The William McKinley Project

The William McKinley statue: The Poland Years -studying for Albany”

William McKinley called Poland, Ohio his home town. He lived in Poland Village from the age of 8 to 24.

This statue represents a young 22 year old William getting ready to go to law school. It shows him taking a quick look in one of his law
books as his dog is at his side. The young McKinley sits against a davenport desk with his trunk packed and ready to go off to the
Albany Law School in New York.

We are looking for help in erecting this tribute to honor the 25th President of the United States whom we
where honor to have lived and taught in our community.  Please contact me at  
(McKinley Project)  for any information
or donations towards this project. 
Thank you, Tom

The William McKinley story by Steve Meloy:


The impressive McKinley Memorial in Niles overshadows the fact that William McKinley, Jr., our nation's 25th President, spent his formative years from age 9 to 24 in Poland not Niles. McKinley was born January 29th, 1843 in Niles, the seventh of nine children. In 1852, the family moved to Poland so the McKinley children could have the advantage of Poland's fine schools. McKinley's father operated and owned businesses using the iron furnaces still operating in Niles. He continued living in Niles, visiting his family in Poland on weekends. The early 1803 Poland "Hopewell" furnace had ceased operations long before.

The McKinley's first rented a house on the east side of Main Street. This house later became part of the Johnston Hardware Store building. The new office building located on this site being 101 S. Main Street was designed to show the outline of the original McKinley house at the south end of the building. In 1854 the McKinley's purchased a fine family home at 210 S. Main Street which remained the family's home until around 1875. Its site is now a parking lot for the Home Savings and Loan/College St. Cafe building.

McKinley for a couple years attended the Poland Public Schools (in the Union Elementary School Building on Riverside) but in 1854 when Lee's Poland Academy began accepting boys he enrolled there. In 1859 at age 16 McKinley graduated from the academy. When McKinley first attended Lee's Academy it was located at 24 College St. (just behind the Wittenauer Pharmacy) in the beautiful white green, shuttered building. In McKinley's time, this building was directly on Main Street. In 1855, the academy moved down College Street into a large 80' x 60' three (3) story' structure' which, lasted until 1895. This building's remains became incorporated into the Poland Seminary High School building which presently serves as Poland's middle school. The boys' dormitory for the academy is now the Panelmatic Building adjacent to the library at 307 South Main Street. Lee's academy became the Poland Union Seminary in 1862.

In 1855, many outstanding lawyers lived and practiced in Poland. They convinced Mr. Lee to open a law school at the vacated 24 College Street building. The Poland law school operated from 1955 to 1860 with 10 to 12 students. Among them was Charles Glidden whose father moved from New England to teach at the law school. The law school needing more support moved to Cleveland.

McKinley was a diligent but not outstanding student at the Academy. He loved and showed a skill at oratory. McKinley organized and was the first President of the Academy' s "Everett Literary and Debating Society" named after America's then foremost orator Edward Everett. In 1865, Everett spoke brilliantly for over 2 hours at the commemoration of the Gettysburg battlefield only to be totally upstaged by Lincoln's two and a half minute "Gettysburg address"

Upon graduation, McKinley attended Allegheny, College, in Meadville, PA but had to leave after a few months because of ill health. He returned to Poland and for a year and a half taught in a Poland Township one (1) room school house similar to the restored school house located on Rte. 224 at Struthers Road just east o{ Poland. McKinley walked the two and a half miles to and from school each day. He also worked as Poland's assistant postmaster in the post office (Feast House Antiques) at 221 S. Main Street across the street from his home.

