1,700-acre estate makes a great getaway from central Ohio

One of the main attractions of Oglebay Resort, two hours east of Columbus in Wheeling, W. Va., is the former summer estate of the late industrialist Earl W. Oglebay. The yellow mansion with stately white pillars in the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains is a museum that’s a tribute to Oglebay and the history of the property.

But what my family found more delightful than the 1846-built home during a recent visit, is the surrounding explorable landscape, so thoughtfully cared for and manicured, making the 1,700-acre estate a great getaway from central Ohio.

Oglebay willed his property to the people of Wheeling upon his death in 1926 as long as they “shall operate it for public recreation.” Visitors can tour the mansion, a glass museum, and wander along a red brick path through a garden that dates back a century.

  • Oglebay Mansion
  • The Good Zoo
  • Oglebay Stables
  • Schenk Lake
  • Wilson Lodge
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My husband, Mike, and I, held our wedding reception at Oglebay in April 2005, and like so many others were photographed among more than 50,000 tulips, daffodils and hyacinths. We return most every year in the spring, but decided this year to visit with our children in June.

Now, taking a 7-year-old and 5-year-old through an old building with historical artifacts and keeping their attention would be an exercise in futility. Fortunately, the resort offers an enticing variety of activities that are fun in the summer such as golfing, fishing, boating, swimming and horseback riding. There’s also a quaint zoo that’s a pleasure to explore.

We stayed two nights at the Wilson Lodge – most of its 271 rooms were remodeled in 2008. Each morning we ate a hearty buffet breakfast at the Ihlenfeld Dining Room, which overlooks Schenk Lake and the encircling countryside, where friendly deer roam. Mike enjoyed a round of golf with friends. Oglebay offers courses designed by Arnold Palmer and Robert Trent Jones, Sr.

My children and I explored the pool at the Crispin Center, where little has changed since opening in the late 1930s. Built of locally-quarried sandstone, it’s elegant alongside the sky-blue pool. It’s one of the loveliest pools I’ve ever seen. I half expected to see ladies appear in modest swimsuits and caps, then jump off the platform in the center. I found the water too cold, but my kids didn’t seem to mind as they overtook the large kiddie pool.

We also explored the 36-acre Good Zoo. Opened in 1977 in a wooded area, it contains African wild dogs, meerkats, kangaroos, lorikeets, and recently added a dinosaur exhibit, with animatronic creatures. The lorikeets were particularly friendly if you entice them with nectar that the zoo sells for $1 a cup.

Wintertime it’s a poplar site for the Winter Festival of Lights, a six-mile drive showcasing millions of twinkling lights on more than 300 hilly acres.

Oglebay is located at 465 Lodge Dr., Wheeling, W. Va. Offers a variety of package rates. We stayed two nights via the Bed & Breakfast Package, starting at $151 per night, which includes lodge accommodations, buffet breakfast and use of the outdoor pool.

For more information, visit www.oglebay-resort.com.

Drive to Utica rewarded with silky ice cream at scenic setting

Normally we wouldn’t travel 45 minutes from Columbus just for an ice-cream cone when we have so many choices around our hometown. But on a pleasant Sunday in May, we decided a drive to the country was in order, and having a sweet reward at the end of our journey was motivation enough.

Our destination was Ye Olde Mill, a restored gristmill on 20 picturesque acres in Licking County. It’s also the manufacturing facility of Ohio’s own Velvet Ice Cream, which this year marks its 100th year making the tasty treat.

Founded in Utica in 1914 by Joseph Dager, the ice-cream manufacturer is now run by the fourth generation of the Dager family. The company relocated to Ye Olde Mill in 1970, and the location has become a family destination. More than 150,000 people venture here each year to sample the ice cream and other simple pleasures, such as fishing in a pond, riding in a horse-drawn carriage and hand-feeding miniature horses, a sheep and a goat.

  • Time to Split
  • Ride in Style
  • Big Bite
  • Quack Up
  • Flavors Galore
  • Hide and Seek
  • My Little Pony
  • Milling Around
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The main building is the old gristmill, which dates back to 1817. It symbolizes how Velvet’s ice cream was originally made, using a hand-cranked method. The restored historic mill serves as its headquarters and has become the trademark on the cream’s packaging.

