Down by the Riverside
Marietta charms with picture-postcard views, quaint shops and strong community spirit.
When You Go ...
Guyz and Galz, 284 Front St., 740/374-5648
Town House, 230 Front St., 740/374-5072
The Tin Rabbit, 204 Front St., 740/373-1152
Twisted Sisters Boutique, 197 Front St., 740/374-7330, www.twistedsistersboutique.com
Schafer Leather Store, 140-142 Front St., 740/373-5101
Townsquare Fabrics & Quilt Shop, 7 Tiber Way, 740/373-6150
Teri Annâ€™s, 290 Front St., 740/373-7631
Fenton Gift Shop, 104 Front St., 740/373-3171
Riverview Antiques, 102 Front St., 740/373-4068, www.riverviewantiques.com
Antique Mall of Marietta, 135 Second St., 740/376-0038
Marietta Wine Cellars Winery, 170 Front St., 740/373-9463
Putnam Chocolate, 268 Front St., 740/376-0294
Turquoise Spirit, 128 Front St., 740/374-2800
Salem Candles Gallery of Light, 110 Putnam St., 740/376-0611
Riverside Artists Gallery and Gift Shoppe, 175 Front St., 740/376-0797
Rossi Pasta, 106 Front St., 740/376-2065, www.rossipasta.com
Lafayette Hotel, 101 Front St., 740/373-5522, www.lafayettehotel.com
Campus Martius Museum, 601 Second St., 740/373-3750, 800/860-0145 or www.ohiohistory.org/places/campus
Ohio River Museum, 601 Second St., 740/373-3750, 800/860-0145, or www.ohiohistory.org/places/ohriver
The Annual Ohio River Sternwheel Festival, Sept. 9-11, downtown. The 30th festival on the waterfront includes fireworks, a queenâ€™s pageant, bluegrass music, and R&B classics by the Temptations.
Civil War Re-enactment, Sept. 24-25. The cityâ€™s first-ever downtown encampment includes a variety of demonstrations and activities.
Ohio Magazine Artist Series, Oct. 29-November, Levee House, 127 Ohio St. Exhibit of works by Ohio Magazine artists, contributing artists and friends benefits flood-relief efforts in Marietta. Show opening Oct. 29, 5-9 p.m., tickets $25 in advance, $35 at the door. For information, call 216/771-2833 ext. 167.
Hometown Holiday Weekends, Nov. 25-27, Dec. 2-4 and 9-11. Event includes trolley and carriage rides, a gingerbread house exhibit, tree-lightings and tours of 19th-century homes.
For more information about shopping and special events, call the Marietta/Washington County Convention and Visitors Bureau, 800/288-2577 or visit www.mariettaohio.org.
If you're looking for a fun and interesting afternoon stroll and shopping tour in a historic Buckeye downtown, you'd be hard-pressed to do better than a trip to Marietta.
Nestled at the picturesque juncture of the Ohio and Muskingum rivers, the small college town is rich in history, awash in sternwheeler lore, and home to a lively and eclectic mixture of specialty shops that make it a prime tourist stop in the Mid-Ohio Valley. A sunny Saturday along Front Street will take visitors past antiques stores and gift nooks, a leather-goods retailer, fine dining establishments and women's clothing boutiques both funky and upscale - all within sight of the elegant Lafayette Hotel, which perches at the corner of Front and Green streets overlooking both rivers.
This appealing scene stands in stark contrast to what Front Street - and Marietta - looked like a year ago.
In September 2004, the rainy shards of Hurricane Ivan ripped through the Appalachians and upper Ohio Valley, dropping downpours that flooded the streets of downtown Marietta.
On September 19, the river rose suddenly to just under 45 feet - its greatest crest since 1964, and at 22 feet in 24 hours, one of its fastest floods. Savvy shopkeepers attuned to the whims and moods of the river got their inventory tucked away in time. But the swirling, brown water still did millions of dollars' worth of damage.
"I can't describe the smell," recalls Chad Clark, co-owner of Guyz and Galz, a hip clothing store on Front Street that includes Charles Hairdressers.
The water came to the top of the bar, says Chad Blair, who tends at the Town House, a few doors down.
At the nearby Tin Rabbit antiques store, "everything was floating," owner Barbara Gammon recalls. "All our textiles and paper goods - lost. Downtown was devastated. It looked like a World War II bombing the next day [with] huge piles of trash in the street and on the sidewalks, destroyed merchandise, rows of those big commercial dumpsters."
Gammon, like most shop owners along Front and its side streets, will pull out photos to show visitors who wonder today what it was like after the floods, which made national headlines. Becky Pritchett's photo of her women's clothing store, Twisted Sisters, shows pictures of sandbags piled out front. "We only had eight inches in the store," Pritchett says. "We were the most fortunate in town. But we were still closed for 15 days." She smiles broadly when speaking of the five strong volunteer firefighters who helped carry all Pritchett's inventory upstairs before the flooding began. "It took them five minutes, and it would've taken me hours," she says. "They were great."
Rob Schafer's photos show employees of his Schafer Leather Store - which has been at its present Front Street location since 1867 - standing out front in waist-deep brown water, posed for the camera before they got to work cleaning up. Schafer displays photos of the damage, and points to the clear blue sky captured in them that came on the heels of the flood. "The sky was gorgeous," he says, with a trace of wonder.
Marietta was making headway in the September flood clean-up when in January of this year, the rivers flooded again.
This time, ice jams and winter weather combined to wreak havoc. Although the water rose slower and not as high, it was still a one-two punch nobody welcomed.
