Every time I go someplace new, it becomes my new favorite place. But, this latest road trip to the hills of central Ohio may retain top billing indefinitely. The Midwest and my home of Indiana get plenty of flack about corn, flatness and rednecks, but if you shy away from Ohio Amish Country for those reasons, it would be a shame.
My trip began in Dresden, just east of Columbus in Muskingum County. Any basket collector of any sort will tell you stories about Dresden as the home of Longaberger Baskets. These handmade, maple-splinted baskets were first made at the turn of the century (that would be the early 1900s) to transport fired and unfired pieces of pottery to and from the kilns in central Ohio, where famous potteries like Roseville got their start. One particular basket-maker, J.W. Longaberger, lived in Dresden and made baskets for a supplemental income and for family use. This craft and the town of Dresden had all but died in 1972 when one of JW's 12 children, Dave Longaberger, decided to re-start the family business.
It's a long and colorful rags-to-riches family story, but suffice to say, the company is in it's third generation of Longabergers with a massive plant just outside Dresden and a basket-shaped corporate office in Newark, Ohio, both of which make for interesting tours, whether you are a basket lover or not.
I was able to stay at my favorite B&B, The Pines of Dresden http://www.thepinesofdresden.com/, formerly known as Hemlock House. Owners Marin and Allison have done a terrific job in two years of bringing the four-plus bedroom in-town farmhouse back to its B&B heydays, when former owners Tom and Jean Elliott greeted guests with homemade muffins, a lazy cat or two, and lovely colonial furnishings. Marin, so-named for his mother's love of Marin County, California, is an outstanding gourmet cook. He whips up breakfast for the guests and special dinners by request. Allison, once Miss Teen USA, is as sweet as her title suggests. I've stayed other places in Dresden, so I can highly recommend The Pines.
Just up the road in any direction is plenty to do. To the south near Zanesville, you can find pottery outlets and an annual pottery festival. West is Frazeysburg, Newark and on to Columbus, a thoroughly modern big city with a hip, downtown vibe. There are many amazing restaurants from which to choose, but Haiku Poetic Food and Art at 800 North High Street, won over my palate and my heart with its charming casual outside dining. Heading east is Coshocton, a former canal town with its historic Roscoe Village. You can ride a horse-drawn canal boat and hear stories about this mode of travel which ended around 1913 with the advent of the railroad. Also in Coshocton is Raven's Glenn, known as 'Ohio's Crown Jewel Of Wineries,' located on the banks of the Tuscarawas River. There is a tasting room, a Tuscan style Italian restaurant with a Sunday champagne brunch buffet, a gift shop, and a full service banquet facility.
Day two took me north to Millersburg and along the winding Rt. 83, I spotted this excellent Mail Pouch barn. It looked as if it had been painted yesterday. I had to stop and turn around to get the shot but felt if I didn't it might fade away before next time like so many other barnside signs. What always amazes me about this part of Ohio is how hilly it really is. Most of Ohio is flat like the rest of the Midwest, but in this central section there are steep hills with amazing views. It is a real workout for walkers and cyclists. It's also a tricky drive in the winter.
In Millersburg in Holmes County I had a nice strip steak at the Millersburg Hotel and then went ga-ga in the evening over all the antiques shops that I couldn't get into. Things close early in these parts, even in the summer and on the weekends, so do your homework before you go. One store, however, made up for all the rest. That was 55 West & Co., a huge, multi-level old downtown building filled to the brim with antiques and salvage- a gazillion vintage finds waiting to be re-purposed, just as the owner was doing by gluing colorful Bakelite and rhinestone jewelry to large, plate-glass mirrors. I scored the finds above for the whopping total of $12 and would have dragged more home if my co-worker had not been patiently tagging along. There were old typewriters, old door knobs, wooden sewing drawers, minks, boas, vintage hankies and more, all artfully arranged. I definitely plan to go back. A truck would come in handy.
The heart of Holmes County is the US' largest Amish settlement outside of Lancaster, PA. The little towns of Berlin, Walnut Creek, Charm, Mount Hope, Winesburg and in the next county east the town of Sugar Creek offer a dizzying amount of craft stores, Amish restaurants, quilt shops, B&Bs, cheese shops and furniture stores. Watch out for the buggies on the road. This is not a re-enactment. Just driving by the pretty farms and taking in the 'view for miles' from the tops of the hills will give you a glimpse into this modest lifestyle. The shops are packed in side-by-side along the main and side streets, so allow plenty of time for looking and save time for a slice of Lemon-Blueberry pie at Der Dutchman Restaurant in Walnut Creek.