If You Like the Aesthetic Look or Haviland China, Now’s the Time to Visit Spiegel Grove

For the past few years, a major interior restoration has been under way at the Fremont, Ohio home where President Rutherford B. Hayes and his wife, Lucy, lived from 1881 to 1893. With the project almost complete now, the home looks much the way the Hayeses left it.

Courtesy Hayes Presidential Center

Located on the 25-acre estate named Spiegel Grove, the elegant brick house was originally built in 1863 by Sardis Birchard, the president’s uncle. Additions in 1880 and 1889 not only enlarged the home, but also gave it a distinctive style. Its interior design scheme featured exotic patterns and rich earth-tone colors, in keeping with the Aesthetic sensibilities that were popular at that time. Later remodelings did away with the Aesthetic look, but now they’re back, in exuberant splendor.

The Ohio Historical Society and Hayes Presidential Center staff members worked with consultants on a restoration plan to return the home to its late 1880s appearance. The $1.2 million project was funded by a Save America’s Treasures grant, a State of Ohio capital appropriation, and private donations.

To guide their work, the team relied on bits of physical evidence, such as the original upholstery on a couple of chairs and fragments of wallpaper found behind wood moldings or on plaster walls. They also turned to archival sources. The Hayes family kept many original sales receipts for home décor purchases made back to the 1860s. Historic photographs showed how the rooms were originally decorated.

Courtesy Hayes Presidential Center

Research revealed that in the 1880s, the rooms were decorated with wallpapers in coordinating patterns and colors, as well as wide wallpaper borders, or friezes, above moldings specifically designed to hang pictures. The original patterns and vivid Victorian colors of those wallcoverings, friezes and carpets have been recreated. The Aesthetic gas lighting fixtures that were installed in the home in 1881 were either modified or replaced when they were converted to electricity in 1912. Period photos also guided a historic lighting expert in his restoration and replication of the fixtures. Moreover, approximately 90 percent of the furnishings and artwork seen in those period photographs remained in the house, so they were taken out of the attic and basement and returned to their original locations. Now, nearly all of the first-floor rooms — including the Red Parlor, Library Parlor, Stair Hall, and Library — have been restored to their 1893 appearance.

Refurbishment has also led house tours to include a few new features for visitors. First, when the carpet was pulled up in the library, a previously unknown trap door emerged, concealing a foot-deep hiding place beneath the floor. Then, there’s the “Inner Sanctum,” a multipurpose room that not only served as the president’s bathroom, but also was the place where he went when he wanted to be alone. In addition to a bathtub, sink and toilet, the room includes a writing desk, chairs, bookshelves, and an exterior door. Since this room was drastically altered during successive remodelings, historic photos guided its return to its original appearance. On the second floor, work is still under way on restoring a mini-museum that Hayes referred to as his “Little Smithsonian.”

The public has also been invited to participate in the restoration process by donating books published before 1900 to fill the shelves and tabletops in the president’s library.

If you visit the Hayes home before September 16, walk next door to the Hayes Presidential Center and see The Gilded Age of Haviland China, on display on the lower level of the museum. Created in partnership with regional Haviland collectors, the exhibition highlights examples of the china that was so popular during the 19th and early 20th centuries.

Both of my great-grandparents chose Haviland for their china. When John Born married Julia O’Connor in 1910, his coworkers at the John M. Caren Company bought Haviland placesettings and serving pieces for the couple. Gertie and John Heinmiller set the table for themselves and their nine children with “Autumn Leaf,” a pattern that Haviland developed as a premium for the Jewel Tea Company in 1927.

That was the extent of what I knew about Haviland, until I toured the exhibition and read Haviland China: The Age of Elegance, by Nora Travis (Schiffer Publishing, 2004). Now, I appreciate this china even more.

