Lancaster tourism officials want the Fairfield County seat to be known as a place where history and the arts come alive. The city, located just 35 miles southeast of Columbus, offers a mix of historical sites, art-related venues and interesting dining options.
The city's major art event, the Lancaster Festival, will celebrate its 30th anniversary this year. Slated for July 16-26, the festival includes 75 performances, many of which are free.
But all year museum operators, local artists and leaders work hard to make the arts and history accessible to residents, particularly children.
The downtown, with numerous small parks and public art pieces, is very walkable. The Ohio Department of Transportation currently is completing road and walkway upgrades on Main Street between Memorial Drive and High Street.
Many people don't realize Lancaster's role in the nation's history, said Andrea Brookover, executive director of the Fairfield Heritage Association.
Civil War General William Tecumseh Sherman was born in Lancaster. Sherman's battlefield wins were instrumental in the re-election of President Abraham Lincoln in 1864 and the ultimate defeat of the Confederacy. Sherman's famous "March to the Sea" left a 50-mile-wide wake of destruction through the heartland of Georgia.
His birthplace, now the Sherman House Museum, has been a memorial to the family since 1951. The home, built in 1811, has been restored to look as it did when the Shermans lived there and is furnished with items from the early- to mid-19th century.
Visitors particularly enjoy seeing the Sherman family cradle that was used for all 11 of the Sherman children, Brookover said.
The children's bedroom on the second floor tends to be the "funnest room for children," she added. The room showcases old toys, which sparks a lot of comparisons about children's pastimes then and now, she said. Kids also are surprised to learn that in Sherman's time, children would share a bed with two or three siblings, Brookover said.
The house also features a Civil War tent exhibit similar to what Sherman himself would have occupied during wartime.
More history is on display just outside the city limits at Rock Mill, Ohio's largest and oldest (but no longer working) gristmill.
The heritage association also maintains the Georgian Museum, a stately brick and sandstone home built in 1832. The home features many period antiques, but children tend to most appreciate the museum's special dollhouse and miniatures collection, which were donated by a local collector, Brookover said. Kids also enjoy the kitchen with its early toasters, apple corers and other gadgets.
The Ohio Glass Museum showcases the community's history as a glass manufacturing town, said Kate Ervin, executive director of Destination Downtown Lancaster. The museum has rotating glass exhibits and a glass-blowing studio where artists demonstrate the centuries-old skill.
Other places to view art are the Decorative Arts Center of Ohio, a museum that works to promote appreciation of the decorative arts, and Art & Clay on Main, a paint-your-own pottery studio/coffee shop that also sells local art.
The Lancaster Festival has numerous opportunities for children to see and do arts-related activities, said Lou Ross, executive director of the event. The festival focuses on classical concerts, chamber music and the visual arts, he said. He encouraged would-be visitors to check out the online event schedule, which will include performances of Disney's Fantasia and the Atlanta Ballet this year.
When kids are ready to play, head to AHA! A Hands-on Adventure, the local children's museum.
Another interesting spot is the doll shop Pure Imagination. The store carries a large selection of collectible dolls.
For good eats, check out The Well, Central Ohio's newest play café. For $3, kids can explore the café's tree house. Meanwhile, moms and dads can enjoy fresh-roasted coffee or lunch fare at the gluten-free, vegan-friendly eatery.
Shaw's Restaurant & Inn is a local institution, renowned for fine dining, special occasions and cooking classes. An impressively renovated Elk's Lodge has now become The Lodge in Lancaster restaurant, much loved for its mix of American and Italian cuisine. And an old family favorite, Diamond Jim's Pizza, has returned to town.
Another local favorite is Four Reasons Bakery & Deli, known for its deli sandwiches, chocolate chip cookies and frosted brownies.