Sunday, February 14, 2016

Photo of the Week: President Taft Poses on Greene Street, Waynesburg, PA

(By Candice Buchanan, Greene Connections Archivist)

PHOTO OF THE WEEK: In tribute to President's Day, this week we take a rare look inside a Greene County, Pennsylvania, home that was once visited by US President William Howard Taft.


On 4 November 1919, this photograph captured, left to right: former First Lady Helen Louise "Nellie" (Herron) Taft and former US President William Howard Taft, with Waynesburg residents, Ella Jean "Jennie" (Wilson) (Lindsey) Downey and Robinson Franklin Downey. The two couples posed on the porch of the Downey home, known as "Ivyhurst," located on the southwest corner of Greene and Washington streets in Waynesburg.[1]

Robinson Franklin Downey [1849-1923] and his wife, Ella Jean "Jennie" (Wilson) (Lindsey) Downey [1860-1934], were both graduates of Waynesburg College. He was a prominent lawyer and she a socialite, community leader. Influential in political circles beyond Greene County, the Downeys hosted at Ivyhurst,  in addition to the Tafts, such personalities as Woodrow Wilson's Vice President Thomas Marshall, William Jennings Bryan, and former First Lady Grace Coolidge.

Ivyhurst [4]
Later in life by the time they married on 6 February 1902,[2] the Downeys never had children of their own, but Jennie had one daughter, Claire (Lindsey) Reisinger, from her first marriage, who lived with them at Ivyhurst. Claire was tragically killed when a streetcar struck the vehicle in which she was a passenger, just a week before she would have graduated Waynesburg College in 1916.[3] As a result, the Downeys had no direct heirs.

After the death of Mrs. Downey in 1934, Ivyhurst passed into the ownership of Waynesburg College, which used it to house their Music Department until 1967, when Ivyhurst was sold and destroyed to make room for a gas station. Today, this spot is the location of Community Bank.

Ivyhurst remains a vivid memory to many Greene County residents and Waynesburg College alumni, largely from its era as the latter institution's Music Department. Community access to the facility meant that many children took lessons and performed recitals within these fancy walls.
Upstairs hallway at Ivyhurst with stained-glass window [5]
Though we can no longer walk the halls of this fine house, we have been left with two unique opportunities to revisit this historic home.

1. Before the destruction of the house, the incredible stained-glass window that was once the highlight of the stairway and upper hallway, was preserved and now is displayed in the Waynesburg University Paul R. Stewart Museum. You may visit it in person.

2. A magnificent photograph series maintained by the Greene County Historical Society, and shared here as a part of the Greene County Historical Society Collection in the Greene Connections' Photo Archives section, shows 11 interior room views of the house during the Downey residency. These are complimented by a handful of outside scenes including the carriage house. By zooming-in on these pictures, you can see the daily life details and decor of the Downey home. To begin your tour, click on this link to the first photo in the set of Ivyhurst images and continue to click the right arrow to turn the pages and view each picture in the group. To zoom-in on any photo, just click on it directly or download it at original size.

We do not often have the opportunity to view the interior of ancestral homes, certainly not room by room, so this is a very special collection. We are able to see the rooms much as President Taft would have enjoyed them on his visit to Waynesburg in 1919!

To learn more about the Downey family, view the Ivyhurst Memory Medallion and the Downey entries in the Greene Connections Tree.

GreeneConnections.com is a free local history archival project. Sponsored by LOLA Energy.





[1] Item # GCHS-AN027-0001-0149Greene County Historical Society Collection, Greene County, Pennsylvania Archives Project (www.GreeneConnections.com).

[2] Greene County, Pennsylvania, Marriage License Docket 9: 268, Downey-Lindsey, 1902; County Clerk's Office, Courthouse, Waynesburg.

[3] Mrs. Emory W. Reisinger obituary, Waynesburg Republican, Waynesburg, Pennsylvania, 8 June 1916, page 1, column 2.

[4] Item # WAYN_AN004_0010, Waynesburg University Museum Collection, Greene County, Pennsylvania Archives Project (www.GreeneConnections.com).

[5] Item # GCHS-AN027-0001-0158Greene County Historical Society Collection, Greene County, Pennsylvania Archives Project (www.GreeneConnections.com).

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