In this installment of my travel series we highlight the great State of Ohio, which I have visited and enjoyed many times. I remember with particular fondness a family roadtrip across the State when I was eight years old, en route to see an Army buddy of my father’s in Detroit. Rather than give you a Pennsylvanian’s perspect, though, I’ve enlisted as our tour guide my excellent Embassy colleague (and proud Ohio native), Colin Crosby. Like all Ohioans, he refers to himself as a “Buckeye.”
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Ohio – The Heart of it All
by Colin Crosby
Home to the likes of the Wright Brothers, Thomas Edison, no less than seven U.S. Presidents, iconic astronauts John Glenn and Neil Armstrong, and legendary industrialists Herbert Dow, Harvey Firestone, B.F. Goodrich, William Proctor, and John D. Rockeller, my home State of Ohio is steeped in history, heritage, and innovative entrepreneurism. It also boasts an idyllic, pastoral countryside, beautiful beaches along Lake Erie, and an arts and culture scene that rivals that of any other State in the Union.
With nearly 12 million residents Ohio is one of America’s biggest States by population (7th overall), and about the same size as New Zealand’s North Island. It is bordered by two great bodies of water – Lake Erie to the North – which is shared with Canada, and the Ohio River to the South. The State shares borders in all directions with Michigan to the north, Indiana to the west, Kentucky and West Virginia to the south, and Pennsylvania to the east.
Recreation opportunities abound Ohio’s diverse landscape. Along the north shore of Lake Erie, beachgoers crowd summer spots like Cedar Point Beach, East Harbor State Park, and Headlands Beach State Park – the largest natural sand beach in Ohio. Those seeking adventure tourism experiences head inland to the Hocking Hills of southeastern Ohio, known for the deep gorges and high cliffs formed by erosion-resistant Blackhand Sandstone. The region boasts one of the nation’s premier zipline experiences, canoeing on Lake Logan, and amazing natural wonders such as Cantwell Cliffs, Ash Cave, Rock House, Conkle’s Hollow, Cedar Falls, Old Man’s Cave.
The name “Ohio” originated from Iroquois word ohi-yo’, meaning “great river.” In pre-European times, the verdant Ohio River Valley gave rise to numerous Native American civilizations, including the Osage and Iroquois. Ohio was part of the vast area, known as the Northwest Territory, ceded to the United States in 1783 by the Treaty of Paris, which ended the American Revolutionary War with Great Britain. In 1803 Ohio entered the Union, with Chillicothe as its capital. (Columbus became the permanent capital in 1816).
Today, Ohio is also known as the “Buckeye State,” a name taken from the unusual Ohio buckeye tree which can be found there. We Ohioans are proudly known as “Buckeyes,” which is also the name of the mascot for Ohio State University, the State’s largest such institution.
The seven American Presidents have hailed from Ohio (second only to Virginia’s eight) thus far were Ulysses S. Grant, Rutherford B. Hayes, James A. Garfield, Benjamin Harrison, William McKinley, William Howard Taft, and Warren G. Harding. The Ohio Historical Society has information on the respective birthplaces and childhood homes, libraries, presidential centers, and tombs that tourists can visit when in the State.
Today, Ohio remains highly influential in Presidential politics, often deciding who sits in the Oval Office, as happened as recently as 2004. We are a vital “swing” State, with voters coming from a broad demographic range reflecting in microcosm the social, ethnic, economic, and philosophical diversity of the U.S. as a whole. The battle for Ohio’s 18 Electoral College votes is always hotly contested.
But Ohio isn’t just about Presidents. Many other of America’s most famous citizens have called our State home … America’s most famous inventor Thomas Edison, America’s most famous businessman John D. Rockefeller, and America’s most famous golfer Jack Nicholas … all hail from the Buckeye State.
Jack is from my home town of Upper Arlington, Ohio. He got his nickname, “the Golden Bear,” from our high school’s mascot. Go Bears! If you want to catch up with Jack and the world’s top golfers you should attend Nicholas’ annual Memorial Tournament in Dublin, Ohio, one of the premier events on the PGA tour, held each year at the end of May.
Ohio is the birthplace of aviation, and the State lays claim to many of America’s aviation and space pioneers. The Wright brothers – who were the first in the world to make a successful heavier than air flight – built their aircraft at a bicycle shop in Dayton.
More than two dozen famous American astronauts (including John Glenn and Neil Armstrong) are also from Ohio – the most from any single American State. Visit the Dayton Air Show and or stop by the National Museum of the Air Force to learn more about our air and space pioneers as well as see vintage and current aircraft.
Ohio’s US$ 500 billion GDP positions the State’s economy as the 7th largest in the United States. Known for its pro-business environment, Ohio regularly rates in the top tier for key business-friendly indicators. It recently was ranked #2 in the nation for overall “Best Business Climate” and placed in the top tier of the “Small Business Survival Index” generated by the national Small Business & Entrepreneurship Council.
Among Ohio’s strongest sectors is agriculture, representing approximately US$ 100 billion each year and providing one in seven jobs in the State. Ohio is #1 in the Nation in Swiss cheese production, #2 in egg production, and #6 in soybeans. The top commodities produced in Ohio, in order, are soybeans, corn, hay, wheat, oats, potatoes, and barley.
