William Howard Taft
Administrative History
NPS Arrowhead Logo


The prospective sale of the Taft home did not go unnoticed by individuals interested in the life of William Howard Taft. The decision of Mrs. Louis K. DeBus to sell the property nearly coincided with the incorporation on July 7, 1937, of the William Howard Taft Memorial Association. The Memorial Association had been formed in 1934, but was unincorporated for three years. In the articles of incorporation, the stated purpose of the Memorial Association was "to plan, promote, erect, and collect funds for a national memorial in honor of William Howard Taft and to insure its perpetuation." [1] Memorial Association Vice President Carl Meier reported that the organization grew out of the Mt. Auburn Civic Association and the Taft School PTA. [2]

Once organized, the Memorial Association set about the task of acquiring the property. Well-publicized meetings were held to discuss methods for acquiring and maintaining the property. Buoyed by supportive gestures by private citizens and patriotic groups, the Memorial Association attracted the city's political and business leaders to its board. Even Mrs. DeBus advised her real estate agent, Mrs. Colter Rule, that she too was interested in the objectives of the Memorial Association and expressed a willingness to hold off sale of the property in order to cooperate with the organization's efforts.

Unfortunately for the Memorial Association, its plans to purchase the Taft home coincided with the efforts of Senator Robert A. Taft, eldest son of William Howard Taft, to seek the nomination as the Republican candidate for President of the United States. Key Taft family members decided that it would seem self-serving for the family to launch a fund raising effort for the Taft home at the same time that the Senator was attempting to secure the nomination. As Eric L. Schulte, Chairman of Taft's Campaign Committee put it, "There were fears that it [fund raising for Taft Memorial] might be construed as an effort to build up his political future'." [3]

With the absence of the Taft family's support and the rising numbers of offers by prospective purchasers, Mrs. DeBus set April 4, 1940, as the deadline for the Memorial Association to produce the $12,500 purchase price. The deadline passed without success on the part of the Memorial Association. Mrs. DeBus then sold the property on April 12, 1940, to Elbert R. Bellinger. Bellinger and his wife owned and occupied the adjoining house at 2030 Auburn Avenue, just to the south of the Taft home, formerly occupied by the Leopold Burkhardt family. Upon purchase of the property, Bellinger "notified the [Memorial] association that when it is able financially to negotiate the purchase, they are willing to negotiate the property." [4] Many years later, in 1970, Charles P. Taft II, youngest son of William Howard Taft, summed up his view of these events, "the property could have been acquired if they tried, but they didn't know how to do anything.. . . . it cost about $30,000 more than it would have if the ladies had been on the job." [5]

In the years following the purchase, Bellinger converted the home into apartments, claiming that he undertook the major conversion work in such a way that it could be removed without damaging the original features of the house. By the mid-1940s, the racial composition of Mt. Auburn changed. With weakening health, Bellinger considered alleviating some of his responsibilities by selling the Taft home to black undertakers who wanted to turn it into a funeral parlor. On the recommendation of his lawyer, however, Bellinger decided against the sale. In 1951, Bellinger sold the Burkhardt property to Hamilton County which razed it and constructed the Youth Detention Home. Bellinger and his wife then moved into the rear first floor apartment of the Taft home.

While the Taft home was in the secure, albeit not entirely sympathetic, hands of Bellinger, the Memorial Association and many Cincinnati citizens continued to harbor hope that someday they might be successful in acquiring the property as a memorial to Taft. One of the Memorial Association's members, Taft Public School principal Nelson L. Burbank, wrote in July 1948 to Waldo G. Leland, chairman of the Advisory Board on National Parks, Historic Sites, Buildings, and Monuments of the Department of the Interior, asking for his advice as to how to raise funds in order to restore the Taft home. [6] A. E. Demaray, Acting Director of the National Park Service, responded by suggesting that Burbank contact the American Association of Museums for advice on organizing a fund raising effort for house museum organizations. [7]

In 1949, the Memorial Association sent letters to prominent citizens asking their advice on the project. Among the citizens contacted was prominent Cincinnati architect Charles F. Cellarius. He declared that the undertaking was commendable and "should do honor to our city, as well as a great man, and President whom we revere." [8] The approaching centennial of William Howard Taft's birthday in 1957 set off a series of commemorative events, but the long sought objective still seemed far off.

