1908 Presidential Nominee William Howard Taft Sojourns at the Middle Bass Club
By Marie Demer Rader, December 2023
William Howard Taft was a Solicitor General, Judge on the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals, Civilian Governor of the Philippines, Secretary of War under President Theodore Roosevelt and the 1908 Republican Presidential Nominee. The following is a summary of the Middle Bass Club’s involvement in President Taft’s campaign for the White House.
William Howard Taft. Source: Wikipedia
Charles T Lewis, President of the Middle Bass Club (MBC), personally extended an invitation to Judge Taft and his family to visit the MBC for rest and relaxation before the start of the campaign season. Lewis was a prominent Toledo railway attorney, Vice President of the Toledo & Ohio Central and the Zanesville & Western Railway, Director of the Northern National Bank and a staunch Taft supporter. Some believe that Lewis invited Taft to the MBC to repair Taft’s relationship with another MBC member, Ohio Republican Senator Joseph B Foraker, before the presidential campaign commenced.
“Judge Taft and family and Mr. and Mrs. Corbin will be housed at Middle Bass in the Edward Ford cottage through the kindness of their daughter, Mrs. William Knight. The rest of the party will be put up at the MBC, where a party of 150 are staying.” Edward Ford’s son George R Ford and daughter Mrs. William Knight arrived for dinner at the MBC on August 31st to greet the Taft family. Edward Ford founded the Ford Plate Glass Company and built the city of Rossford, Ohio (a suburb of Toledo) for the employees of his glass factory. Later his company would merge with other Toledo glass companies to become the Libbey-Owens-Ford (LOF) company. The Ford cottage remains today on Grape Avenue in the MBC, boasting 13 rooms on 3 full floors and is owned by the FitzGerald family.
“William H. Taft, Republican nominee for President, and his party, will arrive in Toledo over the Ohio Central lines at 10:50, and in fifteen minutes will be on their way to Middle Bass Island, a trip with Commodore S O Richardson, of the Jessamine expects to make it two and a half hours.” MBC member Commodore Solon O Richardson Jr provided Taft’s transportation to and from Middle Bass Island. Richardson was the Vice President then President of the Libbey Glass Company.
Taft arrived at 4 o’clock in the morning and after a 5 hour sleep, had breakfast and attended services in the MBC Chapel. That evening, Judge and Mrs. Taft attended a musical soiree at the Club House where they were introduced to the Club members and their guests by MBC President Lewis.
Taft went bass fishing as often as possible with his son Charlie. Taft’s favorite spot to fish was at the reef at Rattlesnake Island. One fishing excursion comprised Taft (donning a straw hat), Taft’s son Charlie, General Henry Clarke Corbin, Edward H Marsh and MBC members Walter Beckwith and Ed Miller. Corbin accompanied Taft on his visit to the MBC staying with him in the Ford cottage and served as a friend and advisor during the 1908 presidential campaign. Marsh was Taft’s Yale classmate and friend from Sandusky, Ohio. Beckwith was the President of the Citizen’s Telephone and Message Company in Fostoria, Ohio. I believe Ed Miller is MBC member Theron B Miller as there are conflicting reports in the newspaper calling the member Ed Miller and Ted Miller from Columbus. Miller was a capitalist and leading attorney from Columbus, Ohio; his family scrapbook included many photographs of Taft at the MBC including one of showing Miller with Charlie Taft (age 11) and his son Thomas E Miller (age 8) in small rowboats on the MBC dock.
The fishing party headed toward Rattlesnake Island on Beckwith’s power boat Faustina towing rowboats from which they would fish along with expert oarsmen. They were fishing for black bass, white bass and perch.
Unfortunately, their fishing trip was interrupted by a launch approaching them at high-speed firing a cannon to get their attention as they had an urgent message from President Theodore Roosevelt’s War Department brought by Colonel Clarence Edwards. Edwards was Chief of the Bureau of Insular Affairs. The NY Times reported Taft as saying,” Do you know, that I have become convinced bass are not partial to launches and cannon” as he only caught 2 bass that day.
According to Taft’s Datebook, on August 31st Taft caught 2 bass while Charlie caught 1 pickerel and 1 bass, on September 3rd Taft caught 5 bass (1 pound each) while Charlie caught 3 bass and 3 sheephead and on September 4th they had no luck.
