Ohio is a great place to visit presidential sites, since 8 presidents have come from here. Still none are from Columbus and I didn’t really know where those locations were until I saw a statue for Rutherford B. Hayes in Delaware, Ohio. That made me curious and I learned his home and monument were in Fremont, Ohio about 1-1/2 hours north of where we were staying. Lee decided to check it out and I am so glad we did. Even though he was president for only one term (by choice) a lot happened in that time period. But let me get us to Spiegel Grove first.
This land is actually a state park because the family gave up everything but the house to the state. Eventually (in the 1960’s) the house was donated as well and the entire area including the graveyard is open to the public. The grounds and library (made up of 12,000 books that President Hayes owned) are self tour (at least an hour), and the house itself requires a timeslot (our tour lasted 1 hour and 15 minutes. Because our slot was at 2pm we started with the library and grounds first and it was fascinating.
When we visit the gravesites of Presidents I like to take a moment and thank them for their service. Regardless of your politics, the job is extremely difficult and I think it’s fair to say most paid a high price for the privilege. In this case I knew next to nothing about President Hayes when I went to his site, but once we toured the museum I was incredibly impressed. According to what I learned he and his wife were committed to making the country a better place and most impressively he spent large chunks of his four years in office touring the country. This included trips to California, Oregon, and the Southwest which few presidents prior to him had visited. He felt (as George Washington did) it was important people got to see the president and he traveled extensively to try and make this possible.
I also learned that he initially did not win the electoral vote. Voter suppression in the south was common and the initial tallies were proven fraudulent. The congress had a panel to make the decision and it took a month of re-voting and legal maneuvering before he was named president. This election rivaled the more current day Bush v Gore election and was much more complicated because of the lack of phones. Telegraphs were invented but they were heavily controlled and part of the scandals were that a friend of Hayes stopped his opponents messages from reaching the Midwest. It was incredibly complicated my main sense as I read through it all was despite our thinking todays problems are new, most of the time I learn that the same or worse has happened in our history. That is why I think these presidential visits are important.
The museum also had a really good timeline showing when different groups of people got the right to vote. I had no idea Native Americans couldn’t vote until 1948.
My favorite section of the library though was about his travels. In those days presidents were allowed to keep their gifts and he received many as he traveled. He also was very strong in foreign policy working with Chinese government officials to continue allowing Chinese immigration and he is famous in Paraguay for brokering a deal that helped stop their country for being a war zone between Argentina and Brazil. He also appointed Frederick Douglass to a position making him the first African American to hold a senate confirmed position in government. I especially liked the notes from his journal around who he wanted for his cabinet. All new people, no one running for office, and no appointments for special interests. We could do well with this sort of decision making in todays world. All in all I found him super impressive.
The rotunda portion of the museum was very beautiful. It was all stone and marble and had a replica of the resolute desk on one side (which was presented to President Hayes) and some gorgeous dollhouses on the other. It was cool because you could sit at the desk and one of the dollhouses was the most beautiful I have ever seen.
The basement of the museum had some other exhibits. There was an extensive weapons collection amassed by their son, and since he spent a significant amount of time in the Philippines I found that collection pretty cool. There was also more information about Lucy and I was pleased to learn she was the first First Lady to have a college degree. She also was a nurse and would visit Rutherford in some of his Civil War locations and was even shot at on one occasion. I find that learning about the first ladies is even more interesting to me than the presidents themselves and so far all of them have been women of purpose and power.
The only thing that was really unusual was in a corner of the basement there was a paranormal museum. The donors were anonymous (hmmm ) and a funeral home (double hmm). It was full of large posters of reputed paranormal creatures in the Ohio area. I had never heard of any of these and thought the whole thing was super weird. If the money helps maintain the rest of the museum I guess its ok though. I grew up in Ohio and had no idea we had such unusual wildlife here!
The museum takes about an hour and then we went on our tour of the house. It was a beautifully restored (to original) home with almost all of the furniture being original. Since it stayed in family hands until it was released to the state. The home was actually built by Rutherford’s uncle who was one of the richest men in Ohio at the time. Over the years it was added on several times by the family and the huge front porch was replaced once. Our tour guide was fantastic (one of the best we have had on the road) and shared some interesting family stories as we walked through the first and second floors. Our group had a couple of younger kids and he did a great job of making sure the tour was interesting to both the kids and the adults.
The Master bedroom was particularly interesting because pictures of the two mother-in-laws were on each wall. It must have not dampened things though because they had six kids 🙂 There was also an advertisement with a baby on it which reminded Lucy of one of the children she lost. I loved that none of the family members threw that away after her death. She had a stroke in the chair next to it and died a few days later.
The best room though was President Hayes’ favorite…his bathroom. It was on the ground floor, had running water, and the bathtub was designed with a pull up wooden desk so he could read in it. He would spend hours in that room to avoid the hub bub of large family groups and it was his special place. Absolutely loved it!!
One last thing I found really interesting was Lucy’s white house china. It was very unusual having nature scenes and North American animals. Her thought process was visiting dignitaries would be exposed to US nature. It was highly controversial at the time and most people either love it or hate it. The Carter’s used it frequently but most folks are not big fans. At first glance I didn’t car for it but once I found out why she chose it I warmed up.
Lee and I both really loved the visit for a variety of reasons. The house was great, tour guide was awesome, and I learned so much about this president and his wife. Hopefully more that we visit in future will be of this caliber and so far this was one of my favorites.
Supporting our Blog
We very much appreciate your support of our blog.