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Food and travel captivate Janet Podolak, who chronicles both for The News-Herald. Get the back story of her three decades of stories here. Guest bloggers and fellow News-Herald staffers also periodically share details of their trips.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Mentor's National Park: Garfield's home

A walk through President James A. Garfield's one-time home in Mentor reveals a lot about the the 20th U.S. president and the Victorian era in which he lived.

Some of the items, such as a portrait of Napoleon, might seem odd, but Garfield had no military training and when he was sent to command a regiment in the Civil War he began to study Napoleon. Napoleon became his muse and the portrait still hangs in Garfield's Lawnfield home. More than 80 percent of the house's furnishings were original to the Garfields and were used every day by James, his wife Lucretia, their five children, his mother and her dad, who all lived there.

The Garfield family lived in the home until the 1930s when it was transferred to the Western Reserve Historical Society to be preserved and operated as a museum. In the 1950s, Garfield's grand daughter-in-law, Eleanor Garfield, lived in a house on the property when she was mayor of Mentor. Garfield descendants have remained in the area and willingly share family lore with the National Park Service, who now operates the home. The usual $5 admission will be waived Saturday and Sunday April 17 and 18 and April 24 and 25 as part of National Park Week, so it's a great time to stop in at the home at 8095 Mentor Ave., just east of the the Great Lakes Mall.
The library that Lucretia Garfield had built after her husband’s assassination houses his many books and other things from his life. It became the first presidential library.



A wreath sent by Queen Victoria to Lucretia Garfield when the British monarch learned of the president’s death was sent away for preservation within a week of its receipt, so is now seen in the home’s vault, top center.


The Barge of Venus on the Garfields’ dining room table was on display at the 1876 Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia when the Garfields visited. It was believed acquired there, possibly by Lucretia Garfield, who’d been a college art major when she met her future husband and appreciated its fine design.


The ground-floor bedroom, where it was cooler, was used as a summer bedroom by the Garfields, who moved upstairs in the winter. As a widow, Lucretia used only the winter bedroom and had this room transformed into a smoking room.


James A. Garfield was very close to his mother, Eliza Ballou Garfield, who was widowed when young James was only 2. She lived with her son and his family at homes in Hiram, Washington, D.C., the White House and Mentor. She was the first presidential mother to be present for her son’s inauguration.


Visitors to Lawnfield often ask interpreters about the spider motif inlaid into this table and found on wallpaper and other furnishings. Spiders and their webs were a symbol for good fortune during the Victorian era.


Chief interpreter Todd Arrington tells how Garfield was a book-loving scholar his entire life and many of his original books are preserved here, in his office, as well as in the home’s library.