The 19th president of the United States was born in Delaware, but apart from his name on a few buildings, the only visible evidence is a nondescript monument near the sidewalk in front of a gas station.
A committee of residents hopes to improve that situation by installing a statue of President Rutherford B. Hayes at the southwest corner of William and Sandusky streets in downtown Delaware.
Bill Rietz, a retired Hayes High School teacher and swim coach, is chairman of the Rutherford B. Hayes Comes Home committee. He said the committee is attempting to raise $125,000 in time to dedicate the statue on Hayes' 197th birthday: Oct. 4, 2019.
The sculptor would be Ohioan Alan Cottrill, who produced the statue of Civil War Union Gen. William Starke Rosecrans installed in 2013 on Sunbury's Village Square, Rietz said.
The Hayes statue would be a 125 percent scale depiction of the president, standing about 10 feet tall with its granite pedestal, Rietz said. The project would include a bust of Hayes to be placed at Delaware's Hayes High School.
Rietz said the committee is a grassroots effort that formed in 2016. It hopes to receive donations from local businesses, industries, community groups and residents. Donations will be collected under the auspices of the Delaware County Foundation, he said, and are tax-deductible. Another committee activity is development of an educational program about Hayes to be presented to classrooms and groups, Rietz said.
Born in 1822, Hayes left Delaware in 1836 to attend school in Norwalk.
Rietz said Hayes went on to become a pro-abolition lawyer in Cincinnati who worked on behalf of runaway slaves, a Union officer in the Civil War and a three-term Ohio governor before pledging to serve only one term as president.
Hayes' election was marred by a dispute over electoral votes, which resulted in President Ulysses S. Grant naming an electoral commission to resolve the issue. Hayes, a Republican, emerged the winner in part because of a deal made with Democrats to remove the remaining federal troops from the former Confederacy.
Rietz said Hayes' legacy "is more about the man than the election."
Among his accomplishments as president, Rietz said, Hayes instituted civil-service reforms to eliminate the spoils system, which had been used by winning candidates to give federal jobs to friends, family and supporters.
Rietz said Hayes also protected minority rights and promoted education. He was an Ohio Wesleyan University trustee, helped create Ohio State University when he was Ohio's governor and "was wounded four times in the Civil War, and had his horse shot out from under him five times," Rietz said.
Among educational materials prepared by the committee, Rietz said, is the story of why a gas station -- BP, 17 E. William St. -- now stands at the site of a president's birthplace.
By 1921, the house where Hayes was born was in disrepair, and its owner, who was not related to the Hayes family, sold it to Standard Oil. When the company learned it owned a president's birthplace, it offered to sell the house to Delaware if the community could raise $8,000. Standard Oil donated the first $500.
But the community could raise only $4,760, so Standard Oil demolished the house and built a gas station at the site.
In 1926, the memorial plaque was installed in front of the gas station.
After 1873, Hayes lived in Fremont, now the site of the Rutherford B. Hayes Presidential Center, which includes the Hayes museum and presidential library.
Dustin McLochlin, the presidential center curator, said Hayes settled in Fremont because his uncle, Sardis Birchard, lived and owned property there, which Hayes later inherited.
Delaware's planned statue of Hayes will not be the first full-size sculpture of the president, McLochlin said. Hayes is among several Ohioans -- along with presidents Grant and James Garfield -- depicted on one of the sculptures outside the Ohio Statehouse.
Life-size statues of all presidents, including Hayes and as recent as George W. Bush, stand in downtown Rapid City, South Dakota, near Mount Rushmore.
Contributions for the Delaware statue can be made to the Rutherford B. Hayes Heritage Fund of the Delaware County Foundation and mailed to 675 Pollyanna Drive, Delaware 43015.
For more information, go to www.hayescomeshome.org.