Story & Photos by Matt Bayman
Traveling the entire length of Ohio Route 39 is one of the best ways to see just how diverse Ohio is, both culturally and geographically. It’s also a way to have a lot of fun for a day or two, or longer. There’s just so much to see and do.
Starting just east of New Washington in the flat till plains of western Ohio, Route 39 travels 155 miles east through seven counties, including the heart of Ohio’s Amish country, before reaching East Liverpool and the Ohio River, which happens to be the place where Ohio, Pennsylvania and West Virginia intersect. It’s also known as the “Pottery Capital of America” with three factories operating in the area.
In between, travelers pass through 21 eclectic towns and villages filled with unique things to see and do, beautiful forests, one of which includes the deepest gorge in Ohio and some of the best hiking and canoeing in the state, and the rolling Appalachian foothills, which are dotted with historic farms, barns, grazing animals and colorful homes and businesses. This diversity makes the trip a colorful experience and a great way to see some of the lesser-known parts of the Buckeye State.
To top it off, each community that Route 39 passes through contains a host of one-of-a-kind restaurants and diners, antique shops and boutiques and interesting roadside attractions, plus a variety of unique lodging options that includes everything from treehouse cabins to Victorian inns.
At the end of the road, there are several interesting ways to get back home. This includes following the Ohio River along its course in the state, or driving through the coal mining region around Cadiz, which also happens to be the birthplace of actor Clark Gable and contains a museum about his life. Another option is to visit nearby Cuyahoga Valley National Park or Lake Erie. Options abound.
Overall, this is a unique travel experience that is close to home and heart, affordable and that you won’t soon forget. In fact, you might want to do again!
How to Take This Trip
The following trip starts near New Washington and follows Route 39 from start to finish. Towns and points of interest along the way are listed in the order in which they appear when traveling east. However, there are several destinations along the way that require a short detour from Route 39. For this, an Ohio Atlas & Gazetteer is always handy! Cell phone reception stays fairly strong throughout the trip, although there are several areas where it does briefly drop off.
Reaching New Washington to start the journey is an easy, 2-hour-drive from most of the Miami Valley. Simply take I-75 north to U.S. 30 east. Finally, take a short jog on OH-4 north and then head east on OH-103. Route 39 starts soon after this. From here, just follow the Route 39 signs all the way to the Ohio River, with many fun stops along the way!
New Washington, Tiro & Shelby
Route 39 starts without fanfare just east of the small village of New Washington, known as the “Birthplace of the Commercial Poultry Hatchery Industry.” New Washington acts as a kind of border between Ohio’s successful agricultural community to the west and its now dwindling steel, coal and automotive industries to the east, a place often referred to as the Rust Belt.
Part of this trip, then, is seeing the effects of Ohio’s past economic booms and busts. Towns such as Mansfield, Wellsville, Salineville and East Liverpool are filled with abandoned factories, warehouses and homes. Yet, these same towns contain some of the most interesting tourist attractions in the state, not to mention rich, colorful histories.
On the other hand, there are very prosperous towns along Route 39, from the thriving Amish communities in Berlin and Walnut Creek to the recreational Mecca of Loudonville, which is surrounded by luxurious country estates and farms. This contrast keeps the scenery changing and interesting.
After passing through the tiny village of Tiro, which contains not a single stop light or stop sign, travelers will first reach the village of Shelby.
At one time, Shelby was home to the Shelby Cycle Company, which manufactured a popular brand of bicycles from the 1920s through the 1950s. The factory brought jobs and prosperity to the village.
Shelby is the first of many towns on this trip that seems frozen in time, from its vintage business signs along Route 39, which date back to the 1960s, to its 19th century architecture in the historic district. Several shops and restaurants can be found in town, including the appropriately named Diner 39, which is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner, and The Q, known for its homemade barbecue sauces and meals.
