By Stacy Turner
The Villager – In 1863, when James A. Garfield bought the home on Hinsdale Road, Hiram College was just thirteen years old. Garfield had just begun serving in Congress when he and his wife, Lucretia, moved in. Garfield was Principal of the institution, the equivalent of College President. The couple sold the home to Burke A. Hinsdale, who served as the first permanent president of Hiram College. In 1882, Hinsdale eventually sold the home to Phebe Boynton Clapp, Garfield’s cousin, and the house has been in the family for three generations. That legacy ended with the recent passing of long-time Hiram resident Phebe Zimmerman.
It was Phebe’s great-grandmother Phebe Boynton Clapp, who established the family’s Hiram legacy. Like her cousin, James A Garfield, Clapp was also a student at the Western Reserve Eclectic Institute, which became Hiram College. Garfield returned to Hiram as college president, and then moved on to higher offices. Phebe Boynton Clapp also returned to Hiram. She held the position of Lady Principal, the equivalent to Dean of Women. Unlike her cousin, however, she stayed on in Hiram, and in 1883, she purchased the Garfield family home on Hinsdale.
The home remained in the family, and was used as a summer residence. In 1946, Phebe and John Zimmerman came to the house in Hiram temporarily, after John returned from service in WWII. But like her great-grandmother before her, Zimmerman stayed on. With her family, she lovingly maintained the home. In 2013, however, Phebe Zimmerman sold the home to Hiram College, with an understanding that she would reside there as long as she chose to do so. In announcing the sale she stated “I am happy that the house will be preserved and will be used for a purpose that honors its history.”
By terms of the sale the house will be called the Garfield Robbins Zimmerman House, to reflect the history of those who owned it. The home will house the offices for the Garfield Institute for Public Leadership, which instructs students in public service. Eventually, it will serve as a venue for discussions and guest speakers and a mini-museum showcasing the legacy left by James Garfield.
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