James Garfield was 45 years old when he purchased the farm in 1876 just outside Mentor. Initially it was a 118-acre farm, but a year later he purchased an additional 40 acres. The farm included a small one and one half story house constructed around 1831-1832. The family called it the "Mentor Farm." James, who was then a member of the U.S. House of Representatives from Ohio's 19th district. He served in that position from 1863 to November 1880.
After purchasing the house and farmland around the home, Garfield had the house enlarged by adding an additional 19 rooms. When James Garfield became a candidate for president in 1880, a large number of political reporters descended upon the small community of Mentor to cover the now Senator from Ohio in his bid for the presidency.
With so many reporters in town, all of the available local hotel rooms and boarding houses were quickly booked. Those coming to town too late to find a room, began camping out at the the Mentor Farm so as to not miss anything. It was these reporting campers that gave the name Lawnfield which was a name that stuck.
With so many reporters hanging out in his front yard, James Garfield began giving press conferences directly from his front porch. In an age of telegraphs, whatever he said here would within a day or so be reported across the country. Persons of influence could also contact James directly through the telegraph machine he had installed in one of the out buildings.
After the final results were decided in the Electoral College that fall, James Garfield became President-elect Garfield and began making plans for his move to the White House in Washington D.C. Once he left Lawnfield, he would never return to this house.
After his assassination in 1881, his wife Lucretia returned to the house and remained her off and on until her death in 1918. In 1885 a Memorial Library wing was added to the house by Lucretia and a tenant house, windmill/pumphouse and gas holder. A new carriage barn was built in 1893. The addition of the Memorial Library would be the first formal presidential library and would become a tradition still followed today.
After Lucretia's death in 1918, her brother Joseph Rudolph lived there until 1934 when he died. The Garfield family donated the house and all of its contents to the Western Reserve Historical Society to be used as a museum. In 1980 the house became a National Historic Site. In 2008 the home and its grounds were transferred to the National Park Service.
More than 80% of the furnishings seen today at Lawnfield, belonged to the Garfield family in the 1880s. The remaining pieces (especially textiles and rugs), were purchased by the National Park Service to augment the collection. In addition, ten original wallpapers were reproduced during the restoration of the house in the 1990s.
About a block west of Lawnfield is a park called Garfield Park. Garfield Park was originally the summer home property of John Newell, brother of Helen Newell Garfield (the wife of Garfield’s second son, James R.). John Newell’s house sat where the swimming pool is today; his carriage house remains on the property and is used by the City of Mentor. The pond that still exists today was the wintertime spot for ice skating and even had a boathouse.
The property became a recreation park in the late 1950s due to the efforts of Eleanor Borton Garfield, a former Mentor Village mayor. In 1980, it became the first public park in Mentor and was renamed in Eleanor’s honor. She was President Garfield’s granddaughter-in-law—the widow of Rudolph Hills Garfield.