William Howard Taft
Administrative History
NPS Arrowhead Logo


As the bill to create the William Howard Taft National Historic Site made its way through the congressional maze, the National Park Service prepared to respond to the legislative initiative. In devising its response, several entities within the bureau played key roles. The first was the Washington Office, which represented the policy level of bureau deliberations. The next level was the Northeast Regional Office in Philadelphia which was then responsible for the administration of bureau properties in Ohio. The National Park Service Eastern Office of Design and Construction and the Planning and Service Center, both located in Philadelphia, provided teams of architects, historians, and other historic property professionals to study properties under or being considered for bureau control. The Design Office and Service Center were responsible for producing major studies and for providing planning, design, and contracting supervision. Finally, the staff at Mound City Group National Monument, located at Chillicothe, Ohio, was dispatched to assist with the planning process and report writing. In the late 1960s, Mound City Group fell within a larger organization called the Ohio Group, an administrative entity that served as a go-between for the individual Ohio National Park Service properties and the regional office in Philadelphia. (The Ohio Group also included Perry's Victory and International Peace Memorial at Put-In-Bay.)

By late 1967, Historian David A. Kimball and Architect Meir S. Sofair, from the Office of Resource Planning of the Philadelphia Service Center, had made initial visits to Cincinnati to inspect the Taft home. By early 1968, the planning team submitted the "alternatives study" for review. As John M. Brigle of the Division of New Area Studies and Master Planning in Washington advised Charles Taft, "The report considers several alternatives for management and development" of the property. [1]

With the review of the alternative report completed by March 1968, Raymond L. Freeman, Deputy Assistant Director of the National Park Service, reported to Charles Taft that the bureau had decided to proceed with the preparation of a master plan study for the property as a unit of the National Park System. The purpose of the master plan was to provide management and development objectives for the site. The bureau intended to create "a historically accurate scene of the time of William Howard Taft's occupancy. " However, two major obstacles stood in the way of bureau support for the property. One was the need for visitor parking and access to be provided by Hamilton County Juvenile Court. The other was the need to raze the Cross property, then used as an apartment house, to the north of the Taft home. In both cases, Freeman stated that the bureau would not support the use of federal funds to acquire the property. Freeman asked Taft to supply information on the cost of restoration of the house and a clearer picture of the capacity of the Memorial Association to assist in the entire effort. Pending resolution of these issues, the bureau was not in a position to commit itself to a position on the legislation. [2]

Freeman's letter was received by a puzzled Charles Taft. In Taft's mind, "a historically accurate scene of the time of William Howard Taft's occupancy" meant the rebuilding of the Burkhardt property to the south, which had been demolished to make way for the Hamilton County Juvenile Court. Taft felt this notion to be "wholly impractical." Taft thought that the property to the north might be cleared in order to recreate what he thought was a "rolling piece of ground, without any structure on it, going down in the gully to the north" at the time William Howard Taft was associated with the house. Taft also informed Freeman that restoration would cost approximately $200,000 and that the Association had no assets. [3] Taft then sent copies of his correspondence with Freeman to Secretary of the Interior Udall and interested congressmen and senators for all to see.

In a reply to Taft, the National Park Service clarified its position on the point of the authenticity of the scene. Assistant Director of the National Park Service, Theodor R. Swem, wrote, "it would be appropriate to re-create the historic scene" of the property on which the house was located. This was in keeping with the established procedures regarding other Presidential homes proposed for inclusion in the National Park System. Swem concluded his letter with a statement, the echoes of which would follow Taft in correspondence with the agency through his death in 1983. When pressed about completing the planning studies at the earliest possible date, Swem wrote, "It must be recognized that each of our planning studies has to compete with many other high-priority projects." [4] While Taft did not wrest a pledge out of Swem to complete the studies by a fixed date, he wrote to Senator Everett McKinley Dirksen of Illinois, "I think we have stirred them up effectively to move a little bit faster, which was my main objective." [5]

Within a few days, Udall informed Congressman Schwengel that the Advisory Board on National Parks, Historic Sites, Buildings, and Monuments had endorsed the proposal "to establish the birthplace and boyhood home of William Howard Taft in Cincinnati, Ohio, as the William Howard Taft National Historic Site." According to Udall, this endorsement supported the bill introduced by Schwengel for the establishment of the Taft home as a unit of the National Park System. [6]

While encouraged by the endorsement of the high-level agency board, Taft worried about the National Park Service which "apparently must take a lot of time to make a study all by their little lonesomes without taking into account the local situation, as well as the increasing cost of rehabilitation." [7] The visits by "outside experts," even though representatives of the bureau Taft wished to manage the property in perpetuity, struck him as time consuming. The experts also appeared to him to be far removed from the Cincinnati and Mt. Auburn scene and disinclined to consult with Cincinnati-based experts.

In late September 1968, the master planning team, headed by David A. Kimball, arrived in Cincinnati to study the Taft home. Accompanying the team was George F. Schesventer superintendent at the Mound City Group National Monument. Because of the proximity of the Mound City Group to Cincinnati, he would also serve as superintendent of the Taft home (following authorization by Congress) until it was staffed separately. By late 1968, the master plan was completed and received approval by all levels of the National Park Service with some suggestions for modification. For example, the Office of Archeology and Historic Preservation, headed by Ernest Allen Connally, pointed out that the house had been subjected to numerous exterior and interior alterations since William Howard Taft left it in the 1870s. Connally also noted that the Memorial Association had restored elements of the house to various periods, such as the roof line, which was restored to its original appearance pre-William Howard Taft. [8]

