2013 was a year I watched a lot of trains in one Northwest Ohio town, rode on one through the historic Oil Region of Pennsylvania, learned about Pennsylvania's oil boom in the mid-1800s and visited a Civil War general's boyhood home.
For the seventh straight year, I traversed the back roads of Ohio -- and ventured into Pennsylvania and West Virginia on two occasions -- logging more than 3,000 miles, visiting many historic and unique sites and adding to my knowledge of the region's history.
Unrelated to history or leisure, I viewed an impressive ballfields complex in Boardman when the Aurora High School softball team played in the district tournament, and saw my first game in Columbus' Huntington Park when the Greenmen baseballers played in the Division I state semifinals.
THE PENNSYLVANIA OIL REGION
In the early 1960s, my parents and I ventured to the hills of Northeast Pennsylvania to see Drake's Well near Titusville, the nation's first commercially successful oil well.
I was 9 or 10 years old and don't remember much about the trip. So 50 years later, I decided to head back there, and I'd have to rate the three-day trip my favorite of 2013.
The three main cities in the Oil Region are Titusville, Oil City and Franklin. In Titusville, I stayed at one of the most unique places I've ever experienced -- the Caboose Motel consisting of 21 full-sized vintage railroad cabooses. I spent a night in the silver-colored Nickel Plate Road caboose.
The motel is beside the depot for the Oil Creek & Titusville Railroad, a 27-mile excursion line that runs through the Oil Creek Valley, where the oil boom of the mid-1800s occurred.
An evening meal and refreshments at the Blue Canoe restaurant and brewery in downtown Titusville got the trip started off on the right foot.
The grounds where Drake's first well was drilled is a wonderful place to visit. It includes a huge indoor museum and many displays of antique oil drilling equipment, a derrick from the 1940s and, of course, a replica of Drake's original well.
Several refineries once existed at Oil City, but none survive. Its skyline is dominated by the twin steeples of St. Joseph's Church. Franklin is the seat of Venango County and has a beautiful courthouse and a large, thriving downtown business district for such a small city.
Walks over the Belmar bridge and through the 2,800-foot Rockland tunnel, both structures on abandoned rail lines, were invigorating, and tours of DeBence's World of Sound, a museum exhibiting mechanical music devices, and the Tyred Wheels Museum were phenomenal.
FOSTORIA AND SANDUSKY
Anyone who enjoys trains as much as I do has to visit Fostoria, especially now that Fostoria Rail Park has been built. When I visited in June, the park was still under construction, but it officially opened in November.
Fostoria is the site of one of a handful of "iron triangles" in the nation. An iron triangle is an area where three major rail lines cross each other in close proximity. It also is called "Train City USA" because about 100 trains pass along the three main lines daily.
During the four or five hours that I watched trains passing -- on a Friday evening and Saturday morning -- I counted nearly 30. Two lines are operated by CSX and one by Norfork Southern, the two biggest Class 1 railroads in the eastern United States.
Fostoria also has an interesting historical society museum, a glass museum and a railroad depot occupied by the Fostoria Railroad Preservation Society.
For the first time in my life, I laid eyes on the iconic Marblehead lighthouse during a trip to Sandusky. I also enjoyed touring the Merry-Go-Round Museum, a maritime museum, a handful of historic mansions -- all in Sandusky -- plus the Lakeside community, an aviation museum and the Train-O-Rama model train museum on the Marblehead peninsula.
There were so many interesting things to see in Sandusky that I actually traveled back a second time -- an overnight stay in April and a one-day trip in May. And I thoroughly enjoyed tasting ice cream at Tofts Dairy.
MEMORIAL DAY WEEKEND
Memorial Day weekend saw me off to Lancaster, the seat of Fairfield County, which I hadn't visited since the early 1980s. The highlight was touring the boyhood home of Civil War Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman, which houses many artifacts and Sherman memorabilia.
Fairfield also is Ohio's capital of covered bridges, having one
more -- at the time I visited -- than Ashtabula County. I stopped at a handful of them, and also visited Rock Mill, a six-story high restored grist mill surrounded by rock cliffs and adjacent to a covered bridge and waterfall.
