William Howard Taft
Administrative History
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In order to provide onsite, daily care of the Taft National Historic Site, the National. Park Service hired a staff consisting of a park manager (the position of park manager was superseded by superintendent in 1975), park aids and technicians, and support and maintenance personnel. Later, a park historian was added to the staff. Because of the site's small size, the superintendency was generally regarded by the National Park Service as a testing ground for "rising stars" from other sites. If the superintendent performed well, he or she could move on to superintendencies of larger sites and so on up the bureau ladder.

The life of professional personnel assigned to National Park Service sites can sometimes be compared to that of gypsies, resulting in its own unique "professional culture." Many staff members feel compelled to move on every few years in order to obtain a higher grade level and, thus salary. This career pattern is followed at many sites, with the exception of those in Washington, D.C., or some other large cities, where the National Park Service establishment is so large that staff can move from one position to another within one urban area. The size of regional offices and service centers is also large enough to provide staff members with opportunities for advancement at a single location. The turnover of staff at National Park Service sites is a beneficial way in which staff can gain experience "in the field" and then apply the lessons to sites of greater complexity elsewhere. However, the turnover of personnel can also result in a multitude of views that can influence and thus affect the planning and development process. The turnover of staff had this effect at the Taft National Historic Site.

Staffing the Taft National Historic Site began in late 1970 with the preparation of a position description for the park manager. The manager was to work under the supervision of the superintendent of the Mound City Group National Monument. As prepared by Superintendent Schesventer, the position description listed the park manager's responsibilities to include interpretive and visitor services, curatorial, public relations, protection of the property, and administration. [1]

By March 1971, however, Schesventer was transferred to Castillo de San Marcos National Monument in St. Augustine, Florida. He was replaced by William C. Birdsell who was given the position of General Superintendent of the Ohio Group of the National Park Service, headquartered at the Mound City Group National Monument in Chillicothe, Ohio.

Selecting the first professional staff member of the Taft National Historic Site was a matter that required special consideration. Birdsell was sensitive to the location of the site in an inner city neighborhood populated largely by black residents. Birdsell's selection of the first individual for the park manager position reflected his belief that a black professional would be best able to handle the situation. As he stated several years later in a 1974 synopsis of the site, "As WIHO is located in a predominantly black community, it is important that this staff be well-balanced with black and white employees." [2] Birdsell tapped John T. (Troy) Lissimore, a young black National Park Service employee who previously had worked at Ford's Theatre in Washington, D.C.

Upon accepting the position, Lissimore oversaw the opening of the house on a limited basis in the summer of 1971 and worked with the historians, archeologists, and architects who visited the site in the course of preparing research reports on the property. In August 1971, Lissimore inaugurated tours of the exterior of the Taft home and organized a temporary exhibit of the Bible on which William Howard Taft took the oath of office as President of the United States. Lissimore was also involved with discussions regarding the designation of Mt. Auburn as a National Register historic district.

By the summer of 1972, Lissimore hired RuthAnne Heriot as an interpretive specialist. Heriot's position was split between the Taft site during the summer months and the Lincoln Home National Historic Site in the winter months. Her major responsibility at the Taft site included the organization of interpretive programs for the site, including tours, slide shows, lectures, and other events. She was also charged with acquiring items for furnishing the house. [3] In the summer of 1972, tours of the interior of the house were inaugurated.

Interpretive programs under Lissimore's period as park manager included tours of the house and temporary exhibits. He also oversaw the development of brochures, information sheets, and postcards and the selection of books about William Howard Taft for sale. The first information sheet, "The William Howard Taft National Historic Site," was two pages in length and provided information on the Taft family and the house and grounds after Taft. [4] Lissimore also arranged with the National Park Service Division of Audiovisual Arts to prepare a taped interview with Charles Taft in November 1971.

In the summer of 1972, the solarium, dating from the occupancy of Judge Albert C. Thompson, was open for public visitation from 8:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. seven days a week. The solarium was outfitted as an information booth and exhibit area. Tours were offered of the grounds and the solarium. The small size of the visitors' facilities led Lissimore to remark, "people are not elbowing anyone out of the way to get through the door but it may come to that, considering the size of the solarium." [5] Staff was available to offer programs offsite at schools throughout the Cincinnati area. Lecture series were organized on aspects of local history related to Cincinnati and the nineteenth century.

