Ohio Magazine’s Best Hometowns — Findlay, Gallipolis, Greenville,
Grove City and Peninsula — have appealing events and attractions for residents and visitors alike.
Greenville is a city steeped in history.
As the birthplace of famed sharpshooter Annie Oakley and the site where the Treaty of Greenville was signed in 1795, opening up the Northwest Territory for settlement, the town has many events and attractions that pay homage to this heritage.
At the Shawnee Prairie Nature Preserve, where 15 Woodland Indian tribes once gathered to assert their living and hunting rights under the Treaty of Greenville, visitors can hike along more than two miles of trails that wind through wetlands, woodlands and prairies; view native plants and wildlife from observation towers; or stop at the nature center to see educational displays, a bird observation area and a nature reference library.
Two popular events take place at the end of July — Annie Oakley Days, July 26–28, and the Gathering at Garst July 27–28. Both provide plenty of old-time entertainment for the entire family, with unique activities such as water-balloon, hay-bale, rolling-pin and pole-throwing contests at Annie Oakley Days and live entertainment, antiques and historic craftsmen at the Gathering at Garst at the Garst Museum.
One of the most-anticipated events, the 157th Great Darke County Fair, takes place Aug. 16–24, and offers a full schedule of concerts, contests, harness racing, tractor pulls, art shows, animal shows and garden displays. And there are favorites such as carnival rides, games and, of course, fair food.
Make sure to visit Bear’s Mill, one of the last operating water-powered mills in Ohio. Take a guided or self-guided tour through all four of the mill’s floors, explore the picturesque grounds with walking paths and woodlands bordering Greenville Creek, the mill’s power source, or stop in to see the artwork in the first-floor gallery. On July 26, there will be an opening reception for August’s featured artists, Greg Adams and John Bundy, with Adams’ handmade rustic willow furniture and accessories and Bundy’s carved wooden duck decoys.
For a quick bite to eat, head over to the Maid-Rite Sandwich Shoppe, a Greenville institution known for loose-meat sandwiches. Leave your mark on the wall of gum or just buy a novelty gum-wall T-shirt as proof that you were there.
At the end of the day, relax at one of Greenville’s cozy bed and breakfasts. Wayman’s Corner offers luxe accommodations mixed with antique furnishings for a unique retreat. Choose from one of four rooms, all with private baths, and ask the owner to make her famous Wayman’s waffles in the morning.
If you’re traveling with your family, stay at the Art Junction Bed and Breakfast. The farmhouse, nestled on 11
secluded acres, offers cozy rooms with private baths and either a continental or country breakfast. The owners are happy to help schedule a family campfire and hot dog roast or movie night with popcorn. For couples, Art Junction provides romantic touches including wine and cheese baskets and massages, the perfect way to relax after a day of exploring historic Greenville. For more information, go to visitdarkecounty.org. — Jessica Esemplare
Stroll up Main Street just outside downtown Findlay and you’ll find an American flag waving from nearly all of the stately Victorian homes lining the thoroughfare. There’s no question that the city’s residents are proud of its designation as “Flag City U.S.A.”
The honor was bestowed upon Findlay after Sons of the American Revolution member John B. Cooke encouraged every home to fly the flag on Flag Day in the 1960s. Impressed by the media coverage of the patriotic display, Congress named Findlay the Flag Capital in 1974. It’s symbolic of the community spirit that’s immediately apparent from a visit to the northwest Ohio city.
Head back toward the city’s busy downtown full of friendly residents and college students from nearby University of Findlay for more of that hometown pride. Findlay is home to a burgeoning artist community, so make sure to stop at the area galleries. Pop in the Gaslight Gallery for work by local artists or the occasional art class. Rieck’s Gallery, a Findlay institution since 1888, features art prints and supplies, custom framing and gifts sold in a sprawling vintage storefront.
For more glimpses into the city’s past — and to get a little sustenance — head over to the Main Street Deli. A local favorite, the restaurant has adorned its walls with vintage photos and memorabilia of the town. The menu offers baked goods, deli sandwiches, breakfast items and salads served by an exceptionally friendly staff.
If you’re looking for a libation with your meal, check out Alexandria’s, a gastropub with Mexican-influenced tapas and a well-appointed selection of craft beer. The former livery (the hooks horses were tethered to are still visible in the pub’s ballroom) is decked out with crystal chandeliers, exposed brick and damask linens. Live music, DJs and an upstairs bowling alley keep the crowds entertained.
Satisfy your sweet tooth with dessert at Dietsch Brothers, which has been dishing up sundaes and cones to happy customers since 1937. Pick up a box of chocolate-covered pretzels or a bag of hard candy at one of the confectioner’s two locations.
