It seems the older we get, the more sentimental we become about the past. And birthdays are always a time to look at how far the honoree has come. So at a 200th birthday party, you can imagine that there’s a good amount of reflection. No, science hasn’t discovered the secret to a much longer life, and Ripley won’t be attending a celebration for the oldest person on Earth. But this June, Flag City, USA — better known as Findlay, Ohio — celebrates its bicentennial, and you’re invited to help commemorate the occasion with a look back at the city’s colorful history.
Situated along I-75 in the northwest corner of the state, Findlay rests at the center of the Old Mill Scenic Byway, so exploring by RV is ideal. A stunning east-west pathway through the Blanchard River Valley, these 52 miles of countryside and downtown driving (traversing State Road 37 north to US 224 west to State Road 694 north, with some well-marked turns along the way) offer an easy way to revisit the area’s past in celebration of the big 2-0-0. So make plans this year to take a trip down Findlay’s memory lane. Here are a few milestones you won’t want to miss:
Plant the seeds for your historical adventure just outside Findlay at Mount Blanchard Island Park, which sits near a former apple orchard once owned by John Chapman, aka Johnny Appleseed. A monument on the site honors this legendary nurseryman, so before arriving, stock your motor coach with some delicious cider and offer up a toast to the great green thumb, whose business stood at the core of the country’s apple industry in the late 18th century.
The Riverbend Recreation Area features 176 acres of nature trails, cross-country skiing, and horseback riding, as well as a glimpse at the rich floodplains, forests, and farmland that settlers cherished at this large bend in the Blanchard River. You will also find the preserved wrought-iron truss bridge that Hancock County relocated from its original spot on Marion Township Road 241 above the Old Mill Stream. For further exploration, drive over to the newly constructed wooden covered bridge that took its place.
At Hancock County’s oldest park, Riverside Park, climb aboard a restored miniature 1930s streamliner locomotive and journey down the tracks (even under a covered bridge across dry land). The train originally ran at the Toledo Zoo before becoming a Riverside amusement ride in 1951. It then ceased operations for nearly 20 years before community volunteers stepped in to get the choo-choo chugging again a few years ago. If you’re there on a Sunday, also take a tour of the 1882 Little Red Schoolhouse, a neat example of the rural one-room schools once found in this area. The building has even been outfitted with oil lamps, outhouses, a water pump, and a wood-burning stove. For some outdoor fun in the summer months, rent a canoe, kayak, or pedal boat at the park’s Zonta Landing.
Presided over by a copper statue of the county’s namesake, John Hancock, the 1886 Hancock County Courthouse (which has been recognized by the National Register of Historic Places) boasts a clock tower, beautiful stained glass, and ornate marble flooring. Less than a mile away, you can indulge in a sweet treat at Dietsch Brothers Ice Cream, an old-fashioned ice cream parlor and candy store that’s been family-run for three generations.
Costumed interpreters bring to life days on a 19th-century family farm at Litzenberg Memorial Woods, a 227-acre park that encompasses lush hills and valleys beside the Blanchard River. The Greek Revival McKinnis Homestead, erected in 1847, has been entirely renovated and now hosts regular living history programs. Visitors can also tour the period garden, hike trails, and enjoy picnicking. To learn even more about the original property owners, cruise up Route 224 to the Indian Green Cemetery, where a number of the McKinnis family members now rest alongside Native Americans and early settlers.
Interesting spots can be found up and down the Old Scenic Mill Byway, so allow time to park and peruse along the way. For overnight camping, make reservations at Twin Lakes Family Campground in nearby Bluffton or the Heritage Springs Campground up the road in Vanlue. And be sure to keep your ears tuned to the legends and stories surrounding the sites you visit (locals are more than happy to share tales about their historic home) as you celebrate the grand history surrounding this small city’s first 200 years. Before long, you’ll be “dreaming of the days gone by,” just like songwriter Tell Taylor once did as he lounged on the banks of the Old Mill Stream in 1908. Happy birthday, Findlay!
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