During Taft’s sojourn at the MBC, only a few journalists and photographers were invited to stay at the exclusive MBC. The press accompanied Taft on his fishing trips and to his only planned campaign event in Toledo - a parade of Civil War & Spanish American War veterans and then a speech at the Lyceum Theatre where he decided to share the platform with his rival, Senator Foraker. Four preferred press members arrived a day prior to the Taft family and stayed in a cottage in the MBC. Gus J Karger of the Cincinnati Star served as the personal press representative for Taft in the 1908 presidential campaign. James Hay Jr of the Washington Times was the White House correspondent and close personal friends with both Taft and President Woodrow Wilson. Journalist Ralph LeBlond and photographer Louis Van Oeyen worked for the United Press Association which sent 10,000 words per day via Morse telegraph to 369 newspapers. Other journalists from the NY Herald, NY World, NY Sun, Harpers Weekly, NY Tribune and the Washington, D.C. Associated Press arrived on August 31st and stayed at the Middle Bass Club House.
MBC Guest Gus K. Karger. Source: Amazon, Historic Photographs, LLC Photo: Gus Karger 1 1 https://www.amazon.com/Historic-Photographs-LLC-Photo-Karger/dp/B06X9F3658
While at the MBC, Taft sat for a portrait commissioned by the New York Republican Club. An artist from Manhattan, J Elmer Salsbury, arrived on September 3rd as a guest of MBC President Lewis and stayed in Club House room 53. Salisbury was a noted landscape and portrait artist who sold several paintings to Andrew Carnegie. Salsbury’s portrait of Taft was later given to the Cincinnati Art Museum but has since been deaccessioned.
Taft continued his correspondence during the sojourn. The Library of Congress houses many letters that Taft sent and received, especially those between Taft and President Theodore Roosevelt which focused on Taft’s presidential campaign. While most correspondence dealt with Taft’s campaign strategy and logistics, some letters were more entertaining including the one from Taft to Mrs. J T Wyckoff because “she asked for his autograph.” It should be mentioned that Taft’s letterhead clearly displays “Middle Bass Island, Ohio.”
Letter Taft to Roosevelt: August 31, 1908, pp. 1-2. Source: Library of Congress, Theodore Roosevelt Papers: Series 1: Letters and Related Material, 1759-1919; 1908, July 19-Sept. 21, Images 611 and 612
Letter Roosevelt to Taft: September 5, 1908, pp. 1-3. Source: Library of Congress, Theodore Roosevelt Papers: Series 1: Letters and Related Material, 1759-1919; 1908, July 19-Sept. 21, Images 678, 679, and 680
The Middle Bass Club property was only accessible to members and their guests so it provided a private, secure and isolated location where Taft could freely meet with key Republican strategists to plan his campaign. Taft connected with MBC members J Warren Keifer from Springfield and Noah Haines Swayne from Toledo who served as delegates to the 1908 Republican Convention during his sojourn. Taft also met with member Walter Folger Brown from Toledo who was the Chairman of the Ohio Republican State Committee. Brown greeted Taft upon his arrival and departure from the MBC and invited important guests to meet with Taft during his stay.
During the sojourn, Taft was able to privately discuss campaign strategy, support and donations with invited guests. A few important visitors are listed below by their arrival date at the MBC.
On August 31, 1908 and for the entire sojourn:
General Henry Clarke Corbin
Corbin was an important advisor and friend to many U. S. Presidents, was assigned to the White House for Presidents Rutherford B Hayes and James A Garfield, acted as “Chief of Staff” for President William McKinley and was named Commander of the U.S. Army’s Atlantic Division, Philippine & Northern Divisions before his retirement.
On September 1st,
Myron T. Herrick
Taft sent a letter to Herrick about his visit to the MBC on August 31st. Herrick was the Ohio Governor from 1904 to 1906 and an overall delegate from Ohio to the 1908 Republican Convention. Herrick accompanied Taft to Toledo for the only planned campaign event. He was a guest of MBC member Wilson Shannon Dodge and stayed in Club House room 59. Dodge was an important banker and President of the Cleveland Steam Guage Company.
Colonel Frank J. Hecker
Hecker was President of the Peninsular Car Company and a member of the Panama Canal Commission. Hecker brought Congressman Denbly and other politicians and key press members from Detroit on his yacht Halcyon to pay their respects to Taft for a short visit; they did not sign the Guest Book.
On September 2nd,
James T. Williams Jr
Williams was the Washington correspondent for the Boston Evening Transcript and became a member of Taft’s campaign staff. Williams was a guest of MBC President Lewis and stayed in a cottage.
On September 3rd,
Charles A. Judson
Judson was appointed by President Theodore Roosevelt as Collector of US Customs in Sandusky and re-appointed by President Taft. Judson also served as a delegate from Ohio’s 13th district to the 1908 Republican Convention. He arrived for dinner as a guest of MBC member William Stewart Kent. Kent was President of the Kent National Bank and donated 52 acres of land to establish what is now Kent State University.
