About Sardis Birchard
Sardis Birchard was born 15 January 1801 in Wilmington, Vermont. By the age of 12 both of his parents had died. Sardis lived with his sister Sophia and her husband Rutherford Hayes, Sr. In 1817, Hayes moved the family to Delaware, Ohio. At the age of 21, Sardis took charge of his sister’s family and estate after the death of Rutherford Hayes, Jr. in 1822. The children included Fanny and Rutherford Birchard Hayes, who was born after his father’s death. Sardis oversaw Rutherford B. Hayes’ education through his preparatory school years, Kenyon College, and Harvard Law School
Sardis became familiar with Fremont, Ohio [then Lower Sandusky] in 1824 while delivering hogs in cities along the Sandusky River. He eventually established himself in Fremont and became a well-known merchant and banker. Sardis Birchard carried on an extensive trade with the Wyandot, Seneca, and Delaware until the Native American tribes were removed west of the Mississippi River. His store became the largest in Ohio west of Cleveland and north of Columbus. Largely unsettled, Northwest Ohio’s land could be purchased at the government rate of $1.25 per acre. Birchard acquired landholdings in Sandusky, Wood, Lucas, Erie, and other Ohio counties. His wealth continued to grow through real estate sales and several business partnerships.
On 1 July 1851, Sardis and his partner Judge Lucius B. Otis opened the first bank in Fremont known as Birchard & Otis. After Judge Otis moved to Chicago, Illinois, the bank became Birchard, Miller & Co. which later merged into the First National Bank of Fremont. The bank was the second national bank organized in the state of Ohio.
On his daily trips to his business, Birchard admired the great trees and deep woods of the property that he would later name Spiegel Grove. Its clear standing pools of water reflecting like mirrors reminded him of the German fairy tales of his youth. He named the land Spiegel Grove. “Spiegel” is the German word for mirror. He selected the property for the site of a home for his nephew, Rutherford B. Hayes and his family, with whom he planned to spend his final years. Birchard began building the brick home in 1859. Military and political obligations prevented Hayes from residing there until 1873. However, several of the Hayes children, Birchard A. Hayes and Webb C. Hayes, spent considerable time living with their Sardis in Fremont.
Today, Spiegel Grove is the 25-acre estate that includes the Hayes Home and Museum and Library building. In 1916, the estate became the first presidential library in the United States.
Sardis was generous within the community. He made several public and private donations, including the Home Missionary Society, the Ladies’ Relief Society, the First Presbyterian Church building fund and a public library endowment. In addition to the estimated $50,000 monetary donation for the library, Birchard purchased the historic Fort Stephenson land as a site for the building. Sardis also donated two public parks to the city, present day (2009) Birchard Park and Meier Park. The Birchard Public Library, Birchard Park, and Birchard Avenue all bear his name.
Prior to his death he appointed his nephew, Rutherford B. Hayes, and Anson H. Miller trustees of the real estate for his future library. Sardis Birchard died 21 January 1874 in Fremont, Ohio. He is buried in Oakwood Cemetery. President Rutherford B. Hayes inherited his uncle’s business and real estate holdings. At the conclusion of his administration, President Rutherford and Lucy Hayes made Spiegel Grove their permanent home.
Posted by Walter G. Ashworth 6th cousin to Rutherford B. Hayes