Walk off all that food by enjoying a hike down the Riverwalk, a wooden trail that runs through downtown as it follows the Blanchard River. Stop in scenic Riverside Park, a pleasant respite from downtown’s hustle and bustle, where you can relax in nature, hike to waterfalls or even rent a boat at Zonta Landing.
While Findlay shines on any given day, pay a visit when the city hosts its annual events for an extra dose of fun. The Flag City BalloonFest (Aug. 9–11) fills the sky with colorful hot air balloons. Classic cars, live bands and finger-licking-good ribs take over downtown for Rib Off on Broadway (Aug. 3). The city gets back to its agricultural roots during the Hancock County Fair (Aug. 28–Sept. 2). For more information, go to visitfindlay.com. — Ilona Westfall
A young mother walks the labyrinth in Gantz Park, finding a few minutes of solitude. An elderly couple navigates the same circular path hand-in-hand as a time of reflection. A child thinks the labyrinth is a fun maze and skips toward the center. Residents of Grove City enjoy their municipal park’s path and its classic circles, first designed for the floor of the Cathedral of Our Lady of Chartres in France in 1201.
The labyrinth is also a destination for guests staying in Grove City’s many hotels. The spiritual walk is a welcome escape for many professionals with business in nearby busy Columbus. It is also a side trip for those visiting Ohio’s capital for sporting events, conventions or shopping. Regional visitors want to explore the labyrinth and all 27 beautiful acres of Gantz Park at 2255 Home Rd.
Within the park, the Gardens at Gantz Farm features the Garden of Yesterday, Garden of Today and Garden of Tomorrow. Follow the attractive red brick walkways to a new space-saving spiral herb garden where plants are grown from top down in order of water needs. This season, Gloria Hartung, gardens education coordinator, created other surprises. Look for a dramatic pocket garden of all black plants, a tea garden and a cat garden featuring plants with feline names — think cat thyme and the ground cover pussytoes. Also new are milkweed plants to attract Monarch butterflies and hoja santa (the “root beer” plant) with dinner-plate-sized leaves used as wraps in Mexican cuisine.
“Gantz was originally designed as an educational garden. Plants are labeled with common, scientific and family names,” says Hartung. “Don’t expect to see masses of plants like Colonial Williamsburg. But it is fun here and we always try new or unusual plants.”
Gantz Park features a number of outdoor sculptures that complement the gardens. “Girl Reading” is a much loved sculpture by artist Dennis Smith of Utah. The life-size bronze figure depicts a barefoot, pony-tailed young girl enjoying a book.
“Every year we get moms and dads who take photos of their own little daughters next to the sculpture reading books,” says Hartung.
Gantz Park, open dawn to dusk every day, also features an arboretum, shelter houses, historic farmhouse and barn for children’s activities, gazebo, tennis courts, walking paths and natural areas. Karen Conrad, Grove City parks and recreation director, says a recent emphasis is to encourage children to explore the natural world. The small creek that runs through Gantz Park has become a favorite spot.
Visit the Grove City Area Visitors and Convention Bureau’s Welcome Center, 3378 Park St., for more information about the city. The center also maintains a small museum on-site, operated in cooperation with the Southwest Franklin County Historical Society.
Grove City boasts more than 115 restaurants, cafes and taverns, as well as 1,200 hotel rooms. Regional and local shopping areas provide all-day shopping sprees, and Scioto Downs Racino offers live harness racing along with 2,117 video lottery terminals. For more information, visit grovecityohio.gov. — Jill Sell
Gallipolis is the kind of place where a visitor doesn’t feel like a stranger.
Stroll around the postcard-perfect riverfront square and it seems every passerby says hello. Stop at the Parkfront Diner & Bakery for a slice of pie and the server asks: “What can I get for you today, sweetie?”
Only one little thing might peg you for an out-of-towner — and that’s if you call the city “Gal-a-po-liss.” Locals pronounce it “Gal-a-po-lees.” Master that, and Ohio’s Old French City will feel like home.
Settled by the French in 1790, Gallipolis is the second-oldest settlement in the Northwest Territory. The best place to get your historical bearings is the Our House Museum, a handsome Federal-style brick tavern built in 1819. You’ll be stunned when you ascend the stairs and encounter the second-floor ballroom that runs the length of the building.
It’s easy to imagine the happy racket of a hundred revelers dancing the night away — including the French aristocrat and Revolutionary War hero Gen. Marquis de Lafayette, who visited in 1825. Many fine early American furnishings are on display at Our House, as well as a jacket Lafayette left behind.
