Cincinnati’s location near the Kentucky border creates the sense that it is not the sole providence of Ohio, but instead a city shared by two states. Though Kentucky and Ohio are separated by the Ohio River, numerous bridges create a seamless bond that makes determining whether you are on the Kentucky side or Ohio side of Cincinnati a difficult feat. This shared bond is easily exemplified by the John A. Roebling Suspension Bridge, which opened for business in 1866. Still functional today serving pedestrian and car traffic, it serves a unique purpose as a connection point for, as one example, sports fans who park on the Kentucky side with the numerous sports stadiums lining the Ohio River’s opposite edge.
These bridges also served our purpose – exploring the birth places of two former Presidents: William H. Taft and Ulysses S. Grant. We began with a guided tour of the Taft family home, an elegant two-story home in northern Cincinnati where “Will” Taft was born and raised.
Our tour guide emphasized the unique family bonds among the Taft family members.
The Taft family, fairly accomplished and well-known in the public realm, knew the recipe for making all their children successful in whatever they endeavored to do with their lives.
Crisscrossing the Ohio River, we landed in Point Pleasant, OH to tour President Ulysses S. Grant’s birthplace.
Whereas Taft grew up in a large, well-appointed house, Grants’ beginning was more humble–he was born in a one-bedroom rented cabin. His dad worked at the tannery; this craft was passed down to his son as well. These homes exemplified the opposite ends of the spectrum from which two of our great presidents originated.
Afterwards, we drove to Lexington, Kentucky to visit the Mary Todd Lincoln home. Mary Todd, President Abraham Lincoln’s wife, came from a very wealthy and educated family. The family’s Georgian style home, built in 1832, has approximately 14 rooms, each elegantly decorated with attention to detail. No doubt when Mrs. Lincoln brought Mr. Lincoln to her childhood home, he probably entertained headaches often, as the 6’3” doorways meant that 6’4” Lincoln would have had to stoop to pass through them. Her upbringing in Kentucky as well as family ties to the confederacy spurred distrust among some of Lincoln’s advisors and the media. In truth, Mrs. Lincoln was a staunch Union supporter.
And while not the home of a President or First Lady, our next tour was perhaps one of the most unique experiences of the day. It took place at a house created by the famous architect Benjamin Latrobe for Senator Pope, the house known as “Pope Villa.” Latrobe is often noted for unique homes across the U.S., as well as his modeling of the present-day White House; however, only three of his homes are still standing today – so, getting to visit this home was quite a privilege. We were warned that the home was experiencing renovations, which in the end proved to only provide for a more interesting commentary about the house and its history. Our tour of the Villa was definitely different. Rather than walking the halls of a fancy, preserved home, similar to the Todd home, we found ourselves viewing a house covered in blemishes and missing complete sections, displaying years of wear and tear.
Various sections were roped off, presumably part of current preservation initiatives, giving us a chance to discuss what operations were currently under way in terms of saving the home. The reason this seemingly unappealing tour was actually nice was that the tour focused on architecture and renovation rather than on the individuals who had lived there. Even as we stepped over gaps in the floor and avoided falling pieces of plaster, we were able to learn a great deal about the approach Latrobe took when adding small details to the home, as well as certain restoration efforts. For example, one method of “fixing” a scratched or pitted brick exterior included cutting out individual bricks, and turning them over to use the back side. Learning these tips and tricks, and the general difficulty and complications in adopting, preserving, maintaining a home such as this for historical purposes was truly eye-opening.
We finished off the day with a quick stop in Charleston, West Virginia (one more capitol for the record books) and dinner at the downtown Quarrier Diner. It is the only diner in Charleston, and they’ve recently revamped their menu to reflect that although we heard that a few dishes they used to serve are sorely missed among their regulars. The wait staff was prompt and the food was plain good. Just be sure, as they inform you at the door, that you’re appropriately attired!