Pickerington Times-Sun

As it were

For 150 years, Ohio governors took shelter where they could

Monday June 15, 2009 4:50 PM

Ohio has had 62 governors. Most of the terms have been spent in Columbus by people who (with a few exceptions) were far from home. These men -- and with one exception they were all men -- had great responsibilities and often were more concerned about the tasks before them than where they spent the night.

Perhaps that is part of the reason why Ohio did not acquire a formal governor's mansion until 1920.

Since 1920, Ohio has had two governor's mansions. The first was the former Lindenberg Mansion on East Broad Street. Acquired in 1917, it was first occupied by Gov. James M. Cox in 1920. That mansion served the needs of the state until 1956, when a new mansion -- the former of home of Malcolm Jeffrey -- was acquired. The mansion in Bexley has been occupied by most Ohio governors since 1957.

For more than half a century, Ohio's governors have had a home they could call their own while they served the people of Ohio.

But what about the governors of the first century and a half of Ohio's history? Where exactly did they reside while living and working in Columbus? In many cases, the short answer is: wherever they could find a place to stay.

The first capital of Ohio was in Chillicothe. Edward Tiffin was Ohio's first governor and stayed at his own home in that town. Most of the rest of the governors that followed him would not be so fortunate. The state capital moved to Zanesville in 1808 and then back to Chillicothe. The governors followed the capital as it moved around the state, but by 1810 it was pretty clear to most legislators that a centrally located capital was needed.

Columbus was created in 1812 to meet that need, and the Ohio General Assembly met here for the first time in 1816. Accompanying them was Gov. Thomas Worthington, who brought some fresh apples from his farm to give to local residents. He took up residence in a local inn across the street from the Statehouse.

This was a pattern that would soon be followed by many of Worthington's successors.

After 1850, governors began to spend more time in the capital. Because the state's economy, institutions and population had grown, the governor was inevitably spending more time in Columbus. He began to look for a better place to stay.

Salmon P. Chase left the governorship and Columbus in 1860 to become Abraham Lincoln's secretary of treasury. He had lived in Columbus for a number of years, and his home at State Street and Sixth Avenue was a social as well as political center during his term as governor. So too was the home of his successor, Civil War Gov. William Dennison. Dennison was the son in law of William Neil, "the Stagecoach King," and Dennison's home at Chestnut and High was visited by Lincoln when he came to Columbus.

Dennison's successors had to find new places to stay. David Tod was from Youngstown and had not spent much time in Columbus. As governor he stayed for a time at the Snowden Gray House on East Town Street. This is one of the few early residences of Ohio's governors in Columbus that is still standing. He ended his administration living at a hotel called the American House at the corner of State and High streets. It would be the governor's home for some time. Tod's successor, John Brough, lived there. After Brough died as a result of infection settling on a foot broken falling down the Statehouse steps, his successor, Charles Anderson, lived in the American House as well.

Anderson's successor was Jacob Dolson Cox. A former Civil War general, Cox admired domestic life and wanted a house for the duration of his term. He found it on East Town Street close to the place where Tod had lived. Cox was followed by Rutherford B. Hayes, who had friends and relatives living in Columbus and owned property here. Unfortunately, none of it was near the Statehouse. Hayes and his family lived first in the T. Ewing Miller House, where the public library is today, and later in the Monypeny House on the site of the Rhodes Office Tower.

Hayes served two terms until 1872, when he was succeeded by Edward Noyes. Noyes decided to stay at the Neil House across the street from the capital and a half-block from the old American House, which had once been home to visiting governors. Noyes was defeated by William Allen, who decided he too liked the Neil House.

Hayes defeated Noyes but soon departed for the presidency, leaving Thomas Young in the governorship. Deciding a move was in order, Young went down the street and took up residency in the American House. Young's successor was Richard Bishop, who took the governor's residence back up the street to the Neil House.

Gov. Charles Foster broke away from the hotels and went back to the Miller Mansion at the head of State Street. Here he and his family held forth in grand style from 1880 to 1884. From this point until it was demolished to make way for the library it was often referred to as the governor's mansion.

This was no doubt a bit disconcerting to Gov. George Hoadley, who was living after Foster's term in the Northern Hotel near Goodale Park. Hoadley's successor was Joseph Benson Foraker. Foraker moved around from the B. F. Smith Home -- now the Columbus Club -- to the Miller Mansion on State Street and then to another mansion near downtown.

Foraker was followed by one-term governor James Campbell, who stayed in the old Alfred Kelley Mansion on Broad Street. Campbell was succeeded by William McKinley, who lived at the Neil House until he left for the presidency in 1897. It is sometimes said his statue in front of the Statehouse is a reminder of his turning to wave goodbye each day to his wife in the Neil House across the street.

The governors who followed McKinley for the next several years followed in the tradition set forth in the previous half century. Gov. Bushnell stayed in the Chittenden and Southern hotels. Gov. Nash, a Columbus resident, stayed in his home on Jefferson Avenue. Gov. Herrick lived in the Hinman house at Hamilton and Broad while Gov. Pattison chose the Mithoff home on East Broad Street as a place to live. Gov. Harris stayed at the Hartman Hotel on Statehouse Square while Gov. Harmon liked the McManigal house on East Town Street.

Govs. Cox and Willis lived in several locations. In the end, all of this moving around by men who were now virtually full-time governors persuaded the legislature that a more permanent governor's mansion was needed. In 1920, Gov. James M. Cox and his family became the first family to occupy the first official governor's mansion in Ohio.

It had been a long journey, but at last the governor of Ohio had a place he could truly call home.

Ed Lentz writes a history column for ThisWeek.

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