History of the Saxton McKinley House
The National First Ladies' Library welcomes you to the Saxton McKinley House, the Library's restored Victorian home in Canton, Ohio, the newly designated First Ladies National Historic Site.
The Saxton-McKinley house is a two and three story brick building of irregular massing. It was constructed in two segments, in 1841, and ca. 1865. The earliest portion is at the rear of the structure and was a two-story gable roofed building. This is significant as the only residence with direct historical ties to President William McKinley remaining in his hometown of Canton. It was the family home of McKinley's wife, Ida, and he and his wife lived in the house between 1878-1891 during the period he served in the U.S. House of Representatives.
The Saxton McKinley House in Canton celebrated its national debut as the home of the National First Ladies’ Library with a dedication ceremony and Victorian Gala in June, l998 with Former First Lady Rosalynn Carter. Known as the Grand Lady of Market Avenue, the Saxton McKinley House breathes new life as the first ever facility dedicated to documenting the lives and accomplishments of America’s 41 first ladies and other important American women in history. Located at 33l Market Avenue South, Canton, Ohio, the library is as unique as the women it serves.
The public rooms of the house have been restored to their original splendor, complete with ornate historical wallpaper and period furniture. Great care has been taken to ensure that all design elements, including patterns of wallpaper, carpets and area rugs, are authentic.
Dr. Sheila Fisher, Executive Vice President and a resident of Canton, was in charge of this restoration. Fisher was asked by Library Founding Chair and President, Mary Regula, to serve on the 12-member executive committee of the library and to lead the restoration process. Fisher, a retired clinical psychologist, golfer, and jewelry designer, is also an avid enthusiast of Victorian era furnishings.
The renovated ballroom is, and always has been, located on the third floor of the house. Many parties were held in this ballroom, since the Saxtons were among the most prominent families in Canton. In President McKinley’s study, all of the wallpapers were custom-made by historic merchants to replicate wallpaper depicted in an early photograph of the study taken during his official residence. The photo revealed a wallpaper that resembles an intricate quilt of Oriental scenes. This kind of paper spoke of being well-traveled and well-read, according to Fisher. Fisher traced the wallpaper pattern to Bradbury & Bradbury of California who recreated the hand blocks used to print a similar pattern.
The formal parlor is decorated in the more opulent Italianate style that became popular after the Civil War. In this area there are 23 different wallpaper patterns in subtle shades of tan, grayish green, rose and warm beige. The flow of color and pattern creates an ambiance Fisher describes as "feminine but understated and elegant." Lace curtains, authentically reproduced from an 1876 pattern, are thrown over rods and pinned in place -- just as the Victorians did it. This pattern was seen in a Victorian mansion of the 1870's in Connecticut. The chrysanthemum pattern of Wilton Carpet was loomed in the same mill that First Lady Dolley Madison ordered some of the carpet for the White House. The antique light fixtures are made of alabaster
On the second floor is Ida Saxton McKinley's sitting room and adjacent bedroom. The wallpaper for these rooms was hand-screened by Scalamandre to historically represent the wall coverings in favorite rooms at Ida Saxton McKinley's North Market Avenue residence, according to two original photos of those rooms.
The front entry and stairwell is one of Fisher’s favorites. The wallpaper, a dense fruit, flower and foliage design, was recreated from a pattern popularized a century ago by the English Designer William Morris. The freestanding rug for the hallway was woven on the same looms that milled William Morris’ rugs 120 years ago. Freestanding rugs were just becoming popular in the foyer when the McKinley house was decorated. A spiral staircase reconstructed from black walnut winds from the stairhall to the second and third floors of the house. On the exterior, the massive wrap-around porch was recreated through the use of early photographs of the house.
"We are a work in progress," Fisher said. "And are always looking for historic items from the first ladies."
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