Ghosts of cats and cigar-smoking former owners haunt the long-running Granville tavern

Jennifer Valenzuela switched on the lights in The Tavern, the downstairs former speakeasy that is now an informal dining/bar space at Granville's Buxton Inn (and also once a space for stagecoach drivers to bed down on a straw pile while their charges spent the night in one of the Inn's well-appointed rooms). Within 10 seconds, a glass slid off a counter onto the floor of the previously unoccupied room.

"That kind of thing happens all the time," said Valenzuela, co-owner of the Buxton with other members of her family since 2014.

The Buxton Inn has been a continuously running inn and tavern since it was built in 1812.

“It's always been operated as an inn and a tavern. It was a stop on the stagecoach line — the last stop for those traveling west before Columbus. There was always a warm meal, spirits to warm your insides and a comfortable place to rest.”

Many of its owners were colorful, and some of them, it's said, are still hanging around. Thus spirits of one kind or another have helped tell the story of the Buxton Inn throughout its 200-plus-year history.

“They all left somewhat of an impression here,” Valenzuela said, adding that the inn's resident ghosts offer “nothing haunting or evil or bad — more just mischievous or interesting.”

Orrin Granger, one of a group of settlers from Granville, Massachusetts who helped found Granville, Ohio, built the structure in 1812, calling it, simply, The Tavern. Among the early legends that grew up around the place was that Granger, an officer in the U.S. Army, along with General (and future President) William Henry Harrison, marshalled troops out in front of the building during the War of 1812. A lithograph of Harrison on a horse hangs in the Buxton's upstairs dining room, a gift from the general to his friend.

Sittings presidents would also come to stay at the inn, it's believed, including Abraham Lincoln. Other notable historical figures to visit include Harriet Beecher Stowe, who, former owner Orrville Orr said, caused a near-riot with her talk of freeing slaves. (The Inn was also a stop on the Underground Railroad.)

Stories about Granger's ghost involve an elderly man in white breeches and mysterious disappearances, often of freshly baked pies.

Major Horton Buxton became proprietor in 1865. Unlike Granger and belying his given name, Buxton was not a military officer, but he did feel he was important enough that the place should bear his name, and it has ever since. A colorful figure and a cigar aficionado, he is said to continue to make his presence felt at his namesake courtesy an otherwise unexplainable smell of cigar smoke at the now non-smoking facility.

Through the mid-1900s, the Buxton was owned by socialite and one-time opera singer Ethel “Bonnie” Bounell, who was known to throw festive parties with plenty of music and drink. On quiet nights at the inn these days, guests often mention they hear sounds of merriment coming from the Blue Room, which was where Bounell entertained her guests.

Bounell lived at the Buxton, in Room 9, which is where she died in 1960. Her ghost is referred to by some as The Lady in Blue, appearing ephemerally throughout the grounds. Bounell's cat, not coincidentally named Major Buxton, also roams the grounds, the stories go.

When Orr and his wife, Audrey, purchased the Buxton in 1972, it was in a grave state of disrepair — indeed, the site was being considered for demolition to make way for a parking lot. The Orrs, both teachers who had no experience running a business, but who did have an interest in historical preservation and some knowledge of construction, agreed to buy the property at the suggestion of local historians.

“We thought, ‘This building should not be lost,'” Orr said. “There is a long, strong history there. When we were at the bank asking for loan money, Audrey told them, ‘We're going to do this with or without you.' We got the loan.”

A planned-for six-month renovation took two years, Orr said. “We had friends who, at various stages of the construction, told us, ‘Whatever possessed you? You'll never get this [place] back together,'” he said, and laughed. But of course they did, and ran the Buxton for 42 years.

Offered the opportunity to dispel, as a now-former owner, the ghost stories as fiction invented to drum up interest and, thus, business, Orr, who now lives with his wife in a house situated on property that was part of Orrin Granger's original farm, balked.

“I used to tell people not to say anything about The Lady in Blue so we didn't scare people off. But you couldn't hide it,” he said.

As for his own spirit, Orr said, “I am not Major Buxton, and I am not coming back!”

In 2014, the Orrs sold the Buxton to Valenzuela and her family (her father, Robert Schilling, started his business focusing on historical renovations in the 1980s in the Short North, the near East Side and other Columbus neighborhoods; Valenzuela, her husband and her brother are all now involved in the family-run business, called Urban Restorations). Another restoration is in progress, again under the watchful eye of dedicated preservationists and local residents (the Valenzuelas have called Granville home for 13 years).

“It has changed hands many times, but never closed its doors. It's been through heydays and low times, a rollercoaster of good and bad throughout the over-200 years,” Valenzuela said.