Experience history with First Lady Ida McKinley
One of the most important functions of First Ladies National Historic Site and the National First Ladies Library is to house and make available the collection and library of materials about the first ladies. This library is the only one of its kind, focusing solely on the First Ladies of the United States. In addition to a variety of resources, First Ladies National Historic Site also owns and maintains two historically rich buildings, both of which are located in downtown Canton, Ohio.
The Saxton-McKinley House
Aside from being a beautiful Victorian building, the Saxton-McKinley House is the last remaining home with direct ties to Ida and William McKinley in their hometown of Canton, Ohio. Ida Saxton McKinley was born and raised in the home, and it remained in her family until 1919. Additionally, the house served as the primary residence for Mr. and Mrs. McKinley from 1878 to 1891 while William served in the United States House of Representatives.
As is the case with many historic residences, the Saxton-McKinley House was constructed in several parts. The rear of the home was built in 1841 by George Dewalt, Ida's maternal grandfather. George would later will the home to Ida's parents, Katherine Dewalt and John Saxton. In 1870, John added the front section onto the home to make room for his large family, which included Katherine, Ida and her two siblings, and their Grandfather Dewalt.
After Ida's 1871 marriage to Major William McKinley, a Civil War veteran, Ida and her husband would move into a house several blocks north. The house was a gift to the couple from Ida's father, who was a prominent Canton banker. The next six years would prove to be difficult for Ida, who had grown up quite happy and privileged. She had two children, but unfortunately lost both of her daughters at young ages. Additionally, the sudden loss of her mother weighed heavily upon Ida. It was at this time that several health conditions began to trouble her, including migraines and epilepsy - a disorder that was not well-understood at the time. The couple moved to the Saxton-McKinley House, as their family home held too many bad memories for Ida.
In 1877, the the McKinley's surroundings changed. When William was elected to Congress, the couple occupied a suite in Washington D.C. In 1890, William lost his Congressional seat, but in 1891, he was elected as the Governor of Ohio. Ida and William moved to Columbus.
Soon after, in 1895, William and Ida moved back to the home Ida's father had purchased for them in Canton. This residence was nicknamed the "Campaign House," as it was the location of William's front porch campaign for the United States presidency. However, the McKinleys did not reside in the home; rather, it served as a stage for William's campaign. The couple lived primarily at the Saxton-McKinley House with Mary Barber, Ida's sister, and her family. Ida did not move back to the "Campaign House" until after William's assassination in 1901. In total, the couple lived in the historic Saxton-McKinley House for 13 years; the home was their primary residence throughout the majority of the McKinley's married life.
Home of the National First Ladies Library
In the more recent past, the Saxton-McKinley House became the home of the National First Ladies Library in 1998. The library was dedicated at a ceremony attended by former first lady Rosalynn Carter.
The library itself is unique, as is the story of the Saxton-McKinley House. The National First Ladies Library took great care in carefully restoring the home to the Victorian era with the help of Dr. Sheila Fisher. After leading the restoration process of the Saxton-McKinley House, Dr. Fisher described the job as being one of "historic restoration and historic renovation." In a book published by The National First Ladies Library titled This Elevated Position, Dr. Fisher states that, "Restoration has involved finding an actual item that was in the house - even if it is not in the best condition - that would be carefully restored to its best possible condition and then placed back just where it was. Renovating has been a process of reconstructing a room back to its approximate look and choosing furniture and furnishings that give it the look of the era without actually being the original items that were in that room."
Today, visiting the Saxton-McKinley House is like taking a step back in time. Furnished with authentic Victorian furniture - some of it belonging to the McKinleys - the house gives the public a vision of what the home looked like during the life and times of Ida and William McKinley. The décor, from wallpaper to accent pieces, reflects the opulence that the wealthy Saxton family would have accumulated and displayed.
The restored home is nothing short of impressive, considering the Saxton-McKinley House's humble beginnings and rough past. To see the Victorian restoration, take a tour of the Saxton-McKinley House. The guided tour takes visitors on all three floors of the home, teaching guests about one of our first ladies and highlighting the formal parlors, Ida's bedroom, and the third-floor ballroom.
Last updated: September 22, 2019