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Mystery at the Rotary Meeting


Garrettsville – Garrettsville-Hiram Rotarians confronted a mystery at their recent meeting.  Speaker was Guy Alexander of Park Ave., Garrettsville, and he told of the boat in his house.
Embarking upon an renovation/remodel of his house in 2007, he recalled a chance conversation some years before with Adelle Cline (nee Baird) who had grown up in the residence and lived there after her marriage to Jim Cline and through the subsequent raising of three children.  While engaged in who-knows-what ministrations of the hair care personnel at  the Golden Mirror, she asked him if he had yet found the boat that resided above the dining room ceiling, something shown to the family by her father in the early twentieth century and, to all intents and purposes, likely to be still there–they had not removed it.
As it happened,  the remodeler needed access to the area in question and –lo, and behold–between the rafters and the lath-and-plaster, there rested the skeleton of a boat, two nested halves, a pair of slave collars(!) and some old batteries, along with newspaper clippings from 1898 concerning a popular player of the day, Homer Enos.  An interesting treasure  trove, no mistake!
After considerable investigation–Antique Road Show and a number of other avenues, such as the Smithsonian Institution–Guy found that he was in possession of a “portage boat” or “slave boat”  used during the era of the Underground Railroad (Which, you may recall, was not always underground, nor had it any rails, though the roads were many and  so too the conductors and the passengers).  Only one other specimen is thought to be in existence, and that in Canada.  One appraisal firm in Cleveland put its value at “priceless”–not real helpful, when you get right down to it.  The collars–one had a metal nameplate reading “W. F. Brown” in ornate script–were far more common and a Wm. Brown (pauper) was found  listed at that address in a census search of the decade.
The “portage boat” might be classified as what archivists/historians/archaeologists and their ilk call “ephemera”, things that were not designed to last, in this case they were to be put together quickly, covered with a canvas or leather skin, used to cross a stream or body of water, then dismantled (Under the Fugitive Slave Act, one could be arrested and tried for aiding and/or abetting a runaway slave, so   the evidence was destroyed whenever possible).  How did the bones of the boat get in the ceiling over the dining room?  Nobody knows. The house has  paper trail back to at least 1895, possibly 1860–lots of records were lost in a fire at the old courthouse in Ravenna many years ago.  There apparently a construction project of some sort at this address in 1908.  Was it found or moved around then by the Bairds?  Mystery still.
Then , of course, there are the unexplained shadows and creaks and footsteps…the nearby tunnels to the creek, possibly used by the UGRR–Northeast Ohio was pretty strong Abolitionist territory….  Who knows how much more of the story waits to be uncovered?