In an ongoing series, we will be taking walking tours throughout Ohio’s Winding Road. Focusing on COVID-safe activities, we aim to share the natural beauty of the region and highlight its unique history and vibrant culture.
SHAWNEE: WHERE NATURE MEETS HISTORY
Revisit the Past and Reimagine the Future in the Heart of the Little Cities of Black Diamonds
STORY AND VISUALS By Delia Palmisano
The historic town of Shawnee is named after the North American Indian tribe who lived in the central Ohio River valley. Surrounded by the Wayne National Forest, it is home to the Buckeye Trail Association (BTA), The Little Cities of Black Diamonds (LCBD), and Ohio’s Winding Road (OWR) Marketplace.
With all these unique convergences happening just 40 minutes north of my home in Athens, I decided it should be the next stop on my Ohio’s Winding Road Walking Tour.
When I arrive in downtown Shawnee, I am struck by the bright colors of the historic storefronts– reds, blues, greens, oranges and yellows– that shine cheerfully out onto the sidewalk. Though many of the businesses are currently closed due to the pandemic, there are growing signs of revitalization and development in Shawnee.
As I meander down the street a man walking to his car asks me if I’m a tourist. I stumble a little with my answer, telling him, “Kind, of yeah,” and then explain my connection to OWR. He’s just had lunch at the newly renovated Black Diamond Tavern and tells me he’s Tom Johnson, the mayor of Somerset, in northern Perry county.
The Black Diamond sits in a building that has served various entities throughout the years. Originally a saloon, it’s also been a bank. Since 1940 it has served the town as a bar in one capacity or another. Repurposing seems to be a common theme with the buildings on main street– Shawnee Mercantile, now a vintage store, was once the post office. Just next door is the Blaire Building, originally a drug store, now home to the OWR Marketplace. The interior of the Blaire is beautiful with elaborate details– tin ceilings, individually-placed tile floors– and is representative of the Hocking Valley coal boom of the 1870’s-1920’s
Remnants of these boom and bust cycles are omnipresent in Shawnee. I note historic architectural details like the inscription on the Knights of Labor Opera House and the Upson Company store and the overhang porches above the old shops. Unfortunately, not all of the buildings are able to be repurposed or reimagined. Here and there along main street are holes where structures, deemed too dilapidated and unsafe, are actively being torn down.
On the National Historic Registry, Shawnee’s Main Street is home to not one, but two opera houses. The Tecumseh Theater, named for the famous Shawnee chief, was built in 1907. Set to be demolished in 1976, a small group of investors purchased it for $500 and saved it from the wrecking ball. The exterior of the building is now completely renovated and a grant has been secured to renovate the second-story opera house. The first floor of the building, already remodeled, serves multiple purposes, including an office for the new position of Shawnee Trail Town Coordinator– another sign of progress and growth in the small town. The LCBD Council and Destination Shawnee, a nonprofit whose mission is to preserve and celebrate local culture, history, and nature, also hold meetings there during non-Covid times.
Speaking of nature, I think it’s time to take my leave from main street and check out nearby Tecumseh Lake, also named for the Shawnee chief. It’s a short walk to the lake from town and I have no problem crossing the road. I’m told soon there will be signs to help direct visitors, like me, to the lake and better connect the historic downtown with the surrounding nature.
The day I’m there is sunny. It reminds me of my years living in Colorado– bright blue skies and white snow on the ground. The sunlight glitters off the lake and I stop to read the information at the trailhead.
The lake, built in the early 1950’s, was originally a site for the XX Mine. It serves as an example of the area’s shift from an extractive resource-based economy to an effort to conserve the land and bring the natural environment back to its original state. Visitors to the lake can walk the .5 mile lake loop or access the Wayne National Forest through the Buckeye Trail, Wood Thrush Loop Trail and North Country Scenic Trail.
I decide to take the Wood Thrush Trail and am struck by the beauty and quiet– unlike many of the trails in the busy Colorado Front Range, there is no one else here. The 2.5 mile journey takes me a little over an hour. I stop to take photos and try to imagine the evolution of this land. I’m awestruck to think that the mature forest where I now stand was once coal mines.
I finish up the hike and walk back across the road to my car, as I do a few of the famed Shawnee roosters run past me. I’m told they don’t belong to anyone in particular, but rather are the town’s chickens.
I’ve enjoyed my mostly solitary walk, but imagine things will look different in a few months. I look forward to safely seeing more people in 2021 than I did in 2020. I know I’ll be back to Shawnee in the summer for more hikes and to check out the Farmer’s Market and Second Saturdays. Truly at the heart of this micro-region, I’m excited to see the continued preservation and revitalization in Shawnee.
Until next time.
FOR MORE INFO OR TO PLAN A VISIT:
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Delia Palmisano is an Americorps member serving with Ohio’s Winding Road. Delia is a visual communicator and multimedia artist who believes in the power of storytelling. She feels a deep connection to the natural world and enjoys exploring the rolling hills of Appalachia with her husband and children.