(Nov. 17, 1856-Mar. 6, 1929). Born in Amyvale, County Monaghan, Ireland, Thomas Taggart came to the United States in 1861 with his family, settling in Xenia, Ohio, where the senior Taggart was a railroad station agent. He went to work at age 15 as a clerk for the N. and G. Ohmer Company in their railroad restaurant and hotel.

Thomas Taggart Memorial in Riverside Park, 1930
Credit: Bass Photo Co Collection, Indiana Historical Society

Taggart never completed high school and was transferred to the depot restaurant in Garrett, Indiana, in 1875 and then to the company’s restaurant at Union Station in Indianapolis in 1877. In 1887, Taggart became the sole proprietor of the depot restaurant in the new Union Station. He later acquired control of the Grand Hotel and the Denison Hotel.

The winning personality that led to his success in business also made him a natural for politics. In 1886, he was elected auditor of a heavily Republican Marion County. He won reelection in 1890. While auditor, Taggart served successively as city, county, and state Democratic Party chairman. As county chairman in 1888, he carried Marion County for Grover Cleveland over native son Benjamin Harrison, the first time the county had voted Democratic in a presidential election.

As state chairman in 1892, Taggart carried Indiana for Cleveland in Harrison’s reelection bid. Knowing him to be a master political organizer, Indianapolis Democrats nominated Taggart for mayor in 1895. He won three successive contests, defeating Republicans Preston C. Trusler in 1895, William M. Harding in 1897, and Charles A. Bookwalter in 1899.

Taggart’s three city administrations were marked by public improvements and fiscal efficiency. His major achievement was the purchase of over 900 acres along the White River to form the nucleus of an extensive public Parks system, making Taggart a leader in the movement to conserve urban natural resources for public use.

When he organized a syndicate that purchased the French Lick Springs Hotel in Orange County, Indiana, in 1901, Taggart embarked upon a business venture in 1901 that would shape the rest of his life. The hotel soon acquired a reputation as one of the world’s most elegant spas, as well as contributing to the French Lick area’s national reputation for illegal gambling activity.

Taggart sat on the Democratic National Committee for 16 years, 1900-1916, serving a term as chairman from 1904-1908. Thus, he managed the presidential campaign of Judge Alton B. Parker of New York in 1904. Although Parker lost to incumbent Theodore Roosevelt, the campaign brought Taggart added national prominence.

Taggart was, in essence, the Democratic boss of Indiana during the first quarter of the 20th century and exerted power and influence in the national party because of Indiana’s political balance and electoral importance. He was instrumental in nominating john worth kern sr. for vice president in 1908, as well as Woodrow Wilson for president and Thomas R. Marshall for vice president in 1912.

He had virtually secured the presidential nomination for Senator Samuel Ralston in 1924 when Ralston withdrew because of poor health. When Senator Benjamin Franklin Shively died in 1916, then Governor Ralston, a Taggart political ally, appointed Taggart to fill the vacancy.

During his brief tenure in the U.S. Senate, Taggart advocated for fiscal efficiency and fought against federal waste. His opponent in the special election of 1916, James Watson of Rushville, rode the Republican sweep of Indiana to victory. Democrats persuaded a reluctant Taggart to again seek the Senate seat against Watson in 1920, but Watson won in the Harding victory.

Taggart resided in Indianapolis, French Lick, and Hyannis Port, Massachusetts. He was chairman of the board of directors of Fletcher American National Bank (1925-1929); a director of the Indianapolis Light, Heat and Power Company; treasurer of the Indiana Lincoln Union; and a member of the George Rogers Clark Memorial Commission.

The Thomas A. Taggart Memorial in Riverside Park is named in his honor.

Revised March 2021
 

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