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THE TAFT SUMMER WHITE HOUSE

 

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This site was created by:

Stephen P. Hall

Beverly Historical Society

117 Cabot Street

Beverly, MA 01915

(978) 922-1186

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THE STORY                   

Note: Throughout this article you can click on active links that will take to a photo or related story within this site, or to a web site outside of this site.   Be sure to click on the "RETURN TO THE STORY" phrase that appears above each image, to return this page after each visit. Or in the case of links to other sites please use the back button on your browser.

President Taft in Beverly, Massachusetts

1909 - 1912

Shortly after the 1908 election and 1909 inauguration of William Howard Taft, he was thinking of how to escape the heat of Washington, both politically and climatically. You have to remember that in 1909 there were no air-conditioned offices.

For the previous sixteen years he and his family had vacationed in Canada, on the shores of Murray Bay, halfway between Quebec city and Saguenay.  But he quickly realized that it would not be "correct" for the President to summer on "foreign soil', so began his search for a location within the borders of the United States of America.

His search finally took him to our humble shores and he quickly discovered that Beverly, was for the most part "comfortable Republican Territory."   Nearby Nahant was at that time the home of Senator Henry Cabot Lodge, Sr., although later his grandson would move to Beverly.  Also the nearby towns of Manchester and Magnolia at the time housed many of Washington's elite including William Boardman, and Senator Albert Beveridge.  At Prides Crossing, (a section of Beverly), Teddy Roosevelt's daughter Alice, and her husband Congressman Nicholas Longworth of Ohio, spent many a summer.  When Teddy came to visit his daughter Alice, he would almost always also visit Taft.   "Big Bill" Taft would have not trouble finding golf partners in this environment.

But by far the most compelling reason to draw the Tafts to this area were their old and close friends John Hays Hammond and his wife, Natalie.  Although they looked at many homes along the North Shore, Nellie Taft finally decided on the green, shingled, fourteen-room "cottage" of the late John B. Stetson of Boston, know as "Stetson Hall" that was located on Woodbury Point, between Beverly Cove and Hospital Point.

The "cottage" was in 1909 then owned by Robert Dawson Evans, and was directly across the lawn from the main house, "Dawson Hall" where he and his wife Marie Antoinette Evans summered.  The family used the Stetson "cottage" for overflow guests during the summer months.  Robert Dawson Evans came to the Boston area a poor boy from New Brunswick, Canada, a became involved in the then infant rubber industry, and rose to the top, retiring in 1898, as president of U. S. Rubber [now UNIROYAL].

The summer of 1909 would not start off very well for the Tafts.    As soon as Nellie had decided on the "Summer White House" location, the newspapers announced it, and several hundred souvenir hunters invaded the Woodbury point estate. Some of them ripped off relics of the very house itself, and left the grounds so covered with litter, that the estate resembled a park after a "rock concert."  From the start Mrs. Evans would not be happy with attention her new summer tenants would bring to the property. To add to the troubles of Mrs. Evans, on July 1st, shortly before the Tafts arrival via train and automobile on July 4th, 1909, Mr. Evans was thrown from his horse and seriously injured.  He died several days later on July 6th 1909.

Less than two months after the inauguration, Nellie Taft suffered a stoke, or as the Beverly Times of Tuesday May 18th, 1909 described, "a slight nervous breakdown."  This would leave the president without a hostess for nearly a year and add to the headaches of his new job.

In today's government where it takes millions of dollars, and requires a large group of people, every time the current president vacations, it is hard to imagine that in 1909, President Taft was perfectly happy to accept the handful of rooms offered to him by the Beverly Board of Trade, for "summer office space" in the Mason Building on Cabot Street. 

The North Shore Reminder is quoted in this description of the humble office space as, " Pretty good little room they are, too - for a country board of trade.... To be sure, in order to get to his rooms he, [Taft] will have to climb the marble stairs, for there is no elevator, and will have to run the gauntlet of pop corn men, candy vendors and suspender peddlers, who infest the sidewalk.  Once ensconced however, he will be all right.  He can tip back in his swivel chair and enjoy the soothing strains of music, as furnished by the itinerant hurdy gurdy man.   The president has already been warned not to pay any attention to any agonizing screams he may hear, for these will merely emanate from one of the dentists' offices on the same floor.  It has been facetiously suggested that if the councils of state lead to uncertainty of action, recourse may be had to the wonderful powers of reading of the future possessed by Mme. Zaza, occultist and palmist, whose fortune telling studio is in a nearby shop."

This kind of press made it clear that perhaps another location should be found for the Executive offices, and in the second season the Executive offices found additional office space off of Cabot Street, and the center of Beverly's business district, at a more quiet location, the "Pickering House" on Lothrop Street.  It was noted in the July 30th, 1910 Beverly Citizen Newspaper, that, "the president can visit the [new] offices frequently.  He [Taft] has never set foot in the Board of Trade Rooms but once."  No doubt the climb up those marble stairs was the cause.

By the end of July 1909 the family was complete with the arrival of Taft's eldest son, 19 year old Robert, returning from Yale, and his daughter Helen age 17, a student at Bryn Mawr. The family posed for a family portrait this first summer in the driveway of the estate.

September 14th 1909 was one of the first chances for the President to be seen participating in a major event in Beverly. The event was the G.A.R. parade and he sat on the reviewing stand, along with the mayor of Beverly, and Governor of Massachusetts. This parade honoring the local soldiers of the Civil War, drew "The Press" and thousands of people, from the surrounding cities and towns.

