Ohio is often referred to as the “Mother of Presidents” because seven presidents were born in the state. Their birthplaces and childhood homes have been preserved, presidential libraries built, and memorials erected at their gravesites. It is the perfect excuse for an epic road trip across northern Ohio.
There are over a dozen presidential sites throughout Ohio – a few around the Cincinnati region and the rest across the state’s northern portion. Beginning in Mentor northeast of Cleveland, this road trip follows a route through small towns, exciting destinations, and interesting places to visit.
Enjoy this mixture of eight presidential sites to visit along with downtown areas, local restaurants and shops, and interesting attractions.
James A. Garfield National Historic Site
In 1876, James A. Garfield purchased a large house in Mentor, Ohio. When he began running for president four years later, Garfield frequently gave campaign speeches from the covered front porch. Elected as the 20th President of the United States in 1880, Garfield has the unfortunate distinction of being one of four presidents assassinated while in office.
Today, the home is owned and operated by the National Park Service as the James A. Garfield National Historic Site. Visitors can watch nearly twenty minutes of historical films in the visitor, browse the gift shop, and take a guided tour of the historic home.
James Garfield National Historic Site 8095 Mentor Avenue, Mentor, OH | 440-255-8722 | https://www.nps.gov/jaga/index.htm
James A. Garfield Memorial
When Garfield’s body initially returned to Cleveland, he was interred at Lake View Cemetery in a temporary vault. The Garfield Memorial Committee was formed to select a permanent site for his body and design, fund, and build a proper memorial.
In 1883, the committee selected the highest point in Lake View Cemetery as the memorial site. Architect George Keller opted to abandon the Greek designs typically used for presidential sites and instead drew inspiration from Byzantine, Gothic, and Romanesque Revival styles. Construction lasted from 1885 until 1890.
Once completed, the enormous memorial included a tower standing 130 feet tall and 50 feet in diameter. The exterior of the memorial features 110 life-size figures depicting key moments from throughout Garfield’s life. The bodies of James and Lucretia Garfield were re-interred in the crypt beneath the memorial.
Visitors to the privately-owned Lake View Cemetery can visit the memorial during regular business hours. Parallel parking is available around a circle beside the memorial.
12316 Euclid Avenue Cleveland, OH | 216-421-2665 | https://lakeviewcemetery.com/visit/points-of-interest/james-a-garfield-memorial
Cleveland isn’t nearly the largest city in the country – it has a population of around 380,000 – but it is the largest city on Lake Erie. Founded in 1796, the city quickly grew to become a major center of transportation and manufacturing. Since then, Cleveland has grown in the often-overlooked Northeast Ohio region as a center of arts and culture.
Almost any overnight stay in Cleveland needs to include a visit to the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, where you’ll explore the largest collection of memorabilia in the world. The Cleveland History Center is a great place to learn about local history, including parts of Ohio’s aviation history and presidential roots. The Greater Cleveland Aquarium is one of the best in the country, with nine viewing galleries of local and exotic sea life.
Spend your evening at the historic West Side Market shopping, dining, and relaxing. Built in 1912, it’s the oldest continuously operated public market in Cleveland. My recommendation for food is the Pierogi Palace, a family-owned business making fresh pierogis from scratch every day, but you can also get some great food at the West Side Market Café.
Rutherford B. Hayes Presidential Library & Museums
In 1856, Richard Birchard purchased 25 acres of wooded property in Fremont, Ohio, to build a house where he could live his nephew, Rutherford B. Hayes. In 1873, after serving two terms as Ohio’s governor, Hayes moved his family into the home at Spiegel Grove.
Hayes served as the 19th President of the United States from 1877 until 1881 and then promptly returned to Spiegel Grove. He began a series of expansions on the brick mansion that lasted until he died in 1893. Rutherford and Lucy Hayes were buried at a special memorial on the property.
In 1916, the Rutherford B. Hayes Presidential Center was established at Spiegel Grove. Today, visitors can explore exhibits in a museum, take a guided tour of the house, and visit the memorial where the Hayes are buried.
From downtown Fremont, you won’t have to follow the Sandusky River very long to find yourself at Lake Erie. The biggest attraction to visit in Fremont is the Rutherford B. Hayes Presidential Library & Museum, but there are a few other things to do.
The Historic Sandusky Count Jail is haunted – or so they say. Whether or not you believe in the haunts, the guided tour of the dungeon beneath the jail is something everyone should experience. The length guided tour of the 1892 jailhouse includes a lot of local history, including the history of President Hayes.
West State Street is a four-lane road passing through the middle of downtown as the effective “main street.” Local retail shops and restaurants are located along the road, including AJ’s Heavenly Pizza and Scarpetta’s.
Harding Home Presidential Site
In 1890, Warren Harding and his fiancée, Florence, designed a small three-story house on Mount Vernon Avenue in Marion. The next year, they were married at the completed house. They lived a relatively quiet life while Harding served as a state senator and then a U.S. senator.
In 1920, Warren Harding announced his candidacy for president after front runner Theodore Roosevelt’s death. Harding conducted a presidential campaign from the covered front porch of his home in Marion – his speeches over the course of three months were attended by nearly 600,000 people.
Harding died two and a half years into his first term as president. The next year, Florence died. After the passing of the Hardings, their home in Marion was converted into a house museum. Today, the home is part of the Harding Home Presidential Site. After a massive campaign to fund additions to the site, visitors will find a new complex behind the historic home with exhibit spaces.