On the outskirts of town is the James Kehoe Center for Advanced Learning. It is not open to the public, but drivers can pull in for a closer look at the massive colonial-style building and to see a statue near its entrance.
At one time, Mansfield was home to the Westinghouse Electric Corporation, the Tappan Stove Company, the Mansfield Tire & Rubber Company, Ohio Brass Company and General Motors, each employing hundreds of workers and bringing prosperity and growth to Mansfield from the 1890s all the way through the 1970s. All of these companies, however, are now gone and the shells of their buildings and factories surround downtown Mansfield.
Today, Mansfield—the 9th largest city in Ohio—is probably best known for its haunted prison and its connection to the “Shawshank Redemption” movie, which was filmed in and around the community, as well as at the prison.
As a way to boost tourism, the local visitor’s and convention bureau created the Shawshank Trail. It’s a self-guided driving tour of more than a dozen filming locations in the area, including many places along Route 39. Each stop is marked with a Shawshank Trail sign.
One of the stops is at the Ohio State Reformatory, which is really something to see. The abandoned prison served as the main setting in the “Shawshank Redemption,” and has been used in a number of other films and videos. It’s not only popular for its movie tours, but also overnight ghost hunts and an annual haunted prison that’s held in late September and October.
Even if you’re not familiar with or interested in the film, or haunted places, the Ohio State Reformatory tour is an interesting attraction. For instance, guests will visit the east cell block of the prison. At six tiers high, it’s the largest free-standing steel cell block in the world.
Self-guided tours of the prison are $12 for adults and $10 for students, seniors, and military. On weekends, June through August, guided tours are offered for a few dollars more.
While in Mansfield, make time to visit the Richland Carousel Park and to browse through some of the antique and thrift shops in the historic district, which itself is very eclectic.
The second highest point in Ohio is located just outside of Mansfield. It’s about 1,520 feet above sea level. By the time drivers reach East Liverpool and the end of Route 39, they will have dropped to half this height—768 feet above sea level. In other words, from Mansfield heading east, it’s all down hill.
Lucas & Perrysville
Mansfield is a place where Ohio’s till plains separate from the Appalachian Plateau. Heading east on Route 39, directly after leaving Mansfield, drivers will notice that the route goes from generally flat to hilly, becoming recognizable as “Appalachian” in appearance. This is the beginning of the Mohican State Forest region, which is one of the most beautiful areas in Ohio, not to mention a recreational paradise. It’s also a section of Route 39 designated as the “Johnny Appleseed Historic Byway.” John “Appleseed” Chapman spent much of his life in this area and numerous commemorative monuments and historical markers along the route identify locations where he lived and worked.
Just south of Route 39, via the town of Lucas, is Malabar Farm State Park. This is a worthwhile and short detour from the main route. The park combines farming, history and nature and also includes several key filming locations from the “Shawshank Redemption.” Guests can tour the Big House (a country estate built by Pulitzer Prize-winning author Louis Bromfield), pet animals on the farm and enjoy living history activities and events throughout the year.
An interesting sight in the small town of Perrysville is the Mohican Haunted School House. The haunting decorations on the exterior of the building are left up year-round, making for an amusing scene when driving through town.
A highlight of this trip is Mohican State Park, which is located just south of Route 39 in Perrysville. Whether visiting for an afternoon, or several days, there are many things to see and do in and around the park. Visitors can hike to two waterfalls, see the Mohican Covered Bridge, visit the Mohican State Park Fire Tower and Pleasant Hill Dam and hike down Ohio’s deepest gorge, Clear Fork Gorge. The Hemlock Gorge Trail, a 6.75- mile hike that encompasses many of these attractions, is considered one of the best hiking trails in the state.
While in the state forest, remember to visit the Mohican Memorial Shrine and the Wolf Creek Grist Mill.
