During "Spring Break" [which no longer coincides with Easter in farm communities] start their season with overnight visits to Grandma's house. Though it seems "terribly" early, our newest teen grand is spending some days with us. And, while some of our "field" trips have been as far away as California to visit "Great" Poppy, this one wasn't quite that far. We shoved off yesterday morning with the oldest two grands for Mentor, Ohio [just east of Cleveland] to tour another Presidential residence and "library". That of James A. Garfield. No, no, no -- not John's cat. <WideG>

I don't know that the fact that it was a President's home that makes it so interesting or the fact that this twentieth President spend so little time in office. Or, that he was farmer, scholar, college president, soldier, congressman, lawyer and a fantastic orator. Or, is it really a popular place because of his fantastically talented wife?

After a four-year, nearly $12 million dollar renovation, the home where this President led his very famous "front-porch" campaign for the presidency in 1880 is back on display to the public. The site known as "Lawnfield", is a dark battleship gray and red main house, which had most humble beginnings very much like it owner. It was quite small for nine occupants, so Garfield added eleven more rooms. After the death of the President, Lucretia, his wife of many talents again enlarged the house with a "presidential" library and a large walk in vault on the second floor. This library was the first and probably the prototype for Presidential Libraries to follow.

The library contains among other things the US Congressional desk he used for nine terms. There is also a floral wreath preserved, sent to his funeral by England's Queen Victoria. The room contains an arced bay window where their only daughter was married.

Also, after the death of the President, Lucretia had the house fitted with gas lighting, fireplaces, and a WINDMILL that pumped water into the house. Windmill?? At first sight, one would expect that it was not functioning because the basic structure resembles a "light house" without the huge sails of European windmills. Instead it had a "good ole Yankee" bladed fan atop the structure.

Lucretia's involvement in the construction of the windmill reveals her feisty and intelligent nature and talents. All this came about because of problems with the main well at Lawnfield. In 1894, the earlier windmill project began. It included a new well, a tower with a tank to store water, and the larger windmill to pump water into the 500 barrel storage tank.. From there the water was piped underground and up into the third floor storage tank in the house holding 300 gallons of water. Lucretia's letters to her sons document the project with the fine details from beginning to end.

One of her talents then was an understanding of hydraulic engineering. The tank stands eleven feet in diameter and twenty-feet high. The base has four arches [one per side] which caused "engineering" trouble. Of them, Lucretia told her son Abram Garfield in 1894, "The arches are finished after one had been taken down three times, and a second twice. Finally they are not noticeably bad, and [the contractor] has learned a lesson. It may not have cost him as much as a year at "Technology" [MIT] but the mortification of failing to understand such a simple principle in mathematics and thereby to have so blundered, more than offsets the cost of a little more study."

This tower lasted until 1930 [just before the property became a national historical site, when it was taken down due extensive wind damage. Lucretia recognized the importance of the windmill to the farm. Through an anonymous donation, the NPS along with the Western Reserve Historical Society reconstructed the landmark. Residence Artists, Inc and their construction crews put in over 4,000 hours to repair the foundation and original stone pump house as well as replace the wooden tower and windmill. Down came the scaffolding on 29 May 1998, a "good" Friday, and one of Lucretia's dreams once again stands 62 feet above the Mentor farm.

I have scanned a picture of this windmill and it is being used as the background for this story.


© 2000, by Bill Oliver
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