William McKinley visited Fayette County several times before being inaugurated as the 25th President of the United States on March 4, 1897.
McKinley and Mills Gardner, a prominent local attorney and one-term member of the U.S. House of Representatives, served together in Congress from March 1877 to March 1879. Gardner’s desk was next to McKinley’s desk in the House chamber, and the two men became friends.
McKinley first came to Washington C. H. on October 23, 1887 while a congressman to address a large crowd at the opera house on West Market St. (behind the former Courtview restaurant).
Four years later, he was campaigning as the Republican candidate for governor of Ohio when, on Oct. 31, 1891, he arrived at the Midland railroad depot on Paint Street. A parade of open carriages with McKinley in the lead carriage wound its way over the major streets of the city. Delegations of Republicans from each of the county’s 10 townships joined the procession at designated points along the route.
After lunch in the Cherry Hotel’s dining room on North Main Street, Fayette Republican leaders took McKinley to the fairgrounds where he addressed a packed grandstand from the large box above the grandstand’s main entrance. The “Cyclone,” the county’s Republican newspaper, praised his “matchless arguments” in favor of protective tariffs. Three days later, William McKinley was elected to his first term as governor of Ohio.
McKinley next came to Washington C. H. on Oct. 14, 1892 as the governor of Ohio. He shook hands with dozens of well-wishers in the parlor of the Cherry Hotel before walking across Market Street to speak at the opera house. There, he urged an overflow crowd to reelect President Benjamin Harrison, whom he described as a proven, successful leader of a “free and protected America.” (Grover Cleveland, the Democrat, defeated Harrison in the 1892 presidential election.)
In August 1893, the Ohio Methodist Conference held a week-long camp meeting at the Coil camp grounds on the Plymouth Road. Governor McKinley arrived in Fayette County on Friday, Aug. 11, 1893 to speak at the encampment’s Grand Army Day, which honored the “Boys in Blue” who had preserved the United States during the Civil War.
A reception committee headed by Mills Gardner accompanied the governor from the Paint St. depot to Gardner’s home on Circle Ave. where lunch was served. Around one o’clock in the afternoon, McKinley was escorted to the camp grounds where a crowd estimated at 8,000 persons awaited him.
In his address to the multitude, Governor McKinley emphasized the Republican Party’s unwavering commitment to liberal pensions for Union veterans of the Civil War. He shook hands for nearly an hour before being hurried back to Washington C. H. to board the evening train to Columbus.
Ten weeks later, on Oct. 23, 1893, McKinley returned to Fayette County, this time to campaign for reelection as governor of Ohio. Local Republican dignitaries met the governor at the Midland station and took him in an open carriage down the city’s main streets so that many might see the State’s chief executive.
After dining with community leaders at the familiar Cherry Hotel, McKinley made the case for his reelection to a large crowd that had assembled in the grandstand at the fairgrounds. Thirty-four-year-old Harry Daugherty introduced him. Daugherty represented Fayette County in the lower house of the Ohio legislature from 1890 to 1894. He was McKinley’s floor leader in the Ohio House of Representatives, and the two men often dined together to discuss legislation.
William McKinley was reelected governor and completed a second term as Ohio’s governor before being elected President of the United States in November 1896. He was reelected to the presidency in 1900. President McKinley was shot by an assassin on Sept. 6, 1901 while attending the Pan American Exposition in Buffalo, New York; he died eight days later.
On the morning of Sept. 19, 1901, a memorial service for the martyred President was held in Washington C. H. at the Grace Methodist Church. Mills Gardner delivered the eulogy. His daughter Edith Gardner sang “Lead, Kindly Light,” President McKinley’s favorite hymn.