Loudonville & Nashville
Along with access to Mohican State Park and Mohican State Forest, Loudonville is known as the “Canoe Capital of Ohio.” Numerous campgrounds and family fun centers in the community offer everything from canoe trips on the Black Fork and Clear Fork of the Mohican River, to ziplining, rope courses, go-kart racing, tubing, fishing, boating and more. Plus, there are plenty of fun places to eat and shop in Loudonville, as well as several highly rated wineries in the area, including the Ugly Bunny Winery and Sunny Slope Winery.
In the town center there is a statue dedicated to resident Charles Kettering, the inventor of the automobile self-starter.
East of Loudonville, Route 39 is designated a scenic byway. From here, it passes through rolling farmland, through the small village of Nashville and into the heart of Ohio’s Amish country in Holmes County.
The Holmes County Courthouse is one of the more memorable of its kind in the state. It’s dark, Italianate design and clock tower rise high above the quaint town of Millersburg. Those passing through on Route 39 will notice that the courthouse has parking not only for vehicles, but also for horse and buggy. When traveling east on Route 39, Millersburg acts as a gateway to Ohio’s Amish country, but it shouldn’t be just passed through.
Along with walking around the courthouse square, visitors can find a number of places to eat and shop, as well as several tourist attractions. This includes The Victorian House, which also serves as the Holmes County Historical Society Museum, and The Tavern at Hotel Millersburg, which provides a great place to stay and eat. The restaurant is known for its steaks.
Up next, Amish country. (Hot dog and boutique photos provided)
Berlin is probably the shopping highlight of Route 39. Along with a number of antique stores and malls, it features art galleries, craft stores, clothing boutiques, Amish markets and shops and many other specialty stores, plus great sightseeing and dining options. Highlights include the giant mural at the Amish & Mennonite Heritage Center, the impressive Amish Country Theater, Ohio’s largest year-round Christmas store, markets that offer a host of Amish produce, meats, cheeses and baked goods and the Holmes County Flea Market, just to name a few.
Berlin is also a fun place to stop for the night. The town and the surrounding area are filled with bed and breakfasts and cabins, including tree house cabins.
As with many other locations on this trip, a lot of time can be spent in and around Berlin.
NOTE: The popularity of Berlin and upcoming Walnut Creek can cause traffic to back up along Route 39 in this area.
A center of Amish commerce, almost like an Amish Pigeon Forge, Walnut Creek offers plenty to see, do, eat and buy.
A short jog off of Route 39 follows Walnut Street where visitors can find chocolates, cheeses, chicken dinners, gourmet sandwiches, gift shops and the German Culture Museum, among many other unique attractions. Just outside of town is The Farm at Walnut Creek where visitors can take a horse-drawn wagon ride through an outdoor zoo. It has giraffes, zebras and other exotic animals, some of which guests can feed. The farm also hosts a popular fall festival each October.
There is no shortage of dining and shopping in Walnut Creek. Dining highlights include the Der Dutchman Walnut Creek and Rebecca’s Bistro, while shopping highlights include The Peddler and The Little Cottage Company, among many others.
The Little Cottage Company specializes in hand-crafted playhouses that look like real homes, as well as unique cottages.
Speaking of cottages and playhouses, Walnut Creek has a number of interesting places to stay, including Rocky Hill Cabins, which is one of the newer cabins in the region.
On the outskirts of town, look for the new and improved (and very large) Walnut Creek Amish Flea Market. A fire destroyed the former location in 2019, but the new one opened this year. Across the street is the David Warther Carvings & Gift Shop, another popular attraction in Walnut Creek. (bottom 2 photos provided)
Known as “the Little Switzerland of Ohio” and the “gateway to Amish Country” when traveling from the east, the town of Sugarcreek takes pride in its heritage, including displaying one of the largest cuckoo clocks in the world and decorating the town with Swiss architecture and artwork.
The community was founded by a mix of Amish, Swiss and German families. It was the Swiss immigrants who brought cheese-making with them and who opened some of the first cheese factories in the area. This industry continues to thrive in Sugarcreek and throughout Amish Country, and there are numerous places to purchase fresh, locally made cheeses along Route 39.
