When I visited the Rutherford B. Hayes Presidential Library and Museum, I posted a few pictures on Instagram from the trip. A friend of mine texted me to tell me that Hayes was the only president from Delaware. She wasn’t wrong, she just had the wrong Delaware.
Rutherford B. Hayes was born in Delaware, Ohio (in the central-ish part of the state) in 1822. He later made his home in Fremont, Ohio (in northern Ohio, near Sandusky), on a rather nice piece of property just outside of the downtown area. Hayes died in 1893, but his property in Fremont remains more or less intact. In fact, it’s the site of the Rutherford B. Hayes Presidential Library and Museum.
Before going, I really had no idea what a presidential library was supposed to be. I mean, apart from all the hullabaloo around Barack Obama’s proposed presidential center, how much do we really hear about presidential libraries?
As it turns out, presidential libraries are more than just libraries. The Hayes Presidential Library and Museum is actually a whole compound dedicated to the life (1822-1893) and presidency (1877-1881) of Rutherford B. Hayes: a purpose-built library stands on the grounds, the family house has been converted to a museum, and the back garden, where both Rutherford and Lucy Hayes are buried, has been redone as a memorial.
I toured the presidential museum, and was impressed at the amount of information packed into the exhibit – I have to admit, the signs around the exhibit were pretty text-heavy, even for me. That being said, I really didn’t know much about Hayes, the controversy surrounding his campaign, or his presidency before I went in, so a bit of background was good for me.
It wasn’t all signs and reading, though.
The objects on display were amazing. Things like the Bible that Hayes was sworn in on, campaign signs, and the china that Lucy Hayes commissioned for the White House are all on display in the museum.The basement housed an exhibit on Hayes’ service during the Civil War, and photographs of the couple and snippets from their letters make it clear that Rutherford and Lucy were quite the couple.
The feminist in me was happy to see that the First Lady’s agenda was given its due in the museum as well, leaving me with the impression that Lucy Hayes was as much a leader and a doer as her husband. In addition to supporting her husband’s policies and acting as hostess for all diplomatic visitors to the US, Lucy Hayes led her own campaign to improve the lot of widows and single mothers – no small task, given that when she was First Lady, the nation was still reeling from the Civil War.
There were even fun things for the munchkins! From goofy signs that only people less than 4’ tall can see to interactive displays teaching historical concepts, there’s plenty to keep the wee ones occupied while the grown-ups plow through the dense signage.
Hayes only served one term as president, keeping his promise to himself and his wife that he wouldn’t run for re-election. By the time he left office, the economy had improved, relations between states had improved, and the political structure of the country had improved. In one of his writings, he left a little wisdom for posterity:
“I can say in truth – I left this great country prosperous and happy and the party of my choice strong, victorious, and united. In serving the country I served the party.”
Visiting the Rutherford B. Hayes Presidential Library and Museum:
Getting there: Public transit is scarce in northern Ohio, so you’ll have to drive it! The address is: Spiegel Grove, Fremont, OH 43420. The website points out that due to the lack of a house number, your GPS might have an issue with that address. If that’s the case, you can also use 1337 Hayes Avenue, Fremont, OH 43420, which will get you close enough to be able to follow the road signs to the center.
Admission: While the library is free and open to the public, the house and museum require a ticket. Tickets are good for two consecutive days. Tickets cost $20 for the museum and house, or $13 for just the museum. Discounts are available for children and other concessions.
Opening hours: Between April and December, the museum and library are open Monday through Saturday from 9 to 5. Between January and March, the museum and library are open Tuesday through Saturday from 9 to 5. All facilities are closed on Sundays and holidays.
Website: You can check out their website here.