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Unionville is perfect for a lazy afternoon



Published: Sun, September 2, 2001 @ 12:00 a.m.



UNIONVILLE -- Smack dab on the border of Lake and Ashtabula counties, minutes from the rolling blue waters of Lake Erie and the rolling acres of some of northeastern Ohio's best vineyards, there sits a sleepy little town called Unionville.

Although it is a mere speck on the map, Unionville is a village rich in history and charm, featuring fine dining, first-rate antiques shops and a historical museum housed in the oldest frame structure in the Western Reserve.

About a 90-minute drive from Youngstown, it's a perfect place to spend a lazy Sunday afternoon.

1815 house: Start your day at Shandy Hall, located on state Route 84 one mile east of Unionville center.

Built in 1815 by Robert Harper for his bride, Polly, Shandy Hall is believed to be the oldest frame structure in the Western Reserve. The home has 17 rooms, and although it may appear modest to present-day visitors, when constructed, it was considered a mansion.

Highlights include a banquet room with a coved ceiling and circa-1820 French wallpaper; a formal parlor furnished with American Empire furniture and circa-1835 piano; and a spacious cellar kitchen with a fireplace, wine cellar and butter-churning room.

Until Shandy Hall was deeded to the Western Reserve Historical Society in 1948, it never left the possession of the Harper family. It thus retains almost all of its original furnishings, as well as many personal items that once belonged to Harper family members, including clothing, photographs and letters.

A tour of the home, which lasts about an hour, offers an excellent glimpse into life during Ohio's pioneer days. Visitors will also enjoy hearing about the Harper family and their colorful lives and times.

Robert Harper, a lawyer and former Lake County prosecutor, dabbled in politics and was instrumental in efforts for former U.S. President Andrew Jackson.

Robert's daughter, Ann, was a free spirit who painted in watercolor and is credited with christening her family's home Shandy Hall. She got the name from the pages of a whimsical novel popular during the early 1800s.

The Old Tavern: After a tour of Shandy Hall, which is open from noon until 5 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays, head over to The Old Tavern, about a mile to the west at Unionville's center.

The Old Tavern, which started out as a log cabin in 1798, has a colorful past of its own.

Built by Robert Harper's father, Col. Alexander Harper, the tavern had grown to its present size by 1815 and was a bustling stagecoach stop throughout most of the 1800s.

During the abolitionist movement, the tavern also became a hot spot on the Underground Railroad.

Runaway slaves hid in tunnels that extended from the tavern's basement underneath present-day state Route 84 over to the town cemetery.

Once slaves had made it to the cemetery via the underground tunnel, they would wait in an empty grave until nightfall when they could hurry to the nearby shores of Lake Erie and under the cover of darkness sail across the water to freedom in Canada.

On Aug. 11, the Ohio Historical Society officially designated the tavern as one of Ohio's stops on the Underground Railroad.

Today the tavern is an AAA-recommended restaurant famous for old American fare such as corn fritters and roast duckling as well as traditional favorites such as Swiss steak and fresh fish.

Guests can dine in the elegant Veranda dining room or the less formal Coach House Pub. A spacious ballroom upstairs, where 19th-century revelers once danced "The Virginia Reel," is now used a banquet hall. It seats up to 100 people and can be rented for special occasions.

During the early 1900s when tavern rooms were still rented out to guests, the establishment welcomed famous automobile manufacturer Henry Ford.

Other attractions: After a hearty tavern meal and a decadent dessert, saunter across the street to one of Unionville's antique shops. Visitors are sure to be impressed by the fine quality of antiques these small shops have to offer.

Or, if you're still in the mood for more local history, take a stroll through Unionville's old cemetery where runaway slaves once hid. Curious ramblers can read the epitaphs on some of Ohio's oldest gravestones and see the graves of many of Shandy Hall's Harpers.

Whenever you're ready to start thinking about food again, get back in the car and drive one mile east to Spring Hill Farm Market and Cider Mill.

Housed in a big red barn, this farm market has been family owned and operated since 1953. It offers a rustic country atmosphere and one-of-a-kind items including fresh fruits and veggies, cheese, smoked meats, baked goods, Ohio wines and crafts.

Speaking of wine, several Ohio wineries, including Cantwell's Old Mill Winery, Chalet Debonne Winery, Ferrante Wine Farm Winery, Grand River Winery and Old Firehouse Winery are in the neighborhood.

XFor more information about Shandy Hall, call (440) 466-3680. For more information about The Old Tavern, call (800) 7-TAVERN.




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