Rutherford B. Hayes Presidential Library & Museums: Fremont, Ohio

Located in the incredibly pretty town of Fremont, Ohio (formerly known as lower Sandusky) is the Rutherford B. Hayes Presidential Library & Museum (19th president of the United States, 1877-1881). The election of Hayes is actually one of the low points of US history; it was arrived at via the Compromise of 1877, a completely UNDER THE TABLE deal where the southern states agreed to recognize Rutherford B. Hayes as President in exchange for an end to Reconstruction in the formerly confederate states rather than address what had happened in a pretty fucked up election (the outcome of which was statistically impossible). In other words, the Republican party to stay in power, rather than confront election tampering head-on, agreed to put an end to all attempts to use the force of law to give former slaves their civil rights as free men, a chicken shit move that took 100 years to rectify. That said, once in power Hayes did a reasonably good job while president (he tends to be ranked about well as Nixon, Ford or Carter), and as such this is a place worth visiting.

IMG_3288.jpgWhen I arrived in Fremont it turned out to be yet another one of those Ohio towns that in the 1800’s were the place to be, but that are now one of those unexpectedly pretty but economically struggling towns that make for great movie sets. The homes here were impressively gorgeous and/or huge and I had a feeling that it was one of those town where you could buy an amazing home dirt cheap. I saw more than a few ‘for sale’ signs all describing the property as a classic that just needed to be lovingly upgraded.

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The library and Museum are located sort of near the center of town, on a fairly large piece of green land known as Spiegel Grove.

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The Grove is a state park that houses not only the property the Hayes family, but was also (according to the gates) the entrance to the old Sandusky Scioto Trail (which went from Lake Erie to the Ohio River (connecting the St. Lawrence river and the Great Lakes with the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers) — which was used during the Harrison Trail War in 1812 as part of the battle of Tippecanoe (whose memorial in Indiana I also visited)

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The park itself is very pretty, and full of some very old growth trees, some of which were planted by important people, etc.

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On the grounds are two buildings of interest… The home (which you need to buy a ticket and join a set tour in order to see) and the Museum/Library — entrance to which is included in the ticket.

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firstly the Library. Personally I found its front stairs to be fascinating. They had recently been redone to convert them from traditional museum steps to handicapped accessible ones, using a design I’d not seen before…  (on the left or right edges they’re fairly normal steps) AND according to the staff member I spoke to they heat up in winter so that no snow or ice form on them.

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which contains the gift storeIMG_6239.JPGI was actually very impressed with the store because in addition to some of the more obligatory things (t-shirts, mugs, bumper stickers, etc) and the same fake ‘historical type’ stuff which you see for sold at almost all US historic sites, they had gone the extra mile to try to make sure they promoted locally made products.

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The Museum, like ALL of the presidential museums is WELL worth a visit. It’s expertly curated (wouldn’t be surprised if they borrowed someone from the Smithsonian to do it) and discusses not only his administration, but also the family. It starts with the obligatory introductory video:

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The displays on the main floor were about the presidency and started with a discussion of the controversial election, it began by focusing on how issues of suffrage (who did or did not have the right to vote and when) might have impacted the outcome of the election

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And then went into the specifics of what happened, how the south basically did everything it could to sway the outcome (more people voted then there were residents in towns and blacks were actively intimidated and threatened to keep them from voting, etc), all of which led to the final compromise, rather than running a second election.

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And then the presentation turned away from the election to what he was able to accomplish during his tenure.

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And then in addition to all of the “text-book” like displays, there were personal items given to or belonging to the family, scattered around the rooms. After this was a large atrium sort of room (I have a feeling it may have been the original entrance), called The President’s Gallery, that was REALLY beautiful

IMG_6244.JPGOn either side of the gallery were large rooms; one was dedicated to desks used by the president’s administrationIMG_6249

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The collection of signatures is impressive, it begins with our first president, George Washington…  travels through the various presidents beginning with purchased/collected letters … and in the modern period moves to presidents specifically writing to the president’s son, or the library itself…  and ends with Obama

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In the room on the other side of the atrium are items belonging to Hayes’ wife, children, grandchildren and GREAT.

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This is a heck of a doll house I want this doll house

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And then lining the walls were other personal items of the family members

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If you head downstairs, you find more stuff….IMG_3456.jpg

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When I leaned in to take the close up photo of the description of the desk I heard a warning message “You are to close to the exhibit please step back!” in an authoritative male voice…

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This is kind of a cool experiential exhibit, clearly designed for little kids; they’re allowed to stand on platform (it’s one of those weight machines) and experice what a 46 lb load (which is what ever civil war soldier carried) feels like on their back

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They had a temporary exhibit about medicine in that period (later I learned that the business of Fremont had been foundries, which did all sorts of cutlery and things like the surgical knives… hence the exhibit, well at least partially)

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That said… Apparently military service AND weapons collecting were both a big things in the Hayes family going forward based on these collections. One room is devoted to the weapons collected not just by the President, but also by his grandchildren

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If you never studied the war of 1812, it was sort of The American Revolutionary war part 2, begun in large part because the British weren’t respecting American sovereignty

A few of the grandsons went on the be an admirals or some such and were involved in the wars in the Philippines, The Boxer Rebellion in China, and in World War …

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In addition to showing the familie’s arms collection they had an area devoted to their tours of service and what they did

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This included how the female members (like President Hayse’s wife) served by supporting the troups

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One cool thing they did was to try and replicate things like the trenches of WWI, and the Submarines, to try to give you a sense of being in one.  After viewing the exhibit I said to them… that was so cool!!! But you need to dirty up the metal!!

