Best Hometowns 2013–2014: Vermilion

Vermilion embodies lakeshore living and a thriving sense of community.


Year founded: 1837
Location: Erie and Lorain counties, 21 miles east of Sandusky
Population: 10,594
Size: 10.8 square miles
Local Flavor: In true Vermilion fashion, the Ritter Public Library lends fishing poles along with books.

Tom Moes points to a row of houses as he navigates his canopied electric boat along the Vermilion River, explaining that the waterfront homes are built on what was low-lying, swampy land in the 1800s.

Soon enough, he’s rattling off the fact that 17.2 million pounds of fish were caught in the city of Vermilion during the 1950s. Moes is a living history book when it comes to his lakeshore hometown, and he’s more than happy to share his knowledge of it with visitors who stop by to check the place out.

Formerly an officer in the United States Coast Guard, Moes returned home in 1970 to work at the family business, Moes Marine Service, dating back to 1938. Aside from being a traditional marina it also rents electric boats like the one Moes is piloting.

“I really like the boat yard,” he says with a laugh. “My major was in oceanography. I don’t really know what I’m doing here.”

But it’s clear from his passion for Vermilion that he knows exactly why he dropped anchor in Vermilion. That hometown loyalty is common among those who grew up here, many leaving for college or careers but ultimately coming back. And the town’s population also includes former vacationers who fell in love with their summertime destination and decided to stick around.

Vermilion’s population doubles in the summer with tourists attracted to rental cottages and boater amenities. In fact, the city’s entire history centers on the water.

Initially formed as a fishing village in 1837, the city soon became a center for shipbuilding. And the captains of those ships needed somewhere to call home. By the late 1800s the village was known as “the village of lake captains.” Today, plaques mark majestic old homes as former ship captains’ residences. With the golden age of shipbuilding long over, the city’s main economic drivers are now boating and tourism.

It’s plain to see why people love living in Vermilion. Entire neighborhoods are built facing the water with private docks mere steps from their front doors. Adirondack chairs lazily positioned along the water in front of the New England style homes allow residents to watch boats float past.

The city’s downtown exudes charm with its array of boutiques and riverside dining. Residents and visitors have access to a public beach at the foot of Main Street, and year-round events draw the community together.

The city’s public schools were ranked “excellent” by the Ohio Department of Education’s 2011–2012 report, and kids in grades 6–12 are loaned Macbooks to further enhance learning.

But people are what make a town great, and in Vermilion the dedication of those who live here is seen in their incredible level of volunteerism.

Some residents pass out water at aid stations during the annual Vermilion Harbour Triathlon/Duathlon, while a small business known as The Shore Thing keeps the public beach clean in the summer. And the lovely hanging baskets of flowers that adorn lampposts throughout the city are maintained exclusively by Vermilion in Bloom, volunteers who drive to each basket in a truck donated by a local car dealership, according to Linda Tallitsch, executive director of Main Street Vermilion.

“People love it here,” she says. “They have so much pride in the community that they want to water flowers.”