By CYNTHIA SCHUSTER EAKIN
Dunham Tavern Museum, a Northeast Ohio treasure, houses antique treasures that remind us of our pioneer past.
Once a stagecoach stop on the Buffalo-Cleveland-Detroit post road, today Dunham Tavern Museum is the oldest building still standing on its original site in the city of Cleveland. The 1824 home of Rufus and Jane Pratt Dunham in MidTown Cleveland is a designated Cleveland landmark listed on the National Register of Historic Places. In stark contrast to the cityscape that surrounds it, the museum and its gardens offer a glimpse of history and insight into the lifestyles of early Ohio settlers and travelers.
Rufus and Jane Pratt Dunham came to the Western Reserve in 1819. The young couple from Massachusetts acquired 13.75 acres of land, which they began to farm. A log cabin served as their home until the north portion of the present structure was built in 1824. Later, the main block of the home seen today was added in front of the original wing and, as late as 1832, the west wing was built.
Capitalizing on the home’s position along a well-traveled stagecoach route, Rufus Dunham soon became a tavernkeeper as well as a farmer. The Dunham Tavern became a social and political center facilitating parties, turkey shoots and meetings of the Whig party. The Dunhams sold the tavern in 1853, but it continued to serve as a tavern until 1857 when a banker bought it for his home.
In the 1930s, the tavern served as studio space for a group of WPA artists and printmakers. The Society of Collectors, organized in the early 1930s, became interested in the historic site and eventually took responsibility for the structure, opening it to the public in 1941. Dunham Tavern is now a nonprofit museum supported by donations, grants, sponsorships and the generosity of its members and visitors.
“Antiques are our identity as an institution. When this became a museum in the 1930s, it was started by The Society of Collectors, partly as a place to show and display their antiques. Our roots are based on the group who started the museum and it is seeded from their collection,” Lauren Hansgen, executive director of Dunham Tavern Museum explained. “There are a few exceptions. We have a dresser that we believe belonged to Jane Dunham. We also have two samplers made by the Dunham daughters, Loretta and Caroline around 1835. Samplers are a hallmark of this period. These are unusual because not a lot of samplers from Cleveland and Northeast Ohio survived over the years.”
“We own a number of clay vessels signed by their makers. We also have a large collection of Mochaware. It is English pottery that has a rather wild glazing design,” she said.
“The Dunhams traveled here from Massachusetts in the 1820s. They may have come here by wagon, or part of the way by boat. So, they wouldn’t have brought a lot of what they owned with them,” Hansgen noted. “A lot of really nice Ohio-made and Pennsylvania-made furniture was available. As business owners, they could afford some nice furniture, china and serving ware to furnish their tavern.”
“Our parlor is the fancy room in the tavern. It is furnished in a very different tone from the keeping room and the tavern itself,” she said. “Its style is 18th century. Fancy furniture is generally handed down from the generation before. One of the organizers of the museum in the 1930s wanted the parlor furnished in this style, because there wasn’t an example of 18th century fine furnishings in Cleveland.”
“The identity of each room is pretty consistent with its function. We do rearrange the furnishings that we have. And there are some glass display cases in our keeping rooms and in our upstairs exhibit room where we can display items,” she added. Hansgen said that she would like to someday tell the story of the Cleveland printmakers who occupied the tavern in the 1930s, before it became a museum.
“We are targeting reopening Dunham Tavern Museum sometime in July. We have taken the interlude during the pandemic to work on our collections and to bolster our roster of docents,” she said. Dunham Tavern Museum, at 6709 Euclid Ave., is open on Wednesday and Sunday from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. The gardens and grounds are open from dawn to dusk. Phone 216.431.1060 or visit www.dunhamtavern.org.