Along with visiting the giant, mechanical cuckoo clock, which comes to life every half-hour from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. daily in the spring through fall, many visitors to Sugarcreek come to visit the Dutch Valley, which includes five attractions in one: the Dutch Valley restaurant, a gift shop and market, the Ohio Star Theater and the Carlisle Inn Sugarcreek hotel, which is one of the nicer lodging options in Amish country.
Near the cuckoo clock are several other points of interest, including the Alpine Hills Museum, Esther’s Home Bakery & Café, Village Antiques & Collectibles and Collectors Decanters & Steins, among others. For something to eat, try the Honey Bee Café, serving breakfast and lunch, including a popular turkey pesto cranberry panini and sweet potato fries.
Dover & New Philadelphia
There are a number of top-rated attractions to explore in New Philadelphia and Dover.
For starters, Dover is home to the Ernest Warther Museum & Gardens where visitors can see the amazing carvings of artist Ernest “Mooney” Warther who hand-sculpted the evolution of the steam engine with amazing detail. Many of his carvings displayed at the museum contain miniature built-in motors that make the engine wheels turn. Some pieces contain more than 7,500 individually carved parts.
For a fee, visitors to this museum can view dozens of the intricate carvings, shop in the gift store, visit the Ernest & Frieda Warther Family Home and Gardens, view a huge button collection and even take part in a carving workshop.
Another outstanding attraction is the Trumpet in the Land outdoor theater, where performances of Paul Green’s historical drama “Trumpet in the Land” are performed several nights each week in the summer. The drama brings to life the Ohio frontier during the Revolutionary War and the tragic events that encircled the founding of Ohio’s first settlement, Schoenbrunn. Other outdoor shows scheduled for 2020 include “Beauty & the Beast,” “Breaking Up is Hard to Do,” and “The Marvelous Wonderettes.”
An interesting community park can be found at Tuscora Park in New Philadelphia. Unlike most parks that contain swing sets and slides, Tuscora Park contains amusement park rides, including a ferris wheel, carousel and roller coaster. Even better, they only cost $1 to ride. There are also batting cages, miniature golf, a swimming pool, a cotton candy stand, and more. The park operates Memorial Day through Labor Day.
Before leaving the area, several other noteworthy attractions are Schoenbrunn Village and the JE Reeves Victorian Home & Carriage Museum in Dover.
First settled in 1772, the historic Schoen- brunn Village and Museum is touted as the place “where Ohio’s first settlement began.” The grounds include cabins, a school and church, an original cemetery (popular during Halloween), the museum, a theater and more. At the JE Reeves Victorian Home & Carriage Museum take guided tours of this lavish Victorian home, gardens, carriage house and museum. The 1912 Living History Tour has visitors follow a maid through the house as she puts the finishing touches on her chores before a party begins.
After New Philadelphia, the scenery on Route 39 will once again change, becoming even more Appalachian in appearance.
Dellroy sits directly next to Atwood Lake Park, where boating and camping are popular activities. Several marinas offer boat rentals by the hour, day or week and there are several highly recommended bed and breakfasts in the area.
In the warmer months there are several lakeside dining options available, as well as camping, hiking, fishing and other recreational activities.
In the fall and spring, visit the Atwood Lake Park Observation Tower for a magnificent view of the lake from above. And, if you happen to be driving through Dellroy in October, the town goes all out for Halloween with almost everyone in the community dressing up their homes and yards for the holiday.
This historic Appalachian town was home to the famous Fighting McCooks, a family of 15 men who fought for the Union before and during the Civil War. Their home, the Daniel McCook House, is listed as a National Historic Place and acts as a Civil War museum. This is one of several interesting museums in the charming town of Carrollton. The others are the Ashton House Museum, which contains historic artifacts and gardens, and Susie’s Museum of Childhood, which displays toys and playthings from the 1700s through today.
