First off, some background: In 2000, I struck upon the idea of visiting each of Ohio’s 88 counties. The point wasn’t to just collect geographic spots, but to experience what my state had to offer. I figured I could easily bag eight or nine a year, thus completing my goal within a decade.
Here it is, sixteen years later, and I’ve barely passed the halfway point. Oh well, it’s the journey, not the destination, as Mr. Emerson once said.
Because I am who I am, I made up some rules before starting out:
Once I enter the county, I must stay within its boundaries until the trip is over;
I must avoid all interstates while in the county and, if possible, all divided highways. Interstates, as the name implies, are meant to get one quickly across a territory. County trips are meant to slow me down and give me an opportunity to look around. This is an intentional nod to William Least Heat-Moon’s classic travel book, Blue Highways;
I must avoid all chain restaurants and patronize only independently owned establishments, whether they be eateries or lodgings. This can be a tricky rule, especially when all the indie hotels in a small county look to be doubling as crack houses and brothels. I have no intention of putting myself in danger for the sake of a rule, so on a rare occasion, special dispensation to ignore a rule has been given by the County Trip Governing Board (consisting of the ruling triumvirate of Me, Myself and I)
Ohio County Trippin' Part Two: Medina County - by Nick Taggart
6-7 August 2016
We were just about to leave the village of Creston when we entered Medina County along Wooster Pike. There was nothing to distinguish this two-lane road from any of the thousands of others that connect small towns throughout the state, but along with its local name, it also bears the tag State Route 3, a once major north-south highway. Its route was established in 1923 when a series of shorter roads were cobbled together to connect the three largest cities in the state, Cincinnati, Columbus, Cleveland; thus its nickname, the 3-C Highway. It may be the second longest state route in Ohio, but once the interstate system was constructed, I-71 became the go-to roadway for those wishing to cross Ohio in a hurry. As Charles Kuralt once said, “Thanks to the Interstate Highway System, it is now possible to travel from coast to coast without seeing anything.”
Since we had no deadlines to meet and were more interested in exploration than speed, we followed the curve of Route 3 into Seville, “a giant of a village.” (The story behind that slogan will be forthcoming.) We pulled up next to the American Heritage Restaurant where a sign promised, “Home Cooking.”
Small town diners offer much to the visitor, but in a swing state like Ohio, I often feel they represent more red than blue of the political spectrum. Some small eateries hang their beliefs on their interior decorated sleeves. The American Heritage wasn’t as extreme as others I’ve encountered, but I knew right away where they stood on the Second Amendment. The canned country music was accompanied by a display of firearms on the wall and a t-shirt that read, “I have a beautiful daughter. I also have a gun, a shovel, and an alibi.” They must have been temporarily out of the “I have a handsome son.” version. I have some deeply held beliefs on the matter, but none that I can’t temporarily holster in exchange for delicious food at an economical price. That is exactly what I received with my $4.99 daily special that included a tasty bacon cheddar omelet with fried potatoes and toast.
As I ate, I noticed a framed t-shirt signed by someone famous. I was afraid it was going to be some right-wing nut job, but upon closer inspection saw it was Jay Leno. “It could have been worse,” I told Michele. “It could have been Dick Cheney.” Michele didn’t see much distinction as she was a strong backer of David Letterman in the 20-year Late Night Wars of the ‘90s and aughts.
The restaurant’s interior was also adorned with a life-size, black and white mural of Martin and Anna Bates, “the world’s tallest couple.” (Here’s where the town’s slogan comes into play.) Martin was born in Kentucky in 1837, an average size baby, but after a tremendous growth spurt in his teen years, he eventually grew to be seven feet, seven and a half inches tall. He served in the Confederate Army during the Civil War, leading to some truly tall tales by Union soldiers. After the war, since the NBA hadn’t been formed yet, Bates traveled north and joined the circus, exhibiting his stature as a curiosity. While on tour in Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada, he met Anna Swan, herself a tall drink of water at seven feet, eleven and a half inches. The promoter knew a good thing when he saw it and hired Anna immediately. Martin and Anna subsequently married while on tour in England. Upon their retirement from the circus, they purchased a farm in Medina County and lived out their lives there.
