Virtual Tour of the William Howard Taft National Historic Site

National Park Service

On behalf of the National Park Service, welcome to the William Howard Taft National Historic Site, the birthplace and boyhood home of the only person to serve as both President (1909-1913) and Chief Justice of the United States (1921-1930).

Introduction

The Greek-Revival style house was built in the 1840's and purchased by Alphonso Taft in 1851. He immediately built an addition at the back of the home to accommodate his growing family, which included his parents.

The house sustained only minor cosmetic changes until 1877. In that year a fire occurred in the second floor of the house and the Taft family decided to remodel, which drastically altered the look of the house. In 1899, the Taft family sold the house and three different owners made other major changes. In the 1960's the Taft Memorial Association, under the direction of Charles P. Taft II, the son of the President, began to restore the house. On December 2nd, 1969, the house became a part of the National Park System during President Richard Nixon’s Administration.

On your tour, you will see four furnished rooms. These rooms reflect family life in the home between 1857 (the year William Howard Taft was born) and 1877 (the year of the fire). The furnishings you see in the home are mostly period pieces and not the actual Taft furnishings. Some of these pieces date back to the 1850's and require special care.

Entrance Hall

Alphonso Taft married Fanny Phelps in August 1841. During their 11-year marriage, she produced five children; only two of them survived infancy. In 1851, Alphonso moved his growing family to Mount Auburn, Cincinnati's first suburb. Unfortunately, Fanny Phelps Taft died in June of 1852, of consumption of the lungs and brain.

Alphonso did not remain a widower long. On December 26, 1853, he married the intelligent, independent-minded, and ambitious Louise Torrey at her parents' home in Millbury, Massachusetts. In early January, the newlyweds arrived in Cincinnati to settle in the comfortable Mount Auburn home. Charlie and Rossy, Alphonso's two surviving sons from his first marriage, and Peter Rawson and Sylvia Howard Taft, Alphonso's parents, greeted them.

The Taft household was a bustling place, with three full generations of Tafts living on Auburn Avenue. This environment would prove quite fertile for the children growing up in the Taft Home. The many varied activities and lessons learned within the Taft household would shape the life of not just a future President and Chief Justice of the United States, but also the life of a remarkable and inspiring American leader and family, whose influences and legacies continue on today.

Parlor

In 1838, Alphonso Taft arrived in Cincinnati with a law degree from Yale. By 1860, the Tafts were leading figures in the social life of the city. Alphonso was enjoying a successful career as a lawyer. He had been very active in local politics and then in the newly established Republican Party.

The original portraits in this room are of Louise, Alphonso, and his parents, Peter Rawson and Sylvia Howard Taft. They were made in 1859 after persuading Grandpa Taft to agree to a sitting. The grandparents were major influences in the daily life of the household although they did not entertain as much as the younger Tafts. Peter Taft, a staunch Baptist, was not in favor of dancing but would occasionally sit in on a hand of euchre.

The card games whist and euchre were the most popular forms of entertainment in the parlor, but the piano was also a favorite amusement. Louise, who was a skilled pianist, and her daughter, Fanny, both played the piano for the family and occasionally guests played it during card games. The zenith of entertaining occurred after gas lighting was installed in the house in 1864. With the more convenient type of lights, the Tafts celebrated Charlie's 21st birthday with a large party that included refreshments and dancing to the music of three fiddlers.

The parlor was also the site of many solemn occasions. Five funerals were held here between 1852 and 1891, the last being Alphonso's.

The parlor served as the focal point of the family's entertaining. During their years in the home, the Tafts played host to their neighbors, including the Stouts, Riddles, and Perrys. They also had as their guest a future President, Brigadier General James A. Garfield, who came as a guest of Brigadier General Jacob Cox, himself a former Governor of Ohio and a Mount Auburn resident.

Library

The library was a special place for the Taft family. They spent their evenings reading, writing, and studying in this room. Books and letters were very important to the Tafts. Not long after arriving in Cincinnati, Alphonso wrote to his parents that he had made $200 in his first seven months of law practice and $600 by end of the year. Of these earnings, he spent $100 on books.

Alphonso read books on theology, philosophy, and metaphysics as well as several newspapers. He also read aloud to Louise and the children. Louise preferred novels, chiding Alphonso for reading dry and dull works.

The children had an appetite for knowledge and read and studied in the library with their parents and grandparents nearby. The boys read the novels of Scott, Dickens, Thackery, and Cooper. They also read Oliver Optics for boys in Harper's Weekly.

Some evenings were devoted to working on the family correspondence. Many relatives were located in the east and they wrote to each other often, especially Louise and her sisters. This correspondence was instrumental to historians, and provided information on the house for the restoration.

Nursery

On Tuesday, September 15, 1857, William Howard Taft was born in the home and spent his early years in this room. All of the Taft children, with the exception of Charlie and Rossy, spent their early years here. As they grew older and moved out of the nursery, they lived much like any other youth growing up in Cincinnati. They played with kites and tops, rode the pony, played baseball, and skated and swam in the canal. The children also enjoyed helping their grandfather in the yard and garden.

The family moved to the hills because of the healthy environment, but the children were still exposed to health hazards. Louise's first child, Samuel Davenport Taft, died of whooping cough at 14 months. The year 1866 was one of great concern for the health of the Taft family. The Tafts worried about the cholera epidemic in Cincinnati, which claimed many lives. They also had to deal with accidents involving the boys. Horace was kicked by the family horse and sustained a serious head injury. Less than a month later, Willie was thrown from the family carriage, his head striking a curbstone. This room also served as a bedroom for other members of the household. When Alphonso and his parents were exchanging bedrooms in 1861, he preferred to sleep in here during the transition.

Conclusion

This concludes the guided portion of your visit to the Taft House. On behalf of the National Park Service, thank you very much for visiting the William Howard Taft National Historic Site.

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