Education is a particular strength. In Ohio we don’t ask “what city are you from,” instead we ask “what college is near your house,” because the State is the home to so many great public and private universities. Several of these institutions are ranked among the nation’s best, ranging from small schools like Case Western Reserve University, Denison University, and Oberlin College to larger institutions like Miami University, University of Dayton, University of Cincinnati, Bowling Green State University, Ohio State University, and, best of all, Ohio University (at least from this proud alum’s point of view).
If you are interested in studying medicine (like my sister, Dr. Kara Crosby, who is a resident at Akron Children’s Hospital), Ohio has some of the best programs anywhere. Case Western and Ohio State University both have top-tier medical schools, and Case Western is affiliated with the Cleveland Clinic, considered one of the best hospitals in the world.
Ohio is not only the birthplace of aviation, it is also the cradle of American Football, both at the amateur and professional levels. The Canton Bulldogs, Akron Indians, Dayton Triangles, and Youngstown Patricians were among the first professional teams formed in the United States. They played as part of the “Ohio League,” which was the direct predecessor of today’s National Football League (NFL). You can learn more about NFL history by visiting the Professional Football Hall of Fame in Canton, and follow up by attending a Cleveland Browns or Cincinnati Bengals football game. Both teams are good, but I’m a fan of the Browns who have one of the most loyal (and passionate) followings of any team in American professional sports.
To have one of the most truly American experiences you have to go to a college football game. For that, there is no better place than Columbus on a crisp Saturday afternoon in the fall. There you will find nearly 110,000 screaming Ohio State Buckeye fans packed into Ohio Stadium, better known as the “Horseshoe.” On game day, many thousands more gather outside the stadium for the traditional all-day “tail-gate” party (I believe Kiwis refer to this as a “boot” party). The atmosphere is electric and intoxicating. If you are going to be in Columbus any time from September to December, you should click here for informationon how to get game tickets.
Of course, Columbus has much more to offer than football. Ohio’s capital, the city is the 15th largest in the United States with 2.1 million residents in the combined metro area. It is located centrally in Ohio, halfway between Cleveland and Cincinnati and within 550 miles of more than half of the U.S. population. It is home five of the U.S. Fortune 500 companies, including Limited Brands, which has earned Columbus the reputation as the Fashion Capital of the Midwest.
The Columbus Zoo is considered by many guidebooks to be the best zoo in the United States (sorry San Diego!) and is an amazing place for kids. It is one of the world’s leading facilities for animal breeding and was the first place in the world where a gorilla was born in captivity. In 2011, the Columbus Zoo became the third zoo in North America to successfully hatch a Kiwi; doing its bit to help preserve New Zealand’s national symbol. Another family favorite is the COSI children’s science museum – one of the best science museum for kids (young and old) in the United States.
Moving on, as we learned from the Drew Carey Show, Cleveland Rocks! Ohio’s second city is the home of Rock & Roll, a phrase originally coined by Cleveland deejay Alan Freed in the 1950s. The Rock & Roll Hall of Fame is located here and contains an amazing collection of rock history and is a must stop for any serious rock fan. Today, Cleveland is still making rock headlines with famous performers like The Black Keys, Tracy Chapman, Kid Cudi, and Yeah Yeah Yeahs, all calling Cleveland home.
Outside of music, Cleveland offers a little something for everyone. It is home to the second largest performing arts center in the nation (Playhouse Square Center), a concentrated square mile of arts and culture (University Circle), the impressively beautiful Lake Erie, more than 300 golf courses, a great art museum, and one of America’s best symphony orchestras. Once an industrial hub in the country’s “rust-belt”, today Cleveland is enjoying a post-recession renaissance that is highlighting the city’s diversity.
Set on the banks of the Ohio River is Ohio’s third largest city – Cincinnati. It is home to one of America’s oldest and best zoos. The Cincinnati Zoo and Botanical Garden was established in 1875 and is now home to more than 580 species from the tiny Bullet Ant to the mighty American Black Bear.
If you prefer your entertainment a little less wild you should try some of Cincinnati’s many rich cultural institutions including the Contemporary Arts Center, the Taft Museum of Art and the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center, as well as the many cultural festivals and fairs throughout the year.
Now I might be a little biased, but I think that I’m on safe ground when I say that Ohio has the best amusement parks in the world (sorry, California and Florida).” My favorite is Cedar Point in Sandusky, which has the most incredible collection found anywhere. King’s Island in Cincinnati is also one of the country’s best parks for thrills and spills.
When you need a break from plunging, flipping, loop d’ looping, and screaming on the coasters, you can head to the beach or go fishing on Lake Erie which is right next door to Cedar Point. Or drive to the mighty Ohio River (the largest tributary of the Mississippi River) to swim, boat, or take a paddleboat cruise. Or explore one of the States many state parks for camping, mountain biking, and hiking.
As you can see, Ohio has a bit of something for everyone and is a wonderful place to travel or live. As Ohioans like to say, our State is “the heart of it all.” Come see for yourself. To learn more about what to see and do and how to plan a trip, visit Discover Ohio.
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I endorse Colin’s sentiments without amendment, except perhaps for that sharp-elbow comment about rollercoaster supremacy. I do note, however, that my favorite feathered creature just happens to be Ohio’s official State bird.
If there are particular American cities, States, regions, or activities about which you are curious, please let me know, and I’ll find a colleague with expert knowledge to write an article for us. Also, I am always happy to take submissions for this series from readers, whether Kiwi, American, or other. Just send me a note first with your proposed topic.