The John Gee Black Historical Center highlights the prominent role Gallipolis played on the Underground Railroad. The citizens of Gallia County celebrated the first anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863 and have never stopped — making it the longest-running annual observance in America.
The highlight of every summer is the River Recreation Festival, held over the Fourth of July holiday in downtown Gallipolis. The four-day event includes a parade, free Kids’ Day activities, entertainment and, of course, fireworks on the banks of the Ohio River.
Just outside town, the lovely brick farmhouse where Bob and Jewell Evans raised their family is now a museum where visitors can learn their story. There’s a restored log cabin village and a full calendar of activities — including a farm festival each October, the annual Rio Grande Bean Dinner, concerts, fishing tournaments and a radio-controlled airplane fly-in.
When you’re ready to sit a spell, you can relax on the front porch Bob himself loved so much, then grab a bite at a Bob Evans restaurant next door — literally “down on the farm.”
Gallipolis is one of the region’s cultural jewels, too. The Ariel-Ann Carson Dater Performing Arts Centre is home to the Ohio Valley Symphony — southeast Ohio’s only professional orchestra. The French Art Colony presents gallery exhibits, Riverby Theatre Guild productions and an array of workshops for all ages. Merry Family Winery offers wines handcrafted with fruit from local growers.
For those seeking a natural getaway, there are outings on the Ohio River, horseback riding at Rio Valley Stables and wildlife habitats including the Elizabeth Evans Waterfowl and Bird Sanctuary.
No tour of Gallipolis is complete without a visit to Mound Hill Cemetery. In addition to its notable grave sites, the Civil War-era lookout offers spectacular vistas of the city’s downtown, the mighty Ohio River and West Virginia farmland beyond. For more information, go to visitgallia.com. — John Gladden
It’s no wonder Peninsula is known as a summertime town. Nestled in the heart of Cuyahoga Valley National Park, this picture-postcard community offers numerous ways to connect with the outdoors, embark on leisurely warm-weather strolls leading to local artisans and engage in a bit of time travel along the way.
Start your sojourn by visiting the magnificent green space the National Park Service credits as being among the Top 10 Most Visited National Parks in the country. Replete with opportunities to hike, bike and walk, Cuyahoga Valley National Park is a nature lover’s paradise presenting a variety of ranger-led activities designed for every skill level: On Aug. 1, exercise your body, mind and spirit by engaging in a 2.3-mile, after-work hike along a cross-country trail that begins at Kendall Lake Shelter. Or enjoy a 2.5-mile stroll under the full moon on Aug. 20, starting at the Boston Store Visitor Center. Kids of all ages won’t want to miss the Aug. 18 Boomerang Extravaganza at Howe Meadow, which includes flying instruction and friendly competition.
The fruits — and vegetables — of nature’s bounty make the Countryside Farmers’ Markets, held Saturday mornings at Howe Meadow through Oct. 26, a feast for the palate. The meadow also sets the stage for a play list of noteworthy musicians, who share their talents on Wednesday evenings throughout the season. On July 24, HeartBEAT Afrika performs a combination of street percussion, traditional African drumming, storytelling and dance. Known for a unique blend of rock, blues, jazz and pop, the Cletus Black Revue is in the spotlight Aug. 7.
Grab your partner and head to Peninsula’s Boston Township School House July 11 and 25 and August 8 and 22 for contra dancing, an evening of lively jigs and reels courtesy of caller Carol Kopp and the Hu$hmoney band.
The village has clearly become a haven for art enthusiasts. The Peninsula Art Walk on July 6 showcases local artists who draw inspiration from their surroundings. Get in touch with your inner muse at the Peninsula Art Academy, where sessions in stained-glass-making, weaving, drawing and enameling are offered year-round. The young fashionista in your life will enjoy the ArtforKids classes in fashion design and illustration July 15–19. From July 27 through Aug. 23, the academy will present the 10th annual Fiber Arts Show at the Peninsula Library, a juried event featuring works ranging from scarves to sculpture.
Experience the romance of train travel the way it was half a century or so ago by taking a seat aboard the Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad in Peninsula. Beauty instantly surrounds you as you ride the rails through the national park. On July 13, partake of a four-course dinner on the train accompanied by thirst-quenching beers from Akron’s Thirsty Dog Brewery. History comes alive when former first ladies Mary Todd Lincoln and Lucretia Garfield reminisce about their days in the White House and take tea with riders on July 21. For more information, visit explorepeninsula.co, nps.gov/cuva and cvsr.com. — Linda Feagler