Travel Treasures Close to Home: Ohio Presidents Part IV

by Tom Reed
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Story filed August 28, 2008

In these times of high gas prices, many of us are thinking about attractions in our own backyard. These may be in Greater Cleveland, elsewhere in Ohio, or in neighboring states. Here is the fourth in a series on Ohio Presidential sites by freelance travel writer Tom Reed.

If you thought the Bush-Gore election in 2000 was controversial, you should have been around in 1876. That’s when Rutherford B. Hayes of Ohio was elected president only after a special commission was appointed to settle the dispute over 20 electoral votes in four states, including Florida. Democrat Samuel Tilden actually won the popular vote, and came out ahead in the initial electoral vote count, but because of allegations of fraud in those states, the commission awarded the election to Hayes, by one electoral vote. Because the scheduled Inauguration Day fell on a Sunday, Hayes was sworn in privately in an unprecedented ceremony at the White House on the preceding Saturday to prevent any attempt to circumvent the decision before the public swearing-in on Monday. These are some of the things you’ll learn in a visit to the Rutherford B. Hayes Presidential Center in Fremont, Ohio.

The center is about an hour-and-a-half west of Cleveland on the Hayes wooded estate of Spiegel Grove, and includes the family’s 31-room mansion, a museum, and a research library. The home was built during the Civil War era by Hayes’ uncle and guardian, Sardis Birchard. Hayes moved his family into the house in 1873, before leaving to serve as Governor of Ohio and then as President. He built an extensive addition in 1880 as he was completing his presidency, and another addition in 1889. Sadly, his beloved wife Lucy died before the latter was completed. An extensive restoration is underway to return the home to the way it looked when Hayes lived there. You’ll see evidence of the restoration effort when you take a guided tour of the home.

Hayes Home in Fremont, Ohio

To most people today, Hayes remains one of those obscure late 19th century presidents. If we think of him at all, we visualize a bearded, rather stern-looking figure, who served sometime between Lincoln and Teddy Roosevelt. But there’s much more to him than that, as you’ll discover when you visit the museum. Hayes served in the Civil War, rose to the rank of major general, and was wounded five times. He served two terms in Congress and three terms as Ohio Governor before being elected President. As President, he promoted civil service reform, and acted to heal the wounds of the Civil War. He can claim several “firsts”, including first president to have a telephone and typewriter in the White House, and the first to have a library and museum created to house his presidential papers.

A short walk from the mansion takes you to the gravesites of President and Mrs. Hayes. Just outside the fenced-in memorial is another grave – that of the general’s Civil War horse, with a stone marker reading “Old Whitey – A Hero of Nineteen Battles”.

The Hayes Presidential Center is open seven days a week except for four major holidays. It also hosts a number of special events throughout the year, including a Civil War Encampment and Reenactment on October 4 & 5, 2008.

For more information, including hours and directions on how to get there, visit the website

Previous stories in this series on Ohio presidential sites have dealt with Presidents James Garfield and William McKinley. Go to Reed’s Read index to access them.

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Copyright 2008 Tom Reed