Rutherford B. Hayes Visits Mansfield

Historical Article Series April 12, 2020 > Rutherford B. Hayes Visits Mansfield

From the Mansfield Historical Society Newsletter, Vol. 40, No. 1, January 2004 

Rutherford B. Hayes kept a diary from age twelve to his death at age 70 in 1893. He was one of only three presidents to keep a diary while in office. The edited diaries and letters were published in 1922 as a set of five volumes, The Diary and Letters of Rutherford B. Hayes, Nineteenth President of the United States, edited by Charles Richard Williams (Columbus, Ohio: Ohio State Archeological and Historical Society, 1922). These 3000 pages of text have been digitized and are now available on the Web at www.rbhayes.org

Rutherford B. Hayes
Rutherford B. Hayes 19th U.S. President, 1877-1881

Rutherford B. Hayes, then Governor of Ohio, visited Mansfield in July 1871 in search of his ancestral roots. He recorded this visit in his diary (see below). He may have made a subsequent visit to Mansfield in 1889. An inscription written inside a bedroom closet in the former parsonage in Mansfield Center (564 Storrs Road) reads “Ex-President R. B. Hayes was guest of the Reverend K. B. Glidden October 17 & 18, 1889 and slept in this room.” This visit is not mentioned in his diary. In fact, according to the diary, Hayes was in Philadelphia on October 17 and in transit to Ohio on the 18th. He was, however, in Norwich on October 11 and may have made a side trip to Mansfield then. Hayes was a friend of Reverend Glidden and much of their correspondence is archived at the Rutherford B. Hayes Presidential Center. Perhaps the key to this mystery resides there. 

July 20, 1871 – Returning, took the cars for Mansfield, Connecticut, at Hartford about 6 P. M. on railroad from Hartford to Providence. Here begins my search after my great-grandfather, Elias Birchard. I knew he lived somewhere in Mansfield, and died about 1781. . . . The “Railway Guide” did not show precisely where Mansfield was, but a look at the map satisfied me that it was in the direction of Norwich from Willimantic…. On passing Willimantic I inquired of the conductor for a “stop-off” ticket to Mansfield. “Why,” said he, “you are on the wrong cars; you are going directly wrong. You should have gone north from Willimantic.” “When is the next train back?” “At four A. M. tomorrow.” “Too early for comfort. How far from [the] next station to Mansfield?” “About ten miles.” “What is it?” “Windham,” replied the conductor. I remembered that Windham joined Mansfield, and what was better, that some of the early Birchards had lived in Windham. Here was my opportunity. Not so bad after all. So at Windham off I hurried. I leisurely looked about before deciding what hotel I would patronize, putting on an indifferent Rutherford B. Hayes 19th U.S. President, 1877-1881 look for the benefit of the runners for the rival inns. The cars rolled rapidly away. I soon inquired for a hotel, when one of the idlers told me there was none nearer than South Windham, two miles off. This was Windham Station and Windham Centre was six miles distant. About this time I discovered a carry-all going to the hotel with one passenger besides the driver. I got in, and in due time with my patent pedlar companion (a pedlar of a patent shears, for Russell of Clyde, Ohio), I was duly delivered at a fairish country inn in the village of [South] Windham about ten P. M. The landlord said there was no livery stable in the village, but thought he could get me a horse to drive out to Windham Centre. Without my trunk which was ten miles off at Mansfield station or “depot,” I was in bad condition for the night.

July 21, Friday – After a tolerable night’s rest got up in time to learn before breakfast that no horse and buggy could be had for love or money. The next best thing was to go on back to Willimantic at 8 A. M. 

I rode three and a half miles on the outside of the hack with an intelligent, communicative driver, who gave me full and accurate information about the villages, roads, trains, and people of the two towns of Windham and Mansfield. In ten minutes after we reached Willimantic I was in a good buggy on the road to Mansfield Centre, well posted as to the old graveyards and town clerks, present and past, of the old town. About 10 A. M. I reached an old graveyard in excellent condition near the centre of the town of Mansfield. Going into it, I found many stones whose inscriptions were not legible from age, and others as old as 1750. The curious thing was the number of stones of all ages with the name of Barrows. That name seemed to be on one-fourth of the monuments. No Birchard was in the old graveyard. The village of Mansfield Centre was a fine old place, remarkable for its large maple trees. Many were three feet, perhaps almost four feet, in diameter, and with their aged rough bark resembled white oaks in looks and size. 

