A First Among Presidents


By TourismOhio

Posted On: Oct 3, 2022

There are many “firsts” associated with Rutherford B. Hayes, the nation’s nineteenth president whose single term lasted from 1877 to 1881. He was the first president to travel to the West Coast, the first to have a telephone and typewriter in the White House , and he was the first and only president whose disputed election was decided by a congressional commission. And it was Hayes who initiated the annual Easter Egg Roll on the White House lawn, a tradition that continues both in Washington and on the grounds of his home in northwest Ohio.

Those are just a few of the many facts you’ll learn when you tour Spiegel Grove, Hayes’ stately 31-room Victorian mansion in Fremont, which stands alongside a presidential library and museum giving even more insights into his presidency. You’ll learn of his efforts to introduce civil service reforms, of his sound monetary policies that helped turn the country’s economy around during his single term and of his attempts to reconcile the bitter divisions inside the country after the Civil War. His work extended beyond domestic affairs. In fact, in Paraguay, Hayes is revered as a national hero for settling a border dispute with Argentina. An entire department of the country is named for him!

But in addition to learning his life story, you’ll leave Spiegel Grove with a solid sense that Hayes was a good and decent man, and a devoted husband and father to his wife, Lucy, and his eight children. His was a life of service — as an officer in the Civil War, a representative to Congress and three-time governor of Ohio — all before it took the helm of the country in the White House. As he put it in his inaugural address: “He serves his party best who serves his country best.” With the bicentennial of Hayes’ birth in October 2022, it’s an especially apt time to learn about his many-faceted life.

family walking around Rutherford B. Hayes Presidential Library and Museums at Spiegel Grove in Fremont Ohio

A gracious Brick Home Among the Trees

Guided tours of the Spiegel Grove mansion are especially popular. The four-story brick structure is impressive even from the outside — Hayes was especially fond of the 80-foot verandah, once stating that his idea of ​​a perfect home was “a verandah with a house attached.” Step over the threshold into the front hallway, and the “Wow” factors continue to multiply. Ahead of you will be a grand four-story butternut and walnut staircase. To your right is a huge parlor, 36 feet long and 24 feet wide, where Hayes entertained family, friends and government officials. The dining room, with Lucy Hayes’ unusual Haviland china bearing the painted images of American wildlife, rivals the formal White House dining room in its grandeur.

In many rooms, nearly all the furniture is original. Some unusual pieces will catch your eye, like a unique chair made of elk horns, a dresser with a secret drawer and a mirror that George Washington may have once stood before. Little gems scattered through the rooms include the one-page Fremont phone directory where the former governor and president had himself listed as “General” Hayes. An upstairs hallway houses what Hayes called his “Smithsonian,” a collection of treasures he gathered in his travels, including Native American pottery and beadwork.

mom and son standing in personal library of rutherford b hayes at Rutherford B. Hayes Home part of Rutherford B. Hayes Presidential Library and Museums at Spiegel Grove in Fremont Ohio

For historian Dustin McLochlin, the most compelling object in the house is the narrow bed in the master bedroom where both Hayes and his wife might have slept sitting up.. “It’s where both of them died,” he says. “I also especially love walking into Hayes’ personal library. It’s a beautiful room with a skylight, and it’s easy to feel close to him there. At the end of his life, that’s where he spent the majority of his time.”

Throughout the rooms and hallways, oil portraits abound of public figures like Ulysses S. Grant and Abraham Lincoln (whom Hayes revered), but there’s also a plethora of paintings of the Hayes family – not just the president and his immediate family, but also all their descendants who continued residing in the house until 1965. Clearly, this spacious home is one they treasured as a family gathering place, and now due to the descendants’ generosity, a treasure to all who visit.

four people standing around bust of rutherford b hayes at Rutherford B. Hayes Presidential Library and Museums at Spiegel Grove in Fremont Ohio

An Edifice for the Ages

President Hayes’ son, Webb, led the efforts to construct a building next door to the Spiegel Grove mansion to house his father’s presidential papers and books. The building, which opened in 1916, was the first presidential library. Today, the massive building not only contains Hayes’ diaries, correspondence and archival material of his military career, but also holds collections on genealogy and local history. You’ll even find Mrs. Hayes’ correspondence as well as many of her favorite recipes, like those for Green Corn Fritters and Scalloped Oysters. None of the material circulates outside the building, but you can peruse it at your leisure in the reading room.

Elsewhere in the building, a comprehensive museum explores Hayes’ life and presidency. Especially compelling are actual artifacts, like the president’s Harvard diploma written in Latin, his dress sword and saber and even the large carriage he used during his White House years in which he transported Presidents Grant, Garfield, Cleveland and McKinley as well as Generals Sherman and sheridan.

