While Ohio is far from the largest U.S. state (it ranks 35th in terms of land area), it is the seventh most populous state, with nearly 11.8 million people. What is it about Ohio that entices so many people to live within its borders? Let’s take a stroll through Ohio to see what Ohioans love about their state.
Ohio’s nickname is The Buckeye State, and Ohioans embrace all things Buckeye. The nickname comes from the Ohio Buckeye tree. Before the arrival of European settlers, the tree proliferated in the state. Even though it does not grow in its historic numbers anymore, you can still see the Ohio Buckeye tree throughout the state.
The nutlike seeds of the tree are round with a dark brown color and a lighter tan circle. Legend states that native peoples compared it to the appearance of a deer’s eye or a “buck’s eye.”
William Henry Harrison, who moved to Ohio while in the U.S. Army, featured the Buckeye in his 1840 presidential campaign. That cemented the connection between the Buckeye and Ohio. The Ohio Buckeye tree became the official state tree of Ohio in 1953.
2. The Ohio River
The river that bears the state’s name forms Ohio’s entire 451-mile southern border. As such, it plays a vital role in the lives of many Ohioans. Hundreds of thousands of residents receive their drinking water from the river. It is also critical to countless Ohio industries.
The Ohio River also holds a rich history. It served as a border between the slaveholding states of the South and the free states of the North before the Civil War. River crossings from Kentucky into Ohio were the most traveled routes in the Underground Railroad before the war. Escaped slaves often referred to the Ohio River as the “River Jordan,” symbolizing their path to the “Promised Land” of freedom. The Underground Railroad Freedom Center opened in Cincinnati in 2004 to commemorate this perilous route to freedom.
Along with the river’s importance to industry and history, it is also a recreational hub in southern Ohio. Boats are always out on the water in the summer. Anglers cast their lines, hoping to hook into a monster Ohio River catfish. Many annual events use the river as their backdrop, such as the “Riverfest” fireworks show held every Labor Day weekend in Cincinnati.
3. Lake Erie
While southern Ohioans have the Ohio River, residents in the northern part of the state flock to Lake Erie. This lake is the shallowest and the warmest of the five Great Lakes, making it a popular beach destination in the summer. The wildly popular Cedar Point amusement park is located on a Lake Erie peninsula in Sandusky.
There are more fish species in this lake than in any of the other Great Lakes. As such, Lake Erie supports the largest commercial fishing industry of all the Great Lakes. Recreational fishing is also a huge industry on the lake. Thousands of anglers take to the water in their own boat or on a charter, hoping to catch a big Lake Erie walleye.
Lake Erie has the densest population on its shores of all the Great Lakes. Cleveland and Toledo are located on the lake. Outside of Ohio, there are other large metropolitan areas on the lake, such as Detroit, Michigan, and Buffalo, New York.
4. Pro Sports
Ohio has a deep, historic connection with sports. It is the birthplace of professional baseball. The Cincinnati Red Stockings baseball team (which would become the modern-day Cincinnati Reds) came to life in 1868.
Ohio is also home to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton.
The state hosts a multitude of professional sports franchises.
And we haven’t even mentioned the myriad of minor league teams in Ohio from each of these sports. Ohioans are sports fanatics, which leads to the next thing they love about their state.
5. Ohio State Football
Do college and professional sports really deserve two separate categories? In Ohio, they do.
The Ohio State University (or, as fans and alumni phrase it, THE Ohio State University) dominates the fandom of the state, especially when it comes to college football. Saturday afternoons in the fall are sacred in Ohio, as fans throughout the state don their scarlet and gray to cheer on their beloved Buckeyes. Ohio Stadium is packed with over 102,000 fans every time the team plays a home game.