After a brief perusal in a combination antique/craft/florist shop, we drove out East Main Street to Mound Hill Cemetery to visit the Bates’ graves. Anna was the first to die, in 1888. Martin had a statue of her placed above her burial spot. He passed away in 1919.
We continued east on Greenwich Road, where a small airplane icon on the county map marked the Skypark Airport. It was established in 1965 by Daniel E. Weltzien, who had a rather unique concept. Weltzien dreamed of a “flying community” where everyone owned an airplane for the suburban commute. Perhaps he was inspired by “The Jetsons,” the cartoon that had premiered just three years before. Each home Weltzien developed in the neighborhood surrounding the airport had a taxiway leading from the garage to the runway. The private community of 49 residential homes still exists, but it was on the far side of the airport, so I could only gawk from afar.
We returned west a bit, looking for a place for an after-breakfast stroll. The parking lot was nearly full at the Hubbard Valley Park, one of the many well-maintained green spaces of the Medina County Park District. The vicinity of the shelter house was chock-a-block with young people wearing martial arts robes. We quickly left them behind once we headed out on the 1.25-mile long Trillium Trail.
The Park exists as a result of a flood control project. Dam construction created a 21-acre lake. Additional land was purchased and a nature reserve was eventually established. Our trail first followed the raised ridge that rings half of the lake. An interstate could be seen in the distance, but if you kept your view narrowly focused, you could experience a pleasant bucolic walk. Queen Anne’s lace flourished on both sides of the trail as swallows darted here and there. The path then headed into a wooded area, full of shagbark hickory, pine, and spruce. In a small meadow clearing, we paused while an Eastern Tiger Swallowtail butterfly was kind enough to settle on a flower, allowing us a prolonged examination of its beautiful colors. The black stripes on its vivid yellow wings made evident its name. The blue spots on its “tail” identified it as a female.
The only person we passed on the trail was an out-of-place older man who seemed to be in a hurry. He was wearing nothing but swimming trunks and I vehemently hoped the cooler he was toting did not contain freshly harvested human organs.
Back in the car, we cranked up the A/C to wick away the moisture we’d produced on the trail. It was a hot day and the grass was brown in spots, evidence that this part of the state hadn’t seen any rain in a while.
Our next stop was only a couple miles away as the crow flies, but required some zig-zagging past two highways. The Northern Ohio Railway Museum is tucked off rural Buffham Road, south of Chippewa Lake. It’s only open on Saturdays in the summer, so I thought our timing was fortuitous. I was wrong. I’m no train-spotter, but I appreciate a historical peek at a bygone mode of transportation. The museum’s literature boasted over 40 pieces of historic equipment dating back to 1895, including railroad and interurban streetcar compartments. While I can appreciate the funding challenges faced by small, private museums, what we encountered resembled less a welcoming institution of well-maintained exhibits and more a train boneyard where old cars go to rust and die among abandoned tracks and weeds. Fortunately, there wasn’t an admission charge, so we didn’t feel as though we’d wasted money when we departed after a very short stay.
We found Route 3 again and followed it north to the county seat, also named Medina. It was originally called Mecca. Why the early settlers from Connecticut had an obsession with Islamic place names was not mentioned in the literature I encountered, but as is an Ohio trait, they altered the pronunciation to include a long i sound rather than the long e used in the Middle East.
Our visit to the city coincided with the 166th occurrence of the Medina County Fair. The 92-acre fairgrounds are just southwest of the city center, off West Smith Road. I’m a sucker for agricultural fairs. I’m not sure why. I’m a city boy through and through, but it was only one generation ago when my father broke away from the farming life his father, grandfather and great grandfather had pursued. Perhaps it’s due to that heritage that I feel a certain kinship to that way of life…so long as I’m not required to wake up before dawn and perform any of the extremely hard work that farm laboring requires.
After the purchase of an iced tea in a fair-sized plastic cup, we meandered over to the fair pavilion to watch part of the annual fiddle contest. Each participant, representing one of various age categories, was required to perform three numbers: a hoe-down, a waltz, and a song of their choice. Quality varied, but wasn’t always determined by age. Some of the youngest contestants showed real talent while one of the old-timers was uninspiring and out of tune.
