Kaleidoscope: Visiting Garfield, Coulby estates and a historic farm

by KEN LAHMERS | EDITOR Published:

A couple of years ago I walked around the grounds of Lawnfield, President James A. Garfield's estate in Mentor, but since it was after hours I didn't get the opportunity to visit the welcome center/museum and tour the house.

A recent trip to Willoughby South High School for a Greenmen wrestling match gave me the chance to visit the estate again during operating hours, and I thoroughly enjoyed the experience.

Lawnfield, which is on Mentor Avenue east of Great Lakes Mall, is a National Historic Site operated by the National Park Service. The guide who led our tour group of about 15 people even wore a ranger's uniform.

Garfield and his wife Lucretia purchased the farm in 1876, when he was a U.S. Congressman. The original house facing Mentor Avenue was 1 1/2 stories and had nine rooms. In 1880, he enlarged it to 20 rooms.

When he bought the farm, he vowed that it would be a place "where I can put my boys at work and teach them farming" and "where I can touch the earth and get some strength from it."

Garfield was born in Orange Township in 1831 and attended Western Reserve Eclectic Institute (now Hiram College) for two years before going to Williams College in Massachusetts, from where he graduated in 1856.

Garfield later served as an Ohio senator, was a lieutenant colonel in the 42nd Ohio Volunteer Infantry during the Civil War and served as a U.S. representative for 17 years.

He was elected to the U.S. Senate in January 1880 and was asked to nominate John Sherman for president at the Republican National Convention later that year. But the convention deadlocked and Garfield became the nominee.

He was elected the nation's 20th president in November and inaugurated in March 1881, but was assassinated by Charles Guiteau on July 2. He hung on to life until Sept. 19. He is buried in a large memorial tower in Cleveland's Lake View Cemetery.

Garfield's presidential term was the second shortest in U.S. history behind William Henry Harrison, who died of pneumonia in 1841 after 32 days in office.

GARFIELD conducted the nation's first "front porch presidential campaign" at his farm in 1880, and it was the reporters who covered the campaign who dubbed the farm Lawnfield.

Back in those days the farm consisted of 158 acres. Over the years much of the land was sold off, and the once bustling farm is now surrounded by residences and other structures, with the four-lane Mentor Avenue running past it.

After Garfield's death, his wife added a large section to the house in 1885, which became the nation's first presidential library. All of Garfield's books are still housed there.

The section includes a metal vault room, where many of Garfield's important papers were once kept, but they have been moved. The library also has Garfield's small desk from the U.S. House floor.

The guide told us that 80 percent to 85 percent of the items in the house were owned by the Garfields. Mrs. Garfield died in 1918 and the family retained possession of the house until the 1930s, when the Western Reserve Historical Society took it over and restored much of it.

First floor rooms include the entrance hall, main hall, bedroom shared by Mr. and Mrs. Garfield, that of his mother, reception hall, parlor, nurse's room and dining room.

The second floor contains additional bedrooms, the president's study, the library built by Mrs. Garfield and several other rooms.

At the northeast corner of the house stands a one-story frame building used first as a library and in 1880 as Garfield's campaign office. Equipped with telegraph facilities, election returns were received there.

Behind the big house is a replica of Garfield's log cabin birthplace, and also there, dating from the period of the president's occupancy, are a windmill-pumphouse, carriage house (housing the visitors center/museum) and barn.

ANOTHER STATELY MANSION

Since Willoughby South High School was just a short distance away, I checked out another interesting historic structure on Ridge Road in Wickliffe, which is just to the west.

Known as the Coulby Mansion, it has housed offices of the city of Wickliffe since 1954. A large recreation area called Coulby Park, including a ballfield and swimming pool, is situated behind the mansion.

Since it was a Saturday, the building was not open, but I walked around its exterior and took photos.

Harry C. Coulby built the structure from 1913-15 at a cost of $1 million. It was situated on a 54-acre estate called Coulallenby.

Coulby was born in 1865 in Claypool, England, and emigrated to Cleveland at age 17, where he eventually was in charge of overseeing 100 ships on the Great Lakes for the Pickards Mather Co. He became known as the "czar of the lakes."

Coulby became Wickliffe's first mayor in 1916, and he died in 1929. The home had several other owners until the city purchased it in 1954. For a while, it was used as a Catholic girls school.

Many of the original fixures in the house reportedly remain, including chandeliers, a skylight, wallpaper and hand-carved woodwork. Also on the property are gardens, a pond, former cow barn, gatehouse and park with a nature trail.

The exterior is made of white terra cotta. At one time, a wrought iron fence and stone pillars surrounded the property.

City Council chambers now occupy the west wing. The building also houses the mayor's office, a receptionist's room and other city offices such as the recreation department.

The police department occupied the east wing from 1954-90, when it was moved to a building east of the mansion. The dining and breakfast rooms in the east wing have been restored, and the high-ceilinged butler's pantry retains its original cabinetry.

Some of the other wealthy people who lived in Wickliffe in the early 1900s were Fergus B. Squire, Frank Rockefeller and the Corrigan family.

SCHOOLHOUSE, ANIMAL BARNS

An interesting cluster of buildings stands on Willoughby-Eastlake school district grounds at Ridge and Shankland roads just south of Willoughby South High School.

One is the Little Red Schoolhouse, a one-room brick structure built in 1901 and used until the 1940s. It was moved there from elsewhere in town by the Rotary Club in 1975 and has become a place where local students learn about Ohio history and see how students were educated a century ago.

Students who visit the school are given slates and McGuffey Readers, and take part in some of the simple activities from the early 1900s such as making yarn with a spinning wheel and applesauce in the kitchen.

The schoolhouse is occasionally open for adults to take a peek, and many of the visitors have come from area nursing care facilities.

Behind the schoolhouse are several barns topped with cupolas and a sprawling mansion (built in 1915) used as the school district's headquarters, which were part of Stanley and Gertrude Tucker's 125-acre Elgercon Farm. They raised Guernsey cattle and percheron draft horses.

Gertrude, a daughter of Chandler & Price printing press company co-founder Harrison T. Chandler, died in 1953 and left 23 acres to Western Reserve University. Shortly thereafter, the Willoughby-Eastlake school district bought it.

A C & P press is housed in the schoolhouse, and a couple of the barns known as the Eleanor Gaines Rolf Education Center house larger artifacts and a local history room with Willoughby Township records, photos and information.

Mrs. Rolf, by the way, was instrumental in preserving and moving the Little Red Schoolhouse, and has written a couple of books about Willoughby history and Willoughby Township schools.

More about the Tucker estate in a future column.

Email: klahmers@recordpub.com

Phone: 330-541-9400 ext. 4189

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