Inside is an ice-cream parlor, restaurant, museum and gift shop.

Velvet started out serving just three flavors: Vanilla, chocolate and strawberry. Today the selection includes nearly 50 flavors handwritten on a chalkboard. I ordered Italian spumoni, a flavor I normally only see in stores around Christmas. My children ordered double scoops strawberry cheesecake and cookies and cream. The icy, stacked spheres hid their faces as they slowly licked them away.

Ye Olde Mill annually hosts the Utica Sertoma Ice Cream Festival over Memorial Day weekend, an annual Father’s Day celebration with barbershop quartet and old-fashioned carriage rides, and regular entertainment on Sundays throughout summer. Visit on July 20 for National Ice Cream Day and Aug. 25 for National Banana Split Day.

Ye Olde Mill, located at 11324 Mount Vernon Rd. in Utica, is open daily from May through October. Free public tours are held weekdays at 11 a.m. and 3 p.m. The walking tour lasts 30 minutes is wheelchair accessible.

For more information, visit velveticecream.com or call (740) 892-3921.

Take children to pick their own strawberries

A hankering for fresh strawberries recently led our family of four to Jacquemin Farms, 20 minutes from Columbus in Plain City, Ohio.

My husband, Mike, wanted some sun-ripened berries to flavor a batch of homemade ice cream. We also thought collecting the strawberries together would make a fun family outing.

A quick search on the Internet revealed a number of pick-your-own strawberry farms in central Ohio. We selected Jacquemin Farms, 7437 Hyland Croy Rd., which has a three-acre, pick-your-own strawberry patch that includes five varieties of the juicy red berries.

Unseasonably warm weather has caused the strawberries to ripen ahead of schedule. Strawberry picking times at Jacquemin Farms are 8 a.m.-5 p.m., Monday through Saturday, through the end of June.

Founded in 1987, Jacquemin Farms offers fresh fruits and vegetables, as well as a small retail shop with home-style jams and jellies, and freshly fried doughnuts with strawberry glaze.

Almost all the crops sold in the shop are grown on the farm including strawberries, peas, red raspberries and pumpkins, all of which can be freshly picked by customers. Other crops, such as apples, peaches, cherries and blackberries, come from nearby farmers.

We arrived on a sunny Saturday morning ready to pick just enough berries for our ice cream. At a cost of $2 per pound, we grabbed two, one-quart containers to fill ourselves. The total cost, with a couple of strawberry slushies for the kids, was five bucks.

We were directed to a row of strawberries and asked to stay in our row. We were encouraged to eat and enjoy fresh-picked berries as we filled our containers.

A sign says that children must stay within 10 feet of their berry-picking elders. It also says not to step on the plants, words that I had to repeat several times to my children.

You can take as long as you’d like picking your berries, kneeling on the straw-covered mud walkways. Our chore was completed in about 30 minutes.

I enjoyed being out in the sunshine pinching berries fresh from the vine and seeing so many others doing the same.

Mike thought the berries were kind of small, but I liked them because they tasted much better than the giant, unnatural-looking ones you see nowadays in the supermarket. The bite-size gems produce 10 times the flavor as their counterparts and are perfect for homemade strawberry ice cream.

For more information, visit www.jacqueminfarms.com. For current information on what’s ready to pick and when, follow Jacquemin Farms on Facebook or call 614-873-5725.

The farm is open through October.

State park pleases with resort-like property, particulars

After a full day of touring covered bridges in Ashtabula County, my family and I stayed the night at Punderson State Park in Newbury, Ohio, before heading back home to Columbus.

We arrived on a foggy afternoon in early May. Daffodils and red bud blooms lit up the gloomy weather and the sight of the park’s English Tudor mansion was something out of the movies. A concrete statue of a gargoyle perched atop a ball near the entrance added considerable intrigue.

Is this really an Ohio State Park, or the scene of a Sherlock Holmes mystery?

It’s certainly a park. Tucked away in rural Geauga County, Punderson is one of the eight state parks in Ohio that have a lodge. There are 26 cottages available near Punderson Lake, a 150-acre body of water that has one boat launch and 18 seasonal docks for rent. The park offers boating, hiking trails, camping, fishing, tennis, and golf at a Jack Kidwell-designed, 18-hole course. Punderson also is a fine location during the winter for snowmobiling and cross-country skiing.

