Ohio Magazine’s Best Hometowns — Archbold, Hilliard, Lebanon, Nelsonville and Oberlin — offer an array of attractions, from downtowns with restaurants and shopping to living-history villages, music productions and summer festivals.
According to locals, you can’t get lost in Fulton County on your way to Archbold. With an intersection every mile, numbered east to west and lettered north to south, it’s as easy as pie to navigate. But with so much fun to be had in the northwest Ohio village, you might want to get lost so you have an excuse to stay a little longer than planned.
Start your visit with a walk through Goll Woods State Nature Preserve on your way into town. Known as the least-disturbed old-growth woodland in northwestern Ohio, the preserve is a glimpse into what the Great Black Swamp that once covered the area looked like. Afterward, be sure to drive over the Lockport Covered Bridge, a picturesque span over the Tiffin River.
Stop at The Candy Cane Christmas Shoppe, where it’s the holidays year-round, with decorated trees and a life-size Nativity. Not in the mood for early-holiday shopping? The store also sells gifts, collectibles and Vera Bradley bags.
Head toward charming downtown Archbold to explore the small boutiques and shops selling chocolates, gifts, kids’ clothes and more. Take a break and grab some food at Stella Blue, a casual fine-dining restaurant with a colorful, jazz-musician-adorned mural on its exterior. Equal parts restaurant, art gallery and concert venue, Stella Blue boasts a varied menu of steaks, pasta, burgers and Cajun-spiced seafood.
A particularly good time to visit Archbold is July 19–21 during the Carp Festival. Named to commemorate the historic flooding of a nearby creek (the water was so high that carp swam up Main Street), the festival features fish fries, live entertainment, a 5K run, kids’ activities and more.
A trip to Archbold just isn’t complete without a visit to Sauder Village. Created by Erie Sauder, founder of the Sauder Woodworking Co., the 235-acre grounds consist of a living-history village, bakery, restaurant, campground, inn, Sauder furniture outlet store and an exhibit hall.
Guests can step back in time in the living-history area, which includes more than 30 historic buildings that were relocated to the site. Housed within are old-fashioned shops and studios where you can see artisans, including blacksmiths, glass blowers, potters and basket weavers hard at work handcrafting their wares.
Learn about the hardships early settlers of the area faced in the Pioneer Settlement, complete with a covered wagon, farm animals and pioneer home. Then walk through the Natives and Newcomers area to see how early-1800s European fur traders and Native Americans lived.
Sound overwhelming? A good way to start your tour and get your bearings is to hop on board the miniature “Erie Express” train for a ride that encircles a large portion of the grounds.
Be sure to stop in Founder’s Hall, an exhibition hall that also hosts weddings and parties, for a glimpse of an iron and blown-glass chandelier shaped like Queen Anne’s Lace. The massive piece — weighing a full ton — was crafted on-site by the Village’s artisans.
With a full schedule of fun events throughout the summer, including a Vintage Baseball Tournament (July 28) and the 16th Annual Rug Hooking Exhibit (Aug. 15–18), there’s so much to do at Sauder that you’ll want to spend more than one day. You’re in luck: The village also has a rustic campground and the well-appointed, modern 98-room Sauder Heritage Inn. —Ilona Westfall
For more information, visit archbold.com.
On the third Wednesday of every month, The Mead House Bed and Breakfast in Nelsonville hosts Ladies’ Night Out. After wine and appetizers, the group explores Nelsonville’s historic downtown square, reveling in the fact that they have so much to do so close to home.
“We’re very rich in history,” says Lynn Garbo, Nelsonville Main Street director. “And we have unique little shops, beautiful buildings and the beautiful square.”
Garbo grew up in the town, located about 15 miles northwest of Athens, and is passionate about Nelsonville’s travel-worthy destinations.
The monthly ladies’ nights are part of her plan. For just $10, the events are a great way for residents to reacquaint themselves with Nelsonville and for visitors to get a tour of the square. And according to Garbo, there’s plenty to see.