McKinley's hopes of returning to college were broken by the outbreak of the Civil War in 1861. He and many Poland youths responded to an enlistment rally at the Old Stone Tavern at which by then Atty. Charles Glidden gave a rousing speech. Although the Poland boys thought they were enlisting for three months, when they got to Fort Chase in Columbus they found out that the three month enlistments were closed and only three year enlistments were open. Every one of Poland's original enlistees signed on for three (3) years. The Poland boys became Company E of the Ohio Twenty-third Regiment. The Twenty- third made up entirely of three (3) year enlistees became one of the strongest regiments in the Ohio Army being blessed by the leadership of the following officers: Colonel William T. Rosecranz, a West Point graduate who later became one of the Union's leading generals, Lt. Col. Stanley Mathews an able lawyer who later became a senator and U.S. Supreme Court Justice and Major Rutherford B. Hayes, subsequently Governor of Ohio and President. Hayes liked McKinley and following McKinley's bravery at Antietam personally recormnended to Ohio's war governor David Tod of Youngstown that he be promoted to lieutenant. McKinley later served under Generals Cook and Sheridan who had President Lincoln promote McKinley to Major in 1865. Thereafter McKinley in his political campaigns and personal life was always referred to as "Major McKinley."

In 1887 the citizens of Poland erected a memorial, in the Poland Riverside Cemetery to Poland's Civil War dead. McKinley gave the dedication address and must have been deeply moved to read the 39 names of his boyhood comrades who died at such now famous places as Gettysburg, Antietam, Andersonville Prison, Chickamauga, Missionary Ridge, etc. At the dedication's reception given by the GAR Auxiliary at the Poland skating rink, McKinley was served coffee in a china cup while everyone else drank from civil war tin cups. McKinley said to the lady in charge "take this cup back to the kitchen and bring my coffee in a tin cup and please never make a mistake like that again."

A significant American political parallel is that Grant, Garfield, Hayes and McKinley, four Ohioans associated with the Civil War, became Presidents just as previously four Virginians, Washington, Jefferson, Madison and Monroe, Revolutionary War had become Presidents.

Following the Civil War, at age 22, McKinley returned to Poland and became a law clerk under Atty. Glidden for one and a half years. Glidden was a good trial lawyer and speaker. McKinley adopted his dress and speaking manner even dropping the "R'S" as was natural for Glidden, a native New Englander. Then McKinley attended Albany Law School in New York. His roommate was George F. Arrel of Poland. The Arrel family were originally Poland settlers establishing the farm on Arrel Road east of Poland as early as 1797. The Walter Arrel home is now The Inn at the Green Bed and Breakfast at 500 S. Main Street. After almost a year of study, McKinley was admitted to the bar in 1867. His sister Anna persuaded him to come live with her and start his law practice in Canton which thereafter was McKinley's home.

George Arrel became a prominent Youngstown lawyer and from 1871 to 1878 the solicitor (now law director) of Youngstown. In 1880, Arrel became the first area resident to become Judge of the Mahoning County' Common Pleas Court relocated from Canfield to Youngstown in 1876. In 1870, Judge Arrel had married Grace Tod, daughter of Governor David Tod. Arrel was succeeded as Common Pleas Judge by none other than Poland's Attorney Charles Glidden! !! (A portrait of Judge Glidden presencly hangs in the Mahoning County Courthouse rotunda immediately to the left of the Treasurer's Office door.)

Even after moving to Canton, McKinley's Poland contacts remained strong. From 1876 to 1890 he was congressman for the "Mahoning" district which included Poland and visited Poland on many occasions.

In 1893 when McKinley was running for a second term as Ohio's Governor, and already was highly touted for the 1896 Republican 'presidential nomination, the bizarre McKinley-Walker financial crisis occurred. Since their boyhood days in Poland, no person was a more ardent supporter of McKinley than Robert L. Walker who built the large Victorian house located at Riverside and Main. Walker financed McKinley's early political campaigns. Walker was a successful land owner managing farmland with coal mines. Walker was also Poland's banker being the founder and President of the Farmer's Deposit and Savings Bank located at 412 S. Main Street just behind his residence.

In February 1893, a Tin Plate Company which Walker, was associated with filed an assignment in bankruptcy. McKinley, who had endorsed notes of this company, interrupted a speaking trip to Buffalo and returned to Poland to confer with Walker. Following, the conference, McKinley issued the following statement to the press from the porch of the Walker home "I was not interested with Mr. Walker to the extent of a dollar in any of his enterprises and only endorsed as a friend, believing that he was wealthy and I would not be called upon to pay." McKinley further stated that to his knowledge he had endorsed notes for no more than $20,000.00. When the amount of McKinley's endorsements were later disclosed as $130,000.00 (millions today) a sum far in excess of McKinley' ability to repay, McKinley explained that he had endorsed subsequent notes on Walker's representation that they were only renewals. The renewals had turned out to be open-ended endorsements. Walker never openly denied McKinley's statements.

