Yesterday we picked up my parents and headed out for an adventure day all the way up to Canton, Ohio. When we lived in Akron we spent a lot of time in Canton. But we never went to the National First Ladies Library and Historic Site, one of the eight national parks sites in Ohio. It wasn’t Tom’s first choice of places to go, but I wanted the stamp for my passport book, so off we went.
The National First Ladies Library and Historic Site is administered through a partnership between the National First Ladies Library 501(c)(3) organization and the National Park Service. In October, 2000, President Bill Clinton signed a bill establishing the First Ladies National Site as the 380th unit of the National Park Service. The site consists of the Ida Saxton McKinley House and the Education and Research Center. The Education and Research Center has a small exhibit space, a film viewing space, a research library, conference and seminar rooms, archival storage and processing rooms, and administrative offices.
A visit to the National First Ladies Library begins in the 1895 City National Bank Building. This building was donated to the historic site in 1997 and houses the Education and Research Center. We paid an admission fee ($4 each with our National Park Passes) and checked out the current exhibit on inaugural gowns of the first ladies. All the gowns are either reproductions on loan from the Smithsonian or miniatures made by a perfume company to help sell their perfumes. It was very interesting to see the variety of gowns over time. About 20 gowns were on exhibit.
Then we headed over to the Saxton McKinley home on the other side of the parking lot. This was the family home of Ida Saxton McKinley. She and President McKinley lived here when they were in Ohio. The McKinleys had two daughters who both died while they were children. Ida developed epilepsy and was an invalid most of her adult life. She was an avid crocheter and made thousands of pairs of slippers to give to Civil War Veterans.
The house is an elegantly restored Victorian brick home that was built in 1841 with an addition in 1865. The house is a labyrinth of rooms, none of which seem to be completely rectangular in shape. I was especially intrigued by the beautiful wooden staircase. We were given a tour of the three-storied house by a volunteer docent who also told us a little about the lives of the people who lived in the house. Tour size is limited to 10 so reservations are recommended.
We explored the small gift shop on the second floor of the Saxton McKinley house. The gift shop contains all the biographies of first ladies currently in print. Then we headed back to the Education and Research Center to finish looking at the inaugural ball gowns. We also watched a short movie on inaugurations and some of the traditions associated with them. Did you know there are usually eight to ten “official” inaugural balls and the President and First Lady make at least an appearance at each of them? That alone would dissuade me from ever running for President!
The National First Ladies Library and Historic Site was interesting but we were a little disappointed that there were not more artifacts to see. The First Ladies Library is working to acquire documents, artifacts, and biographies of all the First Ladies in one place instead of scattered around the country. It might be worth another visit in a few years to see what new things they have acquired.