Rutherford B. Hayes Presidential Library & Museums in Fremont (photo by Ohio Images)
Ohio Life

Visit the Rutherford B. Hayes Presidential Library and Museums in Fremont

Webb Hayes’ tribute to his parents at the northwest Ohio estate they called home was the nation’s first presidential library and museum.

Rutherford B. Hayes had an eye toward history even before he became part of it as the 19th president of the United States. During his service in the Civil War, he would often walk battlefields looking for bullets, tree branches embedded with cannon shot and other artifacts to collect and send home.

“In his letters he’d say, ‘This is for my future museum,’” says Christie Weininger, director of the Rutherford B. Hayes Presidential Library and Museums in Fremont. “It was [to be] a museum to the time period. He was witnessing firsthand the horrors of the Civil War, and he wanted to be sure people understood how it was.”

Hayes went on to serve in Congress and as Ohio’s governor before becoming president in 1876. Following his term, the Delaware, Ohio, native and his family returned to Spiegel Grove — the Fremont estate that Hayes’ uncle Sardis Birchard purchased prior to the Civil War.

Hayes and his wife, Lucy, who had a college degree, both prized education. It was a trait they passed on to their children, including their son Webb, who had the idea of creating a first-of-its-kind presidential library and museum at Spiegel Grove to honor his parents. It opened on Memorial Day 1916, and many dignitaries traveled to Ohio for the dedication, with one conspicuous absence. “The plan was for Woodrow Wilson to attend,” Weininger says. “But he had to decline as the country was getting closer to entering World War I.”

The site welcomed visitors for decades, but it wasn’t until a renovation was completed in 2012 that the home became a true reflection of the era during which the former president and his family lived there. Rooms that had taken on a different use over the years were returned to their original state. Today, the home is open for tours, as is the on-site library containing more than 1 million manuscripts and nearly 100,000 books, pamphlets and other materials, including Hayes’ own meticulously detailed journals and personal papers.

“His diary is incredible,” Weininger says. “He wrote in it consistently from when he was a teenager until he was 70.”

The presidential museum at Spiegel Grove also underwent a major renovation completed in 2016 that created a more modern museum experience. The permanent ones unveiled there in 1968 turned out to be more permanent than expected.
Previously, the museum tour started with a diorama detailing Hayes’ Civil War service — an unusual place to start the story of his presidency. Visitors are now greeted by an orientation video, then footage of the 1876 Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia. Hayes visited the fair to shake hands, as did his Democratic opponent, Samuel Tilden.

The redesigned galleries at the museum include “Life in the White House,” highlighting the Hayes family’s time in the executive mansion. Another focuses on Hayes’ involvement in founding the Ohio Agricultural and Mechanical College, which became The Ohio State University. Because Hayes was a collector of presidential artifacts, a Presidents Gallery features item from commanders in chief through Barack Obama (the museum continued the collection after Hayes’ death), including a pair of Abraham Lincoln’s slippers.

“[Hayes] understood the value of an artifact,” Weininger says. “It connects you to a time and place like nothing else can.”  

Visit website for hours and admission pricing for the home, museum or both; 1337 Hayes Ave., Fremont 43420, 419/332-2081,

A version of this story ran in our February 2016 issue.