Although the President had the use of the Presidential yacht, Mayflower, he was more inclined to automobile travel.  But, none the less, the sleek white Mayflower, that he inherited from his friend Theodore Roosevelt was anchored in the harbor almost all of each summer, much to the delight of the local "rubber neckers" in their dories and small sailboats.  At 273 feet long she had a crew of two hundred to keep her "shipshape", including a 16 piece band.   He also had a smaller yacht, the U. S. S. "Sylph", for shorter trips.

This was a period when long distant travel was by ship or train.   Once the President had established himself in Beverly for the summer, a "Special Presidential Train" was used for his many trips to and from Washington during the summer months.

One feature that the people of Beverly enjoyed was see the President on Sundays.  He would do two things most Sundays, first a visit to the 1st Parish Church [Unitarian] and then he would engage in the rage of the first decade of this century, "Automobile parties." We forget that in 1909 very few but the rich and powerful had automobiles.  So what we look at as a painful commute down a bad unpaved road, was in 1909, great fun for family and friends. 

In 1911, my dad was 10 years old, and sang in the choir at the 1st Parish Church.  One of his duties along with some of the other boys was to make sure there were enough hymnals for all.  For some strange reason, he keep having to replace the ones in the Presidential pew almost ever week.

The Presidents other passion in addition to automobiles was golf. He became a member of the Myopia Hunt Club, and Essex County Club, and his favorite golf companion was John Hays Hammond.  He would also meet with other famous Beverly summer residents such as Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., Judge Robert Grant, and Henry Clay Frick.

The August 9th, 1910 attempted assassination of Mayor Gaynor of Hoboken, New Jersey, prompted the Secret Service to tighten the security around the Tafts and their summer white house on Woodbury Point.

Secret Service men jumping out from behind bushes, telephones nailed to trees, and strangers knocking on her door asking for the President, added up to the "last straw" for the widowed Mrs. Evans. 

1910 would be the last summer for the Tafts at Woodbury Point.   Mrs. Evans told the President not to plan on spending any more summers at Stetson Hall.  As if to add insult to injury she announced that she planed to tear the "cottage" down and put in an "Italian Garden" in its place. As it turned out she did not tear the cottage down but rather cut it in half, put it on a barge and floated it across the harbor to Peaches Point in Marblehead were it was put back together.

After Mrs. Evans died in 1917, at the age of 72, her two maiden sisters, Belle and Abbie Hunt, who also lived on the estate, each received nearly a million dollars, along with the Evan's Beverly and Boston homes. 

On January 17th 1936, the last Hunt sister Belle died, and she left the Beverly estate to Beverly Hospital. 

In 1924 David S. Lynch, upon retiring from his work as part owner of a leather company in Salem, MA, took the opportunity to travel around the world.   Once on a trip to London, he passed an old park in the heart of the city, and saw many people standing outside looking in.  When he ask one of them why they were standing outside, they told him it was a "private park" and you had to pay a fee to enter.  He was greatly moved by this and on his death in December of 1942 he left to the City of Beverly $400,000 for park purposes. 

On June 23, 1943, the Beverly Hospital sold the former Evan's estate, with over 15 acres of land, including  a mansion house, monastery, stable, rose garden and a stretch of beautiful beach, to the City of Beverly for $50,000, and "Lynch Park" was born.

Dawson Hall was torn down in 1943.  During the turbulent 1960s Lynch Park was almost destroyed by vandals.  The rose garden was ruined and the beautiful Italian Monastery that the Hunt sisters rebuilt in the 1920s burned to the ground in 1966.

Today the garden, and grounds have recaptured some of the old charm, but nothing, compared to the 1912 Italian Garden of Marie Antoinette (Hunt) Evans.

Within a few weeks, the Tafts found a new home to spend the summers of 1911 and 1912 and it was called "Parramatta".   It had been the estate of the late Henry W. Peabody, a Salem and Boston merchant.   It was located about a 3/4 of a mile inland from his previous "summer white house" in a section of Beverly know as Montserat.   Henry W. Peabody's widow leased the 18 room  "cottage" for the 1911 and 1912 summer season to the President.  Mrs. Peabody, a bit more friendly toward her new tenant than Mrs. Evans, painted "Parramatta" a patriotic white in 1911 in preparation of the Taft family arrival. 

The original lease document was described at auction recently as, "a 3 page folio dated November 7, 1910. Being a property lease for ....a certain estate situated in Beverly, in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, with the buildings thereon know as the Peabody Cottage, with the lease running for one year and renewable for a second year."  It thoughtfully included an option to renew should Taft have been elected to a second term in 1912.

By 1911 the postcard vendors had to restock their shelves with new photos of the 2nd summer "White House" in Beverly.   It was located at 70 Corning Street, and at the time was one of only two or three homes, located on the dirt road named Corning Street.  Unlike the previous "cottage" this one was not on the shore, but it was up high enough to see the ocean in the distance, and catch the cool ocean breezes from the shore.

A major event in Beverly in 1911 was the April 14th 1911, "laying of the cornerstone of the new YMCA building, by President Taft.

In addition to the Secret Service men a military aide named Capt. Archibald  Butt, was almost always at the Presidents side. By 1912 Capt. Butt had been promoted to Major, and Major Butt had the unfortunate luck to chose the Titanic to transport him back to America in April of 1912.   Taft was so moved by the loss that he dedicated a bridge in Augusta GA, Major Butt's home town, in his name.

A Taft Club was organized in the Spring of 1912 to get "Big Bill" reelected but it was not to be.

William Howard Taft left Beverly for the last time on October 26th 1912.  And on that date Beverly ceased to be the Summer Capital and home of President Taft's "SUMMER WHITE HOUSE".

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