James R. Garfield
Taft’s schedule would not permit a visit to Mentor, so Taft invited the Garfields to the MBC to discuss his upcoming speeches in Maine. Garfield was President Theodore Roosevelt’s Secretary of the Interior and the son of President James A Garfield. Mr. and Mrs. Garfield from Mentor, Ohio arrived for dinner and stayed in Club House room 55.
On September 4th,
Webb C. Hayes
Hayes served in Troop A as the personal escort for all presidents from Hayes to Taft and was the 2nd son of President Rutherford B Hayes. Hays from Fostoria, Ohio arrived at supper and stayed in Club House room 56.
On September 5th,
Wade E Ellis
Taft sent Ellis a letter on August 31st. Ellis was Ohio’s Attorney General and a delegate from Ohio’s 2nd district to the 1908 Republican Convention. Ellis traveled from nearby Lakeside, Ohio where he was vacationing to meet with Taft to discuss a job offer from President Roosevelt. Later Ellis accepted the position, promoting him to the Assistant to the Attorney General of the United States. Ellis did not sign the Guest Book during his visit.
Letter from Taft to Ellis: August 31, 1908. Source: Library of Congress, William H Taft Papers: Series 8: Letters, 1872-1921; Secretary of War Personal Letters; Vol 24, 1908 Aug. 18-Sept. 18, Image 471
Frank Harris Hitchcock
Hitchcock was Chairman of the Republican National Committee and later the Postmaster General of the United States under President Taft. Hitchcock visited Taft on the island for a couple of hours, so his signature is not in the Guest Book. Thus, we rely on The Sun newspaper from New York to describe Hitchcock’s visit, “…the Halcyon soon placed Mr. Hitchcock in a big wicker arm rocking chair beside the candidate (Taft) on the back porch of the Ford cottage…” 
Mr. and Mrs. Scofield were guests of MBC member George James Johnson and stayed in Club House room 40. Johnson was involved in real estate and lived on Cleveland’s infamous Euclid Avenue. Scofield was a prominent Cleveland architect and friend of John D Rockefeller who allowed President Garfield’s body to be housed in his mausoleum in Lake View Cemetery until the Garfield Memorial was built.
On September 6th,
Arthur I. Vorys
Vorys served as Taft’s Chief of Staff during his presidential campaign and was an overall delegate from Ohio to the 1908 Republican Convention. Vorys arrived at the MBC on September 6th as a guest of MBC member Walter Folger Brown and stayed in a cottage.
Arthur L. Garford
Garford was an industrialist, politician and inventor of the first padded bicycle seat (“Garford Saddle”). Garford served as a delegate from Ohio’s 14th district to the 1908 Republican Convention. Garford arrived on September 6th as a guest of MBC member Walter Folger Brown and stayed in Club House room 67. The photo shows James Garfield, President Theodore Roosevelt and Arthur Garford.
Nathaniel C. Wright
Wright was the President and Editor of the Cleveland Leader and later became the Managing Editor of the Toledo Blade. Wright arrived at the MBC on September 6th as a guest of MBC member Walter Folger Brown and stayed in Club House room 69.
Taft’s sojourn at the MBC ended on the morning of September 7th. Members gathered together on the dock to say farewell to the Taft family with much celebration, including Yale’s infamous Eli Yell.
The Taft family boarded the Jessamine and then drove to see Webb Hayes at the home of his father, President Rutherford B Hayes, in Fremont, Ohio. President Hayes’ property, Spiegel Grove, featured special trees: a Cleveland Hickory, a McKinley Oak and a Garfield Maple; they added a Taft Oak after that visit. Later that evening, the Tafts traveled to Sandusky to spend the night with Yale classmate Edward H Marsh. Taft’s official presidential campaign commenced the following day.
William Howard Taft became the 27th President of the United States, sworn in on March 4, 1909. After his presidency, William Howard Taft was named the 10th Chief Justice of the United States Supreme Court making him the only American to rise to the top echelon in two branches of government (executive & judicial).
 Toledo Blade Articles in Dr Martin Taliak Personal Collection
 Toledo Blade Articles in Dr Martin Taliak Personal Collection
 William Howard Taft National Historical Site, Taft Chronology 4 Aug 1907-1909, page(s) 43-44. www.NPS.gov/WIHO
 askart.com - “Artist Biography & Facts John Elmer Salisbury by Edward P Bentley, Art researcher and collector, Greenville, Michigan.”
 The Sun, New York, New York, September 6, 1908