The continued lobbying of the Memorial Association members and their sympathizers began to have an effect by the late 1950s. In 1959, National Park Service Historian Roy E. Appleman received a telephone call from the office of Ohio Congressman Gordon H. Scherer asking that the Taft home be included in the National Survey of Historic Sites and Buildings. This request was made in response to Scherer's constituents who wished to have the Taft home established as "a national historic site or memorial." Appleman agreed to schedule the study for 1961. [9]

By the late 1950s, obstacles in the way of the Taft family's active participation in preserving the Taft home faded. Senator Robert A. Taft died in 1953, one year after he lost the nomination of the Republican Party to Dwight D. Eisenhower. Charles Taft's own political future that shone so bright in the 1940s dimmed considerably a decade later. Charles Taft warmed up to the Taft legacy inherent in the house at 2038 Auburn Avenue.

Charles Taft was a natural to take charge of the Memorial Association. Born in 1897, he grew up in the privileged circumstances that surround children of political leaders. After receiving his law degree from Yale University in 1921, he returned to Cincinnati to practice law and embark on a political career. He participated in the formation of the City Charter group formed in 1925 to give the city non-partisan government. He eventually won a seat on the Cincinnati City Council in 1938. With the exception of several years devoted to wartime service, he remained on the City Council until his retirement in 1977. In 1952, he ran unsuccessfully in the Ohio gubernatorial race, losing to Frank J. Lausche. From 1955 to 1957, he served as mayor of the city. Although Taft's political career was identified primarily with Cincinnati, he moved easily in the company of the nation's top figures of both major political parties. His national political connections proved pivotal in working with the Congress on the Taft home in the late 1960s. His high-level associations were not as useful in later dealings with the National Park Service staff. [10]

Until the late 1950s, Charles Taft had not taken an active role in the work of the Memorial Association, although he and his wife were listed as honorary members. In 1965, several years after taking charge of the Memorial Association, Charles Taft recorded the sequence of events that led to his involvement with the Taft home.

The group you see on the letterhead is the remnants of the old days when the good PTA ladies from the William H. Taft Elementary School on Southern Avenue started this whole enterprise. With the best of intentions they really got nowhere until Ben Schwartz moved his Youth Center up to become the next door neighbor of the Alphonso Taft house. He then needed me to get into it. I had been quite unwilling to be out in front, and I still don't like it. [11]

Coupled with the greater interest expressed by Charles Taft were Bellinger's own offers to sell the property. In 1958, at seventy-six years of age, Bellinger appeared ready to strike a quick bargain. However, he professed impatience with the Cincinnati community's inability to come up with the $75,000 asking price, while the appraised value was $35,000. [12]

Still operating in the background, Charles Taft in 1958 discussed with Juvenile Court Judge Benjamin Schwartz of the Youth Detention Center the possibility that Hamilton County Commissioners purchase the house as a memorial. The Memorial Association would operate the first floor, while the Juvenile Court would use the second floor for offices. In Judge Schwartz's view, the connection between the Taft home and the Juvenile Court was mutually beneficial. He envisioned the house museum serving as "an inspiration for school children" who were served by the court. The maintenance of the house would benefit from the ongoing commitment of the county government. [13] To this scheme, Charles Taft offered the possibility that the family would pay for the rehabilitation.

Negotiations between the Taft family and the representatives of Bellinger's interests, Gordon Scherer and Leslie Cors, proceeded through 1959 and 1960. During that time, the role of Hamilton County as purchaser fell into abeyance. Charles Taft himself was prepared to offer Bellinger "a fair price for the property." Various family members offered a total of $25,000 towards restoration of the property with the expectation that the County Commissioners would take title to the property from Charles Taft, construct a passageway between the Taft home and the Juvenile Detention Center, pave the rear of the Taft home for parking, and maintain the property "in such a manner as to be a credit to the community." The Juvenile Detention Center would occupy the second floor of the house and have access to space in the basement. The Memorial Association would handle the furnishing of the historical elements of the house and maintain the first floor as the Taft Family Memorial.[14]

After extended negotiations, Charles Taft and Bellinger agreed to a plan whereby Bellinger gave the Association a 100-year lease on the property. For a six-month period following Bellinger's death, the Memorial Association could purchase it from his heirs for $35,000. He would maintain an apartment in the house for life and receive $250 per month. The Memorial Association also agreed to pay all taxes and utilities. By mid-1960, the lease had been signed by Bellinger and Taft. In late 1961, Taft assigned the lease to the Memorial Association.

With the property under the control of the Memorial Association, Charles Taft, who had become president of the organization in July 1960, began the process of planning for the restoration of the property. The Memorial Association contracted with the architectural firm of Wood & Kock to prepare working drawings and specifications for the restoration of the house and the remodeling of the basement for the caretaker, and to provide an estimate of the cost of restoration. [15] Through the daily newspapers, Charles Taft solicited from the public photographs of the house that might be used in the architectural studies.


Last Updated: 27-Feb-2001