In early 1969, Senators Bible and Dirksen reintroduced the bill to establish the William Howard Taft National Historic Site in the Senate. Congressmen Schwengel and Clancy served as cosponsors of the reintroduction of the bill in the House. Charles Taft thought it was appropriate for Schwengel to take the lead in the House because "there is tremendous value in having a person with your background in American history." Taft also thought that Schwengel had more influence with Wayne H. Aspinall, chairman of the House Interior Committee, than Clancy did. [9]

The one unanswered question that stood in the way of full support of the National Park Service for the bill was the need for a plan for the relocation of the tenants in the Cross property to the north of the site. In early 1969, sixteen of the twenty-two units were occupied. The city of Cincinnati's Department of Urban Development issued the opinion that the occupants could be satisfactorily relocated because all were eligible for relocation benefits provided to residents in a Concentrated Code Enforcement area. [10] A Concentrated Code Project was a federally-assisted program intended to bring buildings up to code. One of the provisions of the program was an option for the owner of structures to vacate and demolish a structure rather than repair it. In such instances, relocation assistance was provided. [11] While the National Park Service found the city's letter encouraging, it thought that the bureau needed to have in hand "a plan for relocation of the tenants and assurances from the city officials that this will be done without creating major friction." [12]

The Mt. Auburn Community Council was supportive of the efforts of Charles Taft to resolve the relocation problem. Although Council President John Dunn characterized the proposed demolition of the Cross property as causing "extreme problems on the part of the residents to that property," he offered to make available sixteen apartments in a building at Park Place for the displaced residents. [13]

By July 1969, the National Park Service stood ready to support the legislation to create the William Howard Taft National Historic Site. The bureau expected to have the Taft home donated to the Federal Government. The adjacent 0.28 acre of land would be acquired for visitor parking. The government would be responsible for the restoration of the house and the development of the grounds and parking. The cost of restoration was now estimated at $318,000. Annual operating costs were estimated at $62,600. [14] A few days later, the Interior Department endorsed the bill and its provisions. [15] (To facilitate the acquisition of the Cross property, Charles Taft in mid-1969 offered to purchase the property and then donate it to the federal government.)

In early September 1969, the House and Senate Committees on Interior and Insular Affairs submitted reports to accompany the legislation. In the House report, Congressman Roy A. Taylor of North Carolina reported that establishment of the William Howard Taft National Historic Site should:

give visitors an understanding of the environment in which his character was shaped during his formative years, but more importantly, it should reflect the numerous accomplishments which he achieved in his adult life. The authentic restoration of the house and its immediate grounds will help accomplish the first objective, but creative imagination will be necessary to portray the many contributions which he made to our society throughout his lifetime. [16]

On the matter of the authorization of $318,000 for land acquisition and for "restoration and development," the report justified the amount based on the need "to stabilize, restore, and refurnish the Taft home and grounds." The funds were also intended for the development of necessary visitor accommodations, such as parking facilities and walkways. The cost of refurnishing might be reduced through the efforts of the Memorial Association to collect and donate "some of the original furnishings of the home." [17] The Senate Committee on Interior and Insular Affairs prepared a similar report, noting that the National Park Service would "restore the house as it was when William Howard Taft lived there and . . . interpret his early life and environment." [18]

In the Congressional Record, Congressman Gerald R. Ford observed:

It is strange that the Congress should have waited so long to pay tribute to President Taft because he was, in truth, a most distinguished American. His great gifts are readily apparent in that he is the only American ever to serve both as President of the United States and as Chief Justice. But the quality which most strikes me about William Howard Taft is that he was one of the most loved Presidents ever to guide the destinies of our nation. [19]

It fell to Congressman Schwengel, however, to carry the weight of the historical argument. Schwengel outlined Taft's career, noting his role as a "trust buster," his foreign policy, his work as first Governor General of the Philippines, and his position as Secretary of War. Schwengel urged his colleagues to support the bill "so that his [Taft's] memory and fine deeds and inspiration will never be lost to the American people." [20]

On September 15, 1969, William Howard Taft's birthday, the House passed the bill. A few days later on September 24, the Senate passed the bill. On November 18 and 19, both houses concurred on an amendment dealing with authorizing $318,000 for restoration and development work. On December 2, 1969, President Nixon signed into law the act to provide for the establishment of the William Howard Taft National Historic Site "in order to preserve in public ownership historically significant properties associated with the life of William Howard Taft." [21]

Soon after the passage of the legislation, George Schesventer, superintendent of the Mound City Group, circulated the first "Statement for Management and Planning." According to Schesventer, the purpose of the site was "to present this building in such a way as to enable the visitor to understand the domestic environment in which William Howard Taft grew to manhood, set in the context of the national cultural patterns of the time." [22] At that time, he outlined the administration of the property from a "cluster" headquarters in Cincinnati, Ohio, and its administration along with the Mound City Group National Monument in Chillicothe. A park manager, accountable to Schesventer, would be assigned to Cincinnati to administer the Taft National Historic Site. [23] The Memorial Association was expected to continue as an advisory group attached to the site.

In the early months of 1970, Charles Taft made preparations for the donation of the Taft home site to the Federal Government. He initiated the process of registering the title by the State of Ohio in order to perfect it. On the matter of the Cross property, Taft reached no accord with the owners on its purchase. In face of this situation, he once again appealed to the National Park Service to condemn the site. Although he stated his willingness to compensate the agency for any cost, the National Park Service did not feel equipped to handle the relocation of the tenants.

On November 1, 1970, the U.S. Government took title to the Taft home. With this transfer, Schesventer notified the utility companies that all future bills be directed to the Mound City Group National Monument. The decade-long chapter in Charles Taft's efforts to preserve his father's birthplace and boyhood home reached a turning point. The nation's primary preservation organization, the National Park Service, had taken control of the property. To Taft, the future of the property seemed assured.


Last Updated: 27-Feb-2001