Columbiana houses hidden secret

By Ginny Cooper / Staff Writer

COLUMBIANA—The Karl C. Harrison Museum of George Washington, nestled inconspicuously next to the Columbiana Public Library, seems an unlikely destination for international travelers, but the museum has played host to visitors from as far away as Japan, France and England.

The museum houses an impressive collection of over 1,000 artifacts belonging to the nation’s first president and his descendants. It all began in the early 1980s with a small, silver teapot, according to the museum’s curator Donald Relyea.

“A lady brought a teapot (to Columbiana) to be appraised. The appraiser knew that the teapot had belonged to a member of Martha Washington’s family. When he asked the lady about it, she said she was the sixth generation granddaughter of Martha Washington, and she also told him she had a whole houseful of artifacts and memorabilia.”

Karl Harrison, a Columbiana banker and “student of Washington,” purchased the teapot and many more artifacts from the woman and the basis for the museum was born.

Among the other items visitors can view are a will, written in 1710 by Colonel Daniel Parke, grandfather of Martha Washington’s first husband, and furniture from the time period.

Martha Washington’s personal prayer book is also on display, as are George Washington’s “flip” glasses, which he used to drink the popular colonial drink “flip,” a combination of rum, beer, sugar and juice heated with a hot iron until frothy.

The museum also contains letters from four of the first six presidents of the United States, including John Adams, James Madison, James Monroe and John Quincy Adams.

George Washington is not the only famous American represented in the museum—several items from the family of Robert E. Lee are also on display including a compass, several pieces of silver and a 1904 oil portrait of the general.

The museum also houses one of six existing Mathew Brady tintypes, taken just one week after Lee’s surrender, as well as a piece of red cloth from the flag that flew at Appomattox.

Despite the plethora of treasures housed in the museum, it remains relatively unknown within the county.

“I’m sorry to say, it’s kind of a well-hidden secret,” explained the museum’s curator Donald Relyea. “Most people are pretty surprised (to find it).”