The History of the Harding Home
The Harding Home, which is adjacent to the Warren G. Harding Presidential Library & Museum, has been open to the public since February 1926. Warren Harding and Florence Kling oversaw the construction of the home, at 380 Mt. Vernon Avenue in Marion, during their 1890-91 engagement. They were married in the home on July 8, 1891; it was their primary residence for the next 30 years.
The Hardings initially chose a reddish brown color for their home, with brown trim. The Queen Anne-style Victorian home was 2,500 square feet, featuring four bedrooms, reception hall, parlor, library, dining room and kitchen. Built to include many modern features for the time, it had a bathroom with indoor plumbing and gas lighting. Striped awnings, wicker furniture and a large rug completed the rectangular porch on the front of the house, making it function as a cool respite in the summer.
Mr. Harding was publisher of The Marion Daily Star newspaper, purchasing it when he was just 19 years old. As the newspaper flourished, the Hardings’ household income increased, allowing them to upgrade their home over the years. In 1903, they replaced the original porch with a larger porch featuring a round, “bandstand” area. The concrete and stone porch had an inlaid, wooden floor. As part of the renovation, the Hardings chose a new color for the home: kelly green with white trim (the trim color would not appear “white” to modern eyes – it would be interpreted as a buff color today).
A believer in making Marion “a progressive city,” by urging the installation of street lights, a sewer system and bricked streets, Mr. Harding demonstrated the same interest in embracing new technology at home. The Hardings installed knob-and-tube electricity in their home around 1902, to augment the original gas lines. Several of their new ceiling lighting fixtures were dual fixtures — operable with electricity or gas. Electrical service at the time had drawbacks; it was available only during limited hours, and was often unreliable. Interestingly, the only room not outfitted with electricity was the kitchen; it remained dependent upon gas.
The Hardings wallpapered every room in their home, even some ceilings, as was the decorating fashion. Just prior to Sen. Harding’s famous front porch campaign in 1920, they installed new wallpaper in the bathroom, parlor and library. An additional room, adjacent to the small kitchen, was built to provide food storage and preparation during the busy campaign days. A small bathroom was added in the basement to alleviate use of the home’s only original bathroom, which was located upstairs.
Harding 2020 Restoration of the Home and Grounds
In April of 2016, the Harding Presidential Sites and the Ohio History Connection announced ‘Harding 2020;’ a revolutionary project aimed at fully restoring the Harding Home and Grounds to their 1920 appearance and construct the Warren G. Harding Presidential Library and Museum. The estimated cost to restore the home was $1.3 Million. In the fall of 2017, the Harding Home closed its doors to the public to undergo this restoration. Over the course of two years, the Harding Home was painstakingly restored inside and out.
The home itself underwent structural and electrical improvement, and wheelchair access to the downstairs portion of the home were added as part of this restoration. Throughout the home, the wallpaper was replicated to the way it appeared in 1920 based on receipts in the Harding Presidential Papers and physical evidence discovered during the restoration work.
On the exterior of the home, the paint colors of the home were updated to their 1920 appearance through a paint analysis process that concluded the trim color of the home was originally a cream color. In 1920, the Hardings added an addition to the kitchen to help meet the entertaining demand on the presidential candidate. During the 1965 restoration of the Harding Home, the addition to the kitchen was removed. Through archaeological work and campaign photos, the kitchen addition was rebuilt. Because there is no conclusive evidence to suggest how the Hardings used the additional kitchen space, this structure houses a wheelchair ramp.
Behind the Harding Home is the ‘Press House;’ a catalog kit home constructed for the newspaper reporters covering the 1920 campaign to use as workspace. Following the campaign, this structure survived and was most recently used as a museum and gift shop for the Harding Presidential Sites. Through the Harding 2020 restoration, the Press House was repainted and in the inside of the Press House was reconfigured to house self guided exhibits on the role of the press during the election of 1920.
The grounds of the Harding Home were returned to their 1920 appearance through this project. The visitor parking lot behind the home was removed and returned to being the Hardings back yard. Near the Press House, apple trees were planted. The reporters covering the campaign reported in their respective papers how they would eat the apples from the trees on the ground and the grapes on the arbor behind the home. Behind the Press House, the makeshift horseshoe pit where Senator Harding and the newspaper reporters would play, was recreated. Elsewhere on the grounds, interpretive signs were added to introduce the ‘Harding Neighborhood’ to visitors.