Cabins offer respite for weary city folk

Energized by cups of Starbucks consumed during an hour’s drive from Columbus, we barge through the front door of a cabin in the Hocking Hills region of Ohio.

We spy a kitchen stocked with dinnerware and utensils, a cozy bed smothered in wooly blankets, fresh chocolate chip cookies on an antique table, and a sign above the kitchen sink that advises: “Welcome, relax, renew.”

What? No television, phone or Internet?

Technological withdrawal is our fate, or perhaps our luxury, inside the cozy cabin at the Inn & Spa at Cedar Falls, where we can temporarily escape the noise of the city. We sit on a comfortable couch before the fireplace and watch 2-year-old Rosie dance to country music playing on a local radio station. We flip through photographs we’ve snapped months earlier and never taken the time to appreciate. We cuddle, talk and laugh.

Although disconnected, we feel reconnected.

Ohio’s inns allow families to rediscover what’s important in their lives. Whether it’s a cabin in the woods or a hilltop inn in a small town, opportunities abound for central Ohioans to find solitude a short drive from home.

Wedged into a steep hillside near Cedar Falls and Old Man’s Cave amid Hocking Hills State Park, the 22-year-old Inn & Spa at Cedar Falls combines rustic living with cutting-edge luxury. The 75-acre property includes a nine-room inn, five cabins and 12 cottages. Adjacent to the inn is a log house that includes a fine-dining restaurant attached to a newly-built conference center, tavern, gathering room and rooftop garden. Guests who need them can find Internet access and a big-screen TV here.

The Inn also includes a spa where therapists offer massages and an array of body treatments in a small building tucked away from the main road.

Innkeepers Ellen Grinsfelder and Terry Lingo have steadily added to the inn, which was the vision of Grinsfelder’s mother, who passed away in 1991. The inn owes much of its attraction to the friendliness of the innkeepers, who met and married shortly after the inn opened.

“The Hocking Hills area is very kid-friendly,” Grinsfelder says. “Having kids of our own, we know that the family component is really important.”

For more information, visit

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Tasty treats served in true 1950s fashion

My family often visits St. Clairsville, Ohio, my husband’s hometown two hours east of Columbus. We like to break up the drive by stopping halfway in Zanesville to visit Tom’s Ice Cream Bowl.

The restaurant, at 532 McIntire Ave., features ice cream that’s freshly made on the premises. Tom’s also sells an assortment of nuts and chocolates by the pound. The nuts are roasted in the store, and the chocolates come from Ben Heggy’s Fine Chocolates of Canton.

Owned by longtime employee Bill Sullivan, Tom’s is a throwback to the 1950s. Outside it’s a plain building, and I do mean plain. But inside it’s ultra hip with original ’50s furnishings including yellow Formica tables, steel-frame chairs, pebble-tile floor and freezers that were made more than a half-century ago.

But before you think that Tom’s is some kind of fancy eatery that’s all dolled up to look old, think again. Those white, button-down shirts and black bow ties that the male employees wear are legit.

“We’re not retro. We’re the real thing,” Sullivan said.

Tom’s serves lunch and dinner including soups, sandwiches, side dishes, sodas and phosphates. But it’s the ice cream, candy and roasted nuts that keep us coming back.

On a recent stop I ordered the banana split, and the sloppy masterpiece was like nothing I’d ever seen. My server started by slicing a banana into disks and slapping them into the bottom of a soup bowl. He covered the bananas with a stack of three scoops of ice cream – vanilla, chocolate and strawberry. He finished by topping the mini tower with a ladle full of marshmallow sauce.

Sullivan explained that many of the ice cream dishes come in soup bowls (and hence the name of the restaurant) because a customer way back in the ’50s was making a mess using a dish. He asked for a bowl, and the tradition was born.

For more information, visit

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Ride an old-fashioned roundabout in downtown Mansfield

To a child, the only thrill greater than seeing an old-fashioned carousel is climbing aboard one of its shiny, majestic creatures. One of the best places for children of all ages to do just that in Ohio is in Mansfield, 45 minutes north of Columbus.

The city pays homage to the amusement-park ride in its Carrousel District, located in downtown Mansfield. The district features several blocks of unique shops and restaurants in beautifully restored Victorian buildings. At the heart of the area is the Richland Carrousel Park, where guests can ride an old-fashioned roundabout for 75 cents.

