December 2009 Issue
Akron's neighboring communities host quaint and historic holiday events.
Head out of downtown Akron in almost any direction, and you’re bound to discover one of the area’s greatest assets: its small towns.
Nestled in the rolling, wooded landscape are hamlets that look like scenes from a postcard, complete with red brick schoolhouses, white-steepled churches, beautiful old homes and main streets lined with mom-and-pop establishments. And at no time are these small towns’ charms more evident than during the holidays. Following are four great places to ring in the season.
Intersection of state routes 91 and 303
Go ahead — just try to drive through the center of this picturesque town, named in 1802 after one of the first Western Reserve settlers, without noticing how beautiful the place is. It’s hard not to fall in love with the handsome red brick clock tower and pretty white gazebo on the square known as “the green;” harder still to resist browsing the impressive mix of independent merchants and national chain stores (think Talbots and Chico’s) in the First & Main shopping district — a recently constructed retail area that, unlike many outdoor “lifestyle centers,” actually looks like it was built around the same time as the original Main Street buildings.
The best time to get in the Christmas spirit within the city limits is during the first weekend of December. Santa and Mrs. Claus take over the gazebo from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Dec. 5 for “Santa on the Green.” The longstanding tradition, hosted by the Rotary Club of Hudson, gives children the chance to hand-deliver letters to and pose for pictures with the jolly old elf and his missus, then pick up a candy cane, cup of hot chocolate and package of “reindeer food.” The Holiday Walk, an afternoon of seasonal activities in downtown Hudson sponsored by the Hudson Merchants Association, is scheduled for the following day. From noon to 6 p.m., visitors will find a live nativity near the clock tower, caroling by church choirs at the gazebo, chestnut-roasting and live band performances on Main Street, live reindeer in the First & Main district, and horse-drawn carriage rides around the immediate area.
“Lots of people are having wine and cheese, baked-good samplings, buy-one-get-one-free offers and drawings,” adds association board member Liz Murphy. Her Learned Owl Book Shop (204 N. Main St., 330/653-2252, learnedowl.com
), for example, is conducting drawings for an American Girl doll and $50 gift certificate, and has scheduled a couple of classical guitarists to play in the store. Visit merchantsofhudson.com
for more information.
Intersection of St. Rte. 303 and Riverview Road
A few miles west of Hudson is this smaller but equally charming village, once a center for building boats used on the Ohio & Erie Canal during the early 19th century. Here, the calendar of holiday events, known as “Christmas in Peninsula,” stretches through the entire month of December. According to Peninsula Chamber of Commerce president Stephen Bures, they typically include open houses and refreshments in the handful of galleries and shops (everything from a bookstore to outdoor outfitters), caroling by the local high school choir, and a raffle of 3-foot-high artificial trees, each decorated by a local merchant, at the Peninsula Library (6105 Riverview Rd., 330/657-2291, penin-
Visit explorepeninsula.com for a complete schedule.
The most exciting way to get to Peninsula is aboard the Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad (800/468-4070, cvsr.com), which offers a trio of round-trip excursions from its stations at 7900 Old Rockside Rd. in Independence and 27 Ridge St. in Akron. The most popular are “The Polar Express,” an evening trip that features a reading of the beloved story of the same name, and “Mr. Jingeling’s Holiday Express,” a late-morning outing hosted by an elf known to locals as Santa’s Keeper of the Keys. But only the “Christmas Tree Adventure” allows passengers to get off the train. Most board a bus to Heritage Farms (6050 Riverview Rd., 330/657-2330, heritagefarms.com), where they cut down their own Christmas trees or choose from a selection of pre-cut counterparts before heading back to the depot.
“If a passenger does purchase a tree, it is transported back to the train, then to their original boarding site,” says railroad customer-service representative Janet Foster.
Intersection of state routes 43 and 619
Founded predominantly by Mennonites in 1851, this village has become a bona fide tourist destination. A popular attraction is Hartville Kitchen (1015 Edison St. N.W., 330/877-9353, hartvillekitchen.com), a restaurant famous for its fried chicken, made-from-scratch mashed potatoes and 21 kinds of homemade pie.
But the family-owned and -operated restaurant is good for more than a meal like Grandma used to make — it’s actually part of a complex that attracts shoppers of all ages. The eatery has a bakery, candy store and gift shop that carries everything from Hummel figurines to Pandora bracelets to Vera Bradley handbags. Upstairs is a “home gallery” of decorative accessories that boasts the state’s only Thomas Kinkade Signature Gold Gallery, a space that sells limited- and open-edition works by the well-known “painter of light” as well as night lights, puzzles and figurines.
“As far as Thomas Kinkade galleries go, ours is very large,” says buyer/supervisor Lisa DeLeone.
Approximately 200 yards behind the restaurant is Hartville Marketplace (1289 Edison St. N.W., 330/877-9860, hartvillemarketplace.com), 100,000 square feet of indoor retail space where more than 100 merchants sell such disparate items as fresh meat, Amish-made wooden toys, antique jewelry and trendy fashions. A mile down the road is the 100,000-square-foot Hartville Hardware (940 W. Maple St., 330/877-3631, hartvillehardware.com), where a Christmas shop fills the large space usually devoted to lawn-and-garden needs.
Aside from eating and shopping, the area’s biggest holiday event is “Christmas at the Hollow,” 6–9 p.m. Dec. 11–14 at Quail Hollow State Park (13480 Congress Lake Ave., 330/877-6652, ohiodnr.com). Christa Kozy, president of the Lake Township Chamber of Commerce, describes a family-friendly affair featuring visits with Santa, live entertainment, wagon rides, marshmallow-toasting over an open fire, and self-guided tours of the festively decorated 40-room home once occupied by railroad executive Harry Bartlett Stewart.
“It’s like going back in time,” she says. “It’s really, really a neat scene.”
Hale Farm & Village
2686 Oak Hill Rd., Bath
History buffs looking to take a more authentic step into the past will want to check out this outdoor living-history museum operated by the Western Reserve Historical Society, a collection of six 19th-century homes, a meeting house, gristmill and other outbuildings near the tiny community of Bath.
The main draw during December is the Holiday Lantern Tour, a 90-minute guided evening walk around the village green. Participants stop at various points under the guise of collecting money for charity on Christmas Eve 1864, a ruse that facilitates visitors’ interaction with the “residents” — historical interpreters in period dress.
“The different homes represent different periods in the beginnings of traditions of Christmas,” explains Western Reserve Historical Society spokeswoman Angie Lowery. “Some homes celebrated with trees, some didn’t — at that time there was a controversy over whether you used a tree or not.”
Tours depart every 20 minutes from 6 p.m. until 8:20 p.m. on weekends (excluding Dec. 25) as well as Dec. 18–23; cost is $18 per person. Reservations are required. For more information, call 330/666-3711, 800/589-9703 or visit wrhs.org.