William Howard Taft Historical Site
The William Howard Taft Historical Site topped the list of places Rooster and I planned to visit in Cincinnati. During our travels, we have stopped at many of the homes of former Presidents. These places are always good adventure destinations loaded with historical facts. We didn’t know much about William Howard Taft before our visit, but we were about to find out a lot of information about the man.
Breakfast at The Phelps
Our original plan was to walk to The Wild Eggs, but Rooster noticed The Phelps provided breakfast for their guests. We all know Rooster is a frugal man. If there is a chance for him to save a couple of bucks, he’s going to take advantage of it. The choices were limited, and all the food had to be individually wrapped due to COVID-19. Still, we ate a nice meal in the dining area, surrounded by stain glass windows.
Once we finished breakfast and checked out, we plugged 2038 Auburn Avenue into our phone’s GPS and headed for the William Howard Taft Historical Site. Driving through the streets of Cincinnati, we made a few observations about The Queen City.
Things we noticed about Cincinnati
- It is very hilly.
- There is a panhandler on every corner.
- The freeway system is massive and confusing. At times even our GPS didn’t know which way we were going.
- When you drive in this city, you will encounter a tunnel.
- The Mt. Auburn District, where the William Howard Taft Historical Site is located, suffered a decline from the time when it was known as Cincinnati’s ‘Fifth Avenue.’
- Moreover, we observed several areas of Cincinnati in need of revitalization
- The city is into baseball. Everywhere you look, there are reminders of the Cincinnati Reds.
The childhood home of William Howard Taft
The William Howard Taft Historical Site is a Greek Revival style house in the Mt. Auburn District of Cincinnati, where the 27th President of the United States was born. William Howard Taft came into the world on September 15, 1857, to Alphonso and Louisa Taft.
The family was active in politics. Alphonso went to Yale. He was a founding member of the Skull and Cross Bones. He also served as President Ulysses S. Grant’s secretary of war.
William followed in his father’s footsteps. He attended Yale, joined the Skull and Cross Bones, and became President Theodore Roosevelt’s secretary of war.
Indeed, all of the Taft children became political overachievers. Members of the family have served as governors, state representatives, ambassadors, and held other governmental offices.
The Taft family’s political leanings were in the direction of the Whig Party before the founding of the Republican party. They were anti-slavery in their beliefs. The works of Harriet Beacher Stowe, along with the Skull and Cross Bones journals from both Alphonso and William can be found in the small library at the William Howard Taft Historical Site.
The Presidency of William Howard Taft
William Howard Taft didn’t want the job of president. His wife and Theodore Roosevelt convinced him to run in the 1908 race. He seemed content to serve as secretary of war during the Roosevelt administration. However, Roosevelt convinced him to run because he had promised not to seek another term. After McKinley was shot and died in office, Roosevelt took his place. He promised not to run for office in 1908. Roosevelt chose Taft to campaign on the Republican ticket. The two men were close friends when Taft accepted the nomination. Roosevelt thought Taft would carry on his policies exactly in the way he planned, but Taft proved to have a mind of his own.
The split between Roosevelt and Taft
Perhaps the most interesting aspect of the Taft presidency happened during his second run for the White House. I believe it is compelling when you consider the political climate we live in today. Furthermore, it provides an example of why the political climate in America is always filled with contention and strife.
Once Taft won the election of 1908, Theodore Roosevelt closed up shop and went on an African Safari. Roosevelt was a hardy outdoorsman, so this seemed like the most logical place for this former president to live out his retirement. (Remember this is the guy who gave the Teddy bear its name.) He was confident Taft would carry out his wishes concerning public policy.
Taft had other ideas. His leanings were more conservative than Roosevelts. During his administration, a loy of anti-trust legislation was passed. Taft followed Roosevelt’s ideals by expanding the National Park Service. Taft was more conservative than his predecessor. He was against a national income tax, but ironically the sixteenth amendment passed during his administration, establishing a federal income tax. Taft also favored an independent judiciary.
To make a long story short
Teddy came back from safari. He founded a third party, which became known as the Bull Moose Party as a result of an answer he gave concerning his health. Teddy claimed he was as fit a bull moose. When he ran against Taft in 1912, his third party drew votes away from the republicans. Taft lost the presidency but had the last laugh when he became the 10th Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. He is the only person to occupy the office of United States President and chief justice.
Our experience at the William Howard Taft Historical Site
Rooster called ahead to make sure the museum was open for visitors. We are living in the new normal, so there existed a possibility of closed doors when we got there. The voice on the phone informed us they opened for self-guided tours, but part of the house was roped off to the public.
We drove through the Mt. Auburn neighborhood and thought it had seen better days. Many of the homes had unique architecture worth restoring, but it didn’t appear like much refurbishment was taking place. The area was once a prosperous suburb of Cincinnatti, so we found the condition of the neighborhood depressing. A slight concern about leaving our belongings in the car provoked a heated conversation between Rooster and me.
As soon as we walked into the house, we could see the upper part of the home roped off to the public. Social distancing must be easier on the lower floor. A young man from the parks department handed us a brochure, and we started our tour. We walked around the Taft family library for a short time, trying to figure out the significance of the various items in the room. It must have been a slow day because the young man soon joined us. I am so glad he did. The amount of information he knew about William Howard Taft made our trip memorable and added color to our adventure. He made our experience worthwhile.
I knew a little about the Taft presidency before we walked through the door of his childhood home, but not enough to capture the true essence of the man. If I had one word to use to describe who he grew up to be, I’d have to say ‘driven.’ His father Alphonso would accept nothing less than success from any of his children. Taft accomplished a lot of things in his life, but I wonder if he ever achieved any sort of tranquility or happiness.
The furniture was more or less standard for the period. The one-piece that stood out from the rest was the knickknack shelf on the far wall in the parlor. It was unique in design. Over the years, Rooster and I have toured many of these old homes, but I’ve never seen a similar item of furniture in any other historical home we’ve visited.
A few COVID-19 related things you should know when visiting the William Howard Taft Historical Site
- Wear a mask
- Keep six feet distance between yourself and other visitors.
- Don’t expect a tour guide. We got lucky because the young man working there decided to help us learn more about William Howard Taft.
- The gift shop is closed.
- The upper floor is also roped off to visitors.
As we were walking toward the parking lot, I said to Rooster, “Can you imagine what it would have been like being raised in that family?” He said, “Yeah, it would have been a miserable experience.” I had to admit he was probably right. Contemporaries of Taft when he was at Yale said he wasn’t smart, but he was driven. I believe a lot of American’s discovered this about themselves when COVID-19 forced them to stay home and away from their jobs. I wonder how the lockdown will affect us when we all start to live in the new normal. Will we be less driven and more focused on being happy? There is a big part of me that hopes we get more out of life than earning a paycheck.
Who is Molly Shea?
Molly Shea is an accomplished fictional short story writer from Indiana, who writes short stories and novels about a fictional town called Tecumseh. To read more of her short stories and adventures click here.
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