If former President Rutherford B. Hayes were alive today, he
might’ve been impressed. Or proud. Or maybe a bit embarrassed.
On a warm, sun-dazzled morning Aug. 17, 150 people gathered on the
spacious lawn of Hayes’ historic brick mansion in Fremont, Ohio, to
inaugurate a new Presidential dollar coin that features Hayes’ face on
one side and the Statue of Liberty on the other.
Sitting on white chairs on the spacious lawn of the Rutherford B.
Hayes Presidential Center, the crowd watched the ceremonies on the
home’s long, graceful veranda. After the speeches and three blasts of
a Civil War cannon, children and teens were invited up onto the
veranda to receive one of the shining dollar coins. Adults could get
theirs in exchange for cash at a nearby tent.
A few minutes earlier, Thomas J. Culbertson, executive director of
the center, had told the crowd that he was “thrilled that the U.S.
Mint selected the Hayes site for the formal introduction of the coin.”
He added, smiling, “We have the best weather because I foolishly
rented a large tent,” referring to a white party tent erected behind
the Hayes house, just in case.
A special guest was J. Mark Landry, plant manager of the U.S. Mint
in Philadelphia where 500 employees strike “50 million coins each
day,” Landry said.
“This coin connects us to a wellspring of our nation’s greatness,”
Landry said. “Rutherford B. Hayes retired here. He helped veterans,
prisoners and promoted universal rights. These coins connect Americans
to their government.”
Also on the porch were state and congressional officials, Fremont
Mayor Terry Overmyer, and George Kane, an official with the Ohio
Historical Society. OHS owns the museum and its artifacts; the house
is owned by the Hayes Presidential Center Inc. It’s the last
presidential home to be owned by an entity other than the federal
government, and it was the last to be restored without a cent of tax money.
“And this is the only presidential museum not built with tax
dollars,” Culbertson said proudly. Hayes, a principled, modest man,
would have appreciated that.
Born in Delaware, Ohio, in 1822, he graduated first in his class
at Kenyon College in Gambier, Ohio. A proud Ohioan, Hayes left the
state only to attend Harvard Law School for two years. He returned to
Lower Sandusky — Fremont’s name back then — but moved to Cincinnati
four years later to practice law.
When Hayes was 37, the Civil War erupted. He was too old for the
draft, so he volunteered, rising to the position of Brevet Major
General in the 23rd Regiment, Ohio Volunteer Infantry.
“He was a principled man,” Culbertson said, “a man who felt that
it would be more honorable to die for a cause he believed in” than not
to fight at all.
Hayes was wounded five times. Four horses were shot out from under
him. He fought in Kentucky, Tennessee, West Virginia, Antietam (in
Maryland) and as far south as Pearisburg, Va.
In 1864, “without a campaign,” Hayes was selected to serve in
Congress by a Congress commission, but he refused to leave the Union
army. He did, however, cast a vote for the Civil Rights (14th) Amendment.
After the war, he served in Congress, returning to Ohio in 1867,
when he was elected governor. Hayes favored better schools and aid for
military veterans and the mentally ill. He helped create Ohio State
University. He made sure Ohio ratified the 15th Amendment, which gave
freed black men the right to vote.
In 1876, Hayes was elected U.S. president. His main goal was to
re-establish the credibility of the federal government after the
scandal-plagued administrations of Andrew Johnson and Ulysses S.
Grant, Culbertson said.
His wife, Lucy Webb Hayes, was a college graduate, the mother of
eight and the first president’s wife to be nicknamed “the First Lady.”
The first telephone and typewriter in the White House were installed
during the Hayes administration.
Hayes chose to serve just one term in the White House, something
he advocated for all presidents. Then he and Lucy returned to Fremont
and the home that had been built by Sardis Birchard, Hayes’ uncle and
legal guardian, between 1859 and 1863. Originally it had eight rooms,
but Hayes and his wife added two more wings to accommodate their
visiting friends and their growing flock of grandchildren.
Hayes became an “active citizen” in Fremont, Culbertson said,
serving on a Bible association, the public library board and the
cemetery association, among others. He took minutes at some of the
meetings. He campaigned for prison reform and equal rights for former slaves.
“His post-presidential service was rivaled only by John Adams and
Jimmy Carter,” Culbertson said.
Lucy Webb Hayes died in 1889. Hayes died four years later. They
are buried in a quiet corner of the estate, off a shady path that
winds around the 23 acres.
In honor of Hayes’ Civil War service, the ceremony ended with
three bursts from a cannon, fired by a local Civil War reenactment
group. Bob Kelley of Woodville, Ohio, is the captain. The cannon is a
reproduction, produced from a mold that made cannons for the Civil War.
“It’s a South Carolina piece,” said Howard Justice of South
Amherst, Ohio, a sergeant major in the company. “It could be broken
down and carried by several mules. It was used in mountainous areas,
mostly Virginia and the Carolinas.”
The Hayes center attracts 40,000 visitors a year. Five generations
of the Hayes family lived in the home for a century, from 1863 through
the mid-1960s. Hayes even had a private bathroom — and he took two
pictures to prove it. ■