In the five decades in which Dr. John Venen served as physician to the residents of Salem (Conneaut) and the environs, he traveled 300,000 on horseback.
The deed to the Main Street property which Dr. Venen purchased in 1815 and eventually built his home upon also traveled many miles. Until last week, it was in the possession of an Arkansas resident, Fran Alford, whose late mother, Alice Kechline, had kept it among other ephemera pertaining to her great grandfather.
“She was a saver,” Alford says of her mother. “She saved every scrap of paper that had to do with her family.” Alice entrusted the cache to Fran in the latter days of her life. “When she got really ill, she went through the things and gave them to me.”
On Sunday, September 17, 2017, Alford presented the framed deed to Rawley and Sharan Huskey, who three years ago purchased the former Venen residence and operate it as Centennial Inn Bed and Breakfast, 534 Main St., Conneaut.
Alford grew up hearing her mother talk about the house and Dr. Venen, although neither Alice nor Fran actually lived in the house. After John Venen’s death, the house was owned by Deyoe family, whose name is carved on the carriage stone in front of the house. Miles and Betty Horton were the next owners, then the Huskeys.
The Huskeys’ research dates the house to around 1840. He says the front part, two rooms down and two rooms up, was the original section. The upstairs rooms have evidence of once serving as the doctor’s office.
The back section of the house is an addition, evidenced by the curvature of what had been the exterior walls, the lower ceilings and other clues.
The Huskeys live in a West Main Road house whose back yard adjoins the Main Street house.
“We always admired this house,” Sharran says. “We bought it thinking of our children. It would be easy to go back and forth between the houses, and when we were working on it.”
“But we realized that it would be a while before they would a need for the house,” Rawley adds. “So we decided to make it into a bed and breakfast. We had stayed at several bed and breakfast before and we always had a good experience.
“The house is almost too big to rent it. And we wanted to make it as original as possible,” he adds.
Thus the couple tackled the huge job of bringing the house back to its original glory, which included sanding down to the bare wood the old, wide-planked floors in the entry and parlor and replacing a termite-infested beam under the back section. A bay window, not part of the original construction, houses the baby grand piano that Sharran loves to play. Also of note is the stunning fireplace that was built in the corner by the former owners, Miles and Betty Horton, Conneaut business owners for many years.
By the spring of 2017 the house was ready to open as a bed and breakfast, although one downstairs room is still undergoing renovation. The opening brought about publicity for the historical house, word of which eventually reached Fran Alford through social media. Recalling her mother’s fondness for the house and her family’s heritage, Alford arranged to meet the new owners and stay in the bed and breakfast during a portion of her trip to Conneaut for a high school class reunion. She brought the deed as well as photos and the original and copies of the ephemera that her mother had collected.
Among the material was the family tree that records the doctor’s migration from his native Fitchburg, Mass., in 1815. His wife, Nancy Haywood, was from Vermont. Alford’s great grand-daughter, Alice Kechline, was descended from the doctor’s fifth child, Darwin Plummer.
Notes about Venen’s legendary service to the community’s sick and injured include a story about how he kept horses at stables 15 miles away from Conneaut so he could get a fresh one when riding distances to see a patient. His fees ranged from 13 cents to $6.10 per patient.
The Huskeys recognize the historical value of the treasure entrusted to them and will continue to search for the scraps of ephemera and documentation from which to piece together a larger picture of the doctor, his house and times. Alford says she’s very pleased with their work and dedication to preserving history in its many incarnations.
“(The house) is lovely, and I am just thrilled about it,” Alford says. “They have been wonderful hosts.”