by Joel M. Vance, Missouri Travel Editor

The Rutherford B. Hayes library and home in Fremont, Ohio, is far more memorable to most who visit than was the man who is buried there. Quick now: who was Mr. Hayes? You say he was one of those presidents no one can remember? Very good! Better than many "students" who have trouble naming the current President, much less the...what number was Mr. Hayes?

Aha! Knew we'd get you. Mr. Hayes was the 19th President of the United States, from 1877 to 1881. He succeeded Ulysses S. Grant, and was succeeded by the ill-fated James Garfield. And the Hayes Presidential Center at Fremont, Ohio, is a lovely place to visit and tour. The Hayes Library was the first Presidential Library and, until the Nixon Library opened, was the only one supported entirely by private funds.

The Hayes Presidential Center.


The grounds may be roamed free during daylight hours; the house and museum each are $3 for adults, $1 for children under 12.

In addition to Hayes memorabilia, the museum has several pages of handwritten notes by Abraham Lincoln for one of his famed debates with Stephen Douglas. There is a Presidents' gallery with information on each of the presidents (it's a little behind -- neither Reagan nor Bush are featured yet), along with handwritten documents from each. The library contains 75,000 books, thousands of manuscripts and photos, and is a favorite of writers and researchers working on the so-called Gilded Age.

It is on 25 acres of woods, laced by paths. The trees, mostly oak and spruce, are enormous, giving the park-like grounds a cathedral hush. The grounds are open during daylight hours and are popular with hikers as well as tourists. Many just enjoy the lush flower beds on the back lawn -- or, as happened in the summer of 1991, an 1860s-style baseball game between the Spiegel Grove Squires (the estate is called Spiegel Grove) and the visiting Ohio Village Muffins. The Muffins were leading 14-0 when a mustachioed, sweating Squire lumbered in from the field after the third out and wheezed, "I think we got the hang of this game now."

Baseball is still strong as it was in the 1860s in rural Ohio.


Fremont has a population of 18,000. In addition to the Hayes Center, the town has Rodger Young Park, named for the World War Two hero who inspired a Hit Parade song by Burl Ives.

The Sandusky River, an Ohio Scenic River, bisects the city and is popular with canoeists, many of whom launch at 93-acre Wolf Creek Park.

Mr. Hayes is the middle one of three successive Ohio Presidents -- Grant, Hayes and Garfield, and one of seven Presidents from the Buckeye State (the others are Benjamin Harrison, William McKinley, William Howard Taft and Warren Harding). He was a compromise candidate. The scandals of the Grant administration tainted his logical successor, James Blaine, and Hayes, a man of unimpeachable honesty, as well as a fine military record, got the nod.

The biggest controversy of his administration was whether he actually won the Presidency. He lost the popular vote to Democrat Samuel J. Tilden by more than 200,000 votes, but won the electoral vote by one. The circumstances were so confusing that historians still are arguing about what happened, or at least what should have happened.

Lucy Hayes was a teetotaler and when the White House banned alcohol, the nation's drinkers dubbed her Lemonade Lucy. President Hayes, an occasional drinker, even gave up spirits.

Presidential monuments, even those of the less memorable chiefs of state, are rewarding for any citizen. There is the sense of history, especially as it involves the most powerful person in the country. And there also is a stirring of intimacy with that person. You see his clothing, read his mail, begin to know him as a fellow citizen, not a symbol. If for no other reason than a nudge to patriotism, a visit to the Hayes Center is worthwhile.


South of either U. S. Highway 23 or the Ohio Turnpike, 33 miles east of Toledo, 85 miles west of Cleveland.


The Dillon House, across Buckland Avenue from the Hayes Presidential Center, was built in 1873 for Mr. and Mrs. Charles Dillon, President Hayes' first neighbors. It now is owned by the Hayes Center and is a bed and breakfast for special events (such as weddings, receptions and family gatherings) and for researchers and others using the Center. It's also open to tours. It's pricey, but lovely. For information, call the Hayes Center at 479-332-2081. There also are nine motels in Fremont for all price ranges (only three with pool-- Best Western, Holiday Inn and L&K Motel.

Other Area Attractions

LAKE ERIE: Lake Erie is 20 miles north and Sandusky Bay is less than 15. Put-In-Bay is a preserved island village and tourist area, reached by a "jet express" ferry (call 1-800-245-1538 for information) or by Miller Ferry (call 1-419-285-2421). The International Peace Memorial commemorates the peace that followed Commodore Oliver Perry's victory over a British Lake Erie fleet in the War of 1812 (Tel. 419- 285-2184).

CAMPING: Wolf Creek Park (23 primitive sites). CANOEING/FISHING: Sandusky River and Portage River are nearby, both with limestone ledges and boulders that harbor smallmouth bass. For river conditions and fishing information, call 1-800-255-8070 or contact the district office of the Ohio Dept. of Natural Resources, 419-424-5000.

For Information

Call: Sandusky County Convention and Visitors Bureau 1-800-255- 8070 or 1-419-332-4470.

Billy Barnstorm The Birch Lake Bomber
and Other Tales of Youthful Disaster
by Joel Vance