In 1859, Sardis Birchard started construction on a family homestead in the recently renamed town of Fremont. The home wouldn’t be just for him, but for his nephew Rutherford B. Hayes and his family.
Hayes would serve as a general in the Civil War, Governor of Ohio and the 19th President of the United States, finally retiring to the home in Fremont. After Hayes’ death, his son Webb was instrumental in turning the home into what is now the Hayes Presidential Library and Museums, which is celebrating its centennial this year. In conjunction with its centennial, the renovated main museum reopened in May with new exhibits that tell the story of Rutherford B. Hayes and the U.S. presidency.
The museum tour now starts with a glimpse of the Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia in 1876, giving a flavor of what the country was like at the time (Hayes visited the exposition while he was campaigning for the presidency). It also offers more interactive experiences about voting rights in that election and events from the Hayes presidency.
One of the reasons for the redesign, staff members told me, was that the permanent exhibits had become a little too permanent. But for those who have visited the Hayes Center before, there are still some items that feel familiar, including the carriage Hayes rode in his inauguration. There is also a large banner on behalf of Hayes and his vice president, William Wheeler, and Charles Foster, a Tiffin native then in Congress, and of course the dollhouses the Hayes children played with. All are given more prominent display.
The gallery of Presidents has also been renovated, with various artifacts from the nation’s chief executives (Abraham Lincoln’s slippers are popular, even being consulted for the eponymous movie – not the one with vampires) and interactive spaces, like a podium where you can address the press and a replica of the famed Resolute Desk (as seen in “National Treasure: Book of Secrets”), at which I sat (I checked; there are no secret compartments).
The expansive, picturesque grounds remain a popular locale for dog walkers and other exercisers, and the library contains scads of research material on topics including genealogy and local history (they were a fantastic help for me in research for one of my books).
And the home is fresh off a $1.5 million renovation and restoration itself. Although the museum opened in 1916, family members lived in the home well into the 20th century, leading to a hodgepodge of designs and decorations. The home has been meticulously restored to the way it looked when the family lived there after Hayes left the presidency.
So for those who haven’t been, it’s a good time to go see the Hayes Library and Museums. And if you have, it’s worth revisiting. You might not even recognize the place.