James A. Garfield National Historic Site Mentor, Ohio Visited: May 3, 2004 NPS Site Visited: 34 of 353 NPS Website; Local Website
WHAT IS IT? Lawnfield. The farm estate built in 1876 by then Ohio Congressman and future 20th President of the United States James A. Garfield.
BEAUTY (6/10) Due to its two large-scale additions, Lawnfield is a mish-mash of architectural styles; let’s just say modified Queen Anne. The House has been lovingly restored and freshly repainted a grayish-blue color. It looks immaculate. The large and historically notable front porch defines the House.
The House’s interior is oddly quirky and very personal. You think you are in a stately Victorian furnished room until you take a closer look and see, for example, the fireplace mantle surrounded by inlayed tiles painted by Lucretia Garfield and her children. There is subtle whimsy everywhere. The House feels very comfortable and lived in even though it has been a museum for six decades.
HISTORIC SIGNIFICANCE (4/10) James A. Garfield was a prominent Ohio Congressman when he bought a rundown nine-room farmhouse in 1876. In the spring of 1880, Garfield added a second story and 11 rooms to the structure. Shortly thereafter, he was unexpectedly chosen at the Republican nominating convention (on the 36th ballot no less) to be their candidate for president.
Nearly all of Garfield’s presidential campaigning took place on Lawnfield’s porch. At least 17,000 people visited the House that summer to hear the famed orator speak. His “front porch” campaign set a new standard, as aggressive appeals for votes would become the norm.
CROWDS (6/10) We took the tour alone. It would have been nice to see more people but having the guide all to ourselves was a huge plus. We asked so many questions that we almost felt guilty.
EASE OF USE/ACCESS (4/5) The James A. Garfield NHS is easily located on U.S. 20, about 25 miles northeast of Cleveland. The Site is very close to Interstate 90. Brown NPS signs point you on your way. There is plenty of parking.
The Site was completely accessible for people with disabilities.
CONCESSIONS/BOOKSTORE (3/5) A nice mix of Victorian knickknacks and standard NPS books. There were a few books on Garfield, which is probably a definitive collection.
COSTS (3/5) A guided tour of the house costs $6 per adult. AAA discount knocks off a dollar. Its $3 per person if you have the National Parks Pass.
RANGER/GUIDE TO TOURIST RATIO (4/5) Our guided tour of the Garfield House was done by a Western Reserve Historical Society member, not a Park Ranger. She was a fantastic guide, one of the best we’ve had so far. She sparked our curiosity. She seemed to know where from, what, and why about every decoration, furniture piece and painting in the entire house.
For example, Michael saw a picture of John Brown hanging in a corner of an upstairs room. Before he could even say ‘Is that John Brown?” our guide was ready with her answer: “Yes it is John Brown”. “It is not an original to the House, the Historical Society purchased it years ago and decided to hang it in a bare space,” she said. “There is a connection, you know. Garfield was an abolitionist supporter but he probably wouldn’t have hung up a picture of John Brown, especially when he was running for president. Still, John Brown lived nearby and while there is no record, he and Garfield probably met.”
TOURS/CLASSES (9/10) Everything about the Site is first rate: the interactive museum, the short film and especially the guided tour. Before we arrived in Mentor, Ohio, we knew nothing about James A. Garfield, except that he was assassinated.
By the time we left, we felt like we knew the man, his wife and his family. We even gained both strong admiration and affection, so much so that we visited his mausoleum in Cleveland.
FUN (7/10) The tour and the museum were great but who knew that the personality and life of James A. Garfield would be so interesting. He was the last president to be born in a log cabin. In his life, he moved from canal worker to student to university president to ordained minister to Ohio state senator to attorney to decorated Union General to Congressman to Smithsonian Institution regent to U.S. Senator to president of the United States.
WOULD WE RECOMMEND? (7/10) Driving into Mentor, we both joked that we would be in and out of the site within the hour. Garfield was only president for 200 days, how much could one say about him? We weren’t sure what to expect but we were pretty sure we would be only mildly interested. So wrong. Lawnfield is a gem. It did what all historic sites should do – make the visitor want to learn more.
Thanks to the historian who guided us through the house and the house itself, we continue to seek out information about James and his wife Lucretia, whose personality is evident throughout the house and in the fact that she created what some say is the first Presidential Library to honor her husband and his collection of writings and resources.
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