Dunham Tavern

Rufus Dunham and his wife Jane Pratt Dunham moved to the Western Reserve in 1819 from Massachusetts. They purchased 13.75 acres along the well-traveled Buffalo-Cleveland road for $147. It took them five years to build the main home, Dunham Tavern. They lived in a log cabin until it was built in 1824. The Dunham residence functioned as a farm as well as a place of lodging for travelers.

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 Dunham 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. When he 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 compliment 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. The museum has expressed interest in purchasing some of these buildings, which have not stood the test of time and are now abandoned and run down. They hope to further restore the surroundings of the home to what it was like in the nineteenth century.

Built in 1824 Dunham Tavern is the oldest building standing in its original location in all of Cleveland. Rufus and Jane Dunham opened their home as a tavern for travelers shortly after its completion.

Image courtesy of Cleveland State University Michael Schwartz Special Collections Library

Dunham Tavern remains as an anomaly in its original location on Euclid Avenue now surrounded by old factories and modern buildings (note the more modern apartment building to the right). The Dunham Tavern Museum now plans to buy back some of the abandoned buildings, tear them down, and restore the land as farmland to further demonstrate how the Tavern would appear in the 1820s.

Image courtesy of Cleveland State University Michael Schwartz Special Collections Library

This post card advertising Dunham Tavern illustrates the political meetings that were held in the home during its early years of existence.

Image courtesy of Cleveland State University Michael Schwartz Special Collections Library

Dunham Tavern, now a museum, hosts an antique fair each year which supports the museum. Funds acquired from this fundraiser are used to purchase period antiques to furnish the home, as well as continue the restoration process.

Image courtesy of Cleveland State University Michael Schwartz Special Collections Library

Rufus and Jane Dunham, who resided in this room, moved to the Western Reserve from Massachusetts in 1819 for a better life where land was more affordable. They purchased their 13.75-acre property for 147 dollars.

Image courtesy of Cleveland State University Michael Schwartz Special Collections Library

Although modest, Dunham Tavern was solidly built in a classic American style with plenty of room for the family and travelers. The formal living room was exclusively for the family, while visitors stayed in the taprooms.

Image courtesy of Cleveland State University Michael Schwartz Special Collections Library

With the help of non-profit organization The Society of Collectors, Dunham Tavern is now used as a museum, staged with antiques that date to the era of the home.

Image courtesy of Cleveland State University Michael Schwartz Special Collections Library

The Dunham Tavern taproom was added to the home in 1840 to give extra room for travelers along the Buffalo-Cleveland road.

Image courtesy of Cleveland State University Michael Schwartz Special Collections Library

Dunham has always been regarded as one of Cleveland’s treasures. Over the years the tavern has had many updates and been lovingly restored to showcase the home’s historic roots.

Image courtesy of Cleveland State University Michael Schwartz Special Collections Library

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4 Responses to Dunham Tavern

  1. Avatar of Mark Souther Mark Souther says:

    I like the overall main description. I suggest pulling the factual info in the first quoted passage out and putting it in your own words as it is so basic as not to be considered a truly original insight. The second quote ought to be kept and prefaced with a quick blurb (in the sentence) about who wrote it.

    I suggest situating this more broadly, even in a speculative way. The move to enshrine the house as a museum of early settler heritage in 1941 strikes me as being part of that great wave of similar projects in the eastern U.S. in the 1940s-50s following the success of the Rockefeller-funded Colonial Williamsburg restoration and Ford’s assemblage of historic structures in his Greenfield Village in Michigan. While you may not have any direct references to this influence, it is still important contextually to know that Americans were very attuned to identifying, restoring, and opening up old homes with pioneer roots in the second quarter of the 20th century.

    I recommend dividing the last paragraph where you start to talk about the museum.

    In the last sentence, it should read “early nineteenth century,” not “eighteenth.”

    Regarding images, the first couple of images seem to afford the opportunity to note the industrial building to the left and what appears to be a multistory apartment building to the right. You could do a bit more with this changing context of the surroundings on Euclid Avenue.

  2. Brenda Ellner says:

    This was a lovely article about the Dunham Tavern Museum. I am a board member who is involved with some very exciting happenings for the Dunham. I would like to talk with you and perhaps we could meet for coffee. My name is Brenda Ellner and phone number is (cell)216-406-7530. Thanks and looking forward to chatting about your project.

  3. Avatar of ysaleh ysaleh says:

    I never knew this place existed until I read this. I am guessing that more advertising maybe needed to let people know about this historical building. It seems to me it would make for a nice day trip, if more people knew about it. I am hoping to go check it out myself now that I know of it. Thanks for the information.

  4. Avatar of hfearing hfearing says:

    I think this sentence could use either a comma or rewording: “It consisted of two rooms downstairs and upstairs around a central hall with a one-story wing at the rear.” Could you explain what a clapboard is for people (like me) who have no clue? I like the Plain Dealer quote! My favorite part is when you talk about what went on inside the Tavern. Could you do more of that? This sentence is a little awkward: “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 compliment the house.” Maybe you could say “Their mission was to maintain the building and collect period furniture and home items to compliment the house. Their efforts saved the Dunham Tavern from the wrecking ball that was mid-century Cleveland.” Other than that I was super interested to read this one.

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