Other highlights in Carrollton include the Carroll County Courthouse, Bluebird Farm Park, a stop by Bud’s Farm Toys in the historic downtown and some tasty hometown restaurants and bakeries.
Mechanicstown & Salineville
During this leg of Route 39, travelers will pass the furthest point north that any Confed- erate troops reached during the Civil War. A monument marks the spot and is located between Mechanicstown and Salineville on the left side of the road. A small parking area provides access to the monument.
It was at this location on July 26, 1863 that the Battle of Salineville took place. It was a Union victory that destroyed John Hunt Morgan’s army (of Morgan’s Raid fame) and led to his capture. This part of Route 39 is designated the John Hunt Morgan Heritage Trail. The trail, which includes roads other than Route 39, can be followed to discover more Ohio Civil War history.
Between Carrollton and Wellsville is one of the least populated areas in Ohio. It’s a beautiful country drive with several small villages located in between. Look for a pinkish-red church on the outskirts of Mechanicstown, one of many beautiful churches found along Route 39, and enjoy the unique town of Salineville.
This Appalachian town’s motto is “Salt of the Earth,” and its name comes from the salt deposits (salinity) found along nearby Yellow Creek. This part of Route 39 is especially colorful in the fall, as it’s bordered by the Brush Creek Wilderness Area to the south and the Highlandtown Wildlife Area to the north.
When Route 39 pops back into civilization, it will be at the Ohio River in Wellsville.
A must-see in Wellsville is the village’s painted murals, located on the flood walls that shelter the community from the Ohio River. The murals were painted by artist Gina Hampton and highlight the community’s rich history.
Other attractions include the Wellsville Ohio Bottle Kiln, which introduces travelers to the area’s rich pottery history, The Boy and the Boot statue (located next to the murals), and the Wellsville River Museum. The town also once boasted having the largest bell in America. It is currently on display in front of the Wellsville Masonic Lodge.
Directly across the river in West Virginia is the Mountaineer Casino, Racetrack and Resort, accessible from nearby East Liverpool and providing numerous lodging options.
History buffs can enjoy some of the sites in town, including The Whitacre House Site, where three United States Presidents visited, including Abraham Lincoln, and the Wellsville River Museum, which houses the death mask of Pretty Boy Floyd.
Known as “The Pottery Capital of America,” East Liverpool sits directly on the Ohio River near the point where Ohio, West Virginia and Pennsylvania meet.
Since 1839, 200 potteries have operated in the city, two of which remain in operation to this day (and one across the river in West Virginia). All three are open for tours, as is The Museum of Ceramics, which is located in an old post office in the historic downtown. During the third weekend in June, the city hosts the Tri-State Pottery Festival.
Beyond pottery, travelers can visit the Pretty Boy Floyd Museum (the gangster was killed in a forest just north of town), The Lout Holtz Hall of Fame, and the East Liverpool Fire- fighting Museum, among a number of other unique attractions.
After passing through East Liverpool, Route 39 reaches Pennsylvania. About 200 feet before the state line, there are several historical markers and a monument on the right side of the road in Ohio. In 1786, this was the spot that the United States government began the formal survey of the Northwest Territory. It’s also the last stop on Route 39.
To take the easy way home, follow OH-7 south along the Ohio River to I-70. By taking this route, most of the Miami Valley is about a 4-hour drive from East Liverpool.
Another way home is OH-22, which passes through Cadiz, Cambridge, Zanesville, Lancaster and Circleville, all interesting towns in themselves.
Finally, this is your chance to drive the entire length of the Ohio River in the Buckeye State. Starting in East Liverpool, follow OH-7 south, which becomes U.S. 52 and finally U.S. 50 before entering Indiana. The river will be on your left the entire time.
One final note for those who enjoy garage sales. The Route 39 Corridor Garage Sales usually takes place the first weekend in August.
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