Monday, July 03, 2000

Golden Lamb a home, living

By Cindi Andrews
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        From the start of her marriage, Ginny Kunkle Jones' life was ruled by the Golden Lamb. She had the historic Lebanon inn to thank for meeting her future husband, but it almost forced them to postpone their wedding.

        The hotel that once fed Charles Dickens — but refused to sell him “spirits” — provided a home and a living for Mrs. Jones' family.

        At 95, she is one of the few who can remember the Golden Lamb in its more modest days, before her late husband, Bob Jones, turned it into a regionally renowned inn and restaurant.

        Mrs. Jones, grandmother of U.S. Rep. Rob Portman, a Terrace Park Republican, recently received an award from the Lebanon Conservancy Foundation for the couple's role in preserving Ohio's oldest continuously operating inn.

        Since 1803, it has stood in the Warren County seat at Broadway and Main Street.

        “It was such an old, rundown place” in the 1920s, Mrs. Jones recalled.

        It began as a log tavern, but had been replaced with the brick structure that eventually reached its current four stories.

        Mr. Jones — a young bachelor — saw possibilities and moved from Dayton to buy the hotel, then known as the Lebanon House.

        One of his first moves was to revert back to the original name, the Golden Lamb.

        Mr. Jones, the son of Quakers, soon met Miss Kunkle, a schoolteacher who had moved from Springfield.

        Their courtship began with lunches across Broadway from the hotel because Miss Kunkle didn't want to seem forward by visiting her beau at his business.

        Courtship progressed to engagement, and the nuptials were set for June 1928. But the big day almost was derailed by a fire on the upper floors of the Golden Lamb shortly before the wedding.

        “We were afraid the groom was not going to make it because he was working so hard,” Mrs. Jones says.

        After they married, the newlyweds lived at the hotel for several years, until their only child, Joan, needed a yard to play in.

        Fred Compton, who started as a busboy in 1966 when he was 15, recalled the couple's dedication.

        “There was never any question that it was a part of Ohio history, and they were going to preserve it,” said Mr. Compton, now an assis tant manager.

        What money Mr. Jones had, he spent repairing the structure, leaving no budget for new furnishings.

        But the Depression had set in, and the Joneses went to auctions where they'd get steals on chairs, dressers and beds.

        Much of it was Shaker, starting a collection that's now housed at the Warren County Historical Society Museum.

        The couple's design taste and Mr. Jones' innkeeping skill turned the Golden Lamb around. In the mid-1950s, it received positive mentions in several national publications.

        Mr. Compton credits the Golden Lamb renovation with putting Lebanon on its current path as an antiques shopping haven.

        Mrs. Jones claims no part in the Golden Lamb's success.

        Others remember it differently. In addition to helping fill the inn with furniture, Mrs. Jones “just made sure everything was perfect,” said the inn's first gift shop manager, Ruth Pierce, 83.

        Mr. Compton agrees.

        “Mrs. Jones' white gloves were more for function than fashion,” he said. As she chatted with busboys or other workers, “you could just see that finger sneak across the table.”

        The Joneses were beloved by employees, who commonly stayed for decades. Mr. Jones sometimes sent them home with dinner or a present for a job well done.

        In 1969, the Joneses retired from innkeeping, leasing the inn to the Comisar family, which owns Cincinnati's five-star Maisonette. The Comisars run it today amid many of the same furnishings from the Jones era.

        Mr. Jones died in 1996, and the couple's daughter, Joan Jones Portman, died in 1994.

        “It's very hard to have outlived both of them, but I have some beautiful memories,” Mrs. Jones says.


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