A diorama depicting Hayes’ service in the Civil War with Hayes’ actual uniform makes a chilling reminder of the dangers Hayes faced while fighting with the 23rd Ohio Volunteer Infantry. “Take a close look and you’ll see a rip in the left sleeve,” says historian Dustin McLochlin. “That’s where a Confederate bullet entered his arm just above the elbow during the Battle of South Mountain in 1862.” Even with severe bleeding and a shattered arm, he continued to lead his troops. That was the most serious of the four wounds he received in battle, and the one that nearly cost him his life.

group of people looking at museum exhibit display inside Rutherford B. Hayes Presidential Library and Museums in Fremont Ohio

Other popular exhibits include the Weapons Vault with a collection of swords and rifles and even small cannons collected by Webb Hayes. The Hayes Family Gallery contains memorabilia like the president’s daughter Fanny’s dollhouses and a wall-size family tree. In an adjacent President’s Gallery, have a photo taken of yourself sitting at an exact replica of the “Resolute Desk” given to Hayes by Queen Victoria and still in use in the Oval Office today. In the same room, you’ll find other presidential memorabilia like Lincoln’s slippers and the gloves he wore the night of his assassination.

Elsewhere, extensive displays detail the many issues facing the nation during Hayes’ presidency. Read carefully to uncover “fun facts” like how writer Mark Twain was turned away from a White House meeting by a clerk who thought Twain was a crank!

mom and daughter looking at flowers and plants at Spiegel Grove estate in fremont ohio

A Wooded Wonderland

Save time to wander the 25 acres of the Spiegel Grove estate, where pathways wind their way through wooded areas featuring nearly 100 species of trees, including native varieties like oaks, maples and beeches, but also unusual ones like Dawn Redwoods and Japanese Ginkgoes. According to John C. Havens, a Hayes Presidential Library & Museums board member and a volunteer who’s tended to the estate’s trees, many of them have interesting provenances, like a tulip poplar descended from one at George Washington’s Mount Vernon, and a “Napoleon willow ,” grown from cuttings of a tree that once overlooked the grave of the French emperor.

In the spring, wildflowers and dogwoods are in bloom at Spiegel Grove, while in the summer the roses in Lucy Hayes’ garden are interspersed with colorful annual flowers. Not surprisingly, fall foliage makes an autumn visit spectacular, but even in winter, plentiful evergreens like Norway spruce and hemlocks add color to the snowy landscape.

people reading inscriptions from monuments and tombstones at mirror grove in fremont ohio

Both President Hayes and his wife are buried on the grounds of Spiegel Grove, their granite tombstones lying alongside the resting place of their son, Webb, and his wife, Mary. Children have fun searching for yet another burial site — that of “Old Whitey,” a fearless horse that gave heroic service in 19 Civil War battles.

As you enter or leave the grounds, take note of the beautiful iron gates at each entrance. They once guarded the entries to the White House grounds when Hayes was president.

family in carriage ride with snow on ground at mirror grove in fremont ohio

A Lively Calendar of Events

Special events throughout the year make Spiegel Grove worthy of a visit no matter the season. In the spring, there’s the annual Easter Egg Roll, continuing the tradition Hayes initiated at the White House. In the summer, twice monthly verandah concerts and ice cream socials offer outdoor enjoyment. The concert on the 4th of July is especially festive — members of the Toledo Concert Band, featuring members of the Toledo Symphony Orchestra, perform alongside Civil War re-enactors as cannons fire in sync with Tchaikovsky’s “1812 Overture.”

During the Christmas season, visitors will enjoy horse-drawn sleigh and trolley rides as well as a model train display.

In honor of Hayes’ 200th birthday, a special wreath-laying ceremony will take place at Hayes’ burial site on Oct. 2, 2022, followed by a year-long celebration with a series of events commemorating Hayes’ life and accomplishments.

Check rbhayes.org for details.

Keep Exploring

Continue your travels along Ohio’s Presidential Trail by making stops at these other sites associated with the state’s eight presidents.

Warren G. Harding Presidential Sites

Tour the restored home of Warren G. Harding in Marion, best known as the site of his 1920 “Front Porch Campaign.” A newly constructed Harding Presidential Library and Museum opened in 2021.

US Grant Boyhood Home & Schoolhouse

The bicentennial of Ulysses S. Grant’s birth also takes place in 2022, making it a perfect time to tour his childhood home and school in Georgetown.

William Henry Harrison Tomb State Memorial

Take in a sweeping panorama of the Ohio River Valley at the tomb of the ninth president in North Bend, buried here in 1841 after serving a single month as president.

For more historic attractions and Ohio Presidential history, check out #OhioFindItHere at Ohio.org.

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