Dixon, Illinois — This 2-story, Queen Anne style house at 816 S. Hennepin Avenue was the boyhood home of President Ronald Reagan. Reagan’s parents, Jack and Nelle, moved to Dixon in 1920 when Ronald was 9 years old. The home has been restored to its 1920 condition and decorated with furniture typical of the period.
Reagan told a story about his father’s drinking problem in his 1965 autobiography Where’s the Rest of Me?:
“I was eleven years old the first time I came home to find my father flat on his back on the front porch and no one there to lend a hand but me. He was drunk, dead to the world. I stood over him for a minute or two. I wanted to let myself in the house and go to bed and pretend he wasn’t there. Oh, I wasn’t ignorant of his weakness. I don’t know at what age I knew what the occasional absences or loud voices in the night meant, but up till now my mother, Nelle, or my brother handled the situation and I was a child in bed with the privilege of pretending sleep.
But someplace along the line to each of us, I suppose, must come that first moment of accepting responsibility. If we don’t accept it (and some don’t), then we must grow older without quite growing up. I felt myself fill with grief for my father at the same time I was feeling sorry for myself. Seeing his arms spread out as if he were crucified–as indeed he was–his hair soaked with melting snow, snoring as he breathed, I could feel no resentment against him.
That was Nelle’s doing. With all the tragedy that was hers because of his occasional bouts with the dark demons in the bottle, she told Neil and myself over and over that alcoholism was a sickness–that we should love and help our father and never condemn him for something that was beyond his control.
I bent over him, smelling the sharp odor of whiskey from the speakeasy. I got a fistful of his overcoat. Opening the door, I managed to drag him inside and get him to bed. In a few days he was the bluff, hearty man I knew and loved and will always remember.
In his book Hedgehogs and Foxes: Character, Leadership, and Command in Organizations, author Abraham Zaleznik suggests that given the difficulty an 11-year-old boy would have dragging a passed-out grown man into the house and his bed all by himself, the story may have been one of Reagan’s famous embellishments — especially since an alternate version told to Michael Deaver had Reagan’s mother and brother both helping in the effort.
The Reagan family only lived in this house a little over 2 years, although they did continue to reside in Dixon, IL afterward.
Official website: Ronald Reagan Boyhood Home