June 2007 Issue
Five communities have been recognized by Ohio Magazine ad great places to live. They're also terrific destinations for a day trip or an overnight getaway.
Last November, Ohio Magazine announced its first annual Best Hometown honorees. We detailed why Mariemont, Marietta, Marysville, Maumee and Wooster are great places to live, and we celebrated their community spirit, education, entertainment, health and safety, business environment and culture and heritage.
Ohio's Best Hometowns are also great places to visit, offering historic attractions, unique shops, scenic parks and distinctive dining and lodging.
Join us as we visit these five outstanding communities and discover their hometown charms. For more details on events and attractions, click here!
Mariemont: Old-World Charm
By Linda Feagler
Hear ye, Hear ye! Mariemont is charming, quaint, scenic –– and then some. This tiny village (population 3,118), located 10 miles east of Cincinnati, even has its own town crier in the form of one Hank Kleinfeldt, who opens town meetings, leads the Memorial Day parade and dons his tri-cornered hat and knee breeches to speak to schools about how Mariemont came to be. (Mariemont is one of only 14 towns in North America to have this type of town officer.)
Begin your stay by checking into the historic Mariemont Inn and having breakfast at the National Exemplar restaurant, famed for its morning meals. Specialties include The Bacado (bacon, avocado and Monterey jack folded into an omelet) and Pope John (Polish sausage topped with onions and swiss, and served with two eggs and an English muffin).
A sightseeing trip quickly proves this planned community, which dates back to 1923, has earned its place on the National Register of Historic Places and its status as a National Historic Landmark. Hop in the car for a scenic tour of the village's streets, gardens and parks. Architecture buffs will want to keep an eye out for the Tudor, Greek Revival, Colonial, Norman Revival and Georgian Revival buildings and homes that add to the ambiance. Drive over to The Concourse public park, with its picturesque view overlooking the bluffs of the Little Miami River. (If you're in Mariemont on a summer Sunday, be sure to listen for the bells chiming from the carillon during concerts in the town's 50-plus acre Dogwood Park, which take place at 7 p.m.)
Keep in mind that all the cultural and recreational attractions of downtown Cincinnati are just 15 minutes away. This includes museums, theaters, professional sports, the Cincinnati Zoo and, just across the river, the Newport Aquarium. To see if the forecast calls for rain, stop by Mount Lookout, home of the Cincinnati Observatory, where the National Weather Service was founded.
If you take the Beechmont Avenue exit off Columbia Parkway, you'll quickly find yourself at another trifecta of Cincinnati venues: Riverbend Music Center, the city's outdoor concert amphitheatre, Coney Island Amusement Park and River Downs racetrack.
After a lunch of grilled shrimp and asparagus salad at the Dilly Deli and a perusal of the eatery's wine and gourmet food shop, stop by the rest of the eclectic business establishments comprising the Mariemont Strand. They include Heidi's Needles & Threads, Eva's Esthetica Day Spa and The Shop Around the Corner, a home accessories store.
Pete DeLois' Recreation Outlet is the perfect place for the small fry in your group to expend some energy; the proprietor allows children to swing and slide to their heart's content on the display models of Rainbow playsets.
When dinnertime rolls around, try the Manhattan burger or steamed mussels at The Quarter Bistro, followed by a movie at the Mariemont Theater next door. Cap off the evening with a dish of the black raspberry chocolate chip ice cream that Graeter's on the Village Square is famous for.
Wooster: Main Street Meca
By Christine Coolick
Opera ... a bustling downtown ... craft emporiums ... 500 varieties of roses ... symphonies. For a town nestled in the heart of Amish country, Wooster boasts some big-city offerings.
Any trip to Wooster should begin in its historic downtown. Sustaining the town's heritage is a big priority here, as witnessed by the many historic buildings that have been preserved and renovated. A stroll down the brick sidewalks provides a view of some interesting architecture, as well as lots of shopping opportunities.
Rubbermaid used to call Wooster home, and its mark on the town remains with the Everything Rubbermaid store, where more than 2,500 Rubbermaid products pack the aisles. Art and crafts fill shops such as Gallery in the Vault, Moorefield Pottery and Sew Krazy. You can also try your hand at decorating your own ceramic piece at Pottery Art Studio. Freedlander's Department Store is a chance to visit a bygone era; the store has been in business for 115 years. Meander through the aisles at Books in Stock for used and rare books and peruse The Wooster Book Company for new books, including regional titles. Be sure to check out the staff recommendations when you walk in, and enjoy the shop's cozy coffee-bar nook featuring Equal Exchange beans.
Of course, shopping isn't limited to downtown Wooster. The Craft Emporium, a 14,000-square-foot craft mall with hundreds of booths, will leave every arts-and-crafts enthusiast dizzy. Quailcrest Farm appeals to the green-thumbed - shop here for perennials and herbs, or just roam the gardens.
