The First Ladies National Historic Site is really two sites. The good news is that they are located within walking distance of each other and there is free parking, the bad news is if you don’t know where to find it you will end up in the parking garage next door to the First Ladies Library and that is not free. There was no signage that we saw to direct us to the official parking lot and it is a busy street. More good news, the man who collected payment at the parking garage didn’t charge us because he knew we had parked there by mistake.
The two sites are the former City National Bank which houses the First Ladies Library and the second is the Ida Saxton McKinley House.
Once you purchase your ticket at the library you will be assigned a time to visit the McKinley House. You then have the option to watch the six videos which can take 40 minute and tour the changing exhibits that are located within the library. Video number two is the White House tour conducted by former first lady Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy in 1962. The videos are shown on a simple TV screen which if you get someone sitting in front of you can make viewing difficult. The videos are very interesting, the way they are presented could be improved.
There is really only one room of displays holding several different displays. What we saw won’t be what you see because the exhibits change. I was a little disappointed, I expected rooms of displays about all the First ladies, permanent displays to learn more about the first ladies and the library isn’t really like that. I think however, if you are doing research, this is a great place to visit. What they have is interesting it is just smaller than I expected.
When it is time for your tour of the Ida Saxton McKinley House you will walk down the street to the house. Tours of the house are docent led and fascinating. This is the real reason to visit here. This was one of the best presidential house tours we have taken. The tour lasts 45 minutes and there is an elevator to take you to the upper levels of the house. The house itself is quite interesting and belonged to Ida’s great grandfather. It is where the McKinley’s lived from 1873 until the president was assassinated. They moved in when Ida’s mother died.
Most of the furniture in the house is not original but is to the period. You get to see the president’s office and the area of the house where the family lived. Ida’s sister Mary and her seven children also lived in the house with the McKinley’s and Ida’s father. It is a large house but not that large. They did not get to have a lot of privacy. In the last room you visit there are pictures of all the first ladies with a little biography. The tours stops here long enough for you to read any or all of the displays. You can then go down to the gift shop, of course there is a gift shop, and look at what is offered.
You will need a couple of hours to visit this site. Photography is not allowed at the library but is allowed in the Ida Saxton McKinley House. If you don’t know a lot about President and Mrs. McKinley, you are not alone. You will however, leave here feeling like you know them quite well and want to get to know them better. The next stop in Canton to continue the presidential tour is the McKinley Monument and Museum.