Published January 2022
Shores & Islands recently sat down with Kristina Smith, Marketing and Communications Manager at Rutherford B. Hayes Presidential Library & Museums to learn a bit more about the museum, President Hayes, and Kristina’s thoughts on Shores & Islands Ohio as a great place to play, live, and work.
S&I: Tell us about your role at the museum.
Kristina: I’m the marketing/communications manager, which involves wearing a lot of hats. That’s one of the things I love about it. My job includes managing social media accounts, writing news releases, designing newsletters and writing the content for them, designing a variety of promotional material, making and editing videos that range from promotional to educational, taking photos at events, helping to plan events and working events, determining where to advertise, designing ads, and more. I also handle media interviews, which means either I am the person interviewed or set up having staff talk with reporters from various news outlets. For one of our recent special exhibits, I even got to write text for a couple of the exhibit panels, which was really exciting for me.
S&I: Tell us about President Hayes. What is his legacy?
Kristina: Rutherford B. Hayes was our 19th president, and he served from 1877-1881. Hayes was born in Delaware, Ohio. He attended Kenyon College in Gambier, Ohio, and Harvard Law School. He was the first U.S. president to have a law degree. During his career as a lawyer in Cincinnati, he successfully helped to defend runaway slaves. He served the Union Army in the Civil War, rising to the rank of General. Hayes felt his Civil War service was his most important contribution in life and always preferred to be called “General Hayes,” even after he was elected president. Education was one of the main issues for which he advocated. He helped to found The Ohio State University when he was governor, and he was a strong proponent of public education and skilled-trades training. Fun fact, he also started what is today the White House Easter Egg Roll.
S&I: What is the history of the museum and library? Was it the very first Presidential Library?
Kristina: Yes, we are America’s first Presidential Library. President Rutherford and First Lady Lucy Hayes’ son, Col. Webb C. Hayes, wanted to preserve their papers, books, and artifacts and came up with the presidential library concept. We opened in 1916. Since then, the museum/library building has been expanded in 1922 and 1968 to its current size of two floors of museum exhibits and one floor of library space open to the public.
Our site comprises Rutherford and Lucy’s 25-acre wooded estate, called Spiegel Grove; the museum and library building; the Hayes Home, which is a Victorian mansion; Rutherford and Lucy’s tomb; a mile of paved trails; and original White House gates at each entrance.
We predate the federal presidential library system and therefore are not part of that system. We are owned by the State of Ohio. We even have a report from the Congressional Research Service that names us as the first Presidential Library.
Spiegel Grove is also part of the National Underground Railroad Network to Freedom, which comprises historical sites with a connection to the Underground Railroad, due to Hayes’ defense of slaves as a lawyer in Cincinnati.
S&I: When did President Hayes live at Spiegel Grove and how many generations lived in the home following him? When did the home become a historical attraction?
Kristina: Spiegel Grove was mostly Rutherford and Lucy’s retirement home. Rutherford and Lucy lived here full-time from 1873 until they went to the White House in 1877. After the family left the White House in 1881, they returned to their beloved home at Spiegel Grove and spent the rest of their lives here.
Three generations lived in the home after Rutherford and Lucy. They stayed here until 1965, and then gave the home to the State of Ohio. It was then opened for tours. In 2012, the first floor was restored to how it looked when Rutherford and Lucy lived here. We are very fortunate that the Hayes family saved everything, so almost all of the furniture, knick knacks, paintings, and other items on the first floor were original to Rutherford and Lucy. We also have photographs taken of the home in the 1880s that showed how each room looked and allowed our staff to recreate that.
S&I: Are any Hayes ancestors still in the area that are involved in your operations?
Kristina: Yes, we are blessed to have wonderful support and involvement from the Hayes descendants. Our board president, Jennifer McFarland Barrett, lives in Cincinnati, and we have had other descendants on our board through the years. Another descendant, probably the closest to us geographically, is a regular at our events and is one of our volunteers. Many descendants live on the east and west coasts, but remain involved through memberships, online programs, and other support. For our centennial in 2016, we had a family reunion, and more than 100 Hayes descendants attended.