Wooster also is rich in cultural diversions. The College of Wooster offers an opportunity for a leisurely campus stroll. The college's Ohio Light Opera is a professional company performing seven operas in a revolving repertoire to include 67 performances from June to August.
Also a wonderful place to explore the outdoors, Wooster is home to The Ohio State University's Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center, where visitors can wander through acres of gardens bursting with spiral evergreens, rhododendrons, azaleas and more than 500 varieties of roses.
The Wayne County Historical Society is the site of the oldest surviving residential structure in Wooster - the Beall Homestead, built from 1815 to 1817 and currently being restored. Other properties on the campus include an 1873 schoolhouse, an 1880s general store, a replica of an 1880s firehouse and a restored 1840s log cabin.
Tempting your taste buds in Wooster are dining spots such as South Market Bistro. Housed in a renovated turn-of-the-century building, the restaurant's menu consists of European and American dishes made with many locally grown and organic ingredients. For heartier fare, try The Amish Door Restaurant, which offers authentic Amish cuisine, served family-style or as individual plates. Treat yourself to something sweet with Tulipan Hungarian Pastry & Coffee Shop, or take a tour of Troutman Vineyards and then enjoy a glass of their red, white or ice wines.
If you're looking for a place to stay in the city, nothing is finer than The Wooster Inn on the College of Wooster's campus. There are also many bed and breakfasts in the area that offer a great way to continue enjoying the city's charm.
Maumee: History Lessons
By Jennifer Haliburton
If only every locale made life as easy for travelers as Marietta does.
After all, we've all visited places where attempting to find worthwhile attractions seemed like an impossible chore, and ultimately left feeling that the area's best offerings would forever remain a secret between that town and its residents.
Thankfully, Marietta –– an Ohio River town that was the first official settlement in the Northwest Territory –– knows that its greatest assets are its scenic location and rich history, and offers a wealth of attractions and events to showcase both for curious visitors.
Hop aboard a trolley for a narrated tour to see how Marietta's storied past melds with its beloved present. As the trolley rumbles down charming redbrick streets, a guide informs guests of Marietta's status as the oldest organized municipality in the state, all the while pointing out such popular tourist stops as Historic Harmar Village and The Castle, a Victorian home that stands as a stunning example of Gothic revival architecture. With so many sites that celebrate the past, including the prehistoric Hopewell and Adena Indian burial mounds and the Campus Martius and Ohio River Museums –– the former featuring a commemorative bell once given to the city by Marie-Antoinette; the latter home to the only steam-powered sternwheel boat still afloat in this country –– it's no wonder Marietta is a haven for history enthusiasts.
The trolley tours begin and end at the Levee House Café, where famished diners can get their fill of both gourmet food and a sumptuous view. Unwind at one of Levee House's sidewalk dining tables as the Valley Gem Sternwheeler lazily rolls by, its paddlewheel lapping the Ohio River as riders take a sightseeing cruise. Or, just grab a quick bite to eat before making a beeline for the many unique shops, boutique-style stores and independent art galleries that define downtown. Either way, the water always serves as a picture-perfect backdrop, adding a leisurely atmosphere to Marietta.
Local officials know how to make the most of the location, offering visitors a calendar of events that revolves around the water. From the Marietta Riverfront Roar in July, which promises high-powered action courtesy of professional powerboat racing, to the laidback Ohio River Sternwheel Festival in September, which places those lumbering watercraft on full display, Marietta has plenty of activities for everyone –– no matter what their speed.
The city even started an annual River City Film Festival last year, eager to spotlight talented local filmmakers and generate funds to restore Marietta's historic Colony Theatre. In a place where reminders of bygone eras seem to exist around every corner, residents are mindful that the best way to show appreciation for the past is by preserving it for the future.
Visitors to Marietta can also take advantage of the town's proximity to West Virginia. Fenton Art Glass, just a few minutes' drive away in Williamstown, offers guests an opportunity to watch the country's largest producer of handmade colored glass at work, peruse the company's gift shop or tour its glass museum.
Immersing yourself in old-fashioned craftsmanship seems like a fitting way to end a day that began with a visit to Marietta, one of Ohio's most history-rich towns.
Marietta: River-town Traditions
By Linda Feagler
The northwest Ohio river town of Maumee has a history that's waiting to be explored. During the mid-1800s, it was one of the most successful and fastest-growing cities in Ohio. The opening of the Wabash and Erie Canal in 1840 stimulated the economy to such a degree that Maumee was predicted to become the "great city of the West."
Step inside the 1827 Federal-style dwelling that's now the James Wolcott House museum, and discover a treasure trove of period antiques reflecting what life was like back then. Visitors are invited to stroll through the complex, which contains seven 19th-century buildings, including a 14-room Federal-style mansion built between 1827 and 1836, a saltbox farmhouse dating to 1841, an 1850 log home, 1880 railroad station with box car and caboose, and a 1901 Gothic-style country church.