6. Rock & Roll
Alan Freed, a DJ in Cleveland, coined the phrase “rock and roll” in 1956. While other states, such as Tennessee, are more well-known for their music, consider how many rock and R&B artists and bands hail from Ohio. Here’s just a small sample:
- The Isley Brothers
- Dean Martin
- The Ohio Players
- The O’Jays
- Chrissie Hynde
- Bootsy Collins
- Eric Carmen
- Wild Cherry
- Twenty-One Pilots
- Marilyn Manson
- Nine Inch Nails
- Phil Keaggy
- John Legend
- The Black Keys
- Walk the Moon
Ohio’s contribution to the evolution of rock and roll cannot be overstated, which made Ohio the perfect place for the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. The Rock Hall opened its doors in Cleveland in 1995 and welcomes more than half a million visitors each year.
Ohio is known as the “Mother of Presidents.” Seven presidents were born in Ohio, second only to Virginia with eight. Many Ohioans will claim eight presidents for the Buckeye State, though. William Henry Harrison was born in Virginia, but he lived in North Bend, Ohio (13 miles northwest of downtown Cincinnati) when he was elected in 1840. His body is also buried in North Bend. In this case, that would make Ohio the top presidential state, with eight presidents hailing from the Buckeye State.
The Ohio-born presidents include:
|Ulysses S. Grant||Point Pleasant||April 27, 1822|
|Rutherford B. Hayes||Delaware||October 4, 1822|
|James A. Garfield||Moreland Hills||November 19, 1831|
|Benjamin Harrison||North Bend||August 20, 1833|
|William McKinley||Niles||January 29, 1843|
|William Howard Taft||Cincinnati||September 15, 1857|
|Warren G. Harding||Blooming Grove||November 2, 1865|
Ohio is home to some world-class zoos. Jack Hanna, the famous zookeeper and television host known as “Jungle Jack,” was the director of the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium from 1978-1992. Along with being a world leader in animal care and conservation, the zoo complex includes a water park and an 18-hole golf course. There is something for everyone at the Columbus Zoo.
The Cincinnati Zoo is home to Fiona, the hippo that gained worldwide fame in 2017 when she was born six weeks premature. The hippo weighed only 29 pounds. A normal baby hippo weighs at least 50 pounds. Fiona became the smallest hippo to ever survive and is a main attraction at the zoo today. The zoo also consistently receives acclaim for the best holiday lights of any zoo in the U.S. during November and December.
The Wilds is a safari experience in east-central Ohio. Occupying nearly 10,000 acres, visitors can ride in open-air safari vehicles through reclaimed surface-mining land. Instead of mining equipment, the land is populated with rhinos, zebras, takins, giraffes, ostriches, and much more. You will swear that you are in Africa rather than Ohio while on a safari tour at The Wilds!
9. Low Cost of Living
Ohioans have a financial reason to love their state: it features some of the lowest costs of living in the nation. The annual cost to live in Ohio is 10.6 percent less than the U.S. average. When you compare the cost of living in Ohio’s major metro areas to cities such as San Francisco or New York, the cost of living savings jumps to as high as 70 percent. And, speaking of cities, that leads to the next thing that Ohioans love about their state.
10. The Three C’s
If you’re Cookie Monster, then “C” is for Cookie. But if you’re an Ohioan, “C” is for Columbus, Cleveland, and Cincinnati.
Cleveland has a population of 360,000, and Cincinnati has more than 306,000. Hundreds of thousands more Ohioans live in the greater metro areas around the state’s three largest cities. Ohioans often tell outsiders that they are from one of these three cities, even if they live 100 miles or more away from the city limits. It’s just easier that way.
11. Small Towns
The big cities have their allure, but the small towns of Ohio have an attraction all their own. Spending the day strolling down a historic main street, shopping in local boutiques, and grabbing coffee in a small town café is a great way to slow down and remember that life is not meant to be lived at a breakneck pace.
Ohio is probably not among the first locations that leap to mind when you think about castles, but maybe it should be. There are castles sprinkled throughout the state, from Cincinnati to Cleveland. Many of these impressive buildings are open to the public.
Some of the most-visited Ohio castles include the Loveland Castle (also known as Château Laroche) in Hamilton County, Squire’s Castle in Cleveland, Piatt Castle Mac-A-Cheek in Logan County, Ravenwood Castle in Vinton County, Franklin Castle in Cleveland, and The Castle in Marietta which is obviously located in Marietta.