The indoor carrousel at Richland Carrousel Park

Children delight in selecting the wooden animal they ride. Each is frozen in motion, wearing a colorful costume and welcoming saddle. Once the circus-style music starts, the ride begins to spin, providing a satisfying tickle in your tummy. The whirl of the bystanders and the sight of your parents or friends waving accentuate the delight of the ride.

This ridable roundabout has 52 animal figures, each carved and painted in a 1900s style by Carousel Works in Mansfield. Among the menagerie are 30 horses, several bears and ostriches, a zebra and a goat. The company also restored the rounding boards, mirrors and mural frames, which depict past and present attractions in Mansfield. The park is housed in a heated pavilion and contains the carousel and a gift shop featuring unique carousel items and musical figurines.

The Richland Carrousel Park is located at 75 N. Main St., Mansfield.

Hours are Monday-Thursday, 10 a.m.-5 p.m.; Friday, 10 a.m.-8 p.m.; Saturday, 10 a.m.-5 p.m.; and Sunday, 11 a.m.-5 p.m. (Labor Day through Dec. 31: 11 a.m.-5 p.m., Monday-Sunday.)

Admission: $.75 per five-minute ride.

For more information, call 419-522-4223 or visit

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From a popcorn museum to a mysterious revolving ball, Marion has it all

With the annual Marion Popcorn Festival arriving in mid-September, it’s a great time to uncover a few kernels of truth about this central Ohio city. Let’s start with our bearings: Marion is about 45 miles north of Columbus. That makes it close enough for a quick day trip for curiosity seekers, which recently included my family and me.

Marion is possibly best known as the hometown and final resting place of Warren G. Harding, the 29th president of the United States. But it was the Wyandot Popcorn Museum that piqued my interest. And, after a full day of sightseeing, we were pleased to discover that Marion has even more interesting surprises hidden up its sleeve.

Our adventure began downtown, where we enjoyed lunch at the Warehouse, 320 W. Center St. The Italian restaurant is in a brick building that once housed an electric train called the Inter Urban, which chugged from Marion to Delaware in the 1920s. The Warehouse has good food and hundreds of knickknacks and funky furnishings, many from the Marion area. Three video screens in the main dining room show the American Movie Classics channel all day long. That was pretty cool.

Near the Warehouse is the Palace Theatre, 276 W. Center St. Built in 1928, its interior resembles a Spanish courtyard with twinkling stars and moving clouds overhead. The 1,445-seat, atmospheric theater was designed by architect John Eberson and is said to be one of 18 Eberson theaters still standing in the United States. The Palace’s “Mighty Wurlitzer” pipe organ still entertains crowds who come for recent movies and live entertainment, which includes swing bands and dueling piano routines.

We made our way to the popcorn museum, located inside Heritage Hall at 169 E. Church St. It contains the largest collection of popcorn wagons in the United States, and that certainly was a treat. The wagons date to the early 1900s, and most have been meticulously restored. The museum also contains a collection of Cracker Jack prizes on loan from COSI in Columbus.

The Marion County Historical Museum also is contained within Heritage Hall. It includes a basement full of Harding memorabilia and an old soda fountain from Sweeney’s Drug Store, which operated on E. Center Street from 1917-1968. My favorite curiosity was a stuffed Persian horse named Prince Imperial that lived from 1865-1890. He throws passersby a mesmerizing stare from a makeshift stall.

A short drive south to the corner of Delaware Avenue and Vernon Heights Boulevard led us to the Harding Memorial, which was constructed in 1925. The circular structure features 46 columns made of white, Georgian marble. It’s one of the largest memorials standing outside of Washington and indeed gives Marion a stately feel. Inside is a raised courtyard and hanging garden. A Japanese maple shades the granite tombstones of Harding and his wife, Florence Kling Harding.

Our last adventure was seeking out the 5,200-pound rotating orb inside Marion Cemetery, across the road from the Harding memorial. The ponderous pellet, made of black granite suspended on a pedestal, marks the grave of the Charles Merchant family. It’s better known around Marion as the “Mysterious Revolving Ball.” The enigmatic sphere has been slowly spinning two inches per year for more than 100 years, and nobody quite knows why. Ripley’s Believe It or Not has acknowledged the mystery, although I can attest that neither my husband nor I observed the thing moving even a millimeter.

