(Photo credit: James K. Polk House National Historical Landmark marker, courtesy Anthony Jones, Flickr Creative Commons)
November 2 is an auspicious day for presidential scholars: Not one but two presidents were born on this day. Both left homes that have been turned into museums and memorials to their legacies. But one home seems to be more highly regarded than the other—at least in terms of being included on the premier list of National Historic Landmarks.
James K. Polk was born on Nov 2, 1795 in North Carolina but his family moved to Columbia, Tennessee. That’s the site of the James K. Polk Home, where the future president lived from 1819 till 1824, when he was married. His political career took off after he left this house. Although he only lived there for five years, it’s the only surviving house Polk called a residence (apart from the White House, of course). Polk went on to become a significant president—perhaps the last strong president the country had prior to the Civil War. Although he only served one term, he oversaw the westward expansion of the United States, including the settlement of the Oregon Territory and the annexation of Texas. The Polk house was acquired in 1929 by the James K. Polk Memorial Association and the State of Tennessee. It was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1961 and included in the initial list of National Register of Historic Places in 1966.
Warren G. Harding, the 29th president, was born on Nov 2, 1865 and served as president from 1921 to 1923, after Woodrow Wilson. The Warren G. Harding home, in Marion, OH, is now managed by the Ohio Historical Society on behalf of the state. Harding is not one of our most celebrated presidents. He’s best known for being swamped by scandals (think “Teapot Dome”) and for being one of those presidents who died in office. He’s also known, perhaps less well, as a journalist and publisher. Harding built this home in 1890 and resided there for 30 years, up till his presidency. After his death in 1923, Harding’s widow willed the house and all the furnishings to the Harding Memorial Association, which in 1978 donated the site to the State of Ohio. This house is listed on the National Register of Historic Places but is not designated as a National Historic Landmark.
So why does Polk’s home get National Historic Landmark status but Harding’s home doesn’t?
James K. Polk Home, Tennessee. National Park Service. Available at http://www.cr.nps.gov/nR/travel/presidents/james_polk_home.html
Warren G. Harding Home, Ohio. National Park Service. Available at http://www.nps.gov/nr/travel/presidents/warren_harding_home.html