The lodge was named after Lemuel Punderson, the local township’s first settler in 1808. The manor house took about two decades to build and was completed in 1948.

After the Ohio Department of Natural Resources took over the lake and surrounding area in 1951, the manor house was renovated into a lodge and opened in 1956. It was renovated in 1982.

The Punderson lodge apparently has been the site of several ghost sightings, but I tried not to think about that. We didn’t see or hear any ghosts, nor was I looking for their company.

We did, however, encounter a friendly host at dinner. A restaurant inside the manor offers fine dining overlooking the picturesque lake. The dining area appeared reserved for honeymooners and solitude seekers, not parents with two cranky kids. But our waitress made us feel at ease, assuring us that we were just as welcome.

Mike ordered blackened prime rib, and I had a slice of splendidly prepared halibut. Our children enjoyed grilled-cheese sandwiches with wedges of watermelon.

Afterward, we retired to our room for a ghost-free night’s sleep in a room in the manor.

In the morning, the restaurant serves a full Sunday buffet, which smelled delicious as Rosie and I made our way down the hall toward the indoor pool for a quick dip. Large windows along two walls provide a great view of the natural lake, which was formed during the Ice Age.

Rain kept the children and me indoors, but it didn’t stop my husband from awakening at 7 a.m. and playing a round of golf. He said he got 15 holes in before it started raining hard.

What impressed me most was the cleanliness and seclusion of the park. It felt more like we were at a private resort. As a manor house, the lodge doesn’t have soaring ceilings or a great lobby sitting room. There’s a winding staircase that leads to some rooms. We went upstairs and discovered a small room, tucked away, that’s used as a library.

Punderson is one of eight state park lodges that participate in the “Stays for As” program, which rewards students of any age for good grades. Just show proof of an “A” on a report card, and receive $10 off the published room rate. Only one report card per room may be applied for the discount of up to $50 off.

Other participating parks include Burr Oak, Deer Creek, Hueston Woods, Maumee Bay, Mohican, Salt Fork and Shawnee. (The only other state park lodge is the Lodge at Geneva.)

For more information, visit www.ohiostateparklodges.com or call 1-800-282-7275.

Dawes Arboretum: Explore 1,800 acres of plants, trees at Newark nature preserve

Explore 1,800 acres of plants, trees at Newark nature preserve

I’ve driven by the Dawes Arboretum in Newark, Ohio, many times while traveling to and from my husband’s hometown two hours east of Columbus. I’d often think to myself, “One day I’m going to visit that place.”

I recently fulfilled that desire on a hot weekday in July, driving the 30 miles from Columbus to explore the arboretum’s 1,800 acres. I found an abundance of plant collections and gardens in an attractive, rustic setting.

  • Dawes Arboretum
  • Explore 1,800 acres of plants, trees at Newark nature preserve
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My first stop was the visitor’s center, where I picked up a map. There are 8 miles of hiking trails and a 4-mile auto trail looping around the property. I decided to walk the auto trail, part of which was closed for grounds maintenance. I put my son in his stroller, and we ambitiously set out to explore the more than 16,000 plants and trees.

At times the place looked like a cross between a golf course and a cemetery. It was spacious, well manicured and peaceful. I felt a little guilty walking all over what seemed like private property. But I adhered to the arboretum’s motto: “Explore. Experience. Enjoy.”

There were surprises at every turn. Colorful butterflies landed on white hydrangea. Geese squawked alongside a lake with an island, which was accessible via a bridge. Closely planted shrubs spelled out the words “Dawes Arboretum.”

Other highlights included a seasonal garden, a cypress swamp and a Japanese garden with a serene lake and stepping-stones. They say the Japanese garden is especially beautiful in the spring, when the cherry trees are in bloom. (View the flowering schedule here.)

Beman and Bertie Dawes founded the arboretum in 1929. The couple loved trees and nature, and lived on the property with their five children.

Beman Dawes became wealthy while working in the gas and petroleum industry. He was the founding president of the Ohio Cities Gas Co., which later was known as the Pure Oil Co.

Bertie Dawes loved gardening, fishing, bird watching and photography. Both died in the 1950s. The Arboretum continues its founders’ mission of education, conservation, research and maintaining plant collections for the public to enjoy.

