The two childhood homes of Rutherford B. Hayes have been replaced with other buildings in Delaware. However, there are still markers in the city and other places in honor of the 19th president of the United States.
Here’s some background on the state of the Hayes homes. Hayes was born on Oct. 4, 1822, at the first brick home in Delaware at 17 E. William St. The home was rented from the founder of Delaware, Moses Byxbe, while the Hayes family was building a home at West William and North Franklin streets.
Benny Shoults, a Delaware County Historical Society volunteer and curator of the Meeker Homestead Museum, explains what became of the historical home:
“Standard Oil of Ohio was looking to expand their gas station outlets throughout Ohio, and Delaware was one of the cities they wanted. They purchased the land, which I believe had at least part of the home where Rutherford B. Hayes was born.
“Later, an executive from Standard Oil said they had no idea that was the birthplace of Hayes, and they were willing to sell it back to the city at the same price they bought it for and would make a donation if the citizens of Delaware could come up with about $4,000 for purchase and renovation. The citizens could not come up with the money, and finally a gas station was built on that spot.
“The Hayes family did not live there very long after Rutherford was born. They built a home where the William Street Methodist Church is today, and that’s where young Rutherford grew up.”
There is a historical marker on the church grounds that discusses the childhood home of Hayes.
For some locals, it has long been a source of disappointment that Delaware did not preserve the houses. In 1932, Ohio Wesleyan University President Edmund D. Soper, in an article titled “Rutherford B. Hayes, Delaware’s Most Celebrated Son,” bemoaned of the birthplace, “the house was torn down a few years ago to make way for a filling station!”
Soper went on to write, “I hope to see the day when a worthy memorial shall be erected, which shall be an honor both to the late President and to the City of Delaware.”
Why didn’t Hayes attend Ohio Wesleyan, some may wonder. OWU did not exist until 1842, the year Hayes graduated from Kenyon College. He later became a trustee at OWU and another school he helped establish, The Ohio State University.
Hayes also graduated from Harvard Law School and made a name for himself in Fremont, Ohio, and Cincinnati as an abolitionist lawyer representing runaway slaves.
However, there remains one building in Delaware connected with Hayes — the Murray School, which was attended by Hayes as a child to begin his formal education, at 15 N. Franklin St. It is also said that Hayes met his wife, Lucy Webb, in Delaware at Sulphur Spring, below the Delaware Run. They married in 1852 and had eight children together.
The absence of a Hayes house in his hometown has also been seen as a source of humor.
For example, in 2002, Mo Rocca toured with “pump and circumstance” the Hayes BP gas station/birthplace on East William Street for a President’s Day segment on “The Daily Show with Jon Stewart.” To be fair, Hayes wasn’t the only Ohio president mocked. The home of the 9th president, William Henry Harrison, was shown at the time to be at the busy intersection of Sims and Washington Avenue in North Bend, and the sign to mark the site was missing.
If you’d like to visit other sites honoring Hayes, you can start your trip in Columbus. There is a Fort Hayes in Columbus just off Cleveland Avenue at 546 Jack Gibbs Blvd. Formerly known as the Columbus Arsenal, it was renamed for Hayes in 1922. The longtime military post is now the Fort Hayes Metropolitan Education Center, part of the Columbus School District.
In 1861, Hayes became a major for the 23rd Ohio Volunteer Infantry during the Civil War. They marched out of Camp Chase training grounds in Columbus, now the site of a cemetery for Confederate prisoners at 2900 Sullivant Ave. Hayes was wounded five times during the war, and he completed his service as brevet major general. Also in the OVI was future president William McKinley.
While still serving in the regiment, Hayes was elected twice to the U.S. House of Representatives. Hayes then served as Ohio governor for three terms starting in 1867.
A sculpture called “These Are My Jewels” is part of the Ohio Statehouse grounds in Columbus. It has life-size statues of six Ohioans: U.S. Grant, William T. Sherman, James A. Garfield, Phillip Sheridan, Salmon P. Chase and Edwin Stanton. However, when McKinley became Ohio governor, he honored his former commanding officer by having Hayes added to the drum-shaped base of the monument.
Finally, Hayes became U.S. president in 1876, succeeding another Ohioan, Grant.
After his single-term presidency in 1881, Hayes returned to his family estate, Spiegel Grove, and lived there until his death in 1893. The home is in the northeast Ohio city of Fremont, named after John C. Fremont, the first Republican presidential candidate. Fremont was formerly known as Lower Sandusky.
Now called the Rutherford B. Hayes Presidential Center, it opened to the public 35 years after Hayes left office. You can tour the home, or just walk the beautiful grounds and see the Hayes grave site. There’s also the nation’s first presidential library (now with 90,000 items) and museum, housed in a separate building. If you visit the gift shop, check out the two primary biographies of Hayes for sale — the authoritative, scholarly “Rutherford B. Hayes: Warrior & President” by Ari Hoogenboom; and the much shorter, epistolary “100 Days in the Life of Rutherford Hayes” by Eric Ebinger.
In the recent entertaining book “Worst. President. Ever.” (a biography of James Buchanan, the president who preceded Lincoln), author Robert Strauss recounted a visit to Spiegel Grove, where the friendly staff allowed him to play “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” on the Hayes family harpsichord.
Interestingly, you can follow Hayes out of state to South Dakota. The home of Mount Rushmore, which honors presidents Jefferson, Lincoln, Theodore Roosevelt and Washington by carving their faces out of a mountain; South Dakota also honors the other presidents in a unique way. Rapid City has a Presidents Walk, which has life-size bronze statues of the leaders striding along the sidewalks. Hayes is at the corner of 4th and Joseph streets.
Gary Budzak may be reached at 740-413-0906 or on Twitter @GaryBudzak.