Best Hometowns 2013: Peninsula

Every year, Ohio Magazine honors five communities across the state for their livability, as measured by education, parks and recreation, arts and entertainment offerings, services and, most important, citizen involvement. The 2013 Best Hometowns meet and surpass these criteria. In the following pages, you'll get a glimpse of Findlay, Gallipolis, Greenville, Grove City and Peninsula — and some of their proud residents.


Year founded: 1818
Location: Summit County, 9 miles north of Akron, 23 miles south of Cleveland
Population: 602
Size: 4.7 square miles
Type of government: Mayor and six-member council

No matter where Charlie Moyer and his wife Marianne may roam — from California to Massachusetts — the two always sigh with contented bliss when they enter the Cuyahoga Valley National Park. For it’s a sure sign they’re returning to the little village that’s closest to their heart: Peninsula, Ohio.

“We love being far away from traffic congestion and big-box stores,” explains the woodcrafter. “When I see green, I know I’m home.”

“Peninsula is,” adds Marianne, a graphic designer, “our piece of paradise.”

The Moyers, who have resided in the northeast Ohio town for 42 years, echo the sentiments of their neighbors. Founded in 1818, the village was a key stop along the Ohio & Erie Canal — once filled with mills, stone quarries, boat yards, taverns and churches. But as river traffic dwindled in the early part of the last century, Peninsula’s picturesque location became a  best-kept secret. It remained that way until 1962, when interior designer Robert Hunker relocated his firm from Akron to Peninsula.

“Bob saw the hidden value of the old structures, and wanted to restore them for future generations,” says Lawrence Sulzer, president of the Peninsula Valley Historic Preservation Foundation Inc., the nonprofit organization Hunker started to safeguard the notable landmarks that dot the village landscape. Although the designer died in 2009, his legacy lives on in the buildings residents preserve with pride — including the nondenominational Bronson Memorial Church, which was built in 1839 by village forefather Herman Bronson, and the G.A.R. (Grand Army of the Republic) Hall, a former meeting place for Civil War veterans that now sets the stage every third Thursday for open-mic nights with area musicians.

The village’s steadfast commitment to the arts has made it a haven for talent and appreciative tourists alike. Debra Heller Bures and her husband, Stephen Bures, who fell in love with Peninsula 23 years ago, didn’t think twice about opening their gallery on West Mill Street.

“We didn’t know much about this place, but we did know it felt right,” says Debra, recalling the couple’s first visit. Their pottery studio, Elements Gallery, also showcases photography, glass, jewelry and mixed media created by a host of fine contemporary American artisans.

Perched on a cliff overlooking the Cuyahoga River, The Log Cabin Gallery has seasonal exhibits by regional artists, ranging from those versed in fiber arts to stained glass and decorative gourds. Antiques lovers will enjoy strolling the aisles of the Downtown Emporium, which features old-fashioned postcards, Royal Doulton and political buttons from campaigns gone by.

When it’s time for lunch, head to the Winking Lizard Tavern, the flagship of the popular line of restaurants. Located on the former spot of the Peninsula Nite Club — a hotspot for hootch during Prohibition — the restaurant retains its art-deco ambiance, right down to the original sign at the front door.

Fast forward into the ’50s at Fisher’s Café & Pub, a family-owned eatery, known for its burgers and hot fudge sundaes for five decades.

Top off your meal by partaking of nature’s magnificence in the Cuyahoga Valley National Park surrounding Peninsula, where hiking, biking and walking trails abound. Or take the Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad for sightseeing excursions aboard vintage train cars.

“We have the best of everything here,” reflects Lois Unger, a photographer who moved to Peninsula with her husband, Doug, a Kent State University professor emeritus of art, in 1976.

“And,” adds Doug, an artist known for his pastels and the mandolins and banjos he builds out of hardwoods, mother of pearl and ebony, “we wouldn’t want to live anywhere else.”