The property is huge, but I conserved enough energy to climb a 36-foot observation tower to view the “Dawes Arboretum” hedge lettering. Measuring 2,040 feet long, it’s one of the largest of its kind in the world. Beman Dawes thought it would be an interesting landmark for pilots as they arrived and departed nearby Port Columbus Airport.

Mission accomplished.

Dawes Arboretum is located at 7770 Jacksontown Rd. SE in Newark. It’s free to visit and open 7 a.m. to dusk every day except Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s Day. The Visitors Center is open Monday through Saturday, 8 a.m.-5 p.m., and Sundays, 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Guests are welcome to picnic on the property, except near the Japanese Garden. Dogs, on leashes, also are welcome.

Tours of the Daweswood House Museum are offered weekends at 1:30 and 3 p.m. and cost $2 for adults, $1 for children.

For more information, visit www.dawesarb.org or call 800-443-2937.

Thousands flock to majestic grounds each spring for colorful blooms

Every spring people want to know when they can witness the full splendor of 20,000 tulips at Kingwood Center, a former estate that’s now a 47-acre public park in Mansfield, Ohio.

Tulips have been Kingwood’s main attraction since the grounds opened to the public in 1953, one year after the death of property owner Charles Kelley King. The annual display draws thousands from around the state. Many visit on Mother’s Day. Some pack picnic lunches and plop down on the lawn with their families for a peaceful afternoon among the spring bloomers.

In truth, predicting when Kingwood’s tulips will come forth is an inexact science. Ohio’s fickle weather patterns make it a guessing game. Senior gardener Charles Applegate said the best chance to see them is typically the last week of April or the first week of May.

“If it stays sunny, dry and cool, the blooms will last longer,” says Applegate, who’s worked at Kingwood since 1965. He says the reason people get antsy to look at flowers this time of year is simple: “People have been through a cold winter and they want to see color. And the tulips are very bright. Unfortunately, they’re temporary.”

King would have enjoyed this scene. The recreational gardener, who made his fortune in Mansfield working with the Ohio Brass Company, requested that his property be used as an educational institution for the advancement of horticulture and gardening after his passing.

The Kelley King Trust operates Kingwood as a nonprofit business, and it is open to the public for a nominal fee nearly year-round. The property includes a 1926-built French Provincial mansion housing a horticultural library and many original furnishings. Greenhouses contain seasonal floral displays and a variety of unusual plants for sale. The center’s greatest delight, however, is its gardens, which produce an abundance of flowers, trees and shrubs that bloom from early spring to late fall. The headliner is the annual tulip display, which spreads over 55 beds.

“We always want it to be perfect,” says Bill Collins, Kingwood’s head gardener. “When the spring flowers are blooming and the tulips are out, it’s just spectacular here.”

Kingwood’ tulips hail from Holland. Bulbs are selected at their prime and shipped to a distributor in Cincinnati. Each October a staff of nine gardeners plants thousands of tulip bulbs. Using a hand-held trowel, each gardener digs a 5-inch-deep hole for every bulb, and the planting takes about a week.

Tulips do best in a sunny, dry and cool climate. In those weather conditions, the colorful display can last up to three weeks.

Kingwood annually holds a Spring Flower Festival in early May. The all-day event includes vendors, entertainment, workshops, lectures and plant sales.

For more information, visit www.kingwoodcenter.org.

Pick pumpkins, pet animals, play outdoors

Nothing says autumn like a well-groomed pumpkin patch. When the calendar turns to October, I always go looking for a place to pick up a few jack-o-lanterns to be.

This year my family discovered Pigeon Roost Farm, along Rt. 40 in Hebron, Ohio. Seeing my 2-year-old daughter’s face light up as she wandered among the pumpkins and frolicked at the farm’s extensive playground assured me we had hit upon a gem.

The 80-acre farm, located at 4413 National Road SW, offers a cornucopia of fall delights that draws nearly 35,000 visitors a year. Most pumpkins cost 35 cents a pound. You can pick your own in the field or select a pre-picked specimen or two. Just stack them in one of the many provided self-serve wagons, which doubled as a stroller for Rosie.

