The Rutherford B. Hayes Museum and Presidential library is located in Fremont, Ohio. The museum honoring the 19th President of the United States has the distinction of being the first Presidential library created. It opened in May of 1916 by President Hayes’ son, Colonel Webb C. Hayes. The twenty-five-acre site includes the Library, Museum, Hayes home and gravesite.
Hayes’ father died before he was born in Delaware, Ohio, and his mother’s brother, Sardis Birchard, filled that paternal role for Hayes. Uncle Sardis was an accomplished banker and philanthropist in Fremont. Sardis began construction of the Hayes home before the beginning of the Civil War on the original one hundred and sixty-acre working farm site. The home was completed about five years later. The residence has seen two additions during its lifetime. Hayes referred to Spiegel Grove as his ‘happy place.”
Members of the Hayes family resided in the home until 1965 and have maintained most of the original furniture, so there are only a few things that are not theirs. Hayes was a bit of a hoarder, and he saved everything.
We began the tour of Spiegel Grove on the large porch of the thirty-one room residence, where Hayes was known to take some exercise because it ran the length of the house. Inside we were awed the magnificent and ornate crafted woodwork throughout the home. The intricate wallpaper displayed in the home is mostly a replica and based on the original designs in the house.
The Red Parlor was the receiving room for visitors. Its name was taken from the Red Room in the White House, where Hayes was sworn in as President on Sunday, March 4, 1877. He was the first President to take the oath of office inside the White House. He gave his inaugural address the next day.
Hayes’ election as President was the most contested in the nation’s history. It was only twelve years since the Civil War, and most voted “how you shot” or for which party you supported during the war. He did not win the popular vote against his Democrat opponent, Sam Tilden, but ultimately won the election by one vote in the Electoral College. The final decision was made only a short time before the inauguration day in 1877.
Entering the master bedroom, we learned that Lucy Hayes was a popular first lady. During the Civil War, she would visit Rutherford “Ruddy” during the war and cared for wounded soldiers and mended their uniforms with the aid of her sewing machine. The soldiers referred to her as “Mother Lucy” because many of the soldiers were so young. Lucy was also the first wife of a president to be a college graduate and the first presidential wife to be referred to as the “First Lady.”
Hayes and Lucy met when she was fourteen years old, and he was twenty-three. When they did marry in 1852, there as a nine-year age difference between them.
The Hayes’ had eight children; three died at a young age, and two sons, Joe and George, are remembered in a portrait that hangs in the enormous living room. The two youngest children, Scott and Fanny, were raised in the White House.
“Ruddy” and Lucy had a good marriage of thirty-six years when Lucy died suddenly at 57 after suffering a stroke. Hayes died at 71 in 1893 of a heart ailment in the same bed as Lucy.
President Hayes preferred to be addressed as ‘General Hayes’ because he believed that his service in the Civil War was his biggest accomplishment even superior to that of being President. Hayes was a big fan of President Lincoln, and there are images of him in several locations in the home including his study. Hayes was a big reader, and his study boasted some ten thousand books. It was where he made diary entries that he had kept since his college days at Harvard.
Although he had no military training, Hayes’ entered the Union Army as a major in the 23rd Ohio Volunteer Infantry. He would be wounded five times in four battles during the war. Another future president was also a member of the 23rd Infantry; William McKinley served as an enlisted man during the same time as Hayes. It was the future president, William McKinley, who provided Hayes with a book on infantry tactics. They would become good friends and allies. His military coat of arms hangs in the master bedroom.
He was elected to Congress in 1865 while still serving in the Army. He went on to serve two terms as Governor of Ohio before his election as President.
The 1880 addition to the home is an enormous living room. Here the ceiling was raised to accommodate Rutherford and Lucy’s portraits that hung in the White House.
