To be so focused on getting to where we are going as expediently as possible is perhaps one of the failings of modern times. It’s a sad thing that riding along the highways and byways of this country, we are apt to come across many cities and towns to which we would never give a second thought. Our GPS and Waze have managed to take us down the speediest and least distracted paths, and in the process, have cut out so much of what used to be searching and discovering. In most cases, that’s a good thing, but when discovering is part the agenda, the opportunity to see off the beaten path places is a gift. Nelsonville, Ohio is one of those places.
When my husband and I recently visited Ohio so that I could write an article about Athens and Athens County, the town Nelsonville was also on the schedule. I at first intended on incorporating my experiences in Nelsonville into the article about Athens, but once there, it became clear to me that this town deserved a piece all on its own.
First settled in 1814, Nelsonville is nestled in the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains and in its heyday was most valued for its coal, clay, and salt. Today, the town and its residents take great pride in its rich history and it is fast becoming a must-see stop on any visit to Southeastern Ohio.
Cycling enthusiasts can ride the 21-mile Hockhocking Adena Bikeway just outside the Rocky Outdoor Gear Store parking lot along the Hocking River down to Athens, Ohio. Named one of the “15 Fantastic US Bike Trails” by USA Today, it is designed for walking, running, biking, cross-country skiing, skating, and wheelchairs.
Nelsonville’s Historic Square Arts District, snakes around the perimeter of the Public Square, and offers up at least a dozen places to dine, shop, and get in touch with the artist in your soul. Nelsonville Emporium is a warm and welcoming place that features pottery and gifts from more than 80 local artists. If fresh, locally sourced food is what you're looking for, take your lunch break at Fullbrooks Cafe where sandwiches, soups, and tasty desserts are on the menu. The Mine Tavern is a quirky place that’s great for a beer or a burger. Laying claim to being the “oldest bar in Ohio,” it’s worth a stop just to see the original walls and ceiling of what was once a meeting place for the local miners. For a fine dining experience and more of an eclectic menu, check out Rhapsody Music & Dining. The kitchen there is run by award-winning chefs and hospitality and culinary professionals from the very highly regarded culinary program at Hocking College.
Brick fans (yes, there are some), would tell you that Nelsonville’s claim to fame was the classic “Star Brick,” considered to be one of the world’s strongest, and what I thought was the prettiest. These rectangular blocks, featuring a star in the center, are embedded in the sidewalk and area surrounding a lovely fountain in the town’s main square. Just looking at them connects you to their history all the varied footsteps that have walked over them throughout the years.
It’s a good bet that many of those feet that crossed over the Star Bricks were clad in Rocky Boots. Just a few streets down from the Public Square, and bringing “over 80 years of heritage and tradition” to Nelsonville is The Rocky Outdoor Gear Store. The store is located on what was the original shoe factory and now boasts three floors filled to the brim with clothing, footwear and pretty much everything an outdoor sports fan would need. A grill/cafe on the first floor of the store caters to the many locals and tourists who visit Nelsonville from miles around just to shop at Rocky.
Feel the Beat
Bricks and boots are not the only thing that you’ll find in Nelsonville. Music enthusiasts from all over the country flock to the famed Stuart’s Opera House. Never really catering to true opera fans (the term “opera house” was used quite often to lend an air of respectability to what was really a “theater”), Stuart’s is one of Ohio’s last remaining, fully-operating opera houses. After having gone through two major fires, the venue that hosts over 75 events a year including concerts, plays, films, and art, is now being beautifully restored where it will once again be the crown jewel of the Public Square. As Marketing Director, Brian Koscho, said, “they will now be running a 2017 performing arts center… rather than an 1879 music hall.” Priding himself on the great acoustics, Brian was quick to add that “there’s not a bad seat in the house.”
Ride the Rails
The Hocking Valley Scenic Railway began as a coal mine railroad, part of the historic Hocking Valley Railway in the early 1870s. Today, it is an all-volunteer railway and offers scenic excursions from Nelsonville to Logan, traversing the Hocking Hills. It’s a great way to watch the hills roll by, and hear about the history of the area.