In February, C-SPAN released its ranking of the nation’s presidents from first to worst as determined by more than 90 presidential historians. The results of the polling are not entirely surprising, as names such as George Washington, Thomas Jefferson and Abraham Lincoln top the list — as they would on any list ranking the nation’s leaders.
Buffalo’s Millard Fillmore didn’t fare nearly as well, ranking 37th among the 43 men who have served as president. Fillmore ranked slightly above the long-winded William Henry Harrison, whose brief presidency of only 31 days was cut short when he suffered pneumonia after delivering the longest inaugural address in history in a cold, beating rain.
Is it no wonder, then, that presidents such as George Washington and Thomas Jefferson have homes that are now living history museums, while Millard Fillmore’s home was razed for a hotel?
Millard Fillmore, as vice president, ascended to the presidency after Zachary Taylor unexpectedly died in 1850. Fillmore’s three years as president were largely forgettable, and he failed to win his party’s nomination in 1852. He returned to Buffalo and, while flirting with the presidency once again, poured himself into many charitable endeavors, including helping found the Buffalo Fine Arts Academy (which later became the Albright-Knox Art Gallery), Buffalo and Erie County Public Library, Buffalo General Hospital, Buffalo Museum of History, Buffalo Museum of Science, Buffalo Public Schools, and the local chapter of the SPCA. In addition, Fillmore served as the University of Buffalo’s very first chancellor.
From 1858 to 1874, Fillmore lived in a grand, palatial home fronting Niagara Square. Following his death, it later became a hotel popular with guests arriving for the Pan-American Exposition. That same year, an advertisement for the newly christened Castle Inn boasted it was “among the unique and special hostelries of the world.” It listed such stately amenities as large rooms, private baths, hot and cold running water, two dining rooms, and a buffet that was “magnificently fitted up and in charge of an experienced caterer.”
The hotel’s success, however, was short-lived, and it was razed for the opulent Statler Hotel in 1919.
The Millard Fillmore Mansion, much like the president who lived there, today isn’t widely known outside of Buffalo. And yet, in an ironic twist, it is William Henry Harrison, whom Fillmore bested in C-SPAN’s polling, whose presidency – all 31 days of it – that is now celebrated in his own home. Go figure.