They spent their 25th wedding anniversary in the White House. In Hayes’ office just off the living room, we found a picture of President Garfield’s inauguration picture that Rutherford had noted all the participants. He was the first president to install a telephone and typewriter in the White House. He also had the first White House Easter egg roll, moving the festivities moved from the Capitol grounds.
The 1889 addition encompasses the dining room and kitchen area. The massive dining room table is set with cobalt glass and family china. Unfortunately, Lucy did not live to see the 1889 addition completed.
Upstairs we entered the inner sanctum of the home. All the bedrooms have furniture original to the home. One central display area is called the Little Smithsonian, and is where Hayes kept his collections. He was a keen collector and hoarder. If he hadn’t been a Brigadier General, he would have been a museum curator. There are paintings of many of the Hayes family throughout the upstairs of the home.
Hayes’ second child, Webb C. Hayes’ followed in his father’s footsteps and served in the military. He looked a lot like Teddy Roosevelt. He was a Medal of Honor holder from the Spanish American War and served during the Boxer Rebellion in China. He was also known to be a bit eccentric. His wife Mary was from a prominent family and worked as a nurse in World War II. They did not have any children and were responsible for building the Presidential library. The eldest son, Birchard, was a successful lawyer in Toledo. Daughter Fanny’s room is replete with some of the furniture that was made for her while she lived in the White House. Hayes didn’t like the painting of Fanny in the room he said, ‘It didn’t do her justice.”
We were lucky enough to venture up to the widow’s walk at the top of the home. From there, you can see the surrounding estate grounds. Please take note; this was a special treat and is not included on the regular tour of the home.
A short distance from the house is the tomb where both Rutherford and Lucy are interred, along with his son, Webb, and wife, Mary. During our brief walk, I noticed that many of the trees around the property had little signs on them. Hayes named trees for many of the famous people that visited him.
Presidential Library and Museum
Hayes’ son Webb opened the Hayes Presidential Library and Museum in 1916. It celebrated its centennial in 2016. The museum contains two sections; the upper floors concentrate on Hayes’ presidency and the lower floors on his early days and Civil War service.
Hayes’ most famous quote is “He serves his party best who serves his county best.” You will see Hayes’ philosophy throughout the museum.
While President Hayes had no catastrophic events to manage while in office, he did serve at the end of Reconstruction and over the reunification of North and South. He returned the U.S. to the gold standard, fought to reform civil service and advocated for education. He strongly believed that education was the key to everything.
Hayes was the first sitting President to travel to West Coast and also traveled down South. Unlike today, the president was responsible for paying for all his travel
An interesting tidbit about Hayes, he is a national hero in Paraguay. He helped settle a land dispute the caused a long civil war with Argentina in 1878. Today, he is remembered with great fondness by the people of Paraguay.
On display was the carriage Hayes used in DC. Made by the Rolls Royce, the carriage was also used by President Garfield.
The museum building has seen two addition as it was already too small when it opened. In the original part of the building, you will find a fine bust of Hayes at its center. There are two galleries on either side: the first houses a replica of the Resolute desk, which was a gift from Queen Victoria. Hayes was the first President to use the desk. He was a collector of presidential artifacts and letters from all the Presidents. You will also find pieces of White House china, but only ones that have been slightly damaged are allowed outside the White House collection.
The gallery across the hall is home to the immense Hayes family tree and two dollhouses that belonged to the Hayes children. Today, there are Hayes descendants still working in government service.
The downstairs galleries are dedicated to Hayes’ early years before his presidency. You will see Hayes’ Congressional desk and many artifacts from his days in the Army and his early courtship with Lucy. Lucy’s wedding dress was of a simple design.
Hayes does have one thing in common with one 20th Century president. Both Hayes and Obama attended Harvard law school.
The Hayes Presidential Museum and Library set a high bar for presidential libraries. There is much to learn here about this 19th-century president who had a bit of a rocky start to his single presidential term.
Hayes’ legacy lives on today through his strong family history and their dedication to public service. Be sure to allow yourself ample time for a visit. There is a lot to see.