Start at the Starbrick Gallery, housed in a restored Victorian storefront, which displays the work of more than 30 local and regional artists. Meet area talent, watch them work and view paintings, photographs, pottery and glass art.
At the gallery’s monthly opening nights, which coincide with Nelsonville’s Final Fridays Art Walks, held every month except December, Starbrick debuts a special exhibit, which then stays up for a month. On July 27, see the National Salt and Pepper Shaker Show, featuring an array of ceramic pieces created by artists from across the country.
Starbrick is one of many galleries and stores that make Nelsonville unique. Other local favorites include The Little Yarn Shop, with everything from spinning and weaving supplies to embroidery and cross-stitch materials; The Recycled Wardrobe, an upscale resale shop; Nelsonville Emporium, with gifts including artwork, soaps and lotions; and The Plaid Butterfly, offering organic teas, spices, herbs, vintage beads and essential oils.
Nearby, the Rocky Outdoor Gear Store, a regional favorite, is a great place to stop before heading to Wayne National Forest for hiking, biking or horseback riding along more than 300 miles of trails. Browse a collection of the company’s own boots, plus brands such as Columbia and Teva.
After working up an appetite, make reservations at Rhapsody Music and Dining, which showcases the talents of culinary and hospitality students from nearby Hocking College. The restaurant, open Thursday through Sunday, offers items like pan-roasted Cornish hen and coffee-rubbed tri-tip beef.
Finish the evening with a show at Stuart’s Opera House, a location with a storied past listed on the National Register of Historic Places. On July 7, Steven Moore & Friends will perform bluegrass, duets and harmonies.
If you’re looking for a family outing, the Hocking Valley Scenic Railway fills the bill. Vintage trains travel to places including Robbins Crossing, an 1840s pioneer log village located on Hocking College’s campus. Tour a one-room schoolhouse, blacksmith shop and general store, or visit on a weekend through October when costumed interpreters recreate life in the 19th century.
For accommodations with history, stay at The Mead House, where Ladies’ Night begins. It’s located close to the square and other area attractions, and the restored Victorian home with four bedrooms and individual baths retains much of its original charm. Enjoy a full breakfast and coffee on the front porch or in the garden before heading home. — Jessica Esemplare
For more information, visit nelsonvillemain street.com or nelsonvillechamber.com.
Past and Present
When the Ferris wheel reaches the top, those in the highest gondolas can look down at the 83-acre Franklin County Fairgrounds in Hilliard. Riders might see fancy chickens, beefy steers and cherry pies waiting to be judged.
From that high vantage point, tractors and trucks on their way to pulls and demolition derby cars and motocross bikes ready to race look like toys. Fairgoers also see the Midway, where vendors sell lemonade and cotton candy and families create lasting memories.
Attendance at this year’s fair, July 14–21, is expected to reach 40,000. Tim Shade, board of directors secretary for the Franklin County Agriculture Society, says several new attractions will highlight the otherwise traditional county fair. Fantazia Circus will offer several performances each day, pro wrestlers will face each other in the ring, and Dr. Insectia will share his creepy crawlies with kids who love to be grossed out.
The fair is the biggest event held on the grounds, but many other activities entice visitors. Native Americans celebrate their culture through festive powwows, and model train shows, equestrian events and auctions are also held throughout the year.
Hilliard is gaining national attention for its $1.9 million First Responders Park Memorial, dedicated in 2010. The park pays tribute to those first on the 9/11 scene. It serves to remind all Americans “we will never forget,” and provides a beautiful and thought-provoking setting for quiet reflection. Fascinating sculptures, six tons of steel from the World Trade Center towers and a reflecting pool add to this unique park, which will be a destination for all Americans through decades to come.
First Responders Park meets Old Hilliard, the town’s historic district. A walking tour takes visitors past vintage buildings, including a former hotel and church. Abner’s Restaurant, a favorite of locals, is the site of the former Willbargers Pharmacy and Soda Fountain. Today the comfortable restaurant offers refreshments to out-of-towners as well.