Ohio is the epicenter of aviation history. Wilbur and Orville Wright were newspaper printers in Dayton. They later transitioned into the bicycle industry. Their bicycle shop would serve as the site for the research and planning for one of mankind’s greatest achievements: flight.
The Wright brothers conceptualized and constructed the first-ever power-driven, heavier-than-air machine capable of free, controlled, and sustained flight. That first flight took place on December 17, 1903, in Kitty Hawk, North Carolina.
Today, the Dayton Aviation Heritage National Historical Park and surrounding sites are managed by the National Park Service. Among other historic sites, the park includes the Wright Cycle Shop, where the brothers worked toward the construction of their airplane. Visitors can also view the 1905 Wright Flyer III, the world’s first practical airplane and the only airplane designated a National Historic Landmark.
Celebrations of Ohio’s aviation heritage are also seen in the National Museum of the United States Air Force, the oldest and largest military aviation museum in the world, located at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Dayton, Ohio. The annual Dayton Air Show also draws over 80,000 spectators each year.
Ohio’s aviation connection doesn’t stop with the Wright brothers and the airplane. A total of 25 NASA astronauts hailed from Ohio, including two of the most famous space pioneers in history.
John Glenn (1921-2016), the first American to orbit the Earth, was born in Cambridge, Ohio. Glenn circled the Earth three times in 1962. The Marine Corps aviator and astronaut went on to serve as a U.S. senator representing Ohio from 1974-1999.
Neil Armstrong (1930-2012), the first human to set foot on the moon, was born in Wapakoneta, Ohio. Armstrong’s words, “That is one small step for (a) man, one giant leap for mankind,” spoken on July 20, 1969, became one of the most famous quotations in history.
15. Amish Country
Moving from aviation to the Amish Country seems like a whiplash turn, but it is all part of the Buckeye State. Ohio has the second-largest Amish population in the United States, trailing only Pennsylvania. Holmes County, Ohio, has the highest concentration of Amish of any county in the United States. With 37,770 children and adults, the Amish community of Holmes County is roughly half of the county’s total population. There are also large Amish communities in Trumbull, Tuscarawas, and Geauga counties.
Ohio’s Amish country features bucolic scenery, fascinating history, and a slow pace of life. Shopping for Amish handmade goods and dining in an Amish restaurant complete a lovely day spent in Ohio’s Amish country.
This backyard game that has gained nationwide notoriety was invented in Ohio. The game involves tossing fabric bean bags at a raised, angled board with a hole in the far end.
While there are other iterations of the game that predate it, the modern version of cornhole was invented on the west side of Cincinnati in the 1980s. Today, there are professional cornhole leagues, but the best version of the game is found at picnics, family reunions, and the like. The next time you are tossing a bean bag with one hand and holding a frosty cold beverage in the other, just remember that you can thank Ohio for this game.
Many states have signature dishes, and Ohio is no exception. The signature foods of Ohio are regional. In Cleveland, the Polish Boy is one of the staples. It is a kielbasa sausage on a bun, topped with coleslaw, french fries, and barbecue sauce. Pierogies are also a classic dish for Clevelanders.
In Cincinnati, chili is king. Cincinnati-style chili is very different from the chili found in other parts of the country. It is a meat sauce seasoned with cinnamon, allspice, cloves, cumin, nutmeg, and chili powder. It is served over spaghetti or on a hot dog and covered with cheddar cheese. The classic dish of spaghetti, chili, and cheese is known as a 3-way. Cincinnati may be the place in the world where you could order that and not receive a strange look in response!
And no discussion of Ohio food could be complete without the unofficial dessert of Ohio: buckeyes. These balls of peanut butter fudge are dipped in chocolate, with a circle of the lighter-colored peanut butter fudge left visible at the top. The fudge balls closely resemble the fruit of the Ohio Buckeye tree, hence the name.
