50 States in 50 Days: Ohio

Posted by Arthur Evans, Assistant Cultural Affairs Officer

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Amish Country in Ohio
Amish Country in Ohio

Ohio, also known as the “Buckeye State,” gives travelers a chance to sample a real cross-section of American life.  Located in the middle of the United States, Ohio contains some of America’s most historic urban centers of industry and trade such as Cincinnati, Cleveland, and Akron; vast tracks of farmland and “one stop light” towns that invoke the nostalgia of the American heartland; and vibrant immigrant and ethnic communities. One perennial tourist draw is Ohio’s Amish community, one of the world’s largest.  Each year thousands of visitors travel to northeastern Ohio to admire handmade Amish furniture and handicrafts and observe a way of life that has not changed for centuries.

This vibrant mix of communities makes Ohio politically diverse and a vital stop on any Presidential campaign.  Ohio is one of America’s “swing states” (a state that can vote either Republican or Democrat) and a bellwether for how the nation will vote.  As political junkies will attest, Ohio has voted for the winning presidential candidate in all but one of Nation’s elections dating back to 1944.

Cincinnati skyline
Cincinnati skyline

In Ohio’s southeast corner, on the shores of the mighty Ohio River, sits Cincinnati, one of America’s great river towns and ranked by Lonely Planet as the third best tourist destination in the U.S.  Nicknamed the “Queen City” for the steamboats that used to frequent her docks, Cincinnati offers visitors a chance to relive the days of Mark Twain by taking a city tour on an old-style paddle wheel steamboat.  “Cinci’s” cultural development is closely tied to its large population of German immigrants, a fact that accounts for its wide range of locally brewed lagers and pilsners and what is reputed to be the largest Oktoberfest outside of Germany.  Cincinnati also offers an eye-popping array of architecture for a small city.  Offerings include the open, dynamic glass and steel style of the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center or the art deco grandeur of the city’s Central Railroad Station.  Its soaring half dome is said to be the largest unsupported dome structure in the world.

OSU William Oxley Thompson Memorial Library East Atrium
OSU William Oxley Thompson Memorial Library East Atrium

In the center of the state is Columbus, home to Ohio State University — one of America’s largest institutions of higher learning.  Columbus is an avid “college town” and the university is ever present.  Visitors will notice that the school’s colors of crimson and grey are a common motif, adorning everything from shirts and caps to cars and houses. On fall weekends, when Ohio State’s football team plays a home game, all of Columbus joins in the pageantry. A quintessential American moment for any foreign visitor would be a tailgate BBQ (a parking lot cookout or picnic) before an Ohio State game.  On a related note, foodies have found Columbus a hidden gem worth discovering.  Local ice cream shops serve up flavors like wildberry lavender and whiskey pecan.  Farmers’ markets offer fresh produce from around the state and are not to be missed.

Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum
Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum

Visits to Cleveland and nearby Akron and Canton add a little grit and glam to any tour of the Buckeye state.  These cities fueled America’s economic rise in the 20th century and were home to some of America’s greatest captains of industry.  Cleveland was the birthplace of the Rockefeller fortune and Standard Oil.  Akron is known as the “the Rubber City” for its production of tires and remains the global headquarters for Goodyear and other major producers. The fortunes earned from these enterprises have endowed the area with world class art museums and two symphony orchestras.  Cleveland is an annual stop for Rock & Roll royalty since it is also the site of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and hosts the annual induction ceremony.  Some of  America’s most influential rockers hail from this area of Ohio, groups like The Pretenders, DEVO, and more recently, Akron’s blues-rock power duo: The Black Keys.

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