History buffs will also want to visit Historical Village at Weaver Park. The Northwest Franklin County Historical Society has created a mid-1800s “village,” including a train station, school house, log cabin, granary and other buildings, many moved to the site.
Flash forward to the first half of the 20th century and you will land at the Early Television Foundation and Museum. Focusing on the mechanical televisions of the 1920s to the first color sets of the 1950s, the museum is one of the best and biggest of its kind in the United States. Rare, one-of-a kind TVs are displayed next to the types on which you watched Saturday morning cartoons.
Hungry tourists will find a number of satisfying places to eat in Hilliard, including popular chain restaurants and local destinations such as the eclectic Starliner Diner. The city’s 22 beautiful parks also provide a green time-out from sightseeing.
For absolute decadence (and maybe the ride back home), pick up a box of cupcakes at Cake Creations. The selection varies daily, but the surprise is half the fun. Cake flavors include coconut craze, chocolate silk and 12 others. Cupcakes are “naked” (non-filled) or available with centers of mocha cream, peach, black raspberry and more.
Hilliard, located 10 miles northwest of Columbus, is a charming destination by itself, but it also makes a great side trip if you’re visiting the Capital City. After all, the community’s motto is “It’s all here...in Hilliard!” — Jill Sell
For details, go to destinationhilliard.com.
Centuries ago, Lebanon offered a brief respite for weary travelers. But today, with an array of shops, activities and entertainment, Lebanon is far more than a stopover.
You can’t visit Lebanon without perusing the selections found in downtown’s unique independent specialty stores, staffed by smiling merchants. Visitors will find candles, country-inspired accents, personalized items and more at Heritage House Gifts and the Open Hearth — both located on Broadway — while those in the market for items with a story to tell can find oldies-but-goodies in a slew of shops such as Golden Clam Antiques or Lemon Tree Antiques.
When it’s time for a break, cool off at Village Ice Cream Parlor, an old-fashioned favorite serving up delicious milkshakes, sundaes, ice cream sodas and a full menu featuring hearty burgers, sandwiches and more. The eatery has a purely American feel that has attracted Hollywood filmmakers, who have used it in scenes in “Harper Valley PTA” (1977), starring Barbara Eden, and “Milk Money” (1993), starring Melanie Griffith and Ed Harris.
Traveling with the kids? Take a ride on the Lebanon Mason Monroe Railroad. Stationed just downhill from town near Main Street and South Broadway, the popular attraction hosts everything from short one-hour train excursions to full-blown themed events. Enjoy a little good-natured mischief during a “Curious George” trip, July 14–15 and 21–22, which will include stories, crafts and a visit with the playful chimp himself, or hop aboard for a learning adventure during “The Cat in the Hat,” July 28–29. And in the fall, the ever-popular “Day Out with Thomas” (Sept. 7-9 and 14-16) attracts crowds from far and wide to ride the train pulled by Thomas the Tank Engine, while enjoying music, games, stories and a visit with Sir Topham Hat.
Summer and fall are festival seasons in Lebanon. You’ll be anything but melancholy listening to the soulful sounds of the Lebanon Blues Festival, an event showcasing eight bands, foods, a beer garden and a car show spotlighting more than 150 classics on Aug. 4. In autumn, a favorite fruit has its day during Country Applefest, Lebanon’s longest-running art, craft and food festival, which welcomes more than 30,000 people. Enjoy music, craft vendors and samples of cider and other delightful apple treats — including fudge-dipped apples, funnel cakes, kettle corn and more tantalizing edibles, plus a wealth of apples, on Sept. 29.
At day’s end, you’ll need a place to stay, and where better than right in town? You can join the ranks of Charles Dickens, Henry Clay, Samuel Clemens, Rutherford B. Hayes and other prominent folks who’ve rested the night at the Golden Lamb, Ohio’s oldest continuously operating inn (since 1803), conveniently located near the corner of Broadway and Main Street — the Town Square and crossroads for many who’ve traveled through Lebanon. The inn also operates a fine-dining restaurant and tavern, so make it a weekend stay. After dinner on a summer’s evening, walk a short distance to Gazebo Park and you may find local musicians performing melodies at dusk.