There are certainly some odd legends in the Buckeye State, and Ohioans embrace them wholeheartedly. For example, the state is said to rank fourth in the number of Bigfoot sightings in the U.S. The Ohio Bigfoot has been dubbed “Grassman.” Most sightings of the cryptid have been reported in the Appalachian foothills of eastern Ohio.
The video below was shot in Salt Fork State Park. The video, purportedly of the Ohio Grassman, has been viewed thousands of times.
19. Haunted Places
Along with Bigfoot sightings, Ohio is also home to an inordinate number of haunted legends. The Moonville Tunnel in Vinton County is one of the most famous. Multiple ghosts are said to haunt the tunnel, which is nearly all that remains of the deserted nineteenth-century mining town of Moonville.
Another abandoned town known as Boston, Ohio, now carries a more sinister name: Helltown. Some of the purportedly haunted places in the area include the abandoned Stanford Road and Crybaby Bridge.
Other reportedly haunted places in Ohio include Franklin Castle in Cleveland, Licking County Historic Jail in Newark, South Bass Island Lighthouse in Put-in-Bay, The Ridges at Ohio University in Athens, Music Hall in Cincinnati, and Molly Stark Park in Louisville.
Much of Ohio’s landscape is agrarian, so barns are a common sight. The structures are utilitarian, but they also feature a charm and beauty that inspires photographers and artists.
Ohio celebrated its barns during the state’s bicentennial in 2003. One barn in each of Ohio’s 88 counties was painted with the bicentennial logo. Artist Scott Hagan of Belmont County was tasked with the job of painting these 88 barns. He traveled some 65,000 miles for the project. It required 650 gallons of paint to adorn all 88 barns with the logo. Hagan painted his first barn in 1997 and finished with the final barn in 2002. Most of the barns are still standing today.
21. Fairs and Festivals
Ohioans love a good fair, and the state is chocked full of them. The biggest of them all is the Ohio State Fair, held each summer in Columbus.
Beyond the state fair, county fairs are held in nearly every county in the state throughout the summer and into the fall. Ohioans enjoy gathering for these fairs, celebrating the projects and accomplishments of local youth, taking in a horse show or a tractor pull, and, of course, eating tons of deep-fried food.
Eating too much of that fried fair food is not exactly healthy, but luckily Ohio is home to some world-class medical care. The world-renowned Cleveland Clinic is consistently ranked among the very best hospitals in the United States. Other premier medical institutions in the state include Ohio State’s Wexner Medical Center, The James Cancer Hospital, The Christ Hospital in Cincinnati, and Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center. Ohioans are blessed to have some of the best medical care in the world located in their state.
Ohio is home to 75 state parks. The parks are found throughout the state, and admission is always free. Thousands of hikers, campers, anglers, and other outdoor enthusiasts flock to Ohio’s parks every year.
The state is also home to one national park. Cuyahoga Valley National Park is located on the Cuyahoga River between Cleveland and Akron. It is a stunning park all year, but the fall foliage is often the star attraction each year.
Speaking of fall, there may not be a season more beloved by Ohioans, and not just because it’s when the Ohio State Buckeyes football team takes the field. After a hot, humid Ohio summer, fall brings cooler weather and a stunning display of leaves throughout the state. The topography of Ohio makes it a premier leaf-peeping destination. Add in a hayride and some hot apple cider, and you’ve got a perfect fall day in Ohio.
25. Covered Bridges
Ohio has the second-most covered bridges in the U.S., trailing only Pennsylvania. There are over 130 covered bridges statewide, with half of Ohio’s counties housing at least one covered bridge.
Covered bridges were mainly built in the nineteenth century. The cover was added to prolong the life of the bridge. An uncovered wooden bridge may last 20 years. When a roof and walls were added to protect the bridge from the elements, that same bridge may last 100 years.
Ohio is not only home to many historic covered bridges, but it also boasts the longest covered bridge in the U.S. The Smolen-Gulf Bridge was built in 2008 and spans 613 feet.
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