Jonas Seaman would be proud to know that the stage coach inn he founded in 1803 in downtown Lebanon is now Ohio’s longest continuously running business.
The business that locals and travelers from the past two centuries now know as the Golden Lamb is celebrating its bicentennial since becoming a hotel in 1815, with special programs and dinner menus to recognize the rich American history that has flowed in and out its doors.
It’s held onto the traditions that have made it a household name — and a host to famous authors like Charles Dickens and Mark Twain, and to 12 U.S. presidents — for over 200 years. Authentic early American and Shaker furniture is on display and artifacts hang on the walls, and you can still order their classic recipes for sauerkraut balls, Ohio-raised fried chicken, and Shaker sugar pie.
But the Jones family, who has owned the Golden Lamb since 1926, and their staff have made concerted efforts in recent years to keep competitive, with local craft brews flowing in the Black Horse Tavern, sustainably sourced ingredients in the kitchen, and the necessary technological upgrades, as well as by being active members of the local community.
The footprint of the current business at 27 S. Broadway St., is exponentially bigger than when it originally moved in 1815 under owner Ichabod Corwin, said general manager Bill Kilimnik. “Then, you had your small café, and about three little overnight rooms formed the hotel,” he said.
But they have held onto those early days: the original stagecoach bench — where stagecoach drivers would sleep in the lobby while their passengers rested in the hotel rooms — still sits in the sunlit lobby.
Lebanon’s location — about 30 miles from Cincinnati and 26 miles from Dayton — made it an ideal resting point for stagecoaches between the two big cities in the 19th century.
“When Lebanon was evolving, Cincinnati was a river town community, and this area then turned into a railroad community,” Kilimnik explained. And with Dayton having the National Road that went across the country, Lebanon was right on the way for passengers coming off the riverboats, looking to continue their journey by train or along the National Road, which connected Maryland to Illinois.
Throughout the years, the Golden Lamb has played host to weary travelers, politicians, writers, and history buffs. Patrons are stopping through town on their way elsewhere, or staying to explore the full historic charm of Lebanon, with its wide streets — necessary for the stagecoaches of yore — many antique stores, and retained historic image.
“You get the people on historic Bucket Lists, you get people staying here for convenience, and we have a lot of friend groups from big local markets who choose Lebanon as a triangulated place to meet,” said Kilimnik.
Charles Dickens, however, was not a happy customer to the Golden Lamb. When he stopped by the hotel, then called the Bradley House, on his first visit to the United States in 1842, then-owner Calvin Bradley prohibited alcohol in the establishment. Bad news for the young British author, who just wanted a beer or a brandy after his lengthy trip, and couldn’t have it, said Kilimnik.
But now that the beer flows freely from the taps of the Black Horse Tavern, which became part of the Golden Lamb in 1964, guests and diners can enjoy themselves whether they’re stopping in for a pint, a dinner event, or an overnight stay surrounded by period furniture, while sleeping on Tempurpedic mattresses.
The hotel experience is quaint, but with only 18 rooms, the Golden Lamb can only host so many at one point. So for many of their customers, the focus is more on the dining experience.
Between the Lamb’s four large dining rooms on the main level and several more private dining rooms upstairs, they have served meals to casual couples, politicians on business, Kiwanis Club members, and wedding parties. The Presidents Room on the second floor has played host to former First Lady Barbara Bush, while on the campaign trail for her husband, President George W. Bush, and Ohio Senator Robert Portman.
“I think the dining experience here is an evolution that has extended over time,” Kilimnik said. “Where we have been tasked in the last five years or so, is to modernize the food, while still staying true to the heritage items that the Golden Lamb had become known for through the years.”
They’ve done that, by creating their centuries-old recipes, like their Ohio-raised Fried Chicken and Sister Lizzie’s Shaker Sugar Pie, with local and sustainable sourcing as much as possible. Head Chef Josh House and his team work with local farmers, including Carroll Creek Farms in Waynesville, and the Black Barn and Iron’s Fruit Farm, to create meals that are exciting, modern, and suit all taste buds.
To commemorate their 200th anniversary, the Golden Lamb kicked off their fall Bounty of the American Harvest menu on Sept. 22, featuring local and seasonal wild game and peak produce in both historic and contemporary dishes.
After over 200 years running, many businesses would reasonably be showing their age, but the Golden Lamb seems to only be building strength from its efforts to modernize while retaining its historic charm. Whether you live down the road or across the world, make it a point to come celebrate and enjoy this unique local heritage for yourself.