Calling all history buffs! Established on March 1, 1805, Champaign County became the 18th of 88 counties in Ohio. With over 200 years of rich and varied history to discover in these eight stops along the Champaign County Heritage Trail, the county offers something for everyone seeking to explore the past.
We all have family history and it is the first history we ever learn. Start your journey in West Liberty at Piatt Castle Mac-A-Cheek where you can explore the lives of the Piatt family as a case study and in the process think about your own family history. Nestled in the gorgeous countryside, Piatt Castle has been a popular destination for over 100 years. All tours at Piatt Castle are facilitated self-guided journeys through historical artifacts, photographs, exhibits, and explanatory text.
Head west to Saint Paris, where the Pony Wagon Town Historical Museum awaits. The museum, which was once a railroad depot, offers in-depth details on the history of Saint Paris, Ohio with historic artifacts on site for your viewing pleasure. Known as “Pony Wagon Town,” Saint Paris was the home of Walborn & Riker Company, known worldwide for quality pony pleasure vehicles.
Travel to the county seat of Urbana for four attractions all in close proximity. Grimes Field Municipal Airport is part of the National Aviation Heritage Area and is the home of three free museums where you will land on a goldmine of aviation history. The Champaign Aviation Museum is home to eight vintage aircraft including a WWII B-17 Flying Fortress bomber, being restored to flying condition and a WWII B-25 Mitchell fully restored and flying. The Grimes Flying Lab and Museum will illuminate your understanding of aircraft lighting that makes aviation safer for all of us. The Grimes Flying Lab Foundation is dedicated to the Flying Lab test vehicle, as well as preserving the legacy of Warren G. Grimes. The third museum located at Grimes Field, Mid America Flight Museum North, is home to the Travel Air 6000 restoration project. Here a team of dedicated volunteers spend countless hours restoring this aircraft as well as a Stinson Model A Tri-motor (The only existing one in the world).
Once you have had your fill of aviation history, travel back in time at the Champaign County Historical Museum, where the history of Champaign County has been preserved. Learn about the Native American tribes who lived here, the county’s earliest setters, its role in the Civil War and Underground Railroad. This is where the history of Champaign County is chronicled and where it comes to life!
A few miles away is Oak Dale Cemetery with its majestic oaks, historic monuments and winding driveways. The cemetery is home to a recently-restored replica of a John Quincy Adams Ward statue that was the first statue by an American artist placed in New York City’s Central Park. Also of note is the grave of legendary frontiersman, Simon Kenton, that is marked by a life-sized statue started by John Quincy Adams Ward and completed over 100 years later by local artist, Mike Major.
Travel to the center of town to the Monument Square Historic District and stroll down the beautiful tree-lined Scioto Street Historic District with its grand historic homes. The Man on the Monument, a statue of a Union soldier who looks North, is the focus of the round about and town square. Take in the unique and historical architecture of downtown while you shop and dine. Don’t miss out on the antique and vintage shops where you can take a piece of history home with you. Just south of the square you can take in a movie or performance at the Gloria Theatre, a 113-year-old theatre with a rich history of its own, that is being restored and renovated into a modern entertainment venue.
The last stop in Urbana takes you to Freedom Grove. Nestled on the south side of Urbana, it is the perfect place for reflection and remembrance, with a beam from the fallen World Trade Center as the focal point.
Finally, head east to the Village of Mechanicsburg with a visit to Maple Grove Cemetery. Two interments of note are William Bart Saxbe, former United States Ambassador and Senator from Ohio, and Addison White, a runaway slave. A historical marker on Main Street tells the story of White and how the people of Mechanicsburg paid $900 for his freedom.
If you are craving even more history stop by the Champaign County Visitors Bureau located at 127 W. Court St. in Urbana for self-guided tour brochures that include the historic homes of Scioto Street, historical markers of Champaign County, a downtown Urbana Architectural Treasure Hunt, and a Tombstone Trail. For history lovers planning an overnight trip, the Cobblestone Hotel-Urbana is offering special rates for those participating in the Heritage Trail. Call the hotel directly and ask for the FFT rate. For more visitors information go to visitchampaignohio.com.
Sara Neer is executive director of the Champaign County Chamber of Commerce & Visitors Bureau