Monday, April 18, 2011

Spring / Summer of History - Civil War 150 - Lake County, Ohio- The Old Tavern at Unionville

The Unionville Community is rich in history.  Its unique position on the border of both Lake and Ashtabula County has allowed the community to be an eyewitness to much of the first century of U.S. history.  At one time, Unionville had a population twice that of Cleveland.  Many homes originally built in the 1800's are still occupied.  The Old Tavern at Unionville is one bit of local lore that has a story to tell.

It is the oldest surviving tavern in Ohio.  It was built in 1798 as a log cabin along the Indian trail that was part of the Western Reserve.  In the early 1800's, some expansion occurred as it became a stagecoach stop for those traveling between Buffalo and Cleveland.  As the abolition movement evolved from its inception in the late 1700's, Unionville's location was near the developing hotbed of abolition in Ashtabula County.  Ashtabula County was a place that produced 13 of John Brown's 21 anarchist raiders.  The tavern owners of the 1840's and 1850's decided to provide a safe haven for runaway slaves for the developing Underground Railroad.  By some estimates nearly 40% of all fugitives traveled through Ohio / NE Ohio on their journey to Canada and freedom.  Runaway slaves would enter tunnel's in the area of the cemetery, and travel to the large cellar tunnel under the Old Tavern.  Here slaves were fed and allowed to rest.  In time, a wagon would come and take the slaves to the Madison docks to board boats bound for Canada and freedom.

After the Civil War, The Old Tavern remained a viable restaurant and inn.  Thomas Edison and Henry Ford were notable guests to visit the tavern in the early 1900's.  Some years ago when I was guest at the restaurant we were allowed to view the grave marker that was the entrance for runaway slaves.  The innkeeper was also kind enough to show the interior cellar door that was used as part of the Underground Railroad Station.  Recent years have been hard on the inn and it has been closed at times as of late.  However, a visit to the tavern is a one tank trip that everyone can make in 2011's Spring/ Summer of History.

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