LEBANON, Ohio -- If it’s true that you are judged by the company you keep, then small four-story inn and tavern Golden Lamb -- having seemingly forever greeted guests through its doors in downtown Lebanon -- is quite impressive.
Through the years, the establishment has not only played host to the grateful road-weary traveler but to distinguished guests including authors, diplomats and U.S. presidents. Opened in 1803, Golden Lamb has outlived entire generations and shows no sign of stopping.
In July, the hotel’s impressive clientele over the last 200 years prompted Ohio Secretary of State John Husted to visit as part of his Ohio Business Profile Program, which tied into 2016’s election season by featuring businesses visited by American presidents.
“Many presidents and candidates visit popular local businesses that are doing interesting and innovative things to show Americans how connected they are to the Buckeye State,” Husted said in a video announcing July’s theme. “These visits are a big honor and help put local businesses on the national stage.”
Golden Lamb has enjoyed the patronage of 12 U.S. presidents, receiving visits dating back as far as John Quincy Adams and most recently during the 2004 election year by George W. Bush.
In December 1803, the Warren County Court awarded tavern-keeper Jonas Seaman a license for $4 “to keep a house of public entertainment in the house he now occupies in the south of Lebanon.” Golden Lamb was simply a one-room log cabin, its shingle bearing an illustration of a golden lamb.
As state and country roads began to bring more travelers, word of mouth began to spread. By the mid-1800s the inn had become a popular stop along many stagecoach routes, even enjoying a brief visit from British author Charles Dickens, for whom one of the dining rooms is named.
The guest log would see a host of prominent American names, including orators Henry Clay and Daniel Webster, educational reformer Horace Mann, abolitionist Harriet Beecher Stowe and Pulitzer prize-winning writers Louis Bromfield and Alex Haley. Today the Golden Lamb features 18 unique guest rooms, each named after a historic figure who once stayed in, dined at or visited the inn.
A spectral guest?
There are some who maintain one of the hotel’s former inhabitants still resides on the property – even after her death.
“There are employees, and there have been some guests, who say they’ve encountered something,” said John Zimkus, house historian, of allegations that the inn harbors a ghostly spirit. “I’ve yet to meet anyone who says they saw something, but I have heard of guests sensing a presence, a breathing down the back of their neck.”
Golden Lamb is rumored to be haunted by a playful 5-year-old girl named Sarah Stubbs, the granddaughter of one of the property’s owners in the late 19th century. A young orphan raised by her aunt and uncle in the hotel, guests reportedly still claim to hear her laughter in the inn’s halls.
“I often tell guests it seems to me it would be hard for little 5-year-old Sarah Stubbs to haunt the hotel, since she actually grew up and got married in the hotel in 1909 to her husband, who owned the city’s first car dealership a couple of blocks away,” Zimkus said.
Historical cuisine meets modern style
Golden Lamb’s presence in the community has bred a tradition among area families that have come to rely on the establishment over the years. So much so, in fact, that it takes finesse to marry the staples of the inn’s past with a progressive menu of the present.
The fried chicken recipe may remain the same, but the inn’s restaurant finds new ways to incorporate local flavors and growers. Its kitchen uses local produce and game from Ohio farms like Gerber’s Amish Farm, The Black Barn and Iron’s Fruit Farm.
“We’ll still have people come from miles away on any random night of the month and if there isn’t lamb on the menu they’ll turn around and walk out,” said Assistant General Manager Nick Michael. “Some guests’ memories of this place sometimes span back five or six generations, and people want to revisit the memories they made 60 years ago.”
Michael said it always means a great deal when a guest compliments staff on preserving the inn’s traditions.
“It definitely humbles you,” he said. “You realize what a small cog you are in such a big piece of history. It’s not just being one out of the 100 employees who work here currently, it’s being one of the thousands who have worked here for over 200 years, and that responsibility to uphold tradition and drive it forward weighs heavily on us.”