Rutherford B. Hayes (1822-93), who served as the nineteenth president of the United States between 1877 and 1881, is remembered chiefly for ending Reconstruction twelve years after the Civil War and for starting civil service reform that led to legislation in 1883 that made it illegal to fill some federal offices by using the spoils system. However, the residents of Hayes County and Hayes Center, Nebraska, named for President Hayes, now have another reason to remember him. On November 12, 2004, they were given several artifacts from another town named for Hayes-Villa Hayes, located in the department or province of Presidente Hayes in the South American country of Paraguay.
The artifacts, presented to the Hayes County Historical Society, included the municipal seal of the city of Villa Hayes, a large framed portrait of President Hayes by Civil War-era photographer Matthew Brady, and several maps of Paraguay. The seal is a framed piece of folk art depicting four scenes of Paraguay, including a saint, soldier, steel mill, and highway. Donor of the artifacts was Hayes historian John Fatherley from Chicopee, Massachusetts, who acquired the seal on a 1998 trip to Paraguay. Fatherley also gave several books on Hayes to the Hayes Center schools.
Speaking at the November 12 formal presentation ceremony in Hayes Center, Fatherley explained President Hayes's significance in Paraguayan history. It arose from the role he played in a boundary dispute between Paraguay and Argentina following Paraguay's defeat by the Triple Alliance of Argentina, Brazil, and Uruguay, in a war that left Paraguay devastated, with a considerable part of its male population killed. Ulysses S. Grant, the U.S. president asked to arbitrate the dispute, was leaving office, so the decision on the boundary line fell to his successor, Rutherford B. Hayes, in 1878.
Hayes favored Paraguay over its larger neighbor, Argentina, in the dispute and earned a lasting place in the hearts of grateful Paraguayans, who have named a city, department or province, soccer team, sports club, national holiday, and museum for him. A gala celebration was held there in 1998, marking the 120th signing of the arbitration agreement.
Fatherley said at the November 12 ceremony that his goal went beyond the mere presentation of the Hayes artifacts. "I want something to happen between Villa Hayes, Paraguay, and Hayes Center, Nebraska," he said. He suggested student and cultural exchanges between the two locations to broaden international understanding.