For more information, visit

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Discover historic opera house, charming museums an hour east of Columbus

Sometimes the little towns you intend to drive through along the way to somewhere else surprise you the most with their hospitality and curiosities.

We found this to be the case with McConnelsville, located an hour and a half east of Columbus. I’m not quite sure where we were headed at the time when we stopped there last summer, but I remember well the little village on the Muskingum River. It had a friendly farmer’s market, historic opera house and several charming museums. My daughter, Rosie, especially enjoyed a strawberry sundae at the Blue Bell ’50s Diner, 2 W. Main.

The Twin City Opera House, at 15 W. Main St., is one of only a handful of opera houses still standing in Ohio and has been in operation since 1892. Built in 1890, it was later dedicated to MacDonald Birch, a successful stage magician born in Morgan County in 1902. Today, visitors can see first-run movies in the 550-seat auditorium, which has the original wood floor. On the first and third Saturdays of each month the opera house hosts the Ohio Valley Opry, a country, gospel and bluegrass music show.

The Morgan County Historical Society Museum, 168 E. Main St., features an eclectic mix of treasures including original drawings by American artist Howard Chandler Christy. Born in 1873 in Morgan County, Christy is famous for painting patriotic World War I posters and the Scene at the Signing of the Constitution of the United States, which hangs in the nation’s capitol. Other museum objects include uniforms from the Civil War, early American currency and an 1865 newspaper that announces the death of Abraham Lincoln. The museum is open from 1 to 3 p.m. on Friday and 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Saturday. Admission is $3.

The Evelyn True Button House, 142 E. Main St., is a Federal-style home built in 1836 that’s filled to the nines with Victorian furnishings. The home was once owned by Evelyn True Button (1875-1975), the great-granddaughter of Revolutionary War hero General Robert McConnel, who founded McConnelsville in 1817. Button’s father, Dr. Hiram L. True, was a Civil War surgeon, and visitors can see his library and desk. Hours: 1 to 3 p.m., Wednesday through Saturday. Admission: $3 adults; and free for those 18 and younger.

The Doll House, 126 E. Main St., contains more than 2,500 dolls from the 1890s through today, including antique China dolls, Madame Alexander dolls and early Barbie dolls. One doll even survived a massive flooding of the Muskingum River in 1913. The doll is maid of celluloid, an early form of plastic, and has a chip in its heel from the ordeal. Hours are 1-3 p.m., Wednesday through Saturday. Hours: 1 to 3 p.m., Wednesday through Saturday. Admission: $3 adults; and free for those 18 and younger.

For more information, visit

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Property in southeastern Muskingum County pays tribute to owner’s eco-friendly lifestyle

The first thing visitors see when they arrive at Blue Rock Station in southeastern Muskingum County is a 1955 Volkswagen bus flanked by a flag bearing a peace sign.

Beyond the working barn stands a greenhouse made almost entirely of 2-liter soft-drink bottles. A grass maze invites participants to ponder what kind of footprint they will leave on Earth. Farther along the dirt path are chicken coops, a llama bar and the Earthship, a house built out of old tires, bottles, cans and mud.

No, this isn’t something from an episode of Lost. You’ve just arrived at Annie and Jay Warmke’s 38-acre playground, a tribute to the concept of environmentally friendly living.

Blue Rock Station draws 3,000 visitors annually from all around the world – sustainability believers and converts as well as curiosity-seekers.

“We want to inspire people to recycle and to just start thinking that a simpler life is a happier life,” Annie says.

Summer is a particularly good time to visit the station, which is located 10 miles south of Zanesville. The Warmkes conduct “llama treks,” leading visitors on a walk through the scenic hills of Appalachia. The Warmkes’ five llamas carry packs with snacks that can be eaten during a break under a canopy of maple and birch trees.

“These gentle and noble animals make excellent companions on a leisurely stroll through nature,” Annie says.

The llama trek begins with an introduction to the Warmkes’ many animals, including Alpine goats, rare-breed chickens and, of course, llamas. Annie gives a quick lesson on how to care for llamas and then prepares the animals for the hike.