As the property modestly moved toward the accommodation of visitors, Lissimore and Heriot continued their own studies of the property and historical documents to assist with the interpretive programs and with the eventual restoration of the property. In order to facilitate the research process, the William Howard Taft Memorial Association's collection was moved from storage to the Taft site.

To enhance the appearance and interpretation of the site, Lissimore persuaded the city of Cincinnati to remove a street sign that blocked a clear view of the front of the Taft home. A temporary site identification sign was erected in front of the property, as was an aluminum flag pole.

Although no major development work was undertaken during Lissimore's tenure, several maintenance measures were taken to prevent further deterioration of the historic resource. New roofing and flashing were placed over the solarium. New downspouts were installed and sidewalks were patched. Plastic sheeting was wrapped around the rear wall of the rear wing to ward off the effects of weather. In order to prevent further settling of the rear wing, holding braces or jacks were installed on each floor.

By the end of 1972, the staff at the Taft National Historic Site numbered five. They included Lissimore, Heriot, two park aids, and a clerk- typist. Through the Neighborhood Youth Corps Program, high school students were employed on the site to handle routine maintenance. To supplement the students' services, maintenance staff at Mound City National Monument handled more technical maintenance problems. Pinkerton Security Services provided after-hours security, following the departure of Everett Inman, the caretaker of the house for the Memorial Association. The staff was located in offices on the first floor fashioned out of the rooms in the rear wing.

With the necessary research reports apparently progressing at a fast pace, the Taft home was scheduled for restoration and opening to the public by 1976. [6] However, by July 1972, several impediments to this schedule loomed on the horizon. After a meeting with Senator Robert A. Taft, Jr., Lissimore reported that the Senator thought that the amount authorized to restore the house, $318,000, "seemed inadequate." [7] Charles Taft determined that the delay in development activity was not for the want of an appropriation, but "the only hold up is the assignment of the proper personnel to get the contract let and supervise the work." He wrote to Secretary of the Interior Rogers C. B. Morton urging that the restoration of the Taft home be given priority as a Bicentennial project. [8]

Much to Taft's dismay, he received a letter from George A. Palmer of the Northeast Regional Office of the National Park Service citing "current fiscal restrictions." Palmer added:

New project (construction) funds are allocated separately within a fiscal year, but can be carried over if the situation warrants. Such funds have not yet been noted for William Howard Taft and unfortunately with this pressure of the Bicentennial program will probably not be available until fiscal year 1976 or 77. [9]

Taft was infuriated. He contacted Senator Taft, stating, "To have this hold up [sic] by the Interior Department is simply outrageous. How about let's organize an attack on the White House and Rogers Morton?" [10]

Park Manager Lissimore, too, was disturbed by the postponement in funding. As he wrote to Superintendent Birdsell, "We inch forward on the calendar, but get kicked back on paper, as far as FY development of this site is concerned. . . . Any FY wins after the Bicentennial." Lissimore also wondered about the public relations fallout of the delay. "This is a hellish paradox to our community relations image, part of which rested on our concern to restore this site as a catalyst for the Mt. Auburn community to upgrade personal properties. The tail is now wagging the dog, so to speak." [11]

Taft was further disheartened to learn that Lissimore was moved to a new assignment effective September 8, 1973, graduate training in environmental education at George Williams College at Downers Grove, Illinois. In a synopsis of the Taft National Historic Site dated March 1974, Birdsell described Lissimore as "inexperienced and incapable of assuming responsibility of on-site management of WIHO." [12] On the other hand, Taft observed Lissimore's energetic work with the community and regretted his departure. "Troy has done a swell job with the community, a most important element in the Park Manager. I hope you get us somebody anything like as good. It would help if he's black." [13]

On November 25, 1973, Lissimore was assigned to Gateway National Recreation Area in the New York City area. [14] In the interim between Lissimore's departure and the arrival of his successor, Administrative Clerk Charlesetta Spurlock served as acting park manager. Spurlock had arrived at the site only a few months earlier.

Before leaving Cincinnati in June 1973, Lissimore hired Samuel H. Witherup as a temporary park aid. Witherup stayed with the Taft National Historic Site until 1984 and was the one element of stability through the next decade. During several gaps in the appointment of superintendents, Witherup served as acting superintendent.


Last Updated: 27-Feb-2001