"No sooner had we reopened, then here it came again," Clark recalls.
The folks at Townsquare Fabrics and Quilt Shop were more prepared the second time around. Manager Midge Miller hired a semi, into which staff loaded shelving, sewing machines, bolts of fabric, display cases and the rest of the store. The goods remained in the truck for three weeks while drywall, flooring and carpet were replaced. That was much better than the first time, she says, when "we lost lots of fabric and one of our machines."
The city's response to the disaster and the way the people of Marietta rallied to help with clean-up warms merchants to this day.
"It was wonderful," says Teri Ann Zide, owner of Teri Ann's fashion store. "Hundreds of people came down every day asking, â€˜What can we do to help?'" Businesses outside the flood zone donated money and helped with clean up and recovery.
"It was one of the most amazing things you've ever seen," Twisted Sisters owner Pritchett recalls. "The sense of community, people stepping up to help their neighbors. â€¦ And it kept happening day after day after day, complete strangers or people who had been to the store once or twice, coming down and practically begging, â€˜Please, let us help you.'" (Today, brass high-water signs are attached to storefronts, and little blue-and-white signs at Front and Green streets proudly note Marietta College's role in the completion of the downtown clean-up.)
Open for business
In the aftermath of it all, many say that the city's retail core has become stronger and more vital. And many retailers say the resourcefulness required to survive made them tougher and smarter at their work.
Downtown, Schafer says, "has come back so much better, and I see no signs of it slowing down. We're on a roll. I had a record year last year even with the floods."
He credits Marietta's mix of college, nice homes, good stores that complement each other, the river and "really good people" as the reasons tourists keep coming back.
What does he mean? Well, there's his own place, a great-smelling leather shop with a terrific selection of boots, jackets and accessories.
There's the Fenton Glass Shop that lets visitors see the exquisite products produced by the famous 100-year-old decorative glass company that began in Martins Ferry, Ohio. Shelves are filled with a wide range of delicate pieces reflecting Fenton's devotion to color and craft, from rose hurricane-lamp shades to glass fruit baskets that catch the sunlight in their own inimitable way.
Riverview Antiques, a sprawling corner store within sight of the Ohio River, offers room after room of furniture, artwork, weaponry and assorted aged bric-a-brac, including a neat little nook of old books and rare magazines priced to sell and an eclectic inventory of furniture, architectural artifacts and framed pieces.
Riverview is just one of the antiques stores dotting the town. Up the road and around the corner on Second Street is the big Antique Mall of Marietta, home to more than 70 dealers and a great place to spend an afternoon. Depression glass, clocks, books, primitives, furniture â€¦ take time to wander and be sure to snoop upstairs.
Those looking for something a bit more contemporary will want to visit Twisted Sisters. The store is geared toward women but fun for anyone, stocking cool clothes and fun, funky accessories and novelty items. (There's a whole shelf of merchandise making fun of mullet haircuts, including a laugh-out-loud selection of refrigerator magnets.) Other stops should include the Marietta Wine Cellars Winery; Putnam Chocolate; Turquoise Spirit's Native American jewelry and gifts; Salem Candles Gallery of Light and the Riverside Artists Gallery, a co-op of local painters, sculptors, crafters and fabric artists who sell their own very fine works.
Rossi Pasta has moved to a new location since the flood, but it's still renowned for its exotic pastas, flavored with everything from saffron to lobster - great stuff that's nearly a meal by itself.
For more than a century, the Lafayette Hotel has stood as the city's proud centerpiece. Billed as the "shortest distance between the past and the present," the stately 77-room hotel sports elegant blue awnings, a sunny yellow lobby and ceilings painted to resemble a sky with fluffy clouds. The intimate wood-paneled bar offers a quiet getaway from the Front Street bustle. Check out the Lafayette's Gun Room restaurant, and be sure to call for reservations if you're thinking of a weekend stay.
Marietta's past, a predominant theme throughout town, dates back to Ohio's beginnings. Marietta was the first permanent white settlement in the state, formed when a small band of Revolutionary War veterans stopped there in 1788, decided to stick around and named their town after France's queen, Marie Antoinette. The Lafayette Hotel is next to the spot where "Picketed Point," the fortress that protected settlers from Indians during the wars of 1791 to 1795, was located. On that same spot in 1825, the Marquis de Lafayette came ashore for a visit on the first leg of a nearly two-year celebratory tour of America. A historical marker at the site calls it the "beginning of tourism in the United States."
Today, that history and all that followed (Marietta was later the first state capital, and served as a busy ship-building center) is colorfully recounted in a dozen or so museums around the city. Most prominent are the Campus Martius Museum, named after the fort that once guarded the town, and the Ohio River Museum. The former tells the story of Ohio's early settling; the latter offers a vivid peek into life along the river and its tributaries.
That river culture is celebrated every fall during the Sternwheel Festival, which takes place the weekend after Labor Day. Dozens of sternwheelers and paddleboats line up like taxis at the airport along Ohio River Levee Park at Front and Green streets. More than 100,000 people stop to have a look at the pilothouses, smokestacks, pennants, ship's wheels and snappy decks that recall an era long gone, yet offer a romantic tug to this day. The food, music and spectacular fireworks are free.
And this year, everybody in Marietta knows that the Sternwheel Festival will mean more than it has in past years: This time, it's not just a celebration of centuries past, but also of recent battles hard-won against a river that has been both blessing and curse to those who have made their home on its banks for more than 200 years.