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Some Ghostly Guests at Waterville's Columbian House Refuse to Leave
Drunks, murder, and cholera. Yep, it’s time to travel back to Ohio for another bone chilling ghost story. Come along as we visit the Columbian House; a restaurant and inn that is wildly popular with both the living and the dead.
by Chris Rawson
Some places were just meant to be haunted. Some places just can’t shake the restless souls from the past that refuse to die over time. Some places, like the Columbian House of Waterville, Ohio, have a 175-year history of ghosts that just doesn’t go away. It has absorbed itself into the very foundation of this yellow building and has become an eerie particle that has made this present day restaurant an infamous spot for ghost story glory.
This historically recognized place has all the classic Hollywood movie examples of a haunted house. Over the years, many guests, staff members and owners of the Columbian House have reported a variety of unexplained phenomena. They include weird cold spots, sounds of loud footsteps and pounding fists in the night, and ghosts that appear in the form of cloud-like smoke. And it doesn’t stop there. Claims of objects that inexplicably fly across a room, and the frightful feeling of being nudged by something unseen are nothing groundbreaking to the locals who have heard these different stories in one context or another. Things that give your goosebumps goosebumps.
One of the things that is unusual about this building is that there are many stories and old gossip that speculate on who or what may be responsible for what has been going on inside. It’s really up to you to decide.
In 1828, pioneer John Pray had completed his construction of the Columbian House: a small trading post complete with tavern and overnight hostel. Located in Waterville, Ohio, along the banks of the Maumee River, the building itself was constructed of 14-inch hand-hewn black walnut beams laid together with wooden pegs in true early-American architectural style.
Waterville, originally a small 50-lot village established by white settlers in 1817, is located 15 miles south of what is present-day Toledo, Ohio. After its construction, the Columbian House quickly became the centerpiece of this young village and was a popular stagecoach stopping post that catered to weary travelers trekking between Fort Wayne and Detroit. With the opening of the busy Erie and Miami canals in 1843 (the same year Pray sold it), the building had served as a vital stop for people who desperately needed shelter to escape the extreme summer humidity and unforgiving Ohio winters.
The Columbian House was in an ideal location for a man like Pray to establish a business, especially since it was in the area of the village that would become the town square and main social gathering place for the locals. In 1837, Pray added a third story that was used as the town’s ballroom and he converted the second story into a multi-use floor that held a single jail cell for prisoners in transit as well as a dressmaker’s shop, school, drugstore and doctor's office.
Over the years, the building has switched hands many times and has seen its share of changes. In the early 1900s Waterville residents wanted the building destroyed because of the alleged evil that lurked within its walls. Maybe this lore is what prompted the Columbian House’s most famous guest, Henry Ford, to throw his 1927 Halloween party there.
Despite their attempts, every time the destruction of the Columbian House looked inevitable, a new owner was always found and new restorations were completed on top of old ones. Although there are still signs of early crude building tactics (such as loose wooden floorboards) that would be a modern architect’s nightmare, the building has stood the test of time to have seen many bizarre events and have hosted thousands of visitors, some of who might still be there.
Sheepherders, Crazy Women, the Town Drunk, and Cholera
The first reported incident of unusual activity was recorded in the early 1840s. Legend has it that a traveling sheepherder checked into the Columbian House for a night’s stay. The next morning he had vanished without a trace, leaving the town residents baffled at the mysterious disappearance until 30 years later when a local farmer confessed on his deathbed to the senseless murder and abduction of the sheepherder. He described the location of the body in Waterville and the remains were exhumed and the mystery solved. Some say this might have been the beginning of the lingering ghostly spirits. Is it possible that the sheepherder’s soul is still trapped in the sleeping quarters, his moaning apparition wandering the halls during the night, waiting for his body to return?
Another story of unusual activity might be traced to a tale based in the late 1880s. A local 28-year old woman was reportedly so upset by her stepfather’s cruel treatment that, in an attempt to kill him, she accidentally stabbed her adoring stepbrother with sewing shears. The stepfather punished her harshly by imprisoning her in an inn room at the Columbian House. The woman remained there for a period of time, locked in one of the rooms. Maybe the temporarily insane woman’s intense, angry energy was so powerful that it trapped her spirit within the structure’s walls and will not leave until she receives fair justice from her evil stepfather.
A third story is that the jail room might be haunted by an old town drunk. Apparently this local alcoholic would become so intoxicated and become so belligerent that he would be locked in the jail room overnight to sober up. Guests of the house would hear him pounding on the door on a nightly basis demanding to see a doctor with claims he was ill. Almost every night was the same routine that quickly grew very annoying to the inn’s paying customers that wanted quiet. One night in particular, his pounding was extremely loud and went on longer than normal. Clearly irritated by his crying wolf, the other guests ignored his cries and cursed his name. The next morning he was found dead in the locked room with no explanation as to why. Since then, that particular jail room door will not remained closed no matter the attempt. If the black walnut door does manage to remain closed, fists are heard loudly banging against it from the inside. Was that night’s batch of corn whisky a bit too harsh? Was he trying to escape something in the room that was really making him sick?
Another story says that a traveler walked into the tavern at the Columbian House and after a few minutes, dropped dead on the spot from the dreaded cholera. Because it was such a contagious disease and could be extremely dangerous to the small community, residents acted quickly and placed the diseased body into a pine coffin that apparently was too small. Aware that there was no time to make a new coffin that would fit the corpse, the residents folded his body into the box, forcing it to fit in order to close it and bury the man. Could it perhaps be possible that the diseased man’s immortal karma wanders the dwelling because he was improperly laid to rest?