MARIETTA, Ohio — Few places in Ohio are as picturesque as this town, at the confluence of the Ohio and Muskingum rivers.
None is as historic.
Marietta is the oldest city in the Buckeye State, founded in 1788 at a time when crossing the Ohio River from the east meant hacking through the wilderness on the other side and entering the frontier.
Visitors nowadays will have an easier time traveling to Marietta, but they can still see the home of Rufus Putnam, a Revolutionary War general and friend of George Washington’s who was one of the town founders.
Putnam’s log house was part of Campus Martius, a stockade built to protect the first settlers. The house has been preserved on its original foundation within the Campus Martius Museum.
The rest of the large, three-story museum tells the story of the old Northwest Territory from prehistoric times through the flood of migration into Ohio.
Just outside the museum building is the Ohio Company Land Office, where the first settlers recorded their claims. The building, constructed in 1788, might be the oldest structure in the state.
Another fine museum, the Ohio River Museum, is located on the Muskingum River but is close enough to the Ohio that visitors could hear a steam whistle there. The museum concentrates on the golden age of the steamboat and includes the restored W.P. Snyder Jr., the last stern-wheeled towboat in the United States.
Visitors who want to ride a sternwheeler can stop next door. The Valley Gem offers narrated sightseeing cruises and a series of special excursions throughout the summer and into the fall. I love hearing the slap of the stern-wheel paddles against the waters of the Ohio and Muskingum as the boat cruises past verdant islands and under huge bridges.
In downtown Marietta, visitors will find many interesting shops, inviting restaurants and a couple of historic hotels, including the venerable and comfortable Lafayette, located on the Ohio River near the mouth of the Muskingum.
The Lafayette’s well-appointed Gun Room restaurant and Riverview Lounge are both reminders of elegant riverboat days. Guests can even stay in rooms that are made to resemble riverboat passenger cabins.
Craft beer lovers should stop at the Marietta Brewing Co., which offers tasty brew in an attractive old building decorated with colorful murals.
For fine Mediterranean fare, try the Buckley House Restaurant in a historic house across the street from Muskingum Park. Other good restaurant options downtown include Jeremiah’s Coffee House on Front Street; the Galley restaurant in the Hackett, a historic boutique hotel; and Austyn’s, across from the Lafayette hotel.
Hidden Marietta Tour Co., located in the Lafayette, offers walking tours of the city, including a spooky Ghost Trek tour.
In fact, Marietta offers plenty of delightful places to walk off a good meal, including a scenic 3.3-mile walking and bike path along both rivers. But I’d suggest a stroll through Mound Cemetery and the surrounding neighborhood.
The cemetery takes its name from the ancient Indian mound at its center, a reminder of the people who lived in Marietta before Putnam and his fellow settlers. Around the mound are hundreds of graves, some dating to the earliest days of settlement — including more than three dozen Revolutionary War veterans, Putnam included.
The neighborhood surrounding the cemetery contains some magnificent old homes, including the Castle, one of the best examples of Gothic Revival architecture in the state. The house, built in 1855, is now a museum owned by the city. Among the many interesting features is a notable fireplace of scagliola, a beautiful imitation marble made of painted plaster.
From the Castle, visitors will certainly note the triple towers of the Spanish Renaissance-style Basilica of St. Mary of the Assumption, built in 1904. The magnificently decorated and lovingly restored Catholic church is definitely worth a stop. Visitors will find self-guided tour brochures just inside the front doors.
For another great stroll, cross the downtown pedestrian bridge over the Muskingum River to Historic Harmar Village, a cute neighborhood with several restaurants and shops and a few small museums.
On the high bluff above Harmar is another cozy lodging, the House on Harmar Hill bed and breakfast, with a view from the front porch that’s one of the most dramatic in the state.
That same view can be admired from Lookout Point on Bellevue Street just off Route 7. From there, the panorama soars out across the city and both rivers, encompassing the breathtaking confluence where civilization and wilderness once met.
— Steve Stephens can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @SteveStephens.