(Orig. Published 8/2002)
Beaver Creek, located in and near East Liverpool, is arguably the largest haunted site in the State. At least 5 true and not-so-true legends are tied to this area. Most are associated with the part of Beaver Creek once known as Sprucevale. Sprucevale is a “ghost town,” a canal town abandoned in 1870 after the collapse of the Sandy and Beaver Canal. It was established in 1837 by the Hambleton Brothers. They purchased the surrounding land and built Sprucevale in anticipation of the Sandy and Beaver canal, which ran through the Hambletons’ property. The Hambletons built a stone grist mill, locksmith shop, general store, and woolen factory. By the time of the canal’s completion in 1848, at least 19 families settled in Sprucevale.
Unfortunately, not long after the canal’s completion, a massive reservoir break caused irreparable damage to the canal, and plans to rebuild and repair it seemed futile in light of the increasing popularity of railroad transportation. The canal failed in 1852.
Because the town of Sprucevale was wholly reliant upon the canal, it soon collapsed as well. According to State Park records, Sprucevale was completely abandoned as of 1870. The mill and a large brick building are all that remains of Sprucevale.
Although Sprucevale existed for only a short time, several legendary events occurred during this time that have long outlived the town’s demise.
One of the canal’s builders, Edward G. Gill traveled with his wife and infant daughter Gretchen to Ohio from Ireland. Sadly, Mrs. Gill died en route and was buried at sea. In 1834, Edward Gill began work on the canal, building the large lock seen on the left.
Tragedy would strike the Gill family once again.
In 1837, the same year the Hambletons established Sprucevale, young Gretchen fell ill with malaria and died. According to State Park records, Gretchen was said to have cried “I want to join my mother” during her fevers and delusional spells. Edward Gill, grief-stricken over the loss of his daughter, entombed Gretchen’s coffin in the walls of this canal lock. He had planned to bury her in Ireland.
After the canal’s failure in 1852, he left for Ireland with Gretchen’s remains. However, they never made it back home. The ship sank, taking Gretchen and her father with it.
It is said that Gretchen’s ghost still wanders the canal and haunts this lock, crying because she still has not joined her mother. Many variations of this story exist.
For instance, in the 1952 book The Sandy & Beaver Canal, William H.Vodrey Jr. & R. Max Gard write that Gretchen was the daughter of Hans Gil and that the Gil family were from Holland. No mention is made of the mother’s death, and the actual date of Gretchen’s death is noted as August 12, 1838. Gretchen’s ghost can be seen at the lock on the anniversary of her death.
UPDATE: Local historian George Swetnam wrote in his anthology, Devils, Ghosts and Witches: Occult Folklore of the Upper Ohio Valley (1988), that Gretchen’s ghost will appear saying, “Bury me with my mother.” This was Gretchen’s dying prayer.
The lock itself is quite large, as evidenced by this photo. And eerie. The sounds here were quite unusual, but are probably explained by the acoustics produced by these walls, as well as cars traveling over a nearby iron bridge.
It is accessible approximately 1/2 mile along a trail found near a group campsite, just off Sprucevale road.
It is believed poor Esther’s ghost still haunts this bridge and the nearby Hambleton Mill. Some say that she appears as a “hideous apparition.” If she touches you, you will die and she will become young and beautiful again.
Interestingly, Chris Woodyard of the Haunted Ohio book series notes that Esther was due to be married on August 12, 1838. (The same anniversary date as that of Gretchen). As with Gretchen’s lock, many variations of this story exist. In another version, Esther Hale was actually a “stern Quaker preacher” who haunts the Hambleton Mill. Esther is also mistaken for the ghost at Gretchen’s Lock.
Just across this bridge to the right is Hambleton Mill, one of the few remaining artifacts of the town of Sprucevale.
The legend here is quite simple. It is believed that a Quaker preacher haunts this mill. Others say that it is Esther Hale’s ghost, seen as a white, misty apparition floating around the mill.
UPDATE: According to Historical Collections of the Little Beaver Valleys, etc. (1914), Esther Hale was a “Quaker Lady preacher” whose ghost appears at this mill every Christmas Eve and writes the word “Come” on the stone walls.
To the left, a shot of the barred windows on the side of the mill. The mill was restored in 1974, but it does not appear that much has been done since then.
THE LITTLE BOY
The other remaining Sprucevale building is believed to be haunted by a young boy who hung himself from the rafters.
The legend goes on to state that the boy’s spirit does not like visitors to this place. Anomalies will appear in any pictures taken of the building.
Well, we can put that story to rest. To the left and below are pictures of the building. Near as we can tell, no anomalies appeared in these pictures–and we even used a digital camera!
PRETTY BOY FLOYD
Floyd, wanted for bank robberies and the murders of 12 (mostly coppers), was trying to find his way back home to Oklahoma, after hiding from the Feds for a year.
After he was killed, East Liverpool put his body on public display. Floyd’s body was later returned home to Oklahoma, where he is now buried.