Ohio. The Buckeye State. A state it seems most people know very little about other than it’s out there in the middle somewhere. I’ve spent much of the summer in Ohio and come away with an intensely different opinion of it than I went in with. It’s a transition state – it connects the east to the west, the Great Lakes to the interior, the Midwest to Appalachia. It’s also a state steeped in history. In the years following the Civil War, it was the third most populous state in the country. During that time, seven of our presidents came out of Ohio, making them second only to Virginia in that regard. Besides presidents, Ohio has given us many legendary Americans. William Tecumseh Sherman, George Armstrong Custer, Thomas Edison, Neil Armstrong, Toni Morrison, Steven Spielberg, Jesse Owens and Cy Young are just a few Ohioans who come to mind who grew up to leave their mark on the country and the world. In the past, when someone told me they were from Ohio, it just passes out of my mind as somewhere in generic Middle America. I didn’t have strong feelings about it one way or the other so I would quickly move past it and forget it. I’m here to tell you I had the wrong idea about Ohio. After six solid weeks of traveling around the state I can tell you it’s a fascinating, welcoming, diverse state with tons to offer and a generally agreeable climate to offer it in. In my travels, I’ve come to think of it as “The Deep South of the Midwest” – a hidden gem and a crossroads which shouldn’t be overlooked.
I came into the state from West Virginia and headed up to visit my friend Will in Athens for Brew Week. While Athens is a quintessential College Town, you don’t have to go far out of town before you realize you are definitely still in Appalachia. The history of the area is very much tied to industry – salt, coal and bricks – and the modes of transportation that got those goods to market. I enjoyed collaborating with the Athens Convention and Visitors Bureau on a post about the history of the county from its early mound builders through to today (read that post HERE). I would return to Appalachian Ohio later in my journey as I tried to track down some information about my maternal grandfather and his family in Dillonvale and Mount Pleasant. I learned about his father who was an engineer on the Wheeling and Lake Erie Railroad and his mother who came from a town of early abolitionists. On her side, they had been in Ohio from the very start. It was a fascinating time of self-discovery as I found some of my deeper roots in both Appalachia and frontier Ohio (read about this visit HERE).
From Athens, I set out along the Ohio River which took me through old industrial giants like Ironton (HERE) and Portsmouth (HERE). I loved seeing some of the grand Victorian architecture in these fading gems and learning about the early NFL team, the Portsmouth Spartans, who went into my first podcast on the state (HERE). I passed by fascinating sites which once served as “stations” on the Underground Railroad, as slaves fled Kentucky across the river to freedom. In tiny Point Pleasant, I visited the birthplace of future Commander of the Union Army and United States President Ulysses S. Grant. It certainly made me long for a politician with such humble beginnings.
In the far southwest corner of Ohio, I came into the great city of Cincinnati. I did not expect to find what I did there, and it quickly grew into one of my favorite cities in the country. From its grand architecture (HERE) to its native breakfast meat (goetta) to its beautiful murals (HERE) and proud brewing traditions, Cincinnati surprised me around every corner. I hadn’t spent much time there before, but I know I will be back there in the future.
When I headed north to Miamisburg, I got to visit with an old tour leading friend of mine’s father, Doug. He showed me how great small town life can be and introduced me to seemingly everyone in town. He had been instrumental in the restoration of Miamisburg’s old downtown theater (HERE), and was proud to show off that and everything else his area had to offer (HERE). I learned so much I ended up doing several posts there and sticking around for a couple of days. In nearby Dayton, I got to visit sites where the Wright Brothers had lived and worked while building the very first airplanes and then visit the National Air Force Museum to see where their work eventually led (HERE).
Across the middle of the state I went, stopping in on the State Capitol and State Fair (HERE) in Columbus and the amazing Dublin Irish Festival in Dublin. From there I was off through zany Zanesville, with its zany Y-shaped bridge on my way back to the West Virginia border. Hitting the Ohio River again, I headed due north to the beautiful shores of Lake Erie and traveled down the northern edge of the state to Cleveland. I had a blast in the lakeside resort of Geneva-on-the-Lake (HERE) and in tiny Fairport Harbor before making my way into the city. Cleveland is a city of neighborhoods, and I enjoyed several days wandering through them. I visited the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, the house used in the movie A Christmas Story, and the church from The Deer Hunter. I made my way out along the lake to Sandusky where I stood in line all day at Cedar Point, the Standing-In-Line Capital of the World, which also has some pretty awesome roller coasters.
I returned to Cleveland and then headed out through beautiful Cuyahoga Valley National Park (HERE) and on to Canton for the Little C Music Festival (HERE). Having gotten my fill of music, I visited the Pro Football Hall of Fame before pushing on to Akron. Akron did not win me over at first glance, but I quickly warmed up to it and the more I saw of it, the more I liked it. My visit to beautiful Stan Hywet was a definite highlight, as much for the wonderful tour I went on there as for the house itself (HERE).
I got a dose of quaint rural Ohio in Amish Country (HERE) before heading on to Mansfield, I got to celebrate along with Cleveland Browns fans as they won their first game in over a year. I also visited the old prison there, which had been used most notably in the Shawshank Redemption (HERE), and the Bible Walk which showed what people are capable of when they work together.
Toledo, in the far north of the state, was another gem of a town with an unbelievable art museum, incredible architecture in the Old West End (HERE), and some great bars and restaurants. Situated right on the Maumee River, they’ve done a lot to redevelop their downtown area around the waterfront.
South was the only direction I could go from Toledo, so I headed down through Lima and Neil Armstrong’s hometown of Wapakoneta. I spent a few days at the University of Miami in Oxford before heading onward and southward through Cincinnati and across the beautiful Roebling Bridge into Kentucky.
Because I left for a few weeks to run a tour for my old tour company in the midst of all of that, I’ve been in Ohio for most of the late summer and early fall. While I’m definitely ready for a change of pace and a change of place, Ohio was very good to me. I learned a lot and found surprises around every corner. It is a state with some great cities, big and small, and some amazingly picturesque small towns. The Lake Erie waterfront is breathtaking, and Ohio has some decent state parks as well. But Ohio’s real treasure is in its people. Almost everywhere I went I was met with warm smiles and laughter and people who were fiercely proud of their home state. While most of its more famous residents would leave Ohio in the long run, I’m sure many longed for the simple days of their childhood in the Buckeye State. Which reminds me, the one thing I didn’t see in the Buckeye State… was a buckeye. I’m sure I probably did, but I was too busy looking at everything else this wonderful state had to offer. Thank you Ohio, I had a great visit to your state!
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