Could Delaware’s most famous son be honored with a statue in the near future?
“Should we recognize President Hayes in a more enhanced way? Could we do more to recognize his importance?” City Manager Tom Homan asked during a budget work session last month.
Rutherford Birchard Hayes (1822-93), the 19th president of the United States, was born in Delaware; and his wife, Lucy, attended Ohio Wesleyan University.
Currently, there is a granite block with a bronze plaque in front of the BP gas station on William Street. The station sits where Hayes was born. It was said that the home was brick in front and logs in the back, and would have required renovations. The home was bought by Standard Oil in 1921 but, upon learning of its importance, offered to sell it back at the price it paid, $8,000. Gazette articles said Hayes’ son, Webb, had offered to pay half the cost, but the other half wasn’t raised.
The home was demolished in 1926.
Some pundits have since lamented the loss of the home. For example, the website Roadside America calls Delaware the “gas station birthplace of Rutherford B. Hayes.”
“We show them a photo of the birthplace in our office,” said Debbie Shatzer, executive director of the Delaware County Convention and Visitors Bureau. “We’ve had people photograph that.”
There are state of Ohio road signs that say Delaware was Hayes’ birthplace. The signs attract some visitors to the city who are interested in seeing presidential residences, Shatzer said. In the case of Hayes, the Spiegel Grove home where he spent his final years is still intact in Fremont, Ohio, with a presidential center next door.
Homan suggested erecting a statue to Hayes at the corner of William and Sandusky streets, across from City Hall.
“It’s something that’s overdue,” Homan said at the budget work session. However, he noted that any added monument to Hayes wouldn’t “come without a price.”
“There is a desire by the city manager to more prominently honor President Hayes, and what he’s tasked city staff with in 2016 is to explore that,” said Lee Yoakum, the city’s community affairs coordinator. “Are there stakeholders in the community that would want to be involved in such an effort? We believe there are. The city schools have expressed some interest. The high school is named for President Hayes, and they would like to have some involvement. We’ve been approached by some residents that are interested in exploring this more.
“Would it even involve a statue? Maybe, maybe not.”
Homan said $35,000 was raised to erect a statue of inventor Thomas Edison in Milan, Ohio.
“That exactly what we hope it would be, less a city project and more of a community project,” Yoakum said.
Closer to home, a statue of Civil War General William S. Rosecrans was installed at the Sunbury Village Square in 2013.
“That’s an example of a community coming together to recognize one of their own,” Yoakum said.
No money has been budgeted for an additional memorial to Hayes, Yoakum said. He also said there has not been talk of building a replica of the Hayes birthplace home elsewhere on city parkland or property.
Gary Budzak may be reached at 740-413-0904 or on Twitter @GaryBudzak.