Presidential politicking these days involves candidates jetting their way around the country to take their candidacy to the people. Presidential campaigning more than 100 years ago was quite different, as voters, along with the media and lobbyists, traveled across the country to visit the candidate at home.
It's no surprise to me, considering Ohio's prominence in presidential history with eight presidents elected from the state, that Ohio was home to the first front-porch presidential campaign with James A. Garfield's candidacy in fall of 1880.
Previous candidates generally stayed out of sight, seemingly above the political fray, but Garfield's gifts as an orator and his compelling back story as a man rising from humble beginnings to be a Civil War hero and legislator led to a different campaign strategy.
The Garfields were very poor, but young James earned enough money to pay for college.
He became an ordained minister and, in 1859, he became an Ohio State Senator, running as a Republican because of his strong anti-slavery beliefs.
Garfield served with the Union Army during the Civil War, becoming a general and a popular military hero.
Garfield planned to run for the United States Senate in 1880, but when a raucous Republican convention remained deadlocked after 34 ballots, he emerged as a compromise candidate and won the presidential nomination.
The candidate returned to Lawnfield, his home in Mentor, Ohio. Instead of waiting for the campaign to end before emerging back into public view, Garfield literally campaigned from his front porch.
Railroad tracks running along the rear of Garfield's property made it easy for visitors to make their way to his home. About 17,000 people disembarked from the train and walked down a short lane to the home to hear Garfield speak during the fall of 1880.
Garfield's assassination mere months after his election, meant he never returned to Lawnfield after leaving for the White House.
One of the more interesting stories our Lawnfield tour guide told us involved Garfield's widow, Lucretia, and her dedication to preserving his legacy. She cared for his papers and other artifacts to create a collection that led to establishing one of the first presidential libraries. You can see some of the collection while touring the home at Lawnfield.
Lawnfield is a National Historic site and stands today much as it did in the late 1800s, furnished with many pieces belonging to the Garfield family.
Other buildings on the grounds include a 75-foot-tall windmill, a small building near the house that served as the 1880 campaign headquarters and telegraph office, and a carriage house that serves as a visitor center.
Be sure to check the final resting place of the president and his wife at the Garfield Monument, which is about 20 miles from Lawnfield, at Cleveland's Lake View Cemetery.