David Haviland opened a tableware import company in 1838. During the 1840s, the company expanded into French porcelain, creating molds, having French factories make the pieces, commissioning local painters to decorate them, and then shipping the porcelain to its store in New York. Later, Haviland opened his own porcelain manufacturing company in Limoges, France. As production increased and his sons continued the family business, Haviland became an international product. Later, to serve the market for dinnerware, the Havilands formed a porcelain factory in America. While the patterns were simpler and more cost-efficient to produce, china produced at this factory was of a heavier weight, scratched more easily, and was not as translucent as the porcelain made in Limoges. Large fires in 1926 and 1929 destroyed many of the company’s warehouses, its designing room, several of its patterns and records, and its museum. Production stopped in 1930, and Haviland & Company liquidated its assets in 1931.

Early Haviland patterns were geometric, either decorating the rim of the piece or with a simple floral motif in the center. The popularity of Japanese motifs during the 1870s and 1880s led the patterns — either transfers or hand-painted ones — to adorn the entire surface of the plate.

Walking through the exhibit, I learned that Mark Twain and his wife, Olivia, owned the Haviland pattern known as “Schleiger No. 486 on the Vermicelli blank,” so named as a result of an identification system developed by Arlene Schleiger and her son, Richard. (The majority of Haviland patterns did not have names, so to help identify them, Richard drew a Haviland pattern and Arlene assigned a number to it, attaching a letter to the number whenever she found a variation of that pattern.) I also discovered that in 1900, Ida Saxton McKinley purchased the “Drop Rose” pattern with cobalt and gold trim for the McKinleys’ personal use.

Haviland dinnerware was also designed for the Hayes administration by Theodore Davis, a former artist and writer for Harper’s Weekly. An avid fisherman and hunter who liked to capture nature and wildlife in his artistic work, Davis created bold, colorful designs of flora and fauna representing aspects of American wildlife to adorn pieces of Haviland china.  The dessert plate pictured here depicts Davis’s studio, while an oyster plate from the set is shown below.  Both are from the Hayes Presidential Center’s collections and are currently on display in an exhibit about Hayes at The Ohio State University’s Thompson Library Gallery.

Because Davis was new to designing and making patterns for dinnerware, the detailed color notations that he gave his watercolors proved to be difficult and expensive to duplicate. As a result, Haviland and Company had to devise new ways to produce it.

The china set was delivered to President and Mrs. Hayes at the White House in 1879. The back of each piece included Davis’s initials, signature and date, as well as the normal Haviland backstamp and the presidential seal. The Hayeses first used their Haviland china for a dinner they held for the newly elected President and Mrs. Garfield in November 1880. The next month, the china was used for a state function in honor of President and Mrs. Grant’s return from a world tour.

Some of the pieces of the Hayes administration’s Haviland china set can be found in the dining room of the Hayes house.  You can see others in the Hayes Presidential Center’s museum, displayed on a mahogany sideboard carved in Cincinnati by the noted craftsman Henry Fry and his son, William.  Created in 1880, the sideboard was used by the Hayeses in the private dining room of the White House.

Two complete sets of the Hayes china were made. One was for use at the White House, while the second was intended to be sold to the Prince of Wales, although the Governor General of Canada eventually bought it. To make up for their financial loss in creating the china, Haviland duplicated some of the pieces from the service for sale to the general public.

The Hayes Presidential Center — the nation’s first presidential library — opened to the public in 1916. The museum was started by the Hayes children and presents artifacts that illustrate the life and times of President Hayes and his family. A research library preserves Hayes’ 12,000-volume personal library and archival material from his career. It also provides access to over 70,000 books that reflect Hayes’ special interests, the period in which he lived, genealogy and local history. The library also has digitized 3,000 pages of text from the diaries that Hayes kept from age 12 until his death in 1893. To search or browse the diaries and other letters that Hayes wrote during his lifetime, click here.

For more news about the Hayes Presidential Center, visit the Manuscripts Division’s blog. The blog highlights recent donations, publications using the center’s photograph and manuscript collections, and other items about the center.  Ohio’s Yesterdays, another blog maintaned by the Manuscripts Division, relates stories about Ohio’s people, places and events inspired by the Center’s manuscription collections.

Thanks to Nancy Kleinhenz, Communications/Marketing Manager, Hayes Presidential Center, for providing the photos  of the refurbished Hayes home. 

This entry was posted in Architecture, Art, History, Libraries, Museums, Ohio, Ohio History Connection (formerly the Ohio Historical Society). Bookmark the permalink.

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