It all started in January 2007 when my Record Publishing Co. colleague -- News Leader editor Eric Marotta -- and I traveled to Harrison County to view the Silver Spade stripmine shovel after I learned it was going to be scrapped, and would never stand on Ohio's landscape again.
Ohio is filled with history, beauty and interesting places -- some of which I saw as a youth -- and I wanted to revisit a few and explore new ones. Thus began the road trips which I have written about for the last seven years. With improving weather, I'm eagerly looking forward to year 8.
I've visited old coal mines, railroad bridges and tunnels, canals, mansions, dozens of small towns and ghost towns, unusual museums and beautiful murals on building walls. And I've met some amazing people. I've even crossed into West Virginia and Pennsylvania a few times.
I've explored the hometowns of famous people such as actors Clark Gable and William (Hopalong Cassidy) Boyd, comedian Paul Lynde, presidents William McKinley and James A. Garfield, Generals William T. Sherman and Phillip H. Sheridan and astronaut John Glenn.
Advocate readers frequently ask me where my favorite places are. That is a tough question. There are many neat places to go and things to see in Ohio and nationwide. Some day I'd like to say I've visited most of them in the Buckeye State.
FIRST LIST OF FAVORITES
I'd have to put the Oil Region of Pennsylvania -- Titusville, Oil City and Franklin -- high on my list. I was there last Labor Day weekend, the first time since I was about 10 years old. After the trip, I dug out a photo of me taken in the early 1960s standing next to the Drake's Well historic marker.
Edwin Drake drill-ed the nation's first commercially successful oil well near Titusville in 1859. The oil boon didn't last long, and oil is not a big industry there anymore, but there are many things to see which illustrate what happened 150 years ago. Pithole City is an oil boom ghost town.
Every couple of years since I discovered it, I enjoy visiting the Wilds in southeast Muskingum County. It's a 10,000-acre exotic animal refuge on reclaimed stripmine land, where coal once was uncovered by the Big Muskie dragline.
Four of the spookiest and most interesting places I've visited are the Mansfield Reformatory, West Virginia Penitentiary in Moundsville, the Ridges (old Athens Lunatic Asylum) on the Ohio University campus in Athens and the Moonville railroad tunnel in Vinton County.
DeBence Antique Music World in Franklin, Pa., and Matchstick Jack's museum in Monroe County are two of the most unique museums I've visited. DeBence has dozens of antique mechanical music devices -- from small music boxes to large carousel band organs. Matchstick Jack's features matchstick artwork.
The Toy and Plastic Brick Museum in Bellaire features creations made of Legos, while the Kruger Street Toy and Train Museum in Wheeling, W.Va., and the Marx Toy Museum in Moundsville, W.Va., take adults back to the days of their youth. The Bellaire and Wheeling facilities are housed in former school buildings.
The Merry-Go-Round Museum in Sandusky is another fun place, a private collection of more than 2,000 old glass milk bottles in Quaker City, Ohio, can be seen by the public during the Ohio Hills Folk Festival in July, and the Big Muskie dragline bucket is a monstrous sight in Morgan County.
Glass and pottery museums are abundant in towns such as East Liverpool, Crooksville, Fostoria, Bellaire, Cambridge, Lancaster, Moundsville and Wheeling. And I've visited maritime museums in Ashtabula, Sandusky, Marietta, Clarington (Monroe County) and Vermilion. The latter has since moved to Toledo.
AND PIONEER VILLAGES
For railroad fans like myself, Fostoria is a great place to watch trains, with three main lines passing through. Conneaut and Marion are two other train watching venues, and both have excellent railroad museums in restored depots.
The Dennison Depot in Tuscarawas County is another great train museum. In addition to the depot, exhibits are found in five train cars. And Earnest "Mooney" Warther's Dover museum displaying ivory and ebony train carvings is awesome.
Many towns have spectacular historical museums. The ones in Painesville and Bowling Green are in beautifully restored former county nursing homes (poorhouses). The Knox and Wayne counties' museums in Mount Vernon and Wooster, respectively, also are among my favorites.
Canal remnants are visible throughout Ohio in places such as the Cuyahoga Valley National Park, Canal Fulton, Tuscarawas County, Newark, Lockville in Fairfield County, Roscoe Village in Coshocton, Dresden and Akron, where the Cascades Locks are impressive.
