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Archive for the ‘Ohio’ Category

I had several days available to wander around Ohio, due to a business convention that I had to (and then didn’t have to, and then did have to, after all…) attend a few days later. I took a look at my long-bookmarked sites and conjured up a plan for the next few days.

Just east of Lebanon, I caught Rte. 22 east through Washington’s Court House (that would be a town, not a building…) and Circleville, where I picked up Rte. 56 and followed that into South Bloomingville and beyond, where the road began to run alongside and then into Hocking Hills State Park.

I first learned of Hocking Hills years ago. I was just starting to do a little travel writing and had taken only one or two cross-country trips. I had decided to focus, among other things, on historic accommodations. After all, I couldn’t travel without having places to stay and there were such rich stories hidden within the walls of these places.

Before a westbound trip, I ran Google searches for historic log cabins. Many Tennessee cabins popped up, most in the Smoky Mountains. There were others in Georgia, North Carolina and Virginia. I took notes on those and filed them away for future trips through the south and southeast areas of the country. And a few more surfaced in western states – Washington, Oregon, Wyoming, Montana. Add to this other cabins in various other states.

In addition, cabins were showing up in an area that was unfamiliar to me: Hocking Hills, Ohio. I’d never heard of it, so I took a trip there to check it.

Located in the Appalachian foothills of southeast Ohio, Hocking Hills turned out to be an area filled with caves, waterfalls and deep sandstone gorges. With nine state parks, there were plenty of activities for outdoor enthusiasts: hiking, swimming, horseback riding and canoeing, to name a few. Add fishing, bird-watching or a ride on a scenic railroad. It’s all there.

When I first visited this area, I stayed in a very old, historic log cabin. It was a fun, rustic experience and gave me a chance to get familiar with the area. (I think I posted a copy of that article in here years ago, though I’m not sure where without searching.)

But let’s fast forward to this trip. It was time to seek out lodging that was a little less rustic, something I could recommend to those looking for a peaceful escape or a romantic weekend getaway. So, as I drove into Hocking Hills State Park, I took a left on Rte. 374 and followed that a short distance to The Inn at Cedar Falls.

I’d had this inn on my wish list for longer than I could remember and it had been recommended to me over and over again by other travelers. It lived up to all my expectations and then some. The property offers cabins and cottages as options, but I took a small room in the main inn, a traditional post and beam building, which houses nine guest rooms.

Each room is unique, featuring semi-rustic decor and supplied with ample amenities for a comfortable stay. There are no phones or televisions, so it is peaceful and relaxing. The bedding is heavenly and the bathroom is stocked with all the miniature soaps and lotions that I love. (This is a ridiculous obsession of mine in hotels and inns, but I think a little basket of nice bath accessories is such a nice touch.) A coffee maker in the room was also a welcome sight, especially since homemade oatmeal cookies waited right next to it.

However, dinner before cookies. Based on the inn’s reputation for excellent food, I’d made a reservation in the dining room, housed in an 1840 log cabin at the front of the property. I was given a window table, overlooking the back patio and garden.

I loved everything about this restaurant, from the log cabin interior to the details of the table setting – quilted placemat, short vase with a single yellow spider mum, oil candle fashioned from a mason jar, appetizer tray with crackers, tomato pesto, bruschetta and a tiny Wisconson cheese ball. Soft renditions of Broadway show tunes floated through the air. (My notes say George Winston with a question mark…) Oval glass pieces and dried orange slices hung by strings in the windows, at varying heights. The combination of everything was enchanting.

The format at this restaurant is a four course meal, counting the appetizer as the first course. This was followed by a roasted red pepper soup and a mixed green salad with a lemon vinaigrette dressing. Wisely, the serving sizes are not so large as to cause the guest to be full before the main entree arrived. Given the way I’d been eating at the last few places, I’m hesitant to admit that I ordered pasta again, but it seemed the lightest choice of the selections for that evening. (An additional excuse is that it would be easy to save half in the common room’s refrigerator and have it for lunch the next day, which is exactly what I did.) The pasta contents were a perfect mix: sun-dried tomatos, artichoke hearts, spinach, pine nuts and olive oil. (It normally would have had goat cheese, but I had them leave it off. Instead I was given a small dish of asiago cheese.) Everything was delicious. This inn’s restaurant is frequented by many, both visitors to the area and locals, whether guests of the inn or not. I could see why it was so popular.

Breakfast was equally impressive, starting with a self-service buffet offering homemade granola, fresh fruit, yogurt and milk in an old-fashioned carafe on ice. A hot entree of an egg strata, sausage patties, fresh fruit and mini cinnamon rolls was then delivered to the table. Again I had a window seat, this time looking out over a porch with a swinging glider (is that redundant?) and rocking chair. Very peaceful.

