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PORTAGE PATHWAYS: Blackhorse Tavern was welcome sight for frontier travelers

By Roger J. Di Paolo | Record-Courier Editor Published: November 17, 2013 4:00 AM

Blackhorse, the community along S.R. 59 west of Ravenna, is not an incorporated area and has no defined boundaries, but nevertheless has maintained a sense of identity for more than 150 years.

Its iconic symbol, the Blackhorse Tavern, although faded and facing an uncertain fate, can trace its history even farther back to the era when stagecoaches served travelers during the pioneer days of the Western Reserve.

Blackhorse, which is part of Ravenna Township, evolved at the V-shaped crossroads of present-day S.R. 59, which was known as the Kent-Ravenna road, and Brady Lake Road. It was the last stop on the stagecoach route for travelers making the trip through Ravenna toward Kent, which originally was known as Franklin Mills.

The original tavern was located on the north side of the road -- across the street from the establishment that now bears its name -- and dated to the early 19th Century.

"It was an ordinary house of one and a half stories," according to an account by historian E.Y. Lacey.

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The tavern was built by David Greer, who had settled in Ravenna in 1810. Greer also constructed one of the county seat's first buildings, a tavern on the southeast corner of Main and Chestnut streets, where Riddle Block No. 1 is located.

Taverns served as overnight lodging places for travelers, offering rest and liquid refreshment for those who endured the bone-wearying rides over the rudimentary highways that passed for stagecoach routes.

It is uncertain how long Greer operated his establishment, but by 1834 it had passed into the hands of a man named Backus, who was responsible for erecting the sign that gave both the tavern and the community surrounding it a name.

The Blackhorse Tavern sign "swung in a frame about two and a half feet long and eighteen inches wide," according to Lacey, whose account was based on recollections shared by Robert Smith, who was born in 1830.

The sign stood at the fork of the two roads. "It was a welcome sight to travelers who had bumped their way from Cleveland or Pittsburgh in the lumbering stages of the pioneer period," Smith recalled in 1915.

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Backus ran the tavern for about a dozen years, then the site passed through a number of owners. It ceased being a hotel in 1843 and later was purchased by David Merritt, who bought the house and surrounding acreage and farmed it. An 1885 map shows a district schoolhouse located at the crossroads.

The tavern was still in operation at the site in 1894, when voters in Ravenna Township decided to put it out of business in a local option election that banned saloons in the township by a vote of 92 to 26.

Six years later, the house that David Greer had built in the early 19th Century burned. The tavern, however, was resurrected when a new structure bearing its name was built on the south side of the highway, near the eastern entrance of the Blackhorse bridge. That's the building along S.R. 59 that still stands; tax records indicate that it dates to 1910, but it may be older.

Shortly after the "new" tavern was built, Blackhorse came close to losing its name.

In 1915, the suggestion was made that the area become known as Five Corners because of the highways that intersected there. That may have been a deliberate attempt on the part of some residents to disassociate themselves from the tavern. If so, it didn't get very far.

The Ravenna Republican protested the change, as did tradition-minded residents of the area. The uproar over Five Corners did manage to shed a bit of light on how the Blackhorse Tavern got its name, but even that proved to be a cause for disagreement. Some said it was named for a tavern in Marlborough, Mass., while others insisted it took its name from one in Concord, Mass., that dated to 1666.

Regardless, Blackhorse remained Blackhorse and the tavern whose facade bore an image of a black horse on white background became a modern-day landmark along S.R. 59 for travelers making the trip between Ravenna and Kent.

Frank Platz and his wife, Jane, acquired the tavern and attached residence in 1975 and operated it together until Mrs. Platz died in 1988. Platz continued to operate it until he died 10 years later.

In the years since his death, the sign bearing the iconic horse has been painted over and the building has fallen into disrepair. The site's prospects are limited because of its proximity to the highway and scant parking, and the landmark's future is a question mark.

Whatever its fate, Blackhorse will endure as a community. Just ask anyone who lives there.

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geezer Dec 18, 2013 7:11 PM

I'm 64 years old,and i have witnessed land marks come and go, i hate to loose another one.

i remember the Robinhood Inn,always had a magical aura about it. only to be destroyed for a parking lot.~sigh~

Now the Black Horse Tavern,the name reflects the old neighborhood of BlackHorse.

I'd like to see the Portage County Historical Society get involved with the owner and preserve another piece of portage county history.

Scout Nov 21, 2013 1:59 AM

Jane Platz and a local historian tried unsuccessfully to have the building declared an official landmark in the 1980s, in part, to try to acquire funds to restore it in order that it would not end-up in its current condition.  Unfortunately, the building did not quite meet the standards as a landmark,  There was an article in this newspaper about it, at the time.  It would be wonderful if those standards have changed and if a local historian would help Jane and Frank's son (current BHT resident) restore this building, bring it up to code, and perhaps turn the tavern part into a kind of pioneer museum.  

eileengkesseler Nov 17, 2013 12:34 PM

I would love to see this building restored.  I grew up in Brady Lake and Ravenna and I remember this building since I have been three years old.  This building is part of the history of this town and I believe that we need to resurrect it.

I would like to know who I would contact to inquire about saving this building.

If I remember correctly, there was a article in the newspaper about Ravenna getting funds to restore and repair historic places and I for one feel that Blackhorse Tavern should be one of them.

I can be contacted at .