The Ohio Glass Museum and Lancaster Camp Meeting and Church Assembly grounds in Lancaster, Wagnells library in Lithopolis and the Motorcycle Hall of Fame Museum in Pickerington were other highlights of that trip.
I drove by the abandoned Mudhouse Mansion and visited the Fairfield County fairgrounds, which has a handful of historic buildings, including a 107-year-old round cattle barn and classic 104-year-old grandstand.
SOME FINE FESTIVALS
Before 2013, it had been 35 years since I visited the Ohio Hills Folk Festival in Quaker City. It's a typical old-time, small town festival in eastern Guernsey County.
My favorite thing about the festival was Dale Perry's 2,000-plus piece collection of old milk bottles. He has bottles from dozens of dairies, most of which are no longer in business. He retired from Broughton Dairy, which had a plant in Quaker City. Its main plant now is in Marietta.
His "newpaper cow," a wire frame covered with old Daily Jeffersonian newspapers to resemble a cow, is impressive.
It also was fun to see historic photos and items from long-ago Quaker City and examine the old Quaker Meeting House and its cemetery on the southeast border of the small town.
Also during that trip, I viewed "The Living Word" outdoor passion play near Cambridge for the first time. It has been around since 1975, and I wanted to see it for years.
In the fall, I drove to Belmont County and Wheeling, W.Va. to attend the Oglebayfest at Wheeling's hilly and beautiful Oglebay Park. While there, I toured the Oglebay mansion and visited the Good Zoo, riding on a mini-train and seeing animatronic dinosaurs.
I examined four Lake Erie lighthouses in 2013 -- two at Fairport Harbor and one each at Lorain and Huron.
A museum of local history is housed in the old Fairport Harbor land lighthouse and keeper's house. The lake lighthouse is now privately owned, but can be seen by walking out on the pier in the harbor.
The Huron lighthouse also can be seen clearly by walking out on a pier. In fact, one can walk from the end of the pier along a breakwall to get up beside the structure, but I wasn't that adventurous.
I toured the Lorain lighthouse, which can be reached by boat. A great view of the shoreline and skyline of Lorain is possible from the lighthouse tower. Being way up there on a windy day was a bit unsettling, though.
The same day I visited the Lorain lighthouse, I walked around the Oberlin College campus and saw some historic structures in that small Lorain County town, including two old homes at the Oberlin Heritage Center, the town's old waterworks and the Gas Holder Building.
CLEVELAND, LAKE CO.
For the first time, I went inside Playhouse Square in Cleveland during a monthly free tour of the Ohio, State, Palace and Allen theaters on Euclid Avenue.
The theaters and their lobbies are grand, and it would have been a shame to see them torn down like was going to happen before a group saved, restored and reopened them. It's the largest performing arts complex outside of New York City.
I toured the Finnish Heritage Center in Fairport Harbor, a quaint museum which depicts the region's Finnish heritage. And on the same trip, I stopped by the Cornerstone Brewery in Madison, and Cellar Rats Brewery and Chalet Debonne Vineyards in Lake County's rolling hills.
In the fall, I participated in a ghost tour at the Dennison Depot and a ghost walk in historic Zoar Village, both in my native Tuscarawas County. They were fun evenings, but no ghosts were encountered.
Another exciting venture was getting a behind the scenes tour of Jerry Joe Jacobson's Age of Steam Roundhouse near Sugarcreek and talking to Jerry Joe. He built the nation's first roundhouse in decades to house his collection of about a dozen steam engines.
Jacobson once own-ed the Ohio Central System railroad, and is now retired. His roundhouse, locomotives, back shop and grounds are off-limits to the public, but I was privileged to get a private tour and some time to talk to the intriguing man.
I closed out my 2013 road trips with a drive to Medina to see Castle Noel, a museum featuring Christmas movie props and costumes, old toys and games and classic Christmas displays from famous department stores.
That trip ended with a visit to Stan Hywet Hall in Akron during Deck the Hall, the second time I've been at the famous Seiberling mansion during the holidays. A computerized light show synchronized to music on the grounds topped off a cold day on the road.
I've already put together itineraries for future trips, and I hope to continue to share my experiences with Advocate readers in 2014.
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