Pioneer villages also are abundant. Among the bigger ones are Schoenbrunn Village in New Philadelphia, Century Village in Burton, Lyme Village near Bellevue and Sauder Village at Archbold. Smaller ones are on fairgrounds in Canfield, Caldwell and Lancaster, as well as in Chesterland, Kidron and Beaver Creek State Park.
Roscoe Village and Zoar are two places which don't just boast old structures that have been moved there from other places; their homes and businesses are the real McCoy, having stood there for 150 years or so. They were restored, and many of the homes are still occupied by families. Mount Pleasant in Jefferson County is a fun-to-visit former Quaker community.
Ohio has its share of preserved covered bridges, as well as a few that have been built in recent years. The biggest is the 613-foot long Smolen-Gulf Bridge near Ashtabula. That county and Fairfield County have the most covered bridges in Ohio. Some counties don't have a single one left.
MANSIONS AND FORTS,
Many mansions once owned by wealthy industrialists and prominent citizens of the late 1800s and early 1900s are open to the public, featuring magnificent architecture and furnishings and memorabilia from the era when they were lived in.
Among those I've visited are the Hickories in Elyria, Victorian House in Millersburg, Victorian Mansion in Barnesville, J.E. Reeves Home in Dover, Saxton House in Canton, the Georgian in Lancaster, Lawnfield in Mentor and, of course, Stan Hywet Hall and Hower House in Akron.
If you enjoy war history, there are some fort sites available for public visitation. Fort Steuben in Steubenville (1786-87) and Fort Meigs in Perrysburg (1813) have been rebuilt. Fort Laurens at Bolivar, Ohio's only Revolutionary War fort, has not been rebuilt, but features a museum housing artifacts uncovered during archaeological digs.
If you like classic cars, there are some great museums, such as the Canton Classic Car Museum, Snook's Dream Cars in Bowling Green and Crawford Auto-Aviation Museum in Cleveland. And for airplane lovers, the MAPS Museum near the Akron-Canton Airport and the National Museum of the Airforce in Dayton are must sees.
When visiting the MAPS Museum, you might even run into Aurora resident Dave Bell, who is one of the tour guides.
For education history lovers, many one-room schoolhouses can be viewed, and some occasionally are open to go inside. I've encountered them at the Algonquin Mill complex near Carrollton, Wally Road near Loudonville, Oberlin, near Deersville in Harrison County, on Route 4 north of Marion and at several pioneer villages.
There's also a brick one-room schoolhouse just northeast of Dover which has been converted into a winery. On warm days, visitors can enjoy wine on a patio overlooking the rural countryside.
There are a number of farms open to the public around Ohio. My favorite is Dickenson Cattle Ranch, a huge spread near Barnesville where many varieties of longhorn cattle roam the reclaimed stripmine land. Bus tours are offered, and the Longhorn Head to Tails store is open. Longhorn meat can be bought there.
Malabar Farm in the Mohican region near Loudonville is another of my favorite farms, and there also is Bob Evans Farm near Rio Grande in Gallia County, which I am looking forward to visiting some day.
UNIQUE LODGING SPOTS
It's easy for me to pick my favorite lodging facilities. The Caboose Motel in Titusville and the Stockport Mill Inn in Stockport win hands down. It's so cool to stay overnight in a caboose or a former grist mill, the latter of which offers balcony views of the Muskingum River and an adjacent dam.
The Sugarcreek Village Inn is another neat place, because it has six motel rooms inside three vintage train passenger cars.
There are a couple of conventional hotels I enjoy because they have an oldtime feeling. The Millersburg Hotel in Holmes County has operated since 1847, and the Lafayette Hotel in Marietta lives up to its slogan -- "a grand riverboat era hotel" -- having been built in the early 1900s.
I haven't stayed there -- I did walk by it -- but I hear the century-plus Blennerhassett Hotel in Parkersburg, W.Va. is a real gem. The Golden Lamb in Lebanon, northwest of Cincinnati, is recognized as Ohio's oldest continuously operating hotel (1815). I haven't stayed there, but I ate there a few times when I lived in nearby Middletown.
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