We then toured some of the animal barns, checking out the cattle, sheep, and rabbits, before moving on to the agricultural buildings where we perused the blue ribbon-winning produce. Thanks to some fun-fact signs scattered about the grounds, I learned that the two most common crops grown in the state are corn and soybeans, and that Ohio ranks fifth in the nation for tomatoes.
We avoided the amusement rides and games of chance, as I value both my life and my wallet, but we did pay attention to the cornucopia of food vendors. There was Bam Bam’s Backyard BBQ and Brother John’s Heavenly Baked Goods (“Tastes so good, it’s almost a sin”), as well as the ubiquitous stands for Italian sausage and freshly squeezed lemonade.
Which brings me to my first general observation of county fairs: I’m not saying every visitor fits into this category, but I witnessed an inordinate number of very large people. Not just overweight, but the kind of folks for whom were created the far columns in the Body Mass Index tables. It could be that batter and dough dropped into hot oil emits a kind of pheromone irresistible to people in this category.
I’m hardly one to talk, though. If a private detective had been following me around that day, there’d now be a manila envelope in a desk drawer somewhere containing telephoto shots of me rubbing white confectionary sugar on my gums and breaking my wedding vows with a deep-fried Snickers.
My other observation is a bit more disturbing and involves the prevalence of t-shirts and hats at county fairs, both worn and sold, containing the Confederate flag. I’ll never understand the need some people have for associating themselves with a symbol of such hatred and bigotry. What, was the store out of Nazi paraphernalia? Maybe I don’t understand because I’m not from the South, but then, neither are most of the people who are donning the Stars and Bars. Not only does the flag represent racism to the majority of informed people, but it’s also so incredibly anachronistic. One might as well be wearing a shirt depicting a toothless Austrian in pantaloons, carrying a poleaxe and hollerin’ “The Hapsburgs will rise again!
After descending from my extremely elevated equine, we returned to our car and departed the fair. It was late afternoon, but we didn’t have far to drive to the Spitzer House, an 1890 Victorian home renovated and given a new lease on life as a bed and breakfast. The house is filled with antiques and the kind of charm one would expect from a century-old building. We had reserved Ceilan’s Room, located on the second floor at the top of a cherry staircase. It is named for General Ceilan Milo Spitzer, the man responsible for building the house. He made his fortune in banking and other financial pursuits. He and his cousin, Adelbert, organized the first bond houses in the country outside of New York. Ceilan’s military rank came as a result of being named Quartermaster General of Ohio in 1900.
After a short rest in our room, we headed out on foot, walking the half mile to the town center. We’d already evaluated our dinner options online and had decided on Thyme2 (Time Square), a fine dining establishment on West Smith Road. We weren’t exactly dressed for fine dining, but we knew the downstairs pub would welcome us. The restaurant was so popular that evening that our only seating option was at the bar. The USA Olympic basketball team was beating up on China in an early round game on the television above our heads. Michele enjoyed a Hawaiian pizza containing smoked chicken, grilled pineapple, bacon, cheese, and a teriyaki sauce, while I devoured an entrée of Faroe Island salmon atop a bed of polenta cake and spring vegetables and drizzled with sun dried tomato butter.
After dinner, we strolled over to Uptown Park, the tree-filled town square where musicians had already begun playing in the gazebo. We’d brought folding chairs in anticipation of the evening’s Jazz Under the Stars event, one in a series of concerts sponsored by Ohio Regional Music Arts and Cultural Outreach (ORMACO), “an all-volunteer, non-profit group whose mission is to make music, arts and culture accessible to all, with a focus on underserved, disadvantaged and rural populations.”
On the bill that night was Tim Akins and Friends, a trio playing tunes from the American Songbook. The concert attracted a respectable crowd. We couldn’t have asked for better weather as a cool breeze blew across our shaded location. Michele bought us a couple of a coffees and an oatmeal raisin cookie from Cool Beans Café, located catty-corner from the square.