After the hike, visitors return to the Earthship for a cup of steaming British tea, cheeses and dessert.

For more information, visit

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Northwest Michigan city pleases with legendary sand dunes, plentiful beaches

Michigan is ideal for families looking for a quick, affordable getaway from central Ohio.

A seven-hour drive north reveals many rewarding sights and experiences that you just won’t find here. For starters, let’s talk cherries. Thanks to Peter Dougherty, a mid-19th century Presbyterian minister, there’s an abundance of the juicy fruit in orchard after orchard in northern Michigan. Dougherty started planting the trees in the mid-1850s, and today Michigan is responsible for three of every four tart cherries grown in the United States.

Traverse City, the self-proclaimed Cherry Capital of the World, and surrounding areas are blessed with cherry orchards. The city celebrates this claim at the National Cherry Festival, an 80-year tradition that will bring half a million people to the area in early July.

During the entire month of July, when cherries are prime for picking, merchants sell the sun-ripened fruit from roadside booths. They supply perfect picnic fare for an afternoon at the beach.

Here is a look at other fun things to do in and around Traverse City:

Go on a fossil hunt

Mitten-shaped Michigan is practically surrounded by the Great Lakes, providing no shortage of beachfront bliss. Leelanau Peninsula, positioned where the pinky finger would be and just north of Traverse City, offers plenty of isolated beaches. They include Peterson Park, perfect for finding Petoskey stones. The grayish-brown fossils, which represent Michigan’s state stone, bear the trademark pattern of sunburst hexagons. Souvenir shops sell the keepsakes polished or shaped into jewelry or paperweights. The northern edges of the Old Mission Peninsula present even more opportunities for fossil findings as well as beautiful views of Grand Traverse Bay.

Bike a pretty path

Just as hiking and biking around Ohio is easy thanks to the Rails-to-Trails program, cycling the Traverse City area is a breeze thanks to the Traverse Area Recreation and Transportation Trails, or TART. The program offers four hiking and biking trails, including a 10-mile paved path that passes ice-cream parlors and miniature golf courses. There’s also a challenging dirt track that twists and turns through wooded terrain. One of the more scenic treks is the moderately challenging Leelanau Trail. The converted railroad route extends 15 miles from Traverse City to Suttons Bay and journeys through gently rolling farmland and cherry orchards, and about 7 miles of the trail is paved.

Drive off into the sunset

Driving around the Traverse City area in the summertime is enough to satisfy your visual senses. Miles and miles of shoreline provide spectacular views of Lake Michigan and Suttons Bay. Along the way are cobblestone houses, farm markets and roadside booths where fresh cherries are sold.

No trip to northern Michigan is complete without touring Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore. The most worthwhile drive is the Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive. This 7.4-mile self-guided auto tour offers a satisfying sampling of the 72,000-acre park, including Lake Michigan Overlook, also known as stop No. 9. Located 450 feet above Lake Michigan on a giant sand dune, the overlook provides a magnificent view of the shoreline and the frighteningly steep grade of the dune. Beware the signs warning you not to go downhill. It’s quite a ways down to the shoreline, and there’s only one way back up — the same way you came. The scenic drive is open from late April through early November, 9 a.m. to one-half hour after sunset. There is a small fee to enter, but a Lakeshore Pass for $10 entitles entry into all areas of Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore for seven days. Location: From Empire, take M-22 north for 2 miles to M-109, then left on M-109 for 2 miles.

Pull into a 50s-style drive-in

Just pulling into the driveway of the Cherry Bowl Drive-In Theatre in Honor, Mich., sends nostalgic thrills up your spine. The crunching of pebbles under rubber tires signals you’re entering a simpler time when going out to the movies was an adventure. The theater, which has operated every summer since opening in 1953, has all the visual reminder of yesteryear. There’s the gargantuan white screen, parking meter-like posts that broadcast the movie’s soundtrack, a miniature golf course and a wooden shack of a diner that serves hand-tossed pizzas and popcorn from a 1953 popper. The Cherry Bowl Drive-In Theatre is located 18 miles southwest of Traverse City at 9812 Honor Hwy., Honor, Mich. Call (231) 325-3413.

For more information, visit

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