Ralph and Janice Jutte run the farm. They opened it to the public in 1980 to teach their children to work hard. Back then the business was a self-serve melon stand positioned under a tree. They later named it Pigeon Roost after the carrier pigeons that frequented the area in the past.

“It’s our intent to provide a positive farm experience and give younger generations an opportunity to spend time on a working farm,” Ralph said.

The farm has a bounty of beautifully displayed pumpkins, gourds and squash, straw bales and corn shocks. There’s an old barn full of crafts for sale, and another offers creepy toys including bloody fingers, plastic vampire fangs and rubber bugs. Other items for sale include honey, bath products and a variety of snacks.

There are lots of friendly animals at the farm, including goats, chickens, rabbits, sheep, turkeys, peacocks and even camels. We chuckled at Billy Goat Hill, a raised wooden plank where about a dozen goats jostle for position. I did have a brief run-in with Martha the pigeon, the patch’s mascot, who briefly mistook me for a roost. But I survived.

We were very pleased with the accommodations for children. At the top of that list was the Great Pumpkin Fun Center, a playground with more than a dozen attractions, including a corn maze, a hay tunnel, a pick-your-own pumpkin patch and two side-by-side slides that follow the grade of a hill. Admission to the playground is $6, free for those under 2 years old.

Pigeon Roost is open daily from 10 a.m.-7 p.m., from September through November. There’s a $3 charge for weekend hayrides. We visited on a Monday, when business was brisk but the farm wasn’t too busy. We can’t wait to return.

For more information, visit www.pigeonroostfarm.com.

Property provides great view of Lake Erie, many amenities for families

My family recently stayed at the Lodge at Geneva on the Lake during a weekend getaway from Columbus to northeastern Ohio. We expected that Ohio’s newest lodge would provide a home base as we explored the area’s many tourist attractions, but the five-year-old lodge wound up being a destination in itself.

With its calming views of Lake Erie, generous offerings for families and easy access to a multipurpose trail that leads to a public swimming beach, there was little reason to wander off this reservation.

The Lodge is located at 4888 North Broadway (State Rt. 534) in the village of Geneva on the Lake, 185 miles northeast of Columbus. The area has long been a vacation destination for Ohioans and visitors from neighboring states. People are drawn by Lake Erie, fun activities to do on a mile-long stretch of Rt. 534 called “the Strip,” and Ashtabula’s many covered bridges.

The Lodge is located within walking distance of many of these activities. We ventured out by car only twice in three days.

The Lodge offers 109 rooms, including seven, two-room suites. Many of them have views of the lake, and all have high-speed, wired Internet access.

We stayed in a family room on the third floor. The room overlooked Lake Erie and the outdoor swimming pool, and had two beds and a set of bunk beds. Water is a big theme at this lodge. The outdoor pool area has a hot tub and water jets that kids can run through. The Lodge also offers a glass-enclosed indoor pool with a panoramic view of the lake. We were told that guests like to hang out there in wintertime when the lake freezes.

Our room was aptly decorated with paintings of local covered bridges. There are 17 in the area including a new one that’s 613-feet long. It’s called the Smolen-Gulf covered bridge and is considered to be the longest in the country. (A good time to visit the area is during the Covered Bridge Festival in October.)

The Lodge has a spacious lobby with a four-story fireplace and two restaurants. Horizons Restaurant serves breakfast, lunch and dinner, offering wines from northeast Ohio wineries. The Terrace Grille offers outdoor dining and entertainment.

My husband was surprised to discover that the lodge offers spa services, something that’s rare for a state-affiliated facility. The lodge also has a fitness area, a game room and an ice cream shop that’s open during the afternoon.

The lodge grounds are spacious and beautiful. It includes many tall trees and a spacious grassy, lawn with volleyball net, horseshoe pitch and children’s playground. We had an impromptu picnic near the lake, munching on pizza we purchased along the Strip.

The lodge wasn’t perfect. We found it to be somewhat short staffed, although thankfully it didn’t cause any major inconveniences.

My favorite part of the visit was selecting a bike from the rack and riding on the recently paved multipurpose path. The trail meanders alongside Lake Erie, past a picturesque boat dock, through the woods and to the Geneva State Park, where there’s a 300-foot swimming beach.

For more information, visit www.thelodgeatgeneva.com.