McKinley quickly announced that he would assume responsibility for every dollar of the endorsed notes and if necessary retire from public life and resume his law practice to raise the money. McKinley turned over all his assets of approximately $20,000.00 and his wife although not legally responsible turned over all her assets of $70,000.00 to trustees to 'handle the repayment. The public responded warmly to the McKinleys' forthright actions. McKinley became a hero to the public who sympathized with a man whose kindness had been betrayed. Behind the scenes, Mark Hanna and McKinley's friends formed a fund into which over 5,000 contributors both Republican and Democrat donated over $130,000.00 to pay the notes. McKinley's luck had held and McKinley with the added popularity gained from the Walker affair won a second term as Ohio's Governor with an 80,000 vote plurality. This resounding victory helped propel McKinley to the 1896 Republican presidential nomination and subsequently the presidency. Walker meanwhile suffered the loss of both his financial wealth and reputation. His home was also foreclosed.

Ida Tarbell the great muckraker-journalist, whose history of the Standard Oil Company lead to the enactment of the Sherman Anti-Trust Act and the breakup of Standard Oil, taught school at the Poland Seminary from 1881 to 1882. While in Poland, she lived with the Walker's at their Riverside and Main Street home and formed a life long friendship with Robert Walker and his daughter, Clara. In her 1939 autobiography, Tarbell tells Walker's side of the affair which Tarbell had promised Walker she would not during his lifetime reveal. Walker's account contains pertinent facts, missing from MCKinley's official story. Walker stated McKinley encouraged Walker to enter into the tin plate business with McKinley's sister Sarah's husband Andrew J. Duncan. The Duncan's resided at the large yellow house at 303 S. Main Street (Stage Coach Antiques) directly across from the Poland Village Hall. For over thirty years Sarah Mckinley Duncan taught at the Poland Seminary. McKinley was sure he could add tin plate to his tariff bills and the company would succeed. As Duncan had no money, McKinley gave Walker a sheaf of notes endorsed by him to supply Duncan's investment. Walker could not refuse the Major and formed the company. He had already backed McKinley's brother, Abner, in a failed business venture. Clara was the bookkeeper for the company and confirmed to Tarbell that MCKinley was advised of each endorsed note that was advanced. His brother-in-law Andrew Duncan ran the company and intimately knew of its financial affairs and thus the amount of the advancements. When the crash came, to explain how McKinley became involved beyond his means, McKinley'had to be the "victim of a man named Walker" as Mark Hanna's biographer Herbert Croley stated. Walker apparently accepted the stigma of fraud so that his Poland friend 'McKinley' could attain our nation's highest political office.

Joseph C. Butler, Jr. the founder of the Butler Institute of American Art, in Youngstown was a life long friend of McKinley and for his 1915 biography of McKinley interviewed Poland's Judge Arrel about his recollections of McKinley. Butler said the Judge's face beamed as he stated "Those days are a lovely memory. McKinley was a delightful companion. He was jolly, always good natured and looked at the bright side of everything. He was a sociable fellow, liked the theater and was fond of good company. . . . He was thoroughly genuine, chaste in every way and despised vulgarity. . . It was his very great industry rather than genius that paved the way for his success."

McKinley was very religious having pledged to the Poland Methodist Church at the early age of 10. On September 6, 1901, McKinley was shot. Following medical treatment which in our more litigious age would have in all likelihood been declared malpractice he died on September 14, 1901. His dying words were 'Good bye all, good bye, it is God's way. His will be done not ours." When Vice-President Theodore Roosevelt succeeded McKinley as President, America's 19th century symbolically ended and its 20th century began. Fortunately, many of Poland's century buildings and structures so familiar to McKinley and symbolic of his life and time remain.

© Steve Meloy, 1997