And there’s more fun nearby: Thrill seekers will find themselves reaching new heights at Ozone Zipline Adventures, just five miles from Lebanon, while King’s Island Amusement Park and its Soak City water park offer gravity-defying roller coasters and a wave pool, action river and more, all just 12 miles down the road. — Christina Ipavec
Visit historicdowntownlebanon.com for more information.
Summertime should not be squandered. Which is why Oberlin is the perfect place to experience warm weather and blue skies — amid a calendar chock-full of events, ranging from music under the stars to strolls celebrating the town’s heritage.
For two decades, Oberlin’s town square has set the stage for a 7 p.m. summer concert series guaranteed to get you groovin’ to favorite tunes. This year’s lineup includes the eclectic Blue Lunch Band, an eight-piece ensemble known for its impressive renditions of blues, jazz, R&B, doo-wop and soul (July 13); Cats on Holiday, purveyors of roots, Cajun, country and Americana music (July 20); and the swinging sounds of the 19-piece Dan Zola Orchestra (July 27).
Theater lovers will find their ticket to riveting performances at the Oberlin Summer Theater Festival. The 2012 playbill includes “Bus Stop,” the touching William Inge story of a torch singer and cowboy who cross paths while stranded at a diner in rural Kansas, July 13–Aug. 3; and “The Cradle Will Rock,” Marc Blitzstein’s 1930s musical about union organization during the Great Depression, July 20–Aug. 4.
It doesn’t take long for visitors to be captivated by the town’s storied past, which is centered on Oberlin College. Founded 178 years ago, the institution of higher education was the first to allow women and African Americans to pursue degrees, well before the War Between the States commenced. Hourlong weekly walks, offered Saturdays at 11 a.m. through October, explore the town’s place in Civil War history.
Oberlin’s annual Culture Festival — held this year on Sept. 22 (Sept. 23 is the rain date) in Tappan Square — celebrates the town’s diversity through global food, games, crafts and music.
Sports lovers won’t want to miss the 30th annual Outdoor 5-on-5 Basketball Festival, July 20–22, a 16-team double elimination tournament, in which athletes take their best shots for first- and second-place trophies.
While downtown, check out eclectic shops such as Bead Paradise — where you’ll find a wide variety of stones and gems, plus jewelry-making classes.
Enjoy a meal at Weia Teia — which serves inventive, cross-cultural cuisine such as pork tenderloin with Japanese eggplant and spicy mango salsa.
Founded in 1917, the Allen Memorial Art Museum at Oberlin College is recognized as one of the five best college and university museums in the country. Housed in an impressive Italian Renaissance-style building, the galleries are filled with nearly 14,000 works of art, including Old Master and 19th-century paintings, sculpture and decorative arts. Through July 29, “Artists on Artists” showcases more than 150 works selected from the museum’s collection, including prints, drawings, photographs, paintings and sculpture by Pablo Picasso, Rembrandt, Edward Steichen and Andy Warhol. Opening Aug. 28, “Religion, Ritual and Performance” spotlights 37 Renaissance works on loan from the Yale University Art Gallery, paired with period works from the Allen Memorial Art Museum’s collection.
Architecture aficionados can tour Frank Lloyd Wright’s Weltzheimer/Johnson House, owned by Oberlin College and located a few blocks from campus. The first Usonian-design home constructed in Ohio — and one of the few in the nation open to the public — is open for tours the first and third Sundays of the month from April through November, hourly from noon until 5 p.m.; cost is $5.
Plan on taking home the best of nature’s bounty from the Oberlin Farmer’s Market, open from 9 a.m.–1 p.m. Saturdays on South Main Street, next to City Hall. Stands are filled with cheese, grass-fed beef, berries, honey and herbal products. — Linda Feagler
For more information, visit cityofoberlin.com.