S&I: What is new at the museum within the last few years or what exciting plans do you have for 2022? Tell us about any planned special events.
Kristina: We recently received official arboretum status from ArbNet Arboretum Accreditation Program. This has been a goal of ours for several years and is exciting because it’s a recognition of the wide variety of plants and our more than 1,700 trees at Spiegel Grove. We are listed on a database of the world’s arboreta and gardens, making us easier to find and more visible to those specifically interested in trees and flora and fauna. So many people love the grounds and walk or jog here every day.
Being added to the Network to Freedom was very exciting and has helped us expand our educational offerings.
We have added a variety of new programs in recent years and really expanded our digital programming during the pandemic. One of the things we learned is that there is demand for some of our in-person programs to also be digital, allowing those who don’t live within driving distance to attend virtually. We plan to continue offering many of these programs both in-person and digitally.
2022 marks the 200th anniversary of President Hayes’ birth. Our staff will be busy planning a variety of events, so for updates, please follow along at rbhayes.org.
Some of our new events in recent years include our Craft Beers & Cocktails event, which keeps growing and expanding. This August, the event takes place on the lawn of the Hayes Home and gives guests the opportunity to sip craft beers and cocktail samples while enjoying live music.
Poe in the Parlor, a dramatic reading of some of Edgar Allan Poe’s works was added in 2021 and expected to be offered again in 2022. Civil War Winter Camp is a unique event that includes tours with reenactors of a camp like those President Hayes’ regiment kept during the winter months. This takes place every October.
Our annual A Presidential Christmas events continue to grow and include lighting of Christmas lights at Spiegel Grove, holiday-themed tours of the Hayes Home, and more.
S&I: What is your favorite thing about living and working in the Shores & Islands region?
Kristina: I often tell people that there are so many fun things to choose from in your spare time: hiking at any of the local natural areas, birding, fishing, swimming, kayaking, going to the islands, and so on. And those are just the nature things. We are fortunate to have so many fantastic attractions, including the museums in the region, to visit.
S&I: If you had friends visiting from out of town, where would you take them?
Kristina: One of my favorite things to do is show my out-of-town family and friends around. Of course, I take them to Hayes Presidential. The rest of it depends on what they like to do.
For my outdoorsy family and friends, we often go birding, which you can do year-round here and walk at Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge or East Harbor State Park. Some come to visit specifically for the Biggest Week in American Birding, which I always take some vacation time to participate in. We’ve gone kayaking in Port Clinton, Marblehead, and Sandusky and fished at public access points. For anyone visiting who wants to go to the beach, we head to East Harbor State Park. My niece had her first-ever beach trip there last summer, which was so special, and she loved it.
Other friends want to see the islands, which is always fun because I love going to all of them. I like renting a golf cart and taking people on a tour of South Bass Island. They are often amazed at how much there is to do there besides the downtown establishments.
Just visiting some of the downtowns and enjoying the businesses and museums there is fun, too. We like to make something at Pottery Perfection in Fremont or go to the Merry-Go-Round Museum in Sandusky, just to name a couple examples.
S&I: Perch or pizza? Where is your favorite place for either?
Kristina: Perch, of course! My favorite place to get it is at Bootleggers Waterfront Grille & Bar in Port Clinton.
S&I: Lake or land? Would you prefer spending time on the water or by the shore?
Kristina: Right by the shore, mostly because I get seasick. You can’t beat a day at the beach, hiking along the water or shore fishing.
S&I: Anything else to add regarding how to enjoy the region “like a local?”
Kristina: I just can’t stress enough how much there is to do in this region and how many fun things are at our disposal. Even in the winter time, the area is serene and peaceful. For example, I love walking at Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge or visiting the Marblehead Lighthouse in the winter, as well. We are truly blessed.