As dusk descended and the park darkened, I had a clear view through the trees of the Medina County Courthouse clock tower. The mansard roof was tall enough to be catch the late pinkish rays of the retiring sun. It’s the second oldest county courthouse in continuous use in Ohio, having been completed in 1841.
It was dark for our walk back to the Spitzer House, our chairs slung over our shoulders. In our room, we found a cable channel playing rock classics to provide background music while we read ourselves to sleep. The following morning, we took our place in the elegant dining room for our delectable complimentary breakfast of yogurt and fruit, banana coffee cake, and eggs benedict with spinach and ham.
Our first stop on Sunday’s itinerary was the Brunswick Farmer’s Market, held middays each summer Sunday at Heritage Farm on Laurel Road, about six miles north of Medina. There were at least 30 booths selling all manner of crafts, candles, and produce. I was pleasantly surprised by the number and quality of vendors since some small farmer’s markets can turn out to be sad little affairs. Michele purchased a couple handmade candles and a bulb of garlic.
We continued north on Route 42 until we were nearly out of the county. An unassuming road next to a mobile home park led us to Princess Ledges Nature Reserve, another gem in the Medina County Park District crown. The area is heavily wooded, but also contains an array of sandstone ledges and outcroppings. Its name is taken from the daughter of a previous property owner whose name was Princess.
We followed the mile-long Nature Trail and were rewarded with a couple of fascinating sites. The first was a hornet’s nest that hung directly, precariously above the walking path. We hurried past and put some distance between it and us before I used the telephoto lens on my camera to snap of photo of it. Further along the trail, it was Michele who miraculously peered into the thick woods at just the right point to spot in the distance a resting male deer. Once again, I was able to put my camera to good use. It wasn’t until we could more closely examine the digital image that we counted the antlers and determined it was a ten-point buck!
We didn’t realize it at the time, but our nature reserve good luck had just run out.
Our next stop was the Hinckley Reservation in the northeast corner of the county. Despite its location in Medina, it is not part of the County Park District, but rather is the southern-most link in the chain of Cleveland Metroparks. It is known nationally as the place the buzzards return each March to roost among the ancient ledges, caves, and cliffs. (San Juan Capistrano can keep its swallows!)
The Whipp’s Ledges Loop is the most popular trail for viewing the turkey vultures’ home. It also includes rocky ledges that rise 350 feet above Hinckley Lake. The hilly trail connects the Whipp’s Ledges and Top O’ Ledges picnic areas. We thought we’d begin our hike at the former, but the parking lot was full, so we drove to the latter only to find a couple of large and noisy groups heading out onto the trail ahead of us. I prefer my nature encounters to be less human and more sedate, so we opted to save that hike for another day.
After a futile drive to the west side of Brunswick in search of a restaurant whose online posted hours didn’t correspond to reality, we returned to Medina and found the Main Street Café on the town square. Despite its common-sounding name, which we interpreted to mean casual dining, we entered the darkened restaurant to find cloth napkins and an upscale setting. So long as they were willing to accept us though, we were willing to stay. I began with a bowl of lobster bisque, prepared with lobster, cream, sherry, and spices, and then moved to an order of boneless Buffalo wings, made with house breaded Buffalo chicken and served with ranch dressing. I found both to be average. Michele was more delighted with her spinach smoked chicken, a salad topped with natural smoked chicken, Mandarin oranges, strawberries, walnuts, and goat cheese, and served with a homemade poppy seed dressing.
Our final stop in the county was the A.I. Root Company, a family owned candle manufacturer now in its fifth generation. Amos Ives Root established the business in 1869 after his interest in bees led to honey production on a large scale. As his apiary grew, the business grew to include beeswax, beekeeping implements, and other interests devoted to bee culture. That eventually led to candles, which are now the company’s focus. Michele selected a half dozen votive candles to give away as gifts.
We picked up Route 42 again and followed it southwest this time as it passed through the villages of Lafayette and Lodi. The latter has the distinction of being the first place of settlement in the county back in 1811, when it was known as Harrisville. The surrounding township maintains the former name. With Lodi in our rearview mirror, we had only another four miles to go before exiting the county.
Time spent in the county: 29 hours, 23 minutes
Miles driven in the county: 84