The Columbian House
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Some places were just meant to be haunted. Some places just can’t shake the restless Columbian House - Waterville, Ohiosouls from the past that refuse to die over time. Some places, like the Columbian House of Waterville, Ohio, have a 182-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.

The History

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. Columbian House - Waterville, Ohio

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

Columbian House - Waterville, OhioThe 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 Columbian House - Waterville, Ohiobecome 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?
Columbian House - Waterville, Ohio
Over the years many guests of this alleged "haunted house" have reported different incidents that could not be explained, but were very noteworthy nonetheless. Some people have reported to have seen an actual apparition. According to a local newspaper article, guests have seen a ghost in the form of a light. Others that have stayed there have said they have felt small jabs and hands patting them although no other person was around.

Some people describe being followed by something from room to room. One staff member of the Columbian House claimed that the ghost is like "a cloud or a puff of smoke" that usually hangs around in doorways and then disappears. He said that he has also felt the classic “cold spots” and has personally witnessed furniture he had arranged suddenly out of position moments after leaving the room.

Another unusual incident occurred in the 1970s when the owners of the Columbian House hosted a wedding reception. Photographs were taken of the bride and groom in front of the fireplace on the first floor. When the pictures were developed, a bone chilling "image of a face" was seen in the fireplace.

Another unusual reporting of this "presence" happened around the 1930s when Toledo antiques dealer Charles Capron moved into the Columbian House for business purposes as well as to reside. Capron, described as a serious man of intellect and reason, had heard the local lore of how the building was haunted but dismissed any such notion as nonsense. Within a matter of a few days, Capron began hearing different things in the middle of the night such as cries for help, moaning and groaning, and footsteps outside his door.
Columbian House - Waterville, Ohio
No longer desiring to lose another night’s sleep due to these weird noises, Capron had a work associate spend one night in a room at the end of the hall opposite his bedroom on the second floor. He needed to know he was not going crazy. He instructed the associate not to come out of the room at all during the night and to lock his door from the inside. He also locked all of the outside doors so that nobody could get inside the building.

Moments later as Capron lay down to sleep, he began to hear moans and groans along with heavy footsteps. After a few frightful moments of this, Capron flung his bedroom door wide open only to glance down the now empty hallway to his associate’s door. Hearing Capron open the door, the associate also opened his door with a terrified look on his face. They swapped their immediate experiences and swore to each other that neither had left the room.

Eventually, the pair went back to their rooms and moments later the footsteps and the moaning continued. The noises proceeded to make their way to the first floor where Capron had many of his antiques. Suddenly, there was a loud crash that sounded to the antique dealer of a large mirror breaking. Presumably very scared, Capron and his work associate waited until morning to go downstairs to clean up the mess of shattered glass. However, to their surprise, the mirror that Capron thought had been broken was hanging from the wall, untouched and unbroken.
Columbian House - Waterville, Ohio
Over the next few years Mr. Capron became less interested in his antiques and more with his haunted building. He restored it, made major repairs, and opened it up again to the public as an inn. From this time until he abandoned the building around 1940, guests and workers swore that they had witnessed and heard ghosts inside the establishment.

Time passed and this historic building was left alone, only to have the windows broken by vandals and the inside of the house exposed to the harsh Ohio winter elements. The walls were literally crumbling. It appeared that the ghosts had finally accomplished their goals and had driven the living away. It was not until 1943 that Ethel Arnold and her son George from Findlay, Ohio bought it and once again saved it from the wrecking ball. They repaired the building and re-opened the inn, spirits and all. Although Ethel herself never claimed to believe in the ghost stories that locals had passed down to her, her son and daughter-in-law Jacqueline testified otherwise.

In the 1970s George and Jacqueline Arnold acquired the building, converted it into a restaurant and furnished it with period pieces to give the restaurant its authentic, original look. The Arnolds were very straightforward with the reporters that asked them about their experiences both working and living on the site.

"We’re haunted", Mrs. Arnold claimed in a 1980 interview. Both her and her husband as well as staff members of the restaurant have "seen the presence", which they say had been spotted in the downstairs hallway or near the fireplace. She stated that, “most of the appearances of the ghost occur in this front waiting room," but pointed out that, "the ghost has plenty of room to move around."
Columbian House - Waterville, Ohio
One story she recalled in the interview was the time when a non-believer friend of hers came over to dispel the alleged ghost stories and was suddenly "nudged or poked" from behind. When she turned around to see the culprit, nobody was there. That quickly challenged her beliefs in the ghost.

Another story involved her daughter walking down a hallway when she "swore that someone was walking behind her and she stopped in her tracks." Suddenly, she "felt someone run into her, but there was no one there."

According to a different article in a local newspaper a few years later, the eldest Arnold son recalled that several years before he "saw an apparition with the general appearance of a person" near the downstairs bathroom. Still another story revealed that a waitress witnessed a pair of eyeglasses that "seemed to float" from a kitchen counter to her feet.

"We find all kinds of things-prankish things," said Mrs. Arnold. "Doors are locked or unlocked when there was nobody there. Things have disappeared forever with no reasonable explanation," she added.

Today, the Columbian House is still open on certain nights for a great home cooked meal served by candlelight. The restaurant, located at 3 North River Road in Waterville has remained a popular destination, complete with traditional furnishings that make it appear like you are stepping into an early 1800s time warp. The wait staff and owners are happy to show ghostly photos (on display) and are certain to share stories on the building’s rich history and its popularity with both the living and the dead alike.


Extra special thanks to Nancy Myerholtz of the Waterville Historical Society who contributed to this article.
Eye Opener..on Restless Spirits" -Kate Jamieson, unknown year and publication
Ghosts Among Visitors to the Columbian House" -Sentinel-Tribune 11/29/81
Ghost Lives with Area Family" -Sheila Hart-The Collegian,10/31/80
Ancient Hostelry Again Gives Ghosts the Pitch" -Jean Douglas-Toledo Blade,6/28/48
Steve Sweede - Facebook Photos"
"Michael Gingrich"

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