Of particular interest to me was finding out that my server, Sarah, was the granddaughter of Anna Castle, who established the inn based on a dream of hers, to create a peaceful retreat for city dwellers, It was built slowly through hard work, personal sacrifice and determination. Anna was fortunate to see her dream become reality, but succumbed shortly thereafter to cancer. Her daughter, Sarah’s mother, Ellen, now owns the inn, along with her husband Terry. Home on college vacation, Sarah was able to give me an inside view of the inn. It’s an inspirational story, refreshing when compared with the corporate background of many places.

The inn has a spa, though I didn’t have a chance to see it. (Read: the budget was getting tight by this time…) Facilities for small group meetings and retreats are also available and cooking and photography workshops are also offered.

Needless to say, I checked out of this inn reluctantly. I would have loved to stay another day, but I had a chance to pick up another Ohio inn before moving on to a couple non-travel business days. Before leaving, I did a little shopping at the inn’s gift shop, which was stocked with a great selection of items and likely to be the best gift store in the area.

I attempted to stop and do a little bit of hiking before leaving Hocking Hills State Park, but the humidity….well, I’m a California girl and used to dry heat. Even the locals were complaining about the humidity being worse than usual, so I felt only halfway wimpy when I gave up on outdoor activities and hit the road.

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So let’s talk about old hotels. Really, really old, historic hotels. There are many throughout the U.S., some falling apart, some restored and some in-between. I’ve been to quite a few and I think they’re fabulous. Their walls simply ooze with history, whispering stories and gossip from centuries ago. Their decor, whether dark Victorian or stark Shaker or early Colonial, can throw a visitor into time travel with just one step through the front door. They could have faded carpets or weathered shutters. The wind might be heard whistling through a few tiny cracks along window sills. Floors may be slanted or sagging with the weight of years gone by. It all just adds to the charm.

It’s not uncommon in very old hotels to have several floors and no elevator. A guest needs to plan in advance if stairs will be a problem, making sure to reserve a ground floor room before the reservations fill up. Then again, you might save a little money if you’re up for some exercise. Many of these lodging establishments have a few smaller rooms on the top floors, often with bathrooms down the hall, These are economical little hideaways, a chance to enjoy the ambiance of the hotel at an affordable price. Burning off calories while climbing up to your room is provided at no extra charge.

This is where you’re likely to find me if you track me down at a historic hotel. So it should come as no surprise that when I checked into The Golden Lamb in Lebanon, Ohio, I dragged my overnight bag, laptop and camera equipment slowly up three flights of stairs, finally landing on the fourth floor. I fumbled with the lock to the William Howard Taft Room, cracked open the door and gratefully collapsed on the bed. I had driven in from Indiana by way of Kentucky, enduring some late afternoon Louisville traffic. I was glad to be off the modern roads and peacefully resting two centuries back in time.

The Golden Lamb was recommended to me long ago by an east coast friend. I’d had it bookmarked for several years, but had never been able to work it into my cross-country plans. It was finally time to move it from my wish list to my reality list.

Established in 1803, this inn holds the status of being Ohio’s oldest hotel and has a colorful past that includes stagecoach stopovers, gatherings of politicians, productions of plays and various theatre acts, socializing at the adjacent Black Horse Tavern and numerous visits from presidents and dignitaries. Twelve presidents, in fact, proudly listed on a plaque in the front hallway. Not to mention a visit from Charles Dickens, who expressed dismay over not being able to order an alcoholic drink, as the inn was a temperance hotel at that time.

There is a long (and confusing, in my opinion) history on the inn’s website, detailing dates, building reconstructions and changes of ownership. One thing is clear: The Golden Lamb has been prominent in Ohio’s history for the last two centuries.

One major claim to fame at this inn is the restaurant, so I headed back down the three flights of stairs and took a small table in one of several dining rooms. In keeping with the historic ambiance of the inn, the restaurant employees wore outfits typical of the 19th century.

It’s clear by now to readers that I was eating my way across the country and I kept up with that reputation here by ordering shrimp and scallop pasta with prosciuto and leeks in a (very heavy) garlic cream sauce, served over cracked peppercorn fettucini. Hey, it wasn’t that decadent – after all, it was served with a small salad. And, for what it’s worth, my habit is to eat half of a dinner meal and save the other half for lunch the following day. (You really shouldn’t travel unless you can pack leftovers in a bathroom basin filled with ice.)

I spent the remainder of the evening resting. If I recall, wireless access was not offered at this inn, but I was able to hitch a ride online through a free Cincinnati network. Before leaving the next day, I took a few photographs, visited the basement gift shop and had one more meal – a chicken wrap, with tomatos, lettuce, bacon and a side of fresh fruit. It was served with a celery seed dressing for dipping, a Golden Lamb specialty that can be purchased by the jar in the front lobby.

I loved that The Golden Lamb had such an authentic feel to it. As compared with some historic lodging establishments, which are restored and remodeled to a squeaky clean elegance that is almost antiseptic, this offered a genuine step into the past. And the prices? My room – very spacious, with a private bath, double bed, dresser, TV and telephone – was a whopping $67. Can’t beat that.