Another home that's been lovingly preserved is the 1836 Greek Revival dwelling known as the House of Four Pillars, in which celebrated 19th-century novelist Theodore Dreiser began formulating the plot for Sister Carrie, his renowned tale about a young woman leaving small-town America for the big city. Although the house is now a private home, it's worth driving by to admire the architecture.
When it's time for lunch, Georgette's Grounds & Gifts offers a varied menu of salads (we recommend the Sweet Georgette, a delectable mixture of greens, Monterey Jack cheese, dried cranberries, sliced apples and pecans), made-to-order sandwiches and soups. The eatery also features organic coffee and a Ten Thousand Villages gift shop filled with jewelry, art, foods and coffee supporting fair-trade practices in developing countries.
American history buffs will want to pay a visit to the Fallen Timbers Battleground. One of four major engagements during the Indian Wars period of 1790–1795, the battle is regarded as one of the most significant U.S. military actions waged in the period between the Revolution and the War of 1812. It was here that General Anthony Wayne fought to secure Ohio and the Northwest Territory for United States settlement in August 1794. Now a place of peace, the site contains a monument memorializing the battle and its combatants, Wayne, the American Indians and the Kentucky militia.
Eagle-eyed visitors will spot the carved inscriptions on Turkey Foot Rock where, legend has it, Chief Little Turtle of the Miami tribe engaged in combat with Wayne. He was struck and killed by an American rifle shot while standing on the rock, and for many years afterward, Indians passing through the area would burn sacred tobacco on the site in tribute to Little Turtle's bravery.
No trip to Maumee would be complete without dinner at Gianno's at the Inn. Located in the town's Commercial Building, which dates to 1836 and was once an inn along the main stagecoach route between Detroit and Fort Wayne, the restaurant features a variety of Italian dishes, including lasagna, chicken marsala and pizza. According to legend, a tunnel leading from the Maumee River to the cellar was used as a stopping point on the Underground Railroad.
Wind down and call it a day with a show at the Maumee Indoor Theater. First opened in 1946 as a movie house, the building has been restored to its art deco splendor, hosting film screenings and live performances.
Marysville: Warm Welcome
By Jennifer Haliburton
Few city welcome signs perfectly capture the feeling visitors get upon entering its borders, or the sentiments of residents who've happily lived there for generations.
But one central Ohio town's welcome sign does:
Marysville. Where the grass is greener.
Visitors to Marysville quickly discover the blend of community spirit, caring residents and fun events that have made it an endearing destination for Ohio travelers, and a popular spot for relocating young families. But before beginning your jaunt around town, unload your overnight bag at the Hampton Inn Marysville, which features Executive King and Jacuzzi suites and such in-room amenities as microwaves and mini-fridges.
If the drive to the Union County seat (30 miles north of Columbus) has left you hungry, be sure to stop in the 5th Street Deli for both lovingly prepared cuisine and a glimpse of local color. The only thing as delightful as the homemade cheesecake and lunch fare is the atmosphere: The friendly regulars arrive like clockwork to sip 25-cent cups of coffee and discuss the day's news, and gladly direct out-of-towners to some of the area's must-see sites.
There's plenty to peruse on a walking tour of Uptown Marysville, where historic preservation blends with the area's entrepreneurial spirit. Dozens of well-kept, 19th-century buildings line the streets and house locally owned businesses, including the Marysville Antique Mall, Primitives & Porcelain, and the cobbler shop that has made resident Gene Wright a downtown staple for more than 50 years. Looming over all the commerce and camaraderie is the stately 1880 Union County Courthouse, which stands as a striking example of Victorian architecture and offers visitors a unique attraction: the original door from John Dillinger's jail cell. But those who yearn for a more traditional way to remember the past can just head to the Union County Historical Museum, which pays tribute with war relics, rare china and silver and glass collections.
For families in search of summertime fun, Marysville has the season covered –– from June's Ohio Aerobatic Open, a free, stunt-filled plane competition; to August's Balloon Rally, where people look skyward to bask in the whimsy of colorful hot-air balloons. But the centerpiece of summer is the Honda Homecoming in July, when more than 10,000 descend for tours of the Honda Motorcycle Plant, a custom bike show, ice cream socials and a parade of colorfully lit motorcycles.
The local government is loyal to the town and its farming roots, setting aside 87 percent of Union County's land for agricultural use. Visitors benefit from that wealth of green space with a host of available agri-tourism activities. Make the perfect salad after picking your own produce at Fruit Full Acres, stock up on everything from soybeans to gourds at Detwiler Veggie Farm, or enjoy the bounty of homegrown goods at the Union County Farmer's Market.
But visitors who'd rather revel in the wealth of green space in a more recreational manner can do so by hitting the links at the acclaimed Darby Creek Golf Course, or by just enjoying the town's more than 300 acres of parkland.
Doing so is the easiest way to see that the grass really is greener in Marysville.
Call for Entries
Is your community among the best in Ohio? The deadline for the second-annual Ohio Magazine's Best Hometown recognition is June 29, 2007.