by Carl Sferrazza Anthony, Historian of the National First Ladies Library
Ida McKinley grew up in a close family which was marked by parallels over two generations.
She and her sister Mary Barber were born in the Saxton House, when it was owned by her grandparents George and Christiana Dewalt, the parents of her mother Kate Dewalt Saxton.
Also living there at the time were her mother’s sister Harriet and brother John.
In 1850, when Ida McKinley was three years old, her parents James and Kate Saxton moved out into a house next door. Later that year, George Dewalt died just two days before his daughter Kate Saxton gave birth to her son, whom she named after her father.
By then, Kate’s brother John had already married and moved out and within just two years, her unmarried sister Harriet died there.
This left the widow Christiana Dewalt living alone.
For emotional and practical reasons, it only made sense to have her daughter, son-in-law and three grandchildren move back in with her.
As James Saxton quickly proved successful in banking, real estate and business, what had been known as the Dewalt House in Canton soon was called the Saxton House.
Ida Saxton lived here until her marriage to William McKinley and their wedding reception was held in a ballroom on the third floor.
There was no hallway on this floor and one other smaller room, separated by a door.
From circumstantial evidence, it seems clear that when Ida McKinley returned to live in the Saxton House in September of 1873 with her husband and their almost two-year old daughter Katie, they made the two-room suite on the third-floor their own home.
Since Ida McKinley was unable to entirely care for Katie alone, her sister Mary Barber often came over to help and within two years she and her husband Marshall Barber and the first two of what would be their seven children moved into the Saxton House.
Katie McKinley died in the Saxton House on June 25, 1875.
By the time the McKinleys left for Washington upon the beginning of his first term as a U.S. Congressman in January of 1877, they had already lived at the Saxton House for a period of three years and four months, a full year longer than they had at the “Campaign House.”
McKinley was re-elected five more times to Congress (although his 1882 election was successfully challenged). In those days, Congress spent about half of the year in Washington, the rest in recess.
Thus for approximately six months of every year from 1877 until 1890, William McKinley lived at the Saxton House.
It was in his office at the Saxton-McKinley House, in fact, where the future president drafted the tariff bill which earned him national fame.
When his term expired, the McKinleys returned in January of 1891 to live for a full year in what was now often referred to as the McKinley House.
In January of 1892, the McKinleys left for Columbus, Ohio where he began the first of two terms as Governor. As they had in Washington, they resided in residential hotel suites.
However, like his twelve congressional years, McKinley spent most of his four gubernatorial years in Canton, the six months from May to October marking the legislative recess period.
During these periods the McKinleys continued to live at the Saxton House, as documented in letters by his aide Charles Bawsel.
At the time, Ida McKinley’s sister, brother-in-law and seven nieces and nephews continued to live full-time at the Saxton House, as did her brother George Saxton.
In February of 1892, George Saxton had filed a restraining order against his married lover Anna George which prevented her from coming close to the Saxton House; this being a legal matter of public record, the new Governor sought to protect his image from the implications involving his brother-in-law at the Saxton House.
Reporters followed McKinley’s daily activities only during the legislature sessions and since that was the period when he made Saturday overnight stays with his mother so he could escort her to church on Sunday morning, the false impression was cast that he made her home his Canton residence from 1892 to 1896.
After McKinley’s presidential inauguration in 1897, he continued to live at the Saxton House during his return trips to Canton.
President McKinley also continued to maintain his office there, where he held meetings.
On several occasions he hosted presidential events on the front-porch and upon his arrival there during one visit he famously declared on the front steps of the Saxton House, “It is good to be home!”
Newspapers at the time referred to the Saxton House as the “Canton White House.”
In June of 1899, learning that the “Campaign House” was up for sale, McKinley purchased it.
The President did not move in, however, continuing to live at the Saxton House during his summer break in Canton while meeting with contractors and planning extensive renovations on the new house.
In June of 1900, President McKinley conducted all of his re-election campaign activities from the “Campaign House,” but newspaper articles and diary entries show that he did not fully occupy it.
The problem was that the renovations and building extensions he had ordered were not yet completed in time.
During a March 1901 trip to Canton to check in on the progress of the “Campaign House,” President McKinley again lived at the Saxton House.
Only when the McKinleys returned to Canton in late June of 1901 did he finally take full occupancy of the “Campaign House.” It proved to be a brief period of just two months. He and the First Lady left for the Pan-American Exposition in Buffalo in early September where he was assassinated and died.
Despite the sentimental postcards and stories about McKinley’s “Campaign House,” he only resided there for a total period of four years and nine months. In contrast, William McKinley resided at the Saxton House for a period of 28 years, making it as official a Presidential Home as is George Washington’s own Mount Vernon.