FREMONT -- If President Rutherford B. Hayes and his wife, Lucy, were to stroll through the front door of their home at Spiegel Grove today, they would find it much the way they left it, right down to Mrs. Hayes' comb and brush on her dressing table.
The Mellin's Baby Food poster that reminded the First Lady of their grandson is perched near the couple's bedside, while piles of books -- President Hayes owned more than 12,000 -- are stacked and shelved in various rooms. Carefully cleaned and restored paintings hang in the very spots where the Hayeses hung them. Carpets and wall coverings have been replicated to match those chosen by the couple in the years after they left the White House and settled back into their Fremont home.
A $1.2 million restoration that has spanned nearly five years is complete, and the Hayes home is ready for company.
The Hayes Presidential Center is inviting the public to see the 19th president's home during a free open house from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday. Guides will take groups of 15 through the restored downstairs rooms.
IF YOU GO
■ WHAT: Open house for the Hayes Home restoration. Experts who worked on the project will be on hand to discuss their work, and a video will be shown of project consultant Gail Caskey Winkler discussing the restoration process at a tent set up between the home and the Hayes Museum.
■ WHERE: The Hayes Presidential Center, at Hayes and Buckland avenues in Fremont.
■ WHEN: 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday; admission to the house is free for this day only.
The Hayes staff, working with restoration experts from across the country, took care to return seven key areas of the 31-room mansion to the way they looked around 1889.
"Now you'll get to see the home as Rutherford and Lucy had it looking, and that's what people want to see," said Thomas Culbertson, executive director of the Hayes Center. "Now you'll get the flavor of a Victorian home rather than an interior decorator's idea of a neocolonial look with puddled drapes."
Hardwood floors gleam and restored chandeliers glisten. Those puddled drapes have been replaced by simple, but elegant, sheer panels.
Just a few weeks before his retirement, Mr. Culbertson said he's pleased with the restoration, which was paid for with a $400,000 Save America's Treasures grant, $500,000 in state capital funds, and $300,000 in private contributions.
"I like it much better," he said this week. "Even if we didn't go for the look when they were here, stuff had been on the walls for 75 years, and it was showing its age. It was time to refresh."
Interior photos taken in the late 1880s by a cousin of the president were among the resources used to re-create the home's vintage look. Restorationists also benefited from President Hayes's habit of keeping everything -- from old furnishings stored in the attic to boxes of records and receipts for purchases.
Gail Caskey Winkler, a Philadelphia design historian who worked on the restoration, said an impressive team of experts worked on the draperies, paint, wallpaper, lighting, and carpets. Part of the job was doing detective work to uncover the patterns and fabrics of the home's past life.
"One of the most striking features of the project was working with Jane Hammond from the Intermuseum Conservation Association in Cleveland, who found evidence of original upholstery on two chairs," Ms. Winkler said. "In one instance, a chair in the red parlor, the red silk damask survived under later upholstery. Scalamandre in New York reproduced that fabric. In the other, she found only a fragment of mohair plush under an upholsterer's tack, but that informed us what the original cover had been. Fret Fabrics, Long Island City, N.Y., re-created the mohair plush.
"We had similar happy events with the wallpapers, either finding fragments behind wood moldings or, in two instances, colors of the early wallpaper had bled through onto the plaster wall, thus leaving a ghost image of the patterns," she said.
The house remained open through most of the restoration, though it was closed for several weeks during the winter when wallpaper was hung on the underside of the winding, three-story staircase in the center of the house.
The wallpaper was designed, produced, and hung in 19th century fashion, and installers said it will last 75 years, Mr. Culbertson said.
When carpet was pulled up in the library, staff found a previously unknown trap door concealing a foot-deep hiding place beneath the floor. It was "clean as a whistle," Mr. Culbertson said -- and disappointingly empty.
Two rooms in the restoration plan that are not entirely finished are the president's private bath off the master bedroom that he called his "inner sanctum," and a second-floor minimuseum that he referred to as his "Little Smithsonian."
Carpentry work was still ongoing earlier this week.
The Hayes Center also is continuing to seek books to fill the shelves and tabletops in the president's library. Mr. Culbertson said the Hayes Center put out a request for donations of pre-1900 books in good condition and could still use 2,000 to 3,000 more.
"The president really had the place junked up, so I'm trying to junk it up some more," he said.
Contact Jennifer Feehan at: email@example.com or 419-724-6129.