Experiencing Ohio’s Winding Road
It might be a bit confusing to know whether or not you are traveling on Ohio’s Winding Road. Our map gives an idea about the general area we are talking about, though most involved in this effort don’t worry much about county lines– nor do visitors. Some of our stakeholders say, “East of U. S. Route 33, there’s a lot to do, see and learn!” Yet, we are pretty much tied up with the western portion of the Hocking Hills, too. We say Ohio’s Winding Road is about creating a sense of place in southeastern Ohio around the Hocking and Muskingum River Valleys (and yes, we include the Raccoon Creek Watershed in our vision, too). Absolutely, our rivers, creeks and forests are not to be forgotten and help to define our cultural landscapes. So, how about we say it’s all of the above, perhaps best described as “Creative Communities A to Z” with ‘A to Z’ suggesting inclusion, as well as two of the region’s most iconic communities Athens to the south and Zanesville to the north and all that lies in between. So with that said – let’s get on Ohio’s Winding Road!
The most important part of this brand is our belief in the importance of communities–both communities of people with common interests and physical communities where people live, work and play in proximity to each other. The Winding Road catalog is about showcasing and promoting the experiences and products created by people with common interests in the arts, local food, history, story-telling, outdoor recreation, and the environment. But we want to take a moment to talk about physical destinations in our region that are working hard to be centers of creativity and destinations for visitors. We can’t feature them all, but what follows is a look at a few worth your attention as you travel Ohio’s Winding Road.
Athens Arguably the most fascinating city in The Winding Road region is college town Athens, home to the first public university in the Northwest Territory. Athens and its surrounding hillside and communities hold many treasures: its local foods scene with one of the nation’s best Farmer’s Markets and iconic local food producers such as Shagbark Mill, Vino De Milo, and nearby Snowville Creamery. Local eateries abound with eating experiences at the worker-owned Casa Nueva, Village Bakery, and Burrito Buggy emblazoned on the pallets of all who pass through these hills. There’s the Dairy Barn Cultural Arts Center, Ohio Brew Week, Boogie on the Bricks, the Athens Film Festival, and the annual Halloween bash! Social consciousness abounds here with Bounty on the Bricks, Martin Luther King Day, Veteran’s Day, and courthouse peace vigils bringing the populace to the streets So does music, with live bands in bars on Court Street, concerts and the Marching 110, the most exciting band in the land, keeping all in dance mode. OU sports, theater and spring fests add to the charm. And then there’s the architecture,the idyllic college green and campus, the Ridges, and brick streets among the most cherished being the home of Court Street Shuffle. So if you want to start your exploration on the Winding Road, begin here, or save the best for last, on the banks of the Hocking River way down in Athens County where creativity is a staple.
Amesville Small town living couldn’t be finer than in this tight-knit Athens County hamlet (population 154) on the back road from Athens to Marietta (Ohio Route 550). Its claim to fame in Ohio history came in the year of statehood when settlers sold pelts back East to raise funds to buy books. The library became known as the Coonskin Library, the first in the Northwest Territory. The Coonskin Museum, located in the old school cafeteria, opens upon request. Mayor Gary Goosman and allies are known for organizing dinners featuring local foods, gardening classes, and even a quirky inauguration ball. Events are held at Village Productions-where yoga, dance, music, pilates, drumming and more take place (www.villageproductions.org). Don’t forget the Amesville Firemen’s Festival the third weekend of every July. Outside of town you’ll find organic farmers including the well-established Green Edge Gardens, and the upstart Homecoming Farm started by returning son John Wood purveyor of fresh maple syrup each spring.
Chesterhill Tucked away in the hills of Morgan County, Chesterhill (population 285) comes alive today with music and history. Union Hall Theater (unionhalltheater.org), a second story opera house above the library, is home to the Annual Ribs, Rhythm & Blues Festival each June. This racially integrated community boasts early Underground Railroad history dating back to its roots in the Quaker community. A simple Quaker Meeting House still holds meetings each week, and the rock cave outside of town where freedom seekers were hidden is owned by the town and available for public visitation. The town is home to the Southeastern Ohio Multi-Cultural and Genealogical Center which hosts a series of educational events, and will be a stop on the Crossing the River.