Harding Home Presidential Site 380 Mt. Vernon Avenue, Marion, OH | 740-387-9630 | www.hardinghome.org
Shortly after Warren Harding died in 1923, the Harding Memorial Association was created. They began soliciting donations for a grand memorial to be erected for the president and his wife. After months of work, the association had received nearly $1 million.
The tomb followed the design of Greek temples with a circular, open-air design. Constructed of George white marble, the tomb is 103’ wide and 53’ tall. It was completed in 1927 – the last of the grand presidential tombs.
Visitors to the Harding Tomb will find the bodies of Warren and Florence Harding interred there. There is plenty of parking on either Vernon Heights Boulevard or Delaware Avenue. From either parking lot, it’s a casual five-minute walk on a concrete path to the tomb. The tomb is accessible for visitors during daylight hours.
966-870 Delaware Ave, Marion, OH
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Marion was laid out in 1822 and named after General Francis Marion – just like my hometown in Virginia. In the early 1900s, the city became one of the country’s largest industrial sectors for producing large, steam-powered earth moving equipment. Components for building the Panama Canal, Holland Tunnel, and the Crawler used by NASA in Florida were built in Marion.
Begin with a visit to the Wyandot Popcorn Museum – one of the most unique museums in the state – to learn about the company’s history and the popcorn industry. Located in the same building as the Marion County Historical Society, you can also explore a large museum dedicated to the county’s history.
Main Street is often busy with traffic, but it’s also a great place to find local retail shops and food. Marion Brewing Company is an excellent place to start with a few samples of their craft beer. For some dessert before dinner, Topped Ice Cream & Sweets is a fantastic place for a loaded sundae. A Taste of Memphis BBQ had a fantastic menu selection, while Main Squeeze was a great place to grab a quick lunch.
Founded in 1808, Mansfield has strived to maintain their midwestern, small town charm – and succeeded wonderfully. The first place everyone should visit is the Ohio State Reformatory. Built in 1886 as a reformatory for young offenders, the epic castle-like structure never served as a prison – but it played one on TV. The historic structure was abandoned in 1990, and shortly after that was the filming location for the Shawshank Redemption. It’s the one attraction everyone needs to visit in the Buckeye State!
Heading downtown, begin a day exploring Mansfield at the Richland Carousel Park on Main Street. The historic indoor carousel is fun for all ages and a great way to relax downtown. Meander along one block of Main Street and three blocks of West 4th Street to find boutique retail shops, local restaurants, coffee shops, and beautiful architecture.
The Phoenix Brewing Company is a great place to get a drink before finding something local to eat. City Grill & Bar is a casual place to grab loaded tater tots, amazing burgers, or a basket of wings. Don’t leave town before visiting Coney Island Diner and trying one of their epic hot dogs.
McKinley Presidential Library & Museum
The McKinley Presidential Library & Museum is one of the most unusual presidential sites. The site is owned and operated by the Stark County Historic Society. Founded in 1946, the society’s first goal was to construct a presidential library – it was completed in 1963.
During design and construction, the historical society chose to offer more than just a presidential library and museum. McKinley was a fan of science – he was president during a time of great scientific advances – so the society chose to include a science museum and planetarium at the site. Along with a museum about the county’s history and a fascinating walk through a recreated street of historic buildings, the presidential site offers plenty for visitors to do.
William McKinley National Memorial
On September 19, 1901 – just five days after he was assassinated by an anarchist – McKinley was laid to rest at West Lawn Cemetery in Canton, Ohio. Almost immediately after the services, close friends of his began planning for a grand memorial to house his body.
The McKinley National Memorial Association was formed to raise money for the project, purchase the land, and build the memorial. President Theodore Roosevelt – the vice president under McKinley – named the people to the first board of trustees of the association.
Construction lasted from 1905 until 1907. Built on land purchase from West Lawn Cemetery, the memorial stands on a grassy hill above a nearby river. The dome of the memorial is 50 feet in diameter and 77 feet above the ground. A stunning 12-foot diameter stained glass skylight allows daylight to bathe the memorial in light.
Visitors can see the memorial during regular business hours for the McKinley Presidential Library & Museum – the memorial is owned and operated by the Stark County Historical Society. Interior access is allowed at certain times though not always a guarantee.
First Ladies National Historic Site
From 1841 until 1865, the three-story home at the corner of Market Avenue and 4th Street SW in downtown Canton was built for the Saxton family. From 1878 until 1891, William and Ida McKinley lived in the house while serving in the U.S. House of Representatives.
The First Ladies National Historic Site’s visitor center is located one block away, occupying two floors in the old City National Bank Building. At that site, visitors can explore a small and unremarkable exhibit space, watch a movie in the small theater, and book a guided tour of the Ida Saxton McKinley House.
First Ladies National Historic Site 205 Market Avenue South, Canton, OH | 330-452-0876 | https://www.nps.gov/fila/index.htm
Canton is most popularly known as the birthplace of American football and home of the Pro Football Hall of Fame. It’s the biggest attraction in town and draws thousands of visitors a year, but it’s not the only thing to see.
Downtown is a vibrant, growing place with local retail shops, restaurants, and beautiful streets to walk and enjoy. Market Street – the location of the Ida Saxton McKinley House – is lined with trees along with the brick-laden street. The Pro Football Hall of Fame is working to build a new outdoor amphitheater at Market and 3rd Streets where people will watch ballgames and the annual Hall of Fame inductee ceremony.
Canton Brewing Company is not only a great place to get a craft beer – they also make a fantastic brick oven pizza. Lucca Downtown is one of the more upscale restaurants in Canton, while George’s Lounge is a more laid back and casual environment. In between it all, Carpe Diem Coffee Shop will keep you going with a caffeinated drink.