By Rebecca Sloan
History, scenery enrich visitors’ experiences
From haunted tales to horseback riding, Beaver Creek State Park has a lot to offer.
EAST LIVERPOOL — Although Beaver Creek State Park is located in the Buckeye State, this Columbiana County destination has a distinctly Appalachian flavor.
Rustic log cabins, craggy wooded hillsides and the rushing waters of Little Beaver Creek bring West Virginia to mind.
The park also has the flavor of a simpler time period — especially on a summer afternoon when the 1830s gristmill is grinding corn and wheat into powdery meal.
As the mighty water wheel spins and the heavy millstones scrape together, the rhythmic splash and the squeak of wooden gears are reminiscent of a forgotten era.
You can buy mill-ground buckwheat flour and cornmeal at the Beaver Creek Trading Company, an old-fashioned general store in the park.
When you step inside the store, you’ll half expect Ike Godsey from “The Waltons” to greet you from behind the counter.
Decorated with antiques and old-time curiosities, the charmingly primitive store sells penny candy, ice cream and miscellaneous gifts.
Step back outdoors and enjoy your ice cream while you watch a flock of geese float on the millpond or glimpse a squirrel scampering through the brush along the millrace.
Beaver Creek’s old mill — called Gaston’s Mill – is the centerpiece of the park’s pioneer village.
The pioneer village also includes a log chapel, blacksmith’s shop, settler’s cabin, schoolhouse and covered bridge.
The weather-worn buildings are furnished to accurately reflect Ohio pioneer life.
A rope bed and spinning wheel dominate the interior of the settler’s cabin, and primitive desks and benches occupy the one-room schoolhouse.
Inside the humble chapel, daylight washes softly through wavy glass windows and casts sunny squares on the plank floor.
The holy atmosphere is shadowy and snug, with hand-hewn logs worn smooth and stripes of chinking faded to dove gray.
But not all the buildings at the pioneer village are humble log dwellings.
The Williams House is an 1870s two-story frame home a short stroll from the mill.
The house is furnished to reflect days gone by and is open to the public on weekends or by appointment.
Although it seems primitive by today’s standards, a two-story frame house with an indoor pump and glass windows was considered luxurious back in the day.
Blanche Hickman, the daughter of one of the operator’s of Gaston’s Mill, received the house as a wedding gift when she married Denver Williams in 1898.
Blanche lived in the house until her death in 1977 at the ripe old age of 99.
The Williams House, Gaston’s Mill and the pioneer village are situated a short distance from the stony shores of Little Beaver Creek.
During the summer, the creek is shallow and docile and not suitable for canoeing, but during spring when the waters rise, adventurers flock here to canoe and kayak.
A river ride offers paddlers a little taste of whitewater excitement and a lot of breathtaking scenery.
Alabaster-barked sycamore trees stretch their branches over the creek, and green foliage reflects in the deep, tranquil places beside boulders and fallen logs.
In the spring, delicate wildflowers dot the forest floor, and hemlock and mountain laurel bring West Virginia to mind again.
The park also boasts a plunging river gorge that helped Little Beaver Creek gain its status as a National Scenic River.
If you love to fish, bring your pole and try for some smallmouth bass. The creek is known for its smallmouth bass and is home to many other species of wildlife, including a rare and protected type of salamander called a hellbender.
Hellbenders live in fast-moving streams with rocky bottoms and are also known as Allegheny alligators.
You can often find these large salamanders hiding under flat river rocks.
While exploring Little Beaver Creek, you’re bound to see horseback riders crossing the river. That’s because the park is a favorite destination for equestrians.
You can bring your own horse or go on a guided trail ride courtesy of one of the privately owned trail riding companies near the park.
The park boasts 23 miles of bridle trails as well as a horsemen’s campground with 100 sites.
There’s also a family campground with 55 nonelectric sites.
If you relish telling ghost stories around a campfire, Beaver Creek will provide plenty of inspiration for some real spine-chillers.
Because of its rich history, the park has plenty of supposed haunts.
The first spook is Esther Hale, a young woman who went insane after being jilted.
Legend has it that after her groom failed to show up for the nuptials, Esther disappeared into her cabin and wasted away — literally. Esther refused to eat and refused to take off her wedding dress.
A few months later, she was found starved to death in her cabin, still wearing her wedding dress.
That was back in the 1830s. Nowadays, Esther supposedly roams the park searching for her groom.
Another ghost story focuses on a girl named Gretchen.
Gretchen was part of a family of Dutch immigrants, and her father worked on the Sandy and Beaver Canal and operated one of the locks.
Gretchen contracted malaria in 1838 and died. On her deathbed, she begged to go back to Holland.
After Gretchen’s demise, her father decided to take his family home, and temporarily placed Gretchen’s coffin inside the lock he operated.
When the family left Beaver Creek with plans to sail back to Holland, they removed the coffin from the lock and took Gretchen’s remains with them.
However, their ship was lost at sea, and they never made it home.
Supposedly, Gretchen is still trying to find her way back to Holland, and her restless spirit has been seen near the lock that bears her name — Gretchen’s Lock.
The story of Gretchen’s Lock is just one of many fascinating tales associated with the Sandy and Beaver Canal, which formerly ran through the park.
The 73-mile canal was built in the 1800s as a spur off the Erie Canal. It included 90 locks and 30 dams.
Ohio’s canal era ended after the introduction of railroad transportation, and the Sandy and Beaver Canal closed in 1853.
However, traces of the canal remain throughout the park.
A restored lock is near Gaston’s Mill, and various other locks — now nothing more than walls of mossy stone — surprise hikers, horseback riders and mountain bikers who explore the park.
There’s even an abandoned canal town within park boundaries called Sprucevale.
All that remains of this once bustling canal village are crumbling foundations and a few abandoned buildings. One of the buildings is a forgotten gristmill called Hambleton’s Mill, which — unlike Gaston’s Mill — is not operable.
Hambleton’s Mill is located near Sprucevale Road and Fisherman’s trail.
Beaver Creek State Park has 16 miles of hiking trails.
Since the park is at the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains, some of the trails are rugged and steep, while others are flat and accommodating for folks of all stamina levels.
Mountain bikers often use the park’s bridle trails.
The park’s Vondergreen Trail passes near a section of land known as the “Pretty Boy Floyd Area.”
Back in 1934, authorities cornered the notorious gangster on a farm here and gunned him down.
The farm is gone, but the story continues to fascinate park visitors.
Beaver Creek State Park consists of 2,722 acres of land and is located just north of East Liverpool at 12021 Echo Dell Road.
Every fall, a harvest festival takes place at the pioneer village.
The festival features crafts, live music, pony and horse-drawn wagon rides, demonstrations by skilled artisans and a Civil War reenactment.
This year’s festival is set for 10 a.m. until 5 p.m. October 4 and 5.
For more information on the festival or the park, call (330) 385-3091.