Established in 1824, Dunham Tavern was originally the home of the Massachusetts-born couple Rufus and Jane Pratt Dunham. The Dunhams came to the Cleveland area in 1819 after acquiring farmland. They lived in a log cabin until the main home was built in 1824. The house was solid and well built, but not ostentatious. It consisted of two rooms downstairs and upstairs around a central hall with a one-story wing at the rear. The exterior of the house was clad with clapboard and decorated with delicate details. Simple moldings highlighted the clean lines. It was designed in a modest, American style, but built well enough to last nearly 200 years. A separate structure housed the tenants. Since its completion the house has undergone many updates and renovations. According to the Plain Dealer "by the 1840s when the Dunhams added a tap room and sleeping quarters for stagecoach drivers along the Buffalo-Cleveland Road, bold columns, large dentils and heavier Greek Revival moldings were preferred to the more refined federal detailing of the original house."
In these early days the tavern became a political center and place where young people would go to enjoy themselves. Whig-party political meetings were often held in the tavern as well as turkey shoots and other leisure-time activities. As the city grew up around the small country house in the latter half of the nineteenth century, the Dunhams struggled to keep up with the rapid changes occurring. In 1857 the tavern ceased accepting travelers and was sold. It became a single-family home. A string of owners took care of the property during this half of the century.
After the Great Depression hit the city in 1929 the city's priorities changed. Most of the beautiful homes on Euclid Avenue were torn down. The modest Dunham Tavern remained. This was mostly likely because of one man, the Cleveland landscape architect Donald Gray who purchased the home in 1932. Gray was very well known as a designer as well as a Cleveland activist. He restored much of the original architecture from the nineteenth century and replanted the Tavern's orchard. For a time in the 1930s the tavern served as a studio for WPA artists and printmakers. When Gray felt he could no longer maintain the century-old home he established a non-profit that could, the Society of Collectors. Dunham Tavern escaped the wrecking ball that was mid-century Cleveland because of their effort and mission that was to maintain the building and collect period furniture and home items to complement the house.
The organization opened Dunham Tavern to the public as a museum in 1941. They held a semi-annual "Trinkets and Treasures" antique fair that supported the mounting bills for the historic home. At this time there was a rise of popularity in restoring older American buildings. Looking to national examples like Colonial Williamsburg, older homes (the closer to Revolutionary era the better) became treasures and valuable structures. Today Dunham Tavern remains amidst factories and warehouses on one of the busiest streets in Cleveland. In recent years the museum tore down a 1920s textile factory which stood next to the tavern as part of an effort to return green space to the area, much like it was when the tavern was first built.