Kaleidoscope: Old canal town includes 175-year-old tavern

by KEN LAHMERS | EDITOR Published:

A Saturday trip through Columbiana County in November allowed me to explore some things that I didn't have time to see on a trip there a couple of years ago, particularly the former canal town of Hanoverton.

After a pleasant drive on Ohio State-Wisconsin football game day to dine at Das Dutch Haus in the village of Columbiana, I continued on a loop through Columbiana County.

I headed southwest to Lisbon, the historic county seat and home of the famous Steel Trolley Diner, and then west on Route 30 (the Old Lincoln Highway) to Hanoverton.

The village is nestled in the rolling hills of the county, and boasts about 385 residents. But it was a boom town on the Sandy and Beaver Canal in the 1830s-40s, reaching close to 2,000 residents.

The canal stretched for 73 miles between the Ohio River near East Liverpool to the Ohio & Erie Canal at Bolivar in northern Tuscarawas County.

The town, originally called Hanover, was settled in 1813 by Quaker abolitionist James Craig. The canal was built through it in the 1830s, and actually passed through a tunnel east of it.

The neat and historic parts of town are 23 acres designated as the Hanoverton Canal Town District, which was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1977.

Thirty historic brick and wood-frame buildings are situated high on a hill just north of Route 30 and the old canal bed. They were erected between 1817 and 1874. The district is sometimes referred to as Hanoverton Heights.

Some of the homes were built and lived in by the wealthy canal operators.

The street off east-west Route 30 that goes up the hill is Plymouth, while Howard Street ascends from the north/south Route 9.

Old Hanover didn't bustle for long, though, because the Pittsburgh & Cleveland Railroad line was built a few miles south of town. It ran from the Ohio River at Wellsville through Salinesville to Bayard, up through Alliance and Portage County and into Cleveland.

The railroad brought the demise of the Sandy and Beaver Canal, which wasn't highly successful in the first place, and Hanover's population slowly dwindled through the second half of the 1800s.

EXAMINING SOME PLACES

The most famous of the remaining buildings in the historic district is the Spread Eagle Tavern, a stage coach inn built in 1837 during the boom years of the canal.

President Abe Lincoln reportedly stayed there a time or two while traveling through the region on the road that bears his name, although that hasn't been substantiated.

Several other famous political figures have stopped there in recent years, such as Newt Gingrich, Ralph Regula, George Voinovich, Dan Quayle, Dick Cheney, Pat Buchanan and Watergate figure G. Gordon Liddy.

Current Spread Eagle owner Dave Johnson's late father, Peter, bought the tavern / inn in 1988, and over a 20-month period restored and enlarged it.

I didn't get to go inside during my recent visit, but hope to return some day.

The tavern / inn has seven rooms for dining on the main floor and five rooms for overnight stays on the top two floors.

There are two lounges - the Patrick Henry Tavern Room and in the basement Gaver's Rathskeller, which features 12-foot high vaulted brick ceilings and hand-chiseled stone walls.

The building is considered one of the best examples of Federal-style architecture in Northeast Ohio.

Attached to the main tavern / inn is the Hanover House, a log structure built in 1820 to house the town's justice of the peace.

The Hanover House is available for overnight stays, and has several fireplaces, a working kitchen, living room, master bedroom and guest room.

Overall, the Spread Eagle Tavern and Hanover House have 12 fireplaces.

Beside the Spread Eagle Tavern is Brick Row, a two-story brick rowhouse which apparently now contains apartments. George Sloan built it in the 1830s.

Across Plymouth Street is a brick home which once was occupied by Dr. James Robertson, Sloan's brother-in-law.

Brick Row and that home are said to be connected by an underground tunnel used when the structures were part of the Underground Railroad.

Slaves would arrive at the inn, walk through the tunnel and be hidden in an upstairs room of the doctor's house while waiting to board canal boats on their way to Canada.

The Hanoverton Presbyterian Church is another historic building, just down in the next block from the Brick Row and Spread Eagle Tavern. It is a quaint wood-framed church. However, I couldn't find the date it was built.

Two famous people have been associated with Hanoverton -- Major League Baseball player Henry "Hy" Myers and physics/mechanics professor Thomas Mendenhall.

Myers, who was born in East Liverpool and died in Minerva, is buried in Grove Hill Cemetery in Hanoverton, along with about 70 Civil War soldiers.

Myers played from 1909 to 1925 with the Brooklyn Superbas (later the Dodgers), the St. Louis Cardinals and Cincinnati Reds.

He had a career batting average of .281, was the National League RBI champion in 1919 and was a two-time NL triples leader.

Mendenhall was born in Hanoverton in 1841 and died in 1924. He was the first professor at the Ohio Agricultural and Mechanical College, predecessor of Ohio State University, and also taught at the Imperial University in Japan.

Mendenhall Laboratory on the Ohio State campus in Columbus houses African-American / African studies, the Center for Study and Teaching of Writing and the School of Earth Sciences.

CANAL TAVERN REOPENS

Speaking of the canal era, another historic structure which once served as a tavern and was a popular restaurant in recent years has reopened after being closed for a few years.

It's the Canal Tavern just outside of Zoar Village in Tuscarawas County, one of my favorite tiny towns to visit.

The tavern originally opened in 1829 after traffic began on the Ohio & Erie Canal between Massillon and Dover. The Society of Separatists of Zoar built the tavern and hotel for travelers on the canal.

In 1833, the Separatists built the larger Zoar Hotel in the village, which still stands. Then when a large flour mill was built over the canal in 1837, the tavern became home for the miller and his family.

The old structure is located on the Ohio & Erie Scenic Byway and Ohio & Erie Canal Towpath Trail.

Legend has it that the Canal Tavern is home to a spirit named George, who became sick on a canal boat, was cared for at the tavern, but died soon after.

Email: klahmers@recordpub.com

Phone: 330-541-9400 ext. 4189

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