The unveiling of Rutherford B. Hayes’ statue last October marked a momentous occasion as the city of Delaware finally paid proper respect to its native son and the country’s 19th president.
The finishing touch on the “Hayes Comes Home” initiative was unveiled Monday by way of a historical marker signifying where Hayes’ birthplace once stood.
“What a great way to continue the community’s awareness of a native son,” Bill Rietz, chairman of the Hayes Heritage Fund, said prior to the unveiling of the marker on Presidents Day.
The Hayes Heritage Fund committee also funded the statue at the corner of William and Sandusky streets, as well as the bust of Hayes that sits inside the atrium at Rutherford B. Hayes High School in Delaware.
Located at 17 E. William St. in Delaware, a gas station now stands on the site of Hayes’ former birthplace and home. Prior to Monday’s unveiling, the site contained a monument identifying the location as Hayes’ birthplace. Rietz, however, felt the site deserved to be upgraded with a marker telling the story of why the house no longer exists.
“Part of our mission statement for the committee was to educate the community, and obviously there are a lot of questions asked about why the house wasn’t saved or why there is a gas station now sitting where a United States president was born,” Rietz said. “We knew the story, but we felt we needed to upgrade the memorial that was put up in 1926 shortly after the house was demolished.”
Rietz added the previous memorial — a two-side plaque commissioned by the Delaware City Chapter of Daughters of the American Revolution — had been on display in the same spot for 94 years.
“It is no longer here, but it lives on,” said Rietz, who shared one plaque is headed to the Rutherford B. Hayes Administrative Building on North Sandusky Street, while the other plaque will be displayed in the future Center of American Political History at the Willis Education Center on West William Street.
As for the site of the new historical marker, Rietz said there will be some landscaping that will be done in the spring when the weather permits.
The new marker reads: “The brick home fell into disrepair and was purchased in 1921 by Standard Oil. Learning it was a presidential birthplace, Standard Oil offered to put up the first $500 and sell the home back to the community for $8,000. Many organizations worked to obtain the funding to purchase the home but were able to raise only $4,760.
“The home was demolished and a Standard Oil gas station was built on the location. In 1926, a memorial marker was placed in front of the gas station by the Delaware City Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution to identify where Hayes’ birthplace structure once stood. In 2019, a statue of Hayes commissioned by the Rutherford B. Hayes Heritage Fund was placed at the corner of William and Sandusky Street.”
Rietz said the current site serving as a gas station is the butt of many jokes about Hayes, and he hopes the marker will educate the community on why the home was ultimately demolished.
“Like getting the statue up, it’s a sense of pride in a native son,” Rietz said. “There are only 43 communities that can boast that a native son went on the be president of the United States. (The plaque) is going to allow people to understand why the house isn’t there and why there is a gas station.”
During Monday’s unveiling ceremony, Delaware County Commissioner Jeff Benton thanked members of the committee along with all the donors who made the marker and the area around it possible.
“This took a lot of money, and a lot of people really stepped up and donated a good amount of money over time to get us there,” he said.
Benton, who was a member of one of the first graduating classes at Rutherford B. Hayes High School, shared with the crowd a connection his family might have had with Hayes.
“It’s a real honor as a commissioner to be part of this. I was born and raised here,” he said. “I’m actually a seventh generation Delaware County resident. I thought about that, and I thought, you know, when my great, great, great, great-grandfather and grandmother were here, that was about when Rutherford B. Hayes was born, so they may have known each other.
“We are really proud that he is our favorite son,” Benton added.
Debbie Ebert, a member of the Delaware City Chapter of Daughters of the American Revolution, also spoke during the ceremony.
“It seems right that we should honor Hayes today (Presidents Day) and dedicate this marker on a day when we should remember and honor all those who have served as the office of president since our country’s founding,” Ebert said. “There are only 21 states that can claim to be a birthplace of a United States president, and Ohio is one of them. Delaware is fortunate to have such a rich history and carrying citizens who want to preserve and share it.”
Benton and Ebert were given the honors of unveiling the historical marker in front of the crowd that gathered on East William Street for the ceremony.
The total costs of all the Hayes odes, which include the statue, fountain, birthplace marker, and bust, equaled $147,000. Every expense was paid for by the Hayes Heritage Fund, which raised $152,000 to accomplish all projects.
Reach Dillon Davis at 740-413-0904. Follow him on Twitter @DillonDavis56.