Lighthouses, ferryboats and miles of shoreline are vacation options one expects to find in a coastal region. But those offerings seem discordant when the destination is Ohio.
Jill Bauer believes she may be able to change that perception.
As part of the team that helps promote and educate people about the Shores & Islands region of the Buckeye State, Bauer has pretty much heard every surprised comment a visitor has to offer.
“A lot of people don’t realize what’s right here,” Bauer said. “This part of Lake Erie is very similar to what you’d find in Virginia Beach, or Hilton Head and similar places. We have miles of waterfront and all the activities that go along with that.”
In the area that stretches from essentially Toledo to Cleveland, dozens of towns capitalize on their proximity to the lake by making the most of every season, especially fall.
“It stays warm here quite a while, we have some of our best weather days in late September and early October,” Bauer said.
Those temperate days provide an ideal backdrop for festival after festival across the region. Starting, of course, with a celebration of lighthouses.
Spotlight on history
Exactly 200 years ago the Marblehead Lighthouse began helping fishermen and other lake goers mark the entrance to Sandusky Bay on Lake Erie. Built in 1821, the lighthouse was ignited for the first time in 1822 and has remained illuminated ever since. It’s the oldest, continuously operated lighthouse throughout the Great Lakes.
Guests can climb the stairs to the tower, visit the Keeper’s House (which dates to 1880) and in early October, take part in a village-wide Lighthouse Festival celebrating two centuries of the grand beacon’s service.
The daylong celebration will feature vendors and other special events, said Teri Cassell, with the Marblehead Peninsula Chamber. But visitors may also enjoy some of the town’s year-round offerings.
“The lighthouse itself is beautiful. But there’s also cute shopping, a historic church and we have a winery downtown that’s very popular, that’s in an old schoolhouse,” Cassell said.
The church, Holy Assumption, is a reflection of some of the region’s earliest settlers — Rusyns, also known as Carpatho-Rusyns. Families immigrating to the area found work in stone quarries and built their homes and lives, which included the Orthodox Church, in the village.
Rocky Point Winery calls one of the village’s original 1890s-era school buildings home, and it shares the space with the Red Fern Inn. While the winery boasts six local wines as well as more than 50 other labels, the inn provides guests access to bicycles, fire pits, and a nearby nature preserve.
Lighthouses are a major attraction along the shoreline, but guests won’t lack for other local treasures being trumpeted.
The Milan Melon Festival provides music and vendors, but the can’t-miss treat is the muskmelon ice cream and watermelon sherbet, made with local produce.
“The festival happens every Labor Day weekend, and you can only get those ice creams one time a year,” Bauer said.
If seasonal sweets aren’t enough to tempt a visit, Milan, Ohio, is also the birthplace of Thomas Edison. He was born there in 1847, and his family’s home — now the Edison Birthplace Museum — was opened to the public by his wife and daughter a century later. It was designated as a National Historic Landmark in 1965. Though he is perhaps best known for his lightbulb and phonograph inventions, Edison in his lifetime applied for and received more than 1,000 patents.
While the residents of Milan celebrate the last hurrah of summer with seasonal fruits, the townspeople of Vermilion, Ohio, try to get a jump on winter by first determining if it’s going to be a mild or wild.
Their preferred method of measurement?
The woolly bear caterpillar.
Legend says that if the rusty-orange colored center band on the woolly bear is especially wide, the winter will be tolerable. If it’s a small stripe between the caterpillar’s two black bands, severe weather is expected.
“It’s like our own Punxsutawney Phil,” Bauer said.
This year marks the 50th-annual Woollybear Festival featuring a parade, games, vendors and of course, a Woollybear Queen. The event was the brainchild of longtime meteorologist Dick Goddard, who started the festival originally as a fundraiser for a local school district. Today, it’s billed as Ohio’s largest one-day festival.
But what’s fall without apples?
Angel Jones, with the Apple Butter Stirrin’ Festival is happy she doesn’t have to find out.
Held in the Historic Roscoe Village area of Coshocton, Ohio, the festival is as its name suggests — a celebration of the humble yet versatile apple.
Don’t get the idea though that fruit fanfare is all that’s being served up for visitors.
Roscoe Village, Jones said, gives guests a glimpse into the past thanks to a restored portion of the downtown that invites visitors to travel to the 1830s.
This living-history area of the village includes “townspeople” in period costumes, and trips on a short section of the Ohio & Erie Canal. The canal connected the Ohio River to Lake Erie and was an essential part of pioneer life.
“Where Little House on the Prairie was a town completely surrounded by farmland and fields, here when they would transport goods through the state or between the states before there were trains, everything went by water,” Jones said.
Train routes eliminated the need for the canal system, and a 1913 flood decimated the village. But in the 1960s, Jones said a local family — the Edward and Frances Montgomery family — took an interest in restoring part of Coshocton to those early days, to remind community members of their shared roots.
“They just didn’t want to see that history disappear,” Jones said.
Common ground and shared history greet visitors who take in Lakeside Chautauqua and the Lighthouse Festival held in that portion of Shores & Islands. The festival features a hayride, vendors and ferry rides to nearby Kelly’s Island, but Hannah Brainard said locals and guests alike can tap into a deeper, more meaningful past.
It’s the second largest Chautauqua still in existence, and it grew from the movement that began in New York in 1874. Originally started as a Methodist vacation camp that would promote the professionalization and lifelong learning for teachers, the movement became so much more. Now known as the Chautauqua Institution was the originator of the first distance learning programs, standardized adult education programs and provided ample opportunity for women to advance themselves and their careers through continuing education.
“Here in Lakeside, we were part of that movement that started based on four pillars: education, the arts, recreation and religion. People gathered to share ideas.
“The ideas relevant then are still relevant today and keep our community going.”
If you go
Historic Roscoe Village/Apple Butter Stirrin’ Festival
Oct. 21-23, 2022
600 N. Whitewoman St.
Coshocton, Ohio 43812
Lakeside Lighthouse Festival
Oct. 8, 2022
236 Walnut Ave.
Lakeside, Ohio 43440
Marblehead Lighthouse Festival
Oct. 8, 2022
110 Lighthouse Dr.
Marblehead, Ohio 43440
Milan Melon Festival
Sept. 2-5, 2022
Village Square, SR 113
Milan, Ohio 44846
Oct. 2, 2022