Friday, July 20th, 2018

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Historic Dunham Tavern expands its urban green space in Midtown … Plans in works for outdoor amphitheater, picnic area, jogging and walking paths, an heirloom garden and more for this special community gathering place, rich in history

Dunham Tavern

Dunham Tavern Greenspace Plan









Things that were old can be new again, especially when it comes to Cleveland’s Dunham Tavern.

Rufus and Jane Pratt Dunham came to the Western Reserve from Massachusetts in 1819. According to the Dunham Tavern website, they acquired 13.75 acres of land, which they began to farm. A log cabin served as their home until the north part of the present Dunham Tavern structure was built in 1824. Later, the main block of the home 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 tavern keeper as well as a farmer. The Dunham Tavern became a social and political gathering place for parties, turkey shoots and meetings of the Whig party. The Dunham’s sold the tavern in 1853, but it continued to serve as a tavern until 1857 when a banker bought it for his home.

The Dunham Tavern website states that the tavern served as a studio space for a group of Works Progress Administration (WPA) artists in the 1930s. 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 non-profit museum supported by donations, members, grants and money raised from tours. The museum all volunteer run.

The residence stood through Euclid Avenue’s rise and fall, from stagecoach stops to car dealerships, Millionaire’s Row to urban renewal. Today, the board of trustees of Dunham Tavern has plans to restore the structure and surrounding land to serve once again as a gathering place for Clevelanders in the heart of the city.

“When we rewrote our mission statement, we noted that we wanted Dunham Tavern to be a gathering place again. We offer amenities for all sorts of people, including a library, meadow, orchard and our barn,” Brenda Ellner, board of trustees member explained. “The barn is our educational hub for children from schools all around Cleveland. We are building an outdoor, natural amphitheater facing Euclid Avenue. We hope to find someone to put a name on that amphitheater.”

Over time, Dunham Tavern Museum became surrounded by factories, apartments and parking lots. Eventually, the museum purchased and reclaimed the surrounding property and in April, 2012, the museum acquired the last tract of land of the original Dunham family parcel frontage on Euclid Avenue. To reclaim the annexed two acres and integrate it with the campus of Dunham required the purchase and demolition of an abandoned six-story factory.

“We were pressed to the wall to purchase the empty warehouse building next door,” Ellner noted. “RTA owned the building and was selling it to a developer. They were going to build an office building with a Starbucks 10 feet away from the museum. We contested it and asked the developer to sell the building to us. The sale was closing in 12 days. The developer said that we could purchase the building, but added a stipulation that we had to take the building down in three and a half months. One of our members put up the collateral for a loan. Three months later, we took the building down.” Ellner said the museum board is in the process of paying back the loan.

The former factory site is now a meadow. Noted landscape architect James McKnight has drawn up plans for the future of that meadow, including an outdoor amphitheater, picnic area, jogging and walking paths, an heirloom garden and much-needed road access for events held at Dunham Tavern. Ellner said that fulfilling the dream of creating an urban green space has been a long journey, but added that there are ways the community can help.

“Last year, we started the Summer Soiree benefit event with a goal to educate people about the property. We had about 200 people attend and many had never been to Dunham Tavern,” she said. Fred Geis was honored for his contribution of urban revitalization and development in Cleveland. The second annual Summer Soiree was held at Dunham Tavern on June 3, 2017. This year’s honoree was Cleveland Police Chief Calvin Williams. “Chief Calvin grew up near Dunham Tavern and still lives close to our land. It was natural to honor him this year for his indelible stamp on Cleveland,” Ellner said.

In addition to attending one of the Summer Soiree fundraisers, Ellner suggested that community members rent the barn for upcoming events. She encourages everyone to visit Dunham Tavern to see what its members have already accomplished. “Dunham enriches the lives of Clevelanders as a place for history, nature and community in urban life,” she said. “It’s important to maintain this treasure in the heart of the city.”

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