Video: Tree donated to replace historically significant tree at Spiegel Grove

During the War of 1812, First Lady Lucy Hayes’ father was stationed at Fort Stephenson in Fremont.

Captain James Webb and some of his fellow soldiers were foraging for food along the Harrison Trail in what is today Spiegel Grove, the grounds of the Hayes Presidential Library & Museums, when it started to grow dark.

“He didn’t want to approach (Fort Stephenson) after dark and be mistaken for the enemy,” said Ralph Billow, retired longtime caretaker at Spiegel Grove.

So the group decided to camp out on the trail and built a fire in the buttress of a large oak tree. It was a freezing winter night.

“They were all right,” Billow said, of Webb’s group. “People in the fort had frostbite that night. It was that cold.”

This story was passed down through generations, and the tree was believed to be identified on the property near where the first lady’s and President Rutherford B. Hayes’ tomb is located today. The Harrison Trail, which soldiers and Native Americans used, runs through Spiegel Grove.

In 1978, tornadic winds felled the tree, known as “Grandfather’s Oak.” It left a hole in the grove that always bothered Billow.

So Billow purchased and donated a 25-foot white oak tree to replace it. The tree was planted on Wednesday, April 17.

“I’ve cared for this property for the last 70 years,” said Billow, who today volunteers his time on Hayes Presidential’s Building and Grounds Committee. “The history of it is so special and so important.”

Having a replacement for the special tree helps preserve the history of Spiegel Grove, the 25-acre estate. The grove has an estimated 1,700 trees, some of which predated President Hayes’ living there and some planted by Hayes himself.

Video of the tree planting is available at

The Hayes Presidential is America’s first presidential library and the forerunner of the federal presidential library system. It is partially funded by the state of Ohio and affiliated with the Ohio History Connection. Hayes Presidential is located at Spiegel Grove at the corner of Hayes and Buckland avenues.

For information, call 419-332-2081, or visit Like HPLM on Facebook at @rbhayespres and follow on Twitter and Instagram at @rbhayespres.