Little Cities of the Forest Region (Rendville-Shawnee-New Straitsville-Glouster, etc.) Using their rich history, the surrounding Wayne National Forest and Burr Oak State Park as assets, this series of boom-to-bust coal mining communities may be remnants of their former selves, but don’t be surprised to find unique events and civic revival taking place here. Shawnee’s Historic District is an architectural mecca and home to the Tecumseh Theater where restoration is taking place in the midst of cultural activities in the Tecumseh Commons including concerts, the annual Little Cities of Black Diamonds Day, and Buckeye Trail events (world headquarters located here as well as the Run for the Blue Blazes). Here and at nearby New Straitsville, early labor union history abounds and is best reflected upon at Robinson’s Cave (a short hike up the hill from Main Street). Also celebrated is the town’s designation as “Moonshine Capital of the World” at the now legal Straitsville Special Moonshine Distillery and the annual Moonshine Festival. Take Ohio Route 13 in the upper Sunday Creek Valley to former mining town of Rendville where homage is paid to its rich African American history each at Emancipation Day and celebrates art at the Rendville Art Works open weekdays in the re-purposed Baptist Church. Cruise down scenic Route 13 through the Wayne and Burr Oak State Park where funky, but soulful Glouster appears with a love for sports, public art, an amazing town mural and a renovated train depot where quilts and rag rugs are fashioned by elders several days a week. Best know as the Little Cities of Black Diamonds, these towns are now Little Cities Of the Forest.
McConnelsville The county seat of Morgan County is a picture out of a Norman Rockwell painting. Situated on the wide and lazy Muskingum River, the town green is home to the Howard Chandler Christy Arts Festival each summer and Morgan County Heritage Days each October. The Twin City Opera House is not to be missed. Home to affordable second run movies each week, the Ohio Valley Opry and other community events, this is Ohio’s longest continuous operating opera house. The Morgan County Historical Society takes their history seriously with a massive collection of artifacts, including the expertly appointed Button House (ask for the guided tour). On the south side of town, one can access the historically significant hand-operated locks of the Muskingum River at Lock # 7.
Nelsonville The original “little city of black diamonds” built on the riches of coal and clay, Nelsonville is The Winding Road’s emerging “Renaissance Town.” The restoration of Stuart’s Opera House, late last century, signaled a new era as a historic arts destination within shouting distance of both Athens and the Hocking Hills, arguably two of the region’s most visited destinations. Exhibits, music, and art galleries, anchored by Starbrick Clay, Paper Circle, Majestic Gallery, the charming Fullbrook’s Cafe coffee house, and the Nelsonville Emporium, anchor lively thematic Final Friday events each month. Roots music at Stuart’s and the annual Nelsonville Music Festival brings thousands of music lovers to town, joined by throngs of others riding the Scenic Hocking Valley Railroad. Young people are plenty here as Hocking College’s unique array of course offerings ranging from Natural Resources to Culinary Arts also bring life.
Somerset Early Ohio and Civil War history oozes from the bricks of this town situated along Zane’s Trace, the first pioneer road through Ohio. A federalist style courthouse, picturesque public square and multiple restored commercial and residential properties, including an early tavern dating to 1805, make walking this town a pleasure. On that walk one will find several top-notch eateries, namely the Clay Haus and Sophie’s Tea Room, and an early Ohio Lutheran Cemetery. An outstanding Saturday morning farmers market and annual events such as Oktoberfest and 4th of July Parade and the Holy Trinity Church picnic build a strong sense of community. The population of this northern Perry County town has remained consistent for over 200 years, and remarkably the town is self-contained with an old-style market, hardware and snack bar and an outstanding Saturday morning Farmer’s Market. These features and access to Columbus, Newark, Zanesville and Lancaster makes Somerset a great place to live. Winding Road partner Tom Johnson is the mayor and always has new activities going. Among those in the incubation stage are a Community Kitchen and Emerald Necklace walking trails. Check on his progress when in town.
Zanesville Known as the Y-City for its historic Y-Bridge, Zanesville sits on the National Road (Visit the National Road/Zane Grey Museum) and is the northern most point along the Winding Road. Arts, clay, and history anchor this town which shares a strong ceramics history with the nearby communities of Crooksville and Roseville. Art is exemplified at one of the best small city art museums in Ohio (Zanesville MOA), the Y-City Arts Festival (August), Second SaturdayArt Walk, Zanesville Art Prize (every other year) and All-Ohio Contemporary Ceramics Competition and Show(page 42). Best galleries include the Michael Seiler Gallery, Yan Sun Gallery, Alan Cottril’s amazing bronze statuary studio. “Art on Tap” every third Tuesday at Weasel Boy Brewery (open Tuesday-Saturday) allows you to make art while drinking the town’s premier microbrews. Next door is the unique Muddy Miser Restaurant overlooking the Muskingum and promoting the history of famed Western writer Zane Grey. Restored homes in the Putnam District date back to Zanesville’s role as Ohio’s second state capital. African American History is celebrated at the Gant House. Coffee and ambiance are abundant at the Treehouse downtown, with Zak’s Restaurant being a great place for date night and contemporary decor in a warehouse setting.