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And then after completing the museume I visited the Hayes home. The tours of the family home happen every hour (rather than every half hour as described by the RoadTrippers web page).

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As I waited to go in I talked to some local women, one of whom was actually (through Rutherford B Hayes’s daughter) related to the family. She told me that the industries here were foundries, which did all sorts of cutlery and things like the surgical knives that were shown in the display in the museum (see above). The town of Fremont, being connected to Lake Erie through the Sandusky river was therefore at the time conveniently located for the transportation of goods, and were also on the railway lines when those came through. Rutherford B. Hayes, had apparently helped build this town — even before becoming President; and that it was really a major nothing when he came to settle here. He built the first church… for his wife (even though he didn’t attend), and he also built a prison because until then all of the prisoners were held in underground pits.

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You can tell by looking at the back of the house (see above) that it was one of those homes built in stages — hence the unwieldy angles of the thing. In fact according to the docent it was built in three stages…

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The lady wearing blue told us REPEATEDLY that she was related to the family through Rutherford’s Daughter. The woman in white, also had a personal connection… her grandfather had been a caretaker of the property and had actually died there.

The initial home (the door and to the left of the docent) was owned by Hayes’ uncle who was a “professional bachelor” (a term we now pretty much always know meant he was most likely gay) who was affluent, but had no wife or children. Hayes own father had died before he was born, so his mom went to live with her brother. Since Hayes would therefore inherit the house, the Uncle had asked him what ‘changes’ he’d like made to it, and he had said what he wanted most was a “porch with a house attached to it”, hence this great big gorgeous porch… which had at one time encircled the whole home. Later when Hayes went to D.C., while he was gone he added to it knowing that now it would need to host (and probably house for the term of their visits) all visitors, official and otherwise who might want to see him, at which point he added two major extension, the bit to the right of the docent (see above), as well as an extension at the back of the house for a formal dining room and a kitchen capable of supporting it.

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At that time, Rutherford B. Hayes, also ordered a new knocker for the home (with a presidential looking Bald Eagle on it) and sent it home to his wife and gave specific instructions of where it needed to be installed — exactly where and how high. The family, once Hayes became president got into the habit of saving EVERYTHING, so we know that it cost $1.95 in 1877 (about $46.83 in 2018 dollars).

No pics were allowed once in the house…. booooo!!!!! I was like, “oh no biggie, I’m sure I can find them on-line… but NO!!! When I started writing this and looked I found they’ve actually done a pretty good job of limiting access to the home. The only rooms shown in the videos were pretty much the ones they had made post cards of, that was it.

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I did however find these videos that DO show the inside:

This one, produced by a local TV station talks at length about the renovation of the first floor of the house to its condition when the former president lived here. This was necessary because his descendants had lived in the house until 1965, and had updated various things to keep with modern styles.

This next, much longer video is from C-Span June 1995 (BEFORE the renovations took place, so the rooms now look different), is much longer and includes a lot of the narrative I heard while visiting.

I can’t embed it but you can click on this link:  https://www.c-span.org/video/?65969-1/rutherford-b-hayes-home

Like I said the family from the time he was elected President were HYPER conscious of their historical importance from that point forward (to the extent of saving the receipt for the knocker). According to the docent, Rutherford’s cousin, who was a photo enthusiast, had visited the home in 1880 —  while Hayes was still president — and took photographs of every single room in the house. These photos were then stored, along with everything else, and rediscovered among the boxes when the unpacking began in 2007, with the start of the restoration (which finished in 2012) so we know exactly how each room is looked.

Over the years, family members that inherited the property kept all of the original everything, and with great care. This family obsession with historical importance was such that THE ORIGINAL FABRIC that covered the sofas and chairs was left on the back of every item whenever they re-upholstered the fronts!!!!  SERIOUSLY!!! As such, they were able to take that cloth and have brand new cloth made exactly to the same pattern and what we see today is that. 

They altered a couple of things, as needed but they intentionally didn’t do any serious damage or made sure to keep examples of the old (like with the backs of the chairs). There’s a cover spread and pillows set that had been hand stitched by a cousin that was gifted to the Hayes’ that he and his wife had used on their bed, that had been folded up and carefully stored once Hayes had died, so that it is now still in perfect condition. When they changed a bathroom room into a different kind of room, they kept EVERYTHING… even if they weren’t using it because they understood it’s historic relevance… down to the square wooden pipes that diverted rain water into the bathtub. (According to the docent when they didn’t have enough rain water collected they would pump it from the kitchen and bring it in by hand).

The house — after the renovations — is four stories … the younger owners had put in wall-to-wall carpeting; and when they pulled it up they found this gorgeous inlaid wood floors. According to the docent in 1880 the cost of changing the house from one story to a four-story $880 (a sum of around $21,753.77 in 2018) …. at the time a daily wage for the workers was $.50-$.70 a day (we know this because the family even saved the receipts for what they payed their workers).

Photos were taken in 1880 and there were some bazaar items that they kept in the museum for forever, assuming “the president’s family couldn’t POSSIBLY have had this in the house… it was probably some odd gift someone had given them”… but when they finally found the photographs in the archives they brought them back into the house. This included one of those chairs made out of deer horns and leather. They have photos of what the house look like in the 1960s and then the photos of what it look like in 1880. There are a few items in the house that are not correctional he had, the two pianos in the house are not original because the second oldest son had taken the two of them and traded them to somebody for a large baby grand. He had over 8000 books and he read all of them

It was supposed to be a one hour tour we went in at 2 o’clock we came at 3:30. This entranceway was recently converted to handicap capable and in the winter time it heats up so they don’t get ice

 

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