Travel Treasures Close to Home: Ohio Presidents Part I

by Tom Reed
WMV Web News Cleveland
Story filed June 26, 2007

We may travel hundreds or even thousands of miles to visit a tourist destination, but we sometimes overlook the attractions in our own backyard. These may be in Greater Cleveland, elsewhere in Ohio, or in neighboring states. Here is the first in a series on Ohio Presidential sites by freelance travel writer Tom Reed.

Ohio is second only to Virginia as the birthplace of presidents, and several presidential sites in our state can truly be considered “travel treasures close to home.” Our series will take you to several of these, beginning with James A. Garfield.

Whether you’ve visited it or not, you’ve undoubtedly seen pictures of the ornate Garfield Monument in Cleveland’s Lake View Cemetery. The exterior of the structure is somewhat forbidding, but inside its circular walls the tone is warmer, with an imposing statue of Garfield, surrounded by colorful stained glass windows. On the lower level are the caskets of Garfield and his wife Lucretia. While you’re at the cemetery, take time to find the graves of other notables, including John D. Rockefeller and Eliot Ness.

You can learn much more about our nation’s 20th president by heading east to Mentor, and visiting Lawnfield, the name given to his home by reporters covering his nomination and election in 1880. Garfield, then a U.S. Congressman, bought the home in 1876, and in the next four years transformed the nine-room farmhouse into a 20-room mansion. This is where he conducted his famous “front porch” campaign. Behind the structure a small building, originally a library, became his campaign headquarters. He could send and receive messages on what was then a high-tech communications device, the telegraph.

Garfield has been called the accidental president. He went to the Republican National Convention to nominate another man, but when the delegates became hopelessly deadlocked, they turned to him as a compromise candidate. His presidency was cut short by an assassin’s bullet, only four months after his inauguration. You may remember from history that Garfield was shot by a disgruntled office seeker named Charles Guiteau. The guide on the house tour fills in some other details about the assassin, an incompetent “loser”, so deranged that he actually believed Garfield’s successor would appoint him to an ambassadorship. The guides are knowledgeable, and can answer almost any question you can throw at them. But for a fuller perspective take time to watch the video in the visitors’ center before you take the tour.

After Garfield’s death, Lucretia added a memorial wing, including a library to house the president’s books and papers. The house remained in the family until 1936 when it was donated to the Western Reserve Historical Society, which administers it jointly with the National Park Service.

Lawnfield, on U.S. 20 in Mentor is open daily, except for major holidays, from May through October (10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday-Saturday, noon to 5 p.m. Sunday. In the winter months, it’s open only on weekends. For more information, check the web site www.nps.gov/jaga.


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Copyright 2006 Tom Reed