Today President James A. Garfield’s Lawnfield home exudes an air of quiet elegance, but the home and its spacious grounds drew the nation’s attention to Mentor, Ohio, when Garfield literally conducted his campaign from his own Ohio front porch in 1880.
The hugely popular Civil War hero, educator, and legislator originally envisioned the home in Mentor as a place where he could farm, conduct agricultural experiments, and teach his children to farm. Life had other plans for Garfield, though, who emerged as a compromise candidate during a seemingly deadlocked Republican convention in 1880.
We enjoyed taking a docent-led tour of the home and grounds at Lawnfield. Our guide explained the history of the house, told us how Garfield ran his successful campaign for president from the house’s front porch and a small outbuilding behind the house, and told us about his widow Lucretia’s dedication to preserving her husband’s legacy through meticulous care of his papers and other artifacts.
Built in 1832 as a 1 ½ story house by James Dickey, the Garfields expanded the home after purchasing it in 1876. By 1880, the Garfields added 11 rooms to the 9-room home, making a much larger 2 ½-story home to more readily accommodate the couple and their five children.
Another notable improvement made by the Garfields was the addition of a large porch across the front of the house. A train stop at the rear of the Garfield property brought thousands of admirers directly to the presidential candidate. Visitors disembarked the train and walked down a short lane to see Garfield make campaign speeches from this porch- giving rise to the idea of a homey, “front porch campaign”.
Other buildings on the property include a small building behind the house that served as headquarters and telegraph office for the campaign, a carriage house (that now serves as a visitor center), an impressive 75-foot-tall windmill/pumphouse, and other barns and outbuildings.
The press corps of the day encamped on the lawn of the home through that 1880 campaign, dubbing the place Lawnfield.
Garfield went on to win the presidency and left for Washington, never returning to his beloved Lawnfield before his assassination.
After Garfield’s death, Lucretia Garfield stayed on at Lawnfield. She added a memorial library wing and vault to the house, carefully preserving her husband’s papers, artifacts, and historical legacy. Seeing Mrs. Garfield’s meticulous record-keeping and preservation was one of the more fascinating parts of our tour of Lawnfield, and it was interesting to learn that her efforts resulted in establishing one of the first real presidential libraries.
Garfield heirs sold Lawnfield to the Western Reserve Historical Society in 1936. The Society restored the home and opened it to the public.
Lawnfield earned designation as a National Historic site in 1980, and a multi-million-dollar restoration in the late 1990s recreated the home much as it was in the late 1800s. About 80 percent of the period furnishings in the home today originally belonged to the Garfield family.
Visitors cannot take photos inside of the home, but you can get a peek at Lawnfield’s interior at the Western Reserve Historical Society site.
Check out Cleveland monument is lasting tribute to President James A. Garfield for more about this president’s life, and his final resting place.
Readers interested in learning more may enjoy reading the Garfield biography, Dark Horse: The Surprise Election and Political Murder of President James A. Garfield.
I also recently discovered the availability of an intriguing looking reprint of an original book written by Horatio Alger in 1881 called From Canal Boy to President: Or the Boyhood and Manhood of James A Garfield.
© Dominique King 2010 All rights reserved