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“You’re staying at Jim Martin’s rustic place, ALONE??” the clerk asks me in semi-horror as I place bread, pasta, bottled water and fresh fruit on the counter by the register.

“Have you seen it?” I ask, getting what I know will be a negative shake of the head in return. The clerk follows with a story of a couple who had relayed their dismay after staying there, having to actually hike to an outhouse in the middle of the night! I just smile. Adventure has always been tempting to me. This was one I wasn’t about to pass up.

I’ve arrived in New Plymouth, Ohio, for a night in a 200 year old cabin in the Hocking Hills area. I gaze up the trail, preparing for what I hope will be one trip only of hiking in with necessary items from the car. There is no driveway to the cabin, but there is a meadow where the car can spend the night. I park backwards, so my front-wheel drive can more easily pull out the next day, in case of rain during the night. I pull what I need in clothing and toiletries from the car, repacking it into a small duffel bag and balance it with the grocery bag from the store. A third bag holds a flashlight, my journal and pen, a camera and a small coffeemaker, grinder and coffee beans.

I begin my short hike toward the cabin, past a lake with water lilies, where I hear the echo of frogs croaking, along with an occasional splash. As I approach the half-way mark up the trail, I see the shadow of a structure in the distance that looks like a page from a history book. Across the water and just through the pine trees is the two-story log home that Jim relocated and restored from Gatlinburg, purchased from the woman who had grown up in it. It is rustic and intriguing and my heart beats a little faster in anticipation. I rearrange my bags of supplies and continue on. Walking closer I see the large porch in front, rocking chairs placed conveniently for gazing out into the woods.

I enter from the rear of the building, as the front door is locked not by a modern lock, but with a board that inserts across the back. As I step inside the one room cabin of hand hewn logs, I know immediately that I’ve entered a time of years gone by. Every item is reminiscent of the past, from the antique stove to the large wood table in the center of the room. There is no running water, but there is electricity, so I place the groceries in the old-fashioned refrigerator and take out a container of bottled water. The kitchen provides a pump and sink, but I’ve been warned the water is not drinkable. I decide to play it safe and use bottled water, even for boiling pasta and brewing coffee.

Climbing the stairs to the loft, I find a comfortable double bed, an additional set of bunk beds, quilts, old chests and rocking chairs. I am apprehensive only about the 200 yr. old “bathroom,” which is a short distance from the cabin. The trail to it is wide enough for daylight, but I am told this is snake country, bear country and whoknowswhatelse country. Yet, opposed to the couple who had reviewed this cabin to the store clerk, I find the history and authenticity interesting and educational, which is why I purposely chose this cabin over a much newer one with first-class amenities.

Setting my flashlight by the back door, I settle in for the evening. Pulling a heavy pot and a bowl from the selection in the kitchen cupboards, I succeed in fixing pasta and sit with my meal, curled into a rocking chair on the porch. Evening descends with a hush across the woods. Fireflies twinkle in the shadows of the nearby trees and a sense of immense calm washes over me.

As night falls, I move inside and spend the evening writing and reading, finally deciding to brave a trip to the outhouse, which turns out to be exceptionally tidy and much less primitive than I had feared, even sporting dried flowers and framed pictures. Shower facilities are shared with another cabin on the property and located in building nearby.

Like a true pioneer woman, I bolt the wood slats before climbing up to the loft. I anticipate some nervous sleeping, being not only isolated but in an apparent time warp, but to my surprise I sleep soundly. There are no raccoons scurrying around on the roof or any other wildlife that I can hear. In the entire stay at this quaint cabin, the wildest creature I encounter is a small gray tabby kitten who shares the porch with me. Morning arrives and I am grateful once again for electricity, as I pour myself a mug of fresh ground French Roast. Check-out time is not until noon and I remain until the last minute to enjoy this unique lodging, as well as the peaceful surroundings.

I will admit that this cabin is not for those travelers who seek only luxury in accommodations. They won’t find a Jacuzzi tub, fancy bath soaps, goose down comforter or room service within these sturdy log walls. But the beauty of the Hocking Hills area makes this a spectacular getaway and the lesson in history is fabulous. I depart very thankful for my chance to stay at this retreat from the modern world.

Yesteryear Log Cabins offers a chance to take an inside look at a simpler time in life, surrounded by nature. Catch and release fishing is allowed in the cabin’s private lake. A fire ring and outdoor picnic table are also provided. There are many nearby state parks to explore, including Old Man’s Cave, located on Route 664, where I stopped to take an easy hike and admire the breathtaking scenery. For a longer expedition, the six mile Grandma Gatewood Trail will take hiking enthusiasts to Cedar Falls and Ash Cave. And, if shopping must be done, there are several general merchandise stores which carry local art. And yes, one is the store where I purchased the groceries, where the clerk now has my “yes-I-survived-the-night-and-even-loved-it” positive review.

Yesteryear Log Cabins
66437 State Route 56
New Plymouth, Ohio 4565
Phone: (740) 385-1952
Website: www.honeyfork.com/YESTERYEAR/index.htm

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