Today we are just east of Cleveland in the city of Mentor, Ohio to visit the James A. Garfield National Historic Site. James A. Garfield was our 20th President, one of four assassinated US Presidents, he served only 200 days before his death. Garfield came from humble beginnings in rural Ohio; a good student he graduated from Western Reserve Eclectic Institute, then two years later from Williams College in MA. He married Lucretia in 1858, was elected to the Ohio Senate in 1859, entered the Civil War in 1861 as a lieutenant colonel, and was elected to Congress in 1862. It was in 1876 that the Garfield’s purchased this home and farm, at that time it was a modest nine-room home, by 1880 it had grown into a 20-room, 2 1/2 story structure nicknamed Lawnfield.
The former carriage house is now the visitors center complete with exhibits chronicling Garfield’s life. We purchase tickets for the next tour then spend time browsing through displays. We follow the timeline from his days of poverty as a young boy to his adulthood as a teacher, principal, legislator, lawyer, Civil War general, congressman and senator-elect. Glass cases contain personal items such as shoes and clothing, documents and photos. We read about his unexpected presidential nomination, his election, view items from the inauguration in March of 1881. On July 2, 1881 James A. Garfield was shot twice by Charles Guiteau while boarding a train in Washington D.C. The first shot grazed his arm, the other pierced his back and was embedded in his abdomen; the bullet could not be located, infection set in. The President died on September 19, 1881 at the age of 49.
Our tour guide leads us up to the house, Victorian in style it’s quite large, the front porch extends the length of the house. It’s this front porch where Garfield would meet with the public. People came from near and far to hear him speak about his political intentions and important issues of the day; he basically ran his campaign right from his home. Inside we are welcomed by the foyer, a fireplace rests at the back of the room, the furniture is original to the Garfield family and sits in the same place as it did when they lived here. The family kept the home until 1936, then donated it, complete with furnishings, to the Western Reserve Historical Society. In 1980 Congress authorized it as a Historical Site, it is now owned and maintained by the National Park Service. It has undergone a complete restoration.
We move through the main floor, portraits hang on the walls, the parlor is cozy. Stained glass decorates the dining room bay window and door, it’s glowing in today’s sunlight. The fireplace is surrounded by tiles hand-painted by the Garfield family, the china used in the White House rests on shelves– in those days you brought your own and took it home when you left. There are pretty decorative pieces throughout the room. James was his mother’s favorite child, she was quite devoted to him and he to her; she had her own suite of rooms on the main floor, photographs of her son adorn her room, a gorgeous stained glass window of the President sits in front of a window catching the natural light.
Upstairs we enter the presidential library, Lucretia added this wing to the main house after the assassination to honor her husbands memory and store all of his presidential items and papers. The room is magnificent; white oak covers the walls and ceiling, a large fireplace anchors one wall, elegant brass fixtures and a chandelier provide soft lighting, book shelves are packed with volumes; Garfield was an avid reader, we are told there are 1,000 books in this area alone. The room is filled with photographs and memorabilia, the desk Garfield used while in Congress is in the room along with other attractive pieces of furniture. In the back section is the vault built special to hold the presidential papers, a wreath from the funeral has been dipped wax, framed and hangs on the wall; I find being among his personal things both amazing and eerie.
Continuing through the second floor we peek into the room Garfield used as a home office before being elected President; the room sits exactly as it did the day the family left for Washington, that was the last time he was in this room. The rest of the floor is family bedrooms and servants quarters. The Garfield’s were not wealthy people, in fact when the President died friends and family were worried Lucretia would lose the house and farm. A fund was set up for donations so the house could be paid off; Garfield left a wife and five young children along with his mother whom he also supported. Over $300,000 was raised–we’re talking 1881 here–this allowed the family to keep the house, add the Memorial Library and make other improvements to the property. The family was able to live comfortably thanks to the contributions.
Outside we walk the grounds and check out the other buildings on the property. It’s pretty amazing to be able to come here and really experience history. Lucky for all of us the family was generous enough to leave the house, the contents and so many of Garfield’s belongings for future generations to see.
Back in Cleveland we stop in at the Barking Spider Tavern for a beverage and some live music. The tavern is an old carriage house located behind the Case Western Reserve University Alumni House over in University Circle. It’s a little tricky to find, be sure and look at the map before you head over. The building is quaint, the main listening room has wood-lined walls, a fireplace, several tables and a long bar; today strings of orange lights are draped behind the stage. The Spider is known for its live music; 7 days a week you can stop in and listen to musicians playing Jazz, Blues, Folk, Bluegrass and Rock, free of charge. George Foley and Friends are playing Jazz when we arrive; we sit back and chill to the sound of old school tunes.
Stone Gables Bed & Breakfast is our home away from home whenever we’re in Cleveland, we stop in to freshen up before heading out for a late dinner at Heck’s Cafe. Located in Ohio City the restaurant opened in 1974, the building is an 18th Century red-brick townhouse, it’s just a few blocks from Stone Gables. The front section is a dark paneled pub, the back opens up into a spacious, airy atrium, this is where we sit. The menu has something for everyone; we’re having the Hipster Burger: a house made veggie patty, arugula, tomato aioli and mozzarella on a wheat bun with a side of Heck’s fries, yum! We’re also sharing a house salad: greens, tomatoes, red onions, walnuts, dried cranberries and crumbled blue cheese; a nice combination of flavors and textures. As we finish our meal we finally relax, it has been a day full of fun and adventure.