For this week’s article, we want to venture high atop one of Cincinnati’s most prominent hilltops and check out the two-story Greek Revival house that sits there and is a reminder of the elegant era when wealthier people here could escape the dirt, heat, smoke and crowded conditions of the lower city. This house built circa 1835 is the birthplace and childhood home of William Howard Taft, the 27th President of the United States and the 10th Chief Justice of the United States.
The Taft house is located on approximately 3 acres of land and receives around 15,000 visitors a year. There are currently two building on the property, the main house and the Taft Education Center, that provides an overview of the property with history and contains the park offices. Before going to the house, it is best for visitors to first stop here and read the display and information made available. Here you can also talk to a Park Ranger and sign up for the guided tour. Before heading over to the house, it is good to know that the house is two levels with tall narrow staircases. Difficulty in movement or people who cannot walk up or down stairs easily will want to mention this to the Ranger so that you may stay on the first floor of the house.
When first entering the house, you will start out on the first floor. Here you will notice the tall ceilings and the long narrow hallways adorned with the period wallpapers of when Taft lived in the house. In each of the five rooms on the first floor open to the public, you will find many family portraits and pictures hanging on the walls. These items belong to the Taft family and are on loan to the National Park Service, but most of the other furnishings inside the rooms are pieces from the era but did not actually belong to the Taft family. A few of the items although are authentic Taft family heirlooms and are treasures to look at. Here on the first floor, you will be able to view the family sitting room, the music room, library/office room and a couple other multi-purpose rooms used by the family. On this floor, pay special attention to the window frames, the tile fireplaces, the lighting fixtures and wooden staircases. These are all original to the house and still in great condition.
As you finish the first floor and wind up the stairs to the second floor, here you are on your own as there is no guided tour of this floor. The room are vacant of furnishings but are all full of interpretive displays of Taft’s life and career. These displays will take you through the many different careers that Taft held before his time in the White House and after. Here you will find displays and information on Taft when he started out in law practicing as a prominent attorney and then being promoted to the bench as a judge while only still in his twenties. You’ll see items Taft returned with him when he was the civilian governor of the Philippines, like the wood and leather chair set he had custom designed with this initials in the back of it.
In another room, you will find the path to the White House. The campaign buttons, fliers, ribbons and other items used in the 1908 election. Taft’s personal bible that he used in the swearing in at the Capitol to become President, and later used for his swearing in as Chief Justice, is on display here. You’ll see actual programs from the inauguration ceremony and photos of Taft as he starts his journey as America’s 27th President.
After Taft left the White House, he didn’t feel as if his career was done and that he had more to offer to the citizens. He went back to Yale as a professor to teach and then in 1921, President Harding appointed him Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. This is a position that Taft had sought for so long and he was finally there. Only holding the position for 9 years before resigning due to failing health, Taft died the month after and was interred in Arlington National Cemetery. There is a display to show Taft’s tenure as Chief Justice and how he wanted to change America for the better.
As with most historic Presidential homes, after the family leaves they change hands and ownerships time and time again. This change causes damage and by 1961, the house was in poor condition and needed restoration, to the tune of $92,500. It was declared a National Historic Landmark in 1964. A ceremony on September 15, 1964 (William’s 107th birthday), celebrated the home becoming a National Historic Landmark. The association gained full title to the house in 1968 and in 1969 transferred it to the National Park Service, which currently operates the site as a historic house museum, so that its future upkeep is ensured. The United States government took the property title on November 1, 1970. Since then, the house has been open to the public to come and tour and look into the life before, during and after, William Howard Taft.