In 1880, James and Lucretia Garfield expanded their Mentor farmhouse to better accommodate the Congressman and his large family. One important addition was “a snuggery for the General”—a room at the top of the staircase where Garfield could have a quiet place to read, relax, and work. When Garfield became the “dark horse” Republican presidential candidate in June, his snuggery was ready. Through the summer, fall, and winter, candidate and then President-elect Garfield met with supporters, wrote letters and speeches, and welcomed friends in his small private office. It is described in newspaper and magazine articles, and one image, from Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper, provides a view of the room as it looked during that campaign year.
As Garfield was assembling his cabinet in January 1881, he invited New York Senator Roscoe Conkling to Mentor to “consult…on several subjects relating to the next administration—and especially in reference to New York interests.” Faithful readers of this site will remember that Conkling, while asserting that he was a loyal Republican, insisted that he, not Garfield, ought to control party patronage, particularly in New York. It took Conkling ten days to respond to the president-elect’s invitation. Agreeing to visit Mentor, he told Garfield, “I need hardly say that your administration cannot be more successful than I wish it to be.”
Oh, to have been a fly on the wall when these two met in the General’s snuggery! The meeting lasted six hours, and in his diary Garfield described it as “frank and friendly.” Conkling began the conversation by telling the President-elect that “Treasury is the only post that would satisfy New York, and our state would prefer to be passed altogether if it could not obtain the department to which its rank and service entitled it.” It was quickly apparent that Garfield did not feel Conkling spoke for all the New York Republicans, and would not be offering the post of Treasury Secretary to any New Yorker. Afterwards, Conkling ranted about the reason he had been summoned to Mentor, the length of the conversation, and the fact that Garfield offered him tea. Nowhere did he describe the meeting as “friendly.”
At the end of February 1881, the Garfield family left Mentor for the White House; James Garfield would never return. Just a month after President Garfield’s death, his private secretary, Joseph Stanley-Brown, made a suggestion to Mrs. Garfield: “Would it not be well to preserve the General’s desk and all the furniture in his library at ‘I’ St—in order that the room may be reproduced—perhaps at the new library at Mentor?” “I Street” refers to the Garfield’s home in Washington, D.C., the family’s primary residence during the years that Garfield served in Congress. Mrs. Garfield took up Stanley-Brown’s suggestion, bringing a number of pieces from Washington, and making some changes—most significantly the addition of a gas fireplace with a mantelpiece inscribed ”In Memoriam.”
Today, the General’s snuggery reflects his brief enjoyment of the room, and Lucretia Garfield’s memorialization in it. Above the General’s desk is a picture of Dr. John P. Robison, Garfield’s lifelong friend and mentor. Dr. Robison was twenty years Garfield’s senior, a physician, businessman, and leader of the Disciples of Christ in northeast Ohio. Dr. Robison owned a farm in Mentor, Ohio and suggested that Congressman Garfield buy the property nearby that was for sale in the summer of 1876. After James and Lucretia purchased “the old Dickey farm,” Robison oversaw many of the improvements in the house and property while the busy Representative and his family were in Washington. Dr. Robison conducted President Garfield’s funeral services in Cleveland on September 26, 1881.
To the right of the General’s desk are pictures of James Smithson and the Smithsonian Castle. James Smithson was a British scientist and explorer who endowed “an establishment for the increase and diffusion of knowledge” for the United States. The Smithsonian Institution was established by an act of Congress in 1846. James Garfield served as a regent for the National Museum, as the Smithsonian was called, from 1865 to 1873 and again from 1878 to 1881. In addition to his duties as regent, Garfield enjoyed the museum with his family, regularly mentioning visits with his children. On March 4, 1881, Garfield’s inaugural ball was held in the new National Museum building that we today recognize as the Castle.
Above the fireplace is a framed group of twenty gentlemen, including James Garfield. The others are Mark Hopkins, president-emeritus, and eighteen members of the Williams College class of 1856. The pictures were taken in Washington in March, 1881. On March 5, 1881, the first full day of James Garfield’s presidency, he recorded in his diary, “The pleasant event of the day was the call of the Williams College Alumni, and the speech of Dr. Hopkins, to which I replied briefly.”
Without a doubt the most interesting piece in the room is the lopsided leather reading chair. While not a unique piece, it is rich in Garfield family tradition; and its original leather, now very worn, invites people to imagine James Garfield relaxing with a book at the end of a busy day.
The “snuggery for the General,” as Lucretia Garfield described it, is the room in James Garfield’s Mentor home that most reflects his personality and his interests. We can all imagine him feeling comfortably at home here.
-Joan Kapsch, Park Guide