Exploring Ohio

Christmas Nights of Lights

Love the lights of Christmas? How about the music? Enjoy both at the Christmas Nights of Lights.

The last few years my husband and I have enjoyed the festive light show at Coney Island, southeast of Cincinnati, Ohio. From our car we tune our radio to Coney's channel of traditional and modern holiday music that syncs with an extensive light show. The two-and-a-half mile trek offers lights in all colors, created into engaging displays of trees, snowmen, stars and so much more. The drive, music and lights celebrate the season and offer a great way to relax and unwind with family and friends. Grab some snacks, load up the car and have fun!

Make this a new tradition. Visit Christmas Nights of Lights for more information.

The Underground Railroad in Ohio

As I climbed the hill to take a photo of the John Rankin House, I peered over the Ohio River. I tried to imagine the horrific trip through woods and mountains a slave would have hiked, often barefoot, cold, and hungry. The Rankin family, one of the earliest and most active conductors on Ohio's Underground Railroad, kept a light burning in the front window, as a beacon of hope for those who were escaping the bonds of slavery.

Ohio played an essential part in protecting and freeing slaves. Many folks crossed the Ohio River from Kentucky, to meet up with conductors on a railroad made of free houses, churches, and people offering transportation to free soil.

The John Rankin and John P. Parker houses, in Ripley, Ohio offered aid to the slaves escaping the south. Both homes are open as museums that share the history of the people in Ohio who cherished freedom.

Oberlin College in Oberlin, Ohio played a role not only in the Underground Railroad, but also in educating black people and women. Mary Jane Patterson, an escaped slave, became the first black woman to earn a Bachelor's Degree in America.

National Underground Railroad Freedom Center, Cincinnati, Ohio, is a museum that host exhibits and educational experiences of history, as well as programs that work to stop modern day slavery.

Ohio's rich history in supporting freedom for every person offers great educational experiences for students and adults. 

A Treehouse for Everyone

In Mt. Airy Forest (Cincinnati, Ohio), a treehouse stands high in the maples, inviting everyone who wants to visit. Large wooden ramps give all children and adults complete access to Everybody's Treehouse. The walkways connect from the parking lot to the treehouse, where a beautiful view of the woodland awaits. The park also offers an arboretum filled with a magnificent array of plants and flowers.

Beautiful Vermilion

Years ago, my husband and I happened upon Vermilion, Ohio, a golden gem on Lake Erie. This quaint town offers a picturesque view of the lake from the Main Street Beach deck. The lighthouse, a replica of the one that was moved years ago, sits next to the public beach. We rested nearby on the grassy knoll and watched a gorgeous sunset. 

Known as the "Town of Sea Captains" Vermilion's shopkeepers in the historic downtown welcome visitors and offer everything from handmade chocolates to lovely artwork. Folks who live there, along with tourists, enjoy swimming, boating, and fishing.

We dined at Papa Joe's where they offer pizza, delicious cabbage rolls, potato & cheese pierogies, and a great variety of pies, all homemade. I had the potato pancakes, and they were delicious. Next door is Granny Joe's Ice Creamatorium, with an amazing array of ice cream flavors.

Trains still travel through the beach town, some up to five times a day. The town boasts several parks, a river, and many places to stay. 

Ohio State Reformatory

The Ohio Reformatory in Mansfield, Ohio, designed by architect Levi Scofield, looms large. The vastness of the beautiful limestone construction reminded me of a castle. But, the outside is in stark contrast to the bowels of the prison that sits within.

The Reformatory closed as a prison in 1990 and later re-opened for tours.

We walked through rooms that follow the prison's history along-side accounts of the filming of the movie Shawshank Redemption. I was surprised to know the warden of the prison lived in private quarters, on one end of the massive building, with his wife and children. They've scattered many artifacts throughout the rooms, even crafts made by the prisoners. When we entered the prison itself, we saw cell after cell that housed two prisoners at a time. The library and chapel still exist along with a winding spiral staircase that rose up four floors.

The highlight of the tour for me was meeting a lovely young lady, who is a fourth generation employee of The Ohio Reformatory. Her great-grandfather, grandmother, father, as well as, herself have all worked there. Her grandmother was the first female employee. She mentored the male prisoners through a program she ignited to help them deal with their entry back into society. I hope this young lady writes a book about her family and their work at the Reformatory, some day.

For more information go to: https://www.mrps.org/.

"Freedom is the most valuable thing known to life." -Inmate at Ohio State Reformatory, 1985-1987

Cuyahoga Valley National Park

Did you know Ohio is home to a national park? Cuyahoga Valley National Park, established in 1974, has evolved into a beautiful place to explore. Photographer Rob Blair's amazing photos first alerted me to Ohio's national park.

   Photo by Penny Frost McGinnis

With over 125 miles of hiking trails, the park offers a diverse experience. The Ohio & Erie Canal Towpath Trail is accessible for wheelchairs, bikes, and strollers. If you visit, you can experience Brandywine Falls, a sixty-foot falls accessible by boardwalk, Beaver Marsh, great for bird watching and photography, and Cuyahoga River, a place for kayaking, canoeing, and fishing.

As you plan an outdoor adventure for spring or summer, check out Cuyahoga Valley National Park.

Tim and I hiked on the Brandywine trail and experienced the beauty of the falls. I highly recommend this park, filled with much to discover.


Marblehead Lighthouse, a gem on Ohio's shores, stands like a sentry over Lake Erie. The lighthouse, built in 1821, is the oldest lighthouse in continuous operation on Ohio's largest lake. The state park offers, not just the lighthouse, but a replica of the lifesaving station  and the keeper's house. 

A few years ago my husband and I climbed to the top of the lighthouse, available Memorial Day through Labor Day. From the top we watched sailboats move with the wind and spied Kelleys Island and Cedar Point.

We've vacationed there in every season and loved them all. Marblehead has a variety of shops and restaurants. Plus some lovely cottages and cozy hotels.

I refer to Marblehead as my "happy place" because I love to sit on the rocks around the lighthouse and listen. The water's ebb and flow, whether stormy or calm, carries a peaceful element.  One I look forward to every time we visit.

Lynchburg, Ohio Covered Bridge

Of the more than 125 covered bridges in Ohio, only one connects two counties.

As a child growing up in Lynchburg, Ohio in the 1960s-70s we played on the covered bridge that spanned the East Fork Little Miami River. We dropped our fishing lines, hiked along the banks, and played tag on the Highland County side of the bridge. If we crossed the bridge, made pedestrian only in 1969, we walked into Clinton County. As kids we had no idea how unique this cool old bridge was.

Built in 1870, the bridge went through a few face-lifts and renovations through the years. The National Register of Historic Places added this beauty to its list in 1976.

When I drove back to Lynchburg to take photos for this post, I was struck with nostalgia. Not only did I spend time there as a young person, my daughters did too. For several years, the town celebrated the bridge with a festival. Senior pictures have been snapped there, first kisses stolen, and weddings officiated. The folks on the Lynchburg Historical Society have done a fine job keeping the bridge in excellent condition. I hope it's there for generations to come.  

If you're out leaf peeping, look for one of the many covered bridges in the great state of Ohio.

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