Unionville Tavern

This historic tavern was far more than a resting place for weary travelers. It held the title as the first tavern in Ohio. Additionally, it was the heart of antebellum and Civil War era merriment and suspicion. Originally built as two separate log cabins in 1798 long before Ohio was admitted as a state, it served as an inn first known as the Webster House, then New England House, before becoming known simply as the "Old Tavern." It is now named after the community wherein it resides, Unionville, though many locals know it as the "Old Tavern."

Strategically located along the County Line Road and the Cleveland-Buffalo Road, today's Route 84, Unionville Tavern benefited from frequent traffic. By 1818, as the Cleveland-Buffalo Road became a major thoroughfare and the tavern was designated as a stagecoach and mailstop on the Warren-Cleveland mail route, the log cabins were expanded into the two-story saltbox style inn. A covered carriage entrance and ballroom were added as well. The tavern enjoyed a steady stream of patrons that included travelers, revelers, and runaway slaves. Many travelers would stop here to rest as they made their way down the Cleveland-Buffalo Road or County Line Road in their covered wagons.

By the mid-nineteenth century Unionville Tavern was an active Underground Railroad Station. While lavish dances dominated the scene in the second floor parlor, the first floor was a hideout for fugitive slaves on their way to freedom. After leaving the safe house at the tavern, the slaves would be taken to the Ellensburgh docks to cross Lake Erie into Canada. It was rumored that a series of tunnels used by escaped slaves led from the tavern's basement under the Cleveland-Buffalo Road to the local Unionville cemetery. In August of 1843, the tavern witnessed a spectacle, infamously known as the "County Line Road Incident." When Lewis and Milton Clarke, two fugitive slave brothers, spoke at an antislavery rally, Milton was captured and beaten. Local abolitionists and anti-slavery proponents fought successfully to free him. They then vowed that no runaway slave would ever be captured and returned to captivity in Lake County. Years later, when Harriet Beecher Stowe lodged at the Unionville Tavern on her way to Buffalo, she heard the Clarke brothers' story of the "County Line Road Incident." Many believe that the character George Harris in her famous novel Uncle Tom's Cabin was based on Milton Clarke.

Unionville Tavern remained a functioning inn until the early-twentieth century. After a decade-long close, the tavern was restored and reopened in 1926. Sixty years later a pub was added, and the tavern functioned primarily as a restaurant and bar. Another landmark occurred in 1973 when the tavern was included in the National Register of Historical Places. Yet by 2003, the tavern was auctioned for $280,000, and in 2006 Unionville Tavern closed to the public. In 2011 after years of disrepair, the Madison Historical Society began a "Save the Tavern Campaign" to protect and preserve the historic building. The campaign evolved into the Unionville Tavern Preservation Society, which now cares for the former inn and keeps its reputation alive. The tavern is no longer open to the public, but those interested can still see the building and its historical markers.