cincinnati, Ohio was bought in 1851 by Taft’s father, Alphonso Taft.  Alphonso Taft was a well respected lawyer in Cincinnati, an ardent supporter of the new Republican Party, and served as Secretary of War and Attorney General for President Grant.  William Taft was born in 1857 and grew up in the house on Auburn until he went off to attend Yale University in 1874.  While still in his twenties he was appointed a judge and quickly rose to appointments as Solicitor General and judge of the Sixth Court of Appeals.  In 1901, President McKinley appointed Taft to be the civilian Governor of the Philippines where he made significant improvements in their efforts of self government.  During this time he turned down two offers of the Supreme Court from President Theodore Roosevelt because he was not finished with his work in the Philippines.  In 1904, he accepted an appointment to be Secretary of War for President Theodore Roosevelt.  Roosevelt vowed not to seek a third term as President and hand-picked William Taft as his successor.  He easily won the Republican nomination and defeated William Jennings Byrant for President in 1908.  While Roosevelt believed that Taft would continue his Progressive agenda, Taft sided more with the Conservative Wing of the Party on issues dealing with tariffs, conservation, and anti-trust.  Consequently, Roosevelt decided to run again for President in 1912 and a third party candidate of the Bull Moose Party after Taft won the Republican nomination.  They split the Republican vote in the general election allowing Woodrow Wilson to be elected.  After leaving office, Taft returned to a Professorship at Yale and remained active working against war with the League to Enforce Peace.  In 1921, President Harding appointed Taft as Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, a position Taft had always aspired to.  He served until 1930, when he resigned due to poor health, dying a month later.

Brochure

Impressions:

1)  The Visitor Center at the William Taft National Historic Site is a small building on the property that was part of Taft’s boyhood home on Auburn Street.  They have a nice short video about the history of William Taft, as well as, his father and children, all of which had significant political and social careers.  Except for the video the Visitor Center includes just a couple of exhibits about Taft and his family.

VisitorCenter

2) The main attraction of the historic site is the boyhood home.  We had a very good tour of the front few rooms by a very knowledgeable staff member.  Even though subsequent owners of the property had made many changes to the home, they have been able to restore nearly the entire home to the period of Taft’s childhood.  It turned out that his grandfather kept detailed journals which included detailed lists of all changes to the house after he bought it.  He recorded the serial number of every piece of furniture or the mark he put on it if it did not have a serial number and where the mark was located.  Consequently, they have been able to relocate and verify most of the furniture that still exists.  In addition, his wife, Fanny, recorded a description of all the wallpaper, drapes, and rugs along with the actual catalog number!!  With a little research they have been able to match the wallpaper, drapes, and rugs.  The tour only covers the main parlor, sitting room, and one of the bedrooms with the rest of the house open as a self tour.  Throughout the rest of the house are extensive exhibits about Taft that cover his childhood, early career, his time as Governor of the Philippines, his Presidency, and as Chief Justice.  After seeing the exhibits in the house, I understood why the Visitor Center is so limited.