As I approached the village I was told that the town clerk was Bradley M. Sears, and that he lived near the Baptist Church about two miles beyond on the road to Mansfield Depot. I had written to Sears on family history and received a very civil reply, so I felt at home. When I drew near the church I saw a large number of men hard at work haying. . . I asked if Mr. Sears was there. A young, fine-looking, athletic man replied, “That is my name.” I told him my name was Hayes and that I was from Ohio. He replied, “Oh yes, Governor Hayes, I presume. I am glad to see you here.” He immediately said, “I will go with you.” We went back to Sears’ house. The town records were in perfect order, and went back to the first settlement of the town. There were a number of vellum-covered volumes of different sizes going back to perhaps A. D. 1700…

After finishing the examination of the records, Mr. Sears and I rode down to Mansfield station four and a half miles. There I rechecked my trunk to New London. We returned to Mr. Sears’ via Eaglesville. We had a substantial lunch, after which I bid good-bye to Sears and drove to Willimantic about six miles, via Perkinsville or Pudding Lane. Mr. Sears directed me to Mr. Martin’s, where I was to learn the route to Samuel Perkins, who would know all that anybody knew about the old Birchard homestead. 

land. He was raking hay with a horse-rake. His daughter, a barefoot child of perhaps ten years old, was riding the horse. As soon as I made known my business, he said, “Yes, yes, you have come to the right place. There,” pointing to a wooded elevation about a quarter of a mile distant, “is ‘Birchard Hill.’ It is always called so, and the Birchard house stood near the foot of that hill. I never expected to see a Birchard here. They are gone this eighty or a hundred years. I am only fifty-two, but I have heard the old people talk. There is a song about the hill which the school children sing.” Here the little girl broke in, “I can sing it,” and she sang:- 

“We come, we come from Federal Street, We come, we come from Perkinsville With nimble feet over Birchard Hill, From up on distant Mansfield Road, We come from many a bright abode From many a pleasant home.” 

Mr. Perkins told me I could easily find the place where the house once stood by the cellar. As I left he urged me to stay with him; to stop when I came again that way. 

I easily recognized the little old cellar, grown up with bushes. I borrowed an axe of a poor woman living where the Perkinsville Road entered a large road leading to Willimantic, two miles distant, and cut a couple of sticks from the cellar. The place is not now attractive. The neighborhood is full of Perkinses, good people. 

I rode to Willimantic, took the cars for New London, and about 9 P. M. was safely in a stateroom on the beautiful steamer City of Boston, bound for New York City. 

Letter to S. Birchard, Fayetteville, Vermont 

CLEVELAND, OHIO, July 23, 1871. 

DEAR UNCLE:–I reached here this morning. . . . I stopped at Hartford and spent three or four hours with Charley Mead . . . and left that evening for the home of your fathers — Mansfield. I spent one day there most happily.. . . The town is a fine old Yankee region with three things noticeable: 1. Big maple trees in the roads as large as your oaks, nearly. 2. Not a tavern in the town. 3. Friendly and hospitable people. 

I found the following facts about the Birchards: Joseph, Daniel, and Elias moved into the town from Hartford County in 1757. Elias bought two hundred acres of land in the southwestern part of the town and married Sarah Jacobs in 1758. He had daughters and sons–daughters were Sarah and Martha. In 1777 he sold out in Mansfield and moved back to Hartford County. In 1781 he died. In 1782 his wife, “Widow Birchard,” moved back to Mansfield and bought back the old homestead there, near her father’s. The Jacobs[es] were well-to-do, and very reputable people. The place where your father was born is well known still. It is always called “Birchard Hill.” No Birchard has lived there for more than eighty years. People told me they never saw a Birchard before. I cut two sticks–canes– in the cellar of the house your father was born in. Of no value but as “momentums.” You will find them in your room at Fremont… 

Sincerely, R. B. HAYES. 

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