A jaunt to Vermilion, OH–“A Small Town on a Great Lake!”

4 Nov

Summer lingers in Vermilion, even in November

Autumn should always be so sunny and carefree! My friend Miss J and I were free as birds and decided to hop westwards to Vermilion, just 45 minutes from Cleveland. What a joy! Route 6 may just be the perfect lakefront road, with views of great houses and boats and tiny resort homes, industry and orchards. If the weather holds–and it’s supposed to be sunny and in the 50s again tomorrow, the 60s on Sunday–I suggest you take a trip there this weekend as well. Vermilion is a charmer, but it gets more visitors in the summer months. They’re missing out! Fall foliage and loads of flowers combine with historical structures and a real sense of place.

The interior of the Knotty Pine. Many nice culinary touches, as well as fresh flowers and perfect service

We headed straight for lunch at the Knotty Pine Eatery, recommended by a friendly shop owner. Its food was tasty indeed, the hamburger on a delicious ciabatta bun with veggies and dip (Miss J had a vegetarian dish and pronounced herself deeply satisfied). The town has numerous dining options; The Old Prague is a Czech spot that

Yes, it revolves just the way it's supposed to

had Wiener schnitzel on the menu, there’s a taphouse, a pizza spot, deli, bar and grille, a coffee spot, and Quaker Steak and Lube right on the water. The most enchanting just might be Chez Francois. Closed for lunch, it has some lovely landscaping and looks directly onto the river. A peek through the window revealed spotless tablecloths and an ambiance meant for a proposal. A short walk took us from the main intersection to the lake, but it was a walk with lovely views, turn-of-the-century houses that made me think Penrod might be around the corner, the Inland Seas Maritime Museum in an old mansion, and an intriguing shop/place of refreshment, called Decidedly

Where's my cerulean blue and a canvas?

Different. We did not escape unscathed, but were exceedingly content with our highly reasonable purchases of loose tea (chocolate mint) and a distinctive necklace apiece. The beach is small and was empty, but the seagulls seemed pleased to watch the waves with us.

While the lake is always a draw, it’s the river and its “lagoons” that were enthralling. Vermilion’s been in business since the early 19th century, initially home to fishermen who built huts along the Vermilion River and Lake Erie‘s shores. As the century wore on and the railroad swept through town, the fish export business picked up further.  Commercial fishing grew to be the town’s biggest industry, and Vermilion was home to many Lake captains, who built their landlubbing bases there. In 1985, Ohio outlawed gillnets; commercial operations ceased and recreational ones blossomed. Yachting had

Some of the Lagoon houses across the water.

become popular much earlier, because harborage was developed in the downtown area by Clevelander Louis A. Wells (1891-1965). Wells, who was born in the village of Wellsville near Columbiana, OH (itself outside of Youngstown), was “in the tub-boat business and in sea front break-water and land recovery in the Lake Erie and St. Lawrence sea-way areas” (courtesy online genealogies). His older sister, Beulah, was a pediatrician, and he went to Allegheny College in Meadville, PA, later serving on its Board. Wells moved to Cleveland in the 1920s, and by 1930 was a Shaker Heights resident. Like many city dwellers, Wells dreamt of cool breezes during hot summers before air conditioning. He bought marshy land fronting Lake Erie and the river in Vermilion, drained it, cut “lagoons” (regularly laid-out canals), and had the area landscaped and planned so that each house–conceived of then as a resort home–would front the water with its own dock, while also having auto access to the town’s main

Foliage still much in evidence, willow trees think it's July.

road. The average price for a lot of 50 feet was $2200, and buyers were responsible for building homes to an architect’s approval: all were to be Cape Cod style, and today they are still all white and picketed. The first was completed by 1931, and most were erected 1940, although construction continued in the 1950s.

Ships and insurance--Lloyd's of London found it a winning combo

Most houses are used all year now, and several are currently for sale–they certainly look tempting, but one four-bedroom house is currently marketed at $839,000. Alas!

We wandered around the town some more, admiring the displays in the candle shop (what is it in Yankee Candles that makes me go running for the door? Some scent note I just can’t stand), and checking out other spots. Plenty of antique spots and a great consignment spot, The

The Paper Moon Winery's outer room--the inside has a beer barrel table setting with a big fireplace.

shops on Liberty Ave. (Rte. 6) almost all have little historic marker noting their previous lives as banks or places of commerce. The old-fashioned lettering on a lawyer’s window didn’t look hokey–nor did the fabulous wooden ship models decorating it (for more photos of Vermilion, click here).

Also roses and...a dandelion who apparently can't tell time.

Just south of town (via Main St and Route 60) is the Paper Moon Winery, a spot where trials of thirteen wines are possible (fifty cents each). Armed with hearty and deliciously rosemaryed cheese bread, we tested three each: Miss J loved the Old Vine Zinfandel, while I voted for the Chambourcin. It must be lovely to sit in the outer room in the summer, surrouned by life preservers and looking out the window toward the vineyards.

As we headed east, we made a quick stop at a small supermarket, the Farmer’s Market, well worth a look, since it is not a carbon copy of every chain grocery in the country. Prices were good, there were plenty of specialty items, and it was awash with the scent of apples and pears worthy of a still life. Miss J suggested I might like to retire in Vermilion. No, though I would

An appealing sliver by Chez Francois

like to visit over and over. It’s a delightful place, everyone was exceedingly pleasant, and I’d love to stop at a bed and breakfast here. But it didn’t have a very diverse-looking population, and when I checked at the end of the day, the census stated “100% white.” Where’s the Americana in that? Still, it’s brisk breeze makes it heaven to be a flag or a sail, and it can’t be easily topped for a short day trip! Visit now, and see the flowers in their subtleties and last hurrahs.

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