The History and Mystery of Rutherford B. Hayes

While in Ohio, this summer, Nancy Reynolds took Annie Jansen and I to tour the beautiful Rutherford B. Hayes home and his Presidential Library and Museum that is located right next door.  The home is quite lovely and since I knew very little about our 19th President everything was new.

Rutherford B. Hayes was the 5th child born on October 4, 1852 to Rutherford and Sophia Hayes in Delaware, Ohio. With his father’s passing just a few months after his birth, the care for him and his sister Fanny fell on his mother’s shoulders. Sophia Haye’s brother Sardis Birchard helped raise the children and was named as their guardian.  Birchard was a successful businessman from Lower Sandusky, which was later, called Fremont.  It is here that the Hayes home and museum are located.

The Rutherford B. Hayes home was built by Sardis Birchard with the original portion being constructed between 1859 and 1863.  It was built to be a summer home to share with his nephew Rutherford B. Hayes and his family.  Construction of the home was slow because materials were hard to come by during the Civil War.

Law was Rutherford B. Hayes career choice.  After attending several schools, one where he graduated as Valedictorian and a year of study in a Columbia law office, he headed to Harvard Law School and graduated in 1845.

After practicing a short time in Lower Sandusky, Hayes moved onto Cincinnati where there were more opportunities.  Hayes came to the attention of the Republican Party because of his opposition to slavery.  While practicing law, he helped defend slaves that escaped over the border from Kentucky into Ohio.

While in Cincinnati, Hayes married Lucy Ware Webb, a young woman from Chillicothe who graduated from Cincinnati Wesleyan College.  Her graduation made her the first President’s wife to graduate from college.  A picture of the pair on their wedding day in the 31 room mansion shows a handsome young couple.  They went on to have eight children.

The Civil War came and Rutherford B. Hayes served as a Major in the Ohio Volunteer Infantry. He rose to the rank of Major General and was wounded on September 14, 1862 at the Battle of South Mountain.  While still serving in the military, in 1864, he was elected to Congress.  He won without campaigning and took his seat only after the Union defeated the Confederates and the war was over.

He was reelected in 1866, then went on to become the Governor of Ohio and served two terms. Hayes moved his family into his beloved Spiegel Grove in 1873.

Governor Hayes was just been a year into a third term when he became the Republican candidate for President. He won in 1877; however, it was hard fought election requiring a special commission to decide the disputed electoral votes. Like our last election, Hayes lost the popular vote, but won with the electoral votes.  This meant that he entered his Presidency with much controversy.

Through his efforts he tried to make life better for African Americans in the south and to protect their Civil rights.  One interesting thing we learned was that his wife Lucy did not serve alcohol in the White House, but rather lemonade so they called her Lemonade Lucy.

Hayes had made a commitment not to accept a second term as President so after his tenure he retired to the beautiful mansion that was named Spiegel Grove in Fremont.

In 1880 he made a substantial addition and remodeled the home adding a library to house his 12,000 books, a large reception room, three bedrooms and indoor plumbing. The piece de resistance was the four story walnut and butternut staircase that leads all the way to a rooftop lantern.

In 1889, the Hayes family once again added to their home in anticipation of visits from grandchildren and friends. A stick-built back wing was demolished and replaced by a larger brick addition housing a large dining room, a kitchen, two servant’s rooms, and three bedrooms.

Unfortunately, Mrs. Hayes died during the construction of this last addition to the home. At his home, President Hayes continued to work tirelessly with Veterans and passed away at the age of 70 on January 12, 1893 in the place he loved the most.

Along with the home, it is fun to tour the museum as well.  Nancy, Annie and I enjoyed seeing the newly redesigned museum that explains President Hayes’ presidency and life.  After taking the guided house tour, it was easier to understand the items in the museum.  While the museum boasts 19,000 artifacts, there are around 1,785 on exhibit. The museum features two floors of artifacts and exhibits, including the Hayes’ carriage and Lucy Webb Hayes’ dresses. Her dresses were my favorite item.  While I enjoyed all the history, I must say for me the interest was learning the personal things about the Hayes family.  The house was handed down to three generations and eventually donated to the museum.

Rutherford B. Hayes home

Rutherford B. Hayes was an interesting man that worked hard even against all odds.  I will think of him in a good light when I hear the name of the 19th President.  For more information, log onto