Marvelous Marietta On The Ohio
By Hazel M. Freeman
The Iroquois Indians called the big river “Ohio,” meaning beautiful river. Into the Ohio flows the Muskingum River, Ohio’s longest river. It was here, at the juncture of these two navigable rivers, in 1786, the Ohio Company of Associates declared this, the prime piece of wilderness, to found the first permanent settlement in the Northwest Territory. This new settlement, Marietta, would come to be known as “the gateway to the west,” where Pioneer families from the East would risk it all to own a piece of the West. The Ohio and Muskingum rivers became major highways for those heading west in search of a new life, and Marietta became the portal to that new life.
Nestled along the banks of the two rivers, Marietta continues to be a vibrant, and delightful river town that leaves you wanting more. From its red brick streets, tree lined avenues with grand Victorian homes, to its rich history, quaint shopping, and scenic river setting; Marietta emanates the unassuming appeal of small town America.
History buffs will want to visit the Campus Martius Museum which stands on the site of the original fort that was home to the first pioneers, while they founded Marietta. The museum is brimming with original artifacts and exhibits that trace the early settlement of Ohio as well as later waves of migration into the area. The Rufus Putnam House, the remaining structure from the original fort, stands in a wing of the museum. Behind the museum is the original Ohio Company’s Land Office where maps were made, and deeds drawn up, and handed, to eager settlers.
As the Ohio Company settlers cleared the land they discovered prehistoric earthen mounds in the region. The directors of the Ohio Company designated them as public places to be preserved. Archaeological studies of the earthworks suggest The Mounds of Marietta, were created by the Hopewell and Adena Indian Cultures. The mounds, still intact today, can be explored at four locations including the Marietta Mound Cemetery where twenty-four revolutionary War Officers are buried, the most in any one United States Cemetery.
One block from Campus Martius, is the Ohio River Museum. Shipbuilding, once an important business in Marietta, saw the steamboat become a powerful force in the expansion of the west. People and materials moved faster than ever on the rivers. Three exhibit buildings bring to life the history of trade and travel, and river life and culture, including the golden era of the steamboat. Moored on the Muskingum next to the Museum, and open for tours, is the W.P. Snyder Jr., the last intact, steam-powered, stern-wheeled towboat in the United States.
Docked near the Snyder is Marietta’s own passenger vessel, the Valley Gem Sternwheeler, built to resemble an authentic paddle wheeler. For a real riverboat feel you can cruise aboard the Valley Gem from June through October, for a sightseeing cruise, lock tour, dinner cruise, or view the spectacular colors of fall on a fall foliage tour.
Marietta’s elegant and historic Lafayette hotel is home to the American Sternwheel Association. Each year the first weekend after Labor Day Marietta hosts The Ohio River Sternwheel Festival. Vintage paddle wheelers from up and down the river tie up along the river and return Marietta to the riverboat era town of its past. Visitors can enjoy three days of fun and free entertainment along the river with a fabulous fireworks display on Saturday night. The Lafayette, a member of the Historic Hotels of America, offers fine dining, and is a popular destination year round with special events and packages.
The historic downtown streets of Marietta can be taken in on foot, by Trolley or horse drawn carriage. You’ll find art galleries, more museums, bookstores, antique shops, unique boutiques, and specialty shops to entice you with jewelry, pottery, homemade pasta, hand dipped chocolates, fine wine, fragrant candles, masterfully brewed beer, and luxurious leather items. When you’ve worked up an appetite you need not look far to find fine cuisine from casual to gourmet with plenty of palate pleasing sweet treats along the way.
A stroll across the Harmar Railroad footbridge takes you over the picturesque Muskingum and gives you a birds-eye view of the confluence of the Muskingum and Ohio. In the Historic Harmar Village you’ll find the Toy and Doll Museum, the Marietta Soda Museum and a variety of other unique shops, and eateries. A few miles from Marietta, in Belpre, you can find hundreds of lifelike, bundles of joy at Middleton Original Doll Company.
For a feel of the Victorian lifestyle plan a visit to The Castle, once the home of some of the area’s most prominent and influential citizens, and one of the best examples of Gothic Revival style architecture in Ohio. Decorated with Victorian Era furnishings regular guided tours are offered as well as art exhibits, teas, concerts, and workshops.
Marietta’s is a pleasing mixture of old and new. It’s prominent past is rich in history, from its roots in early America, and as a safe haven along the Underground Railroad, to its role as an Ohio River icon. It invites us to reconnect with our heritage while at the same time indulging in the modern pleasures of a vibrant, tourist friendly, small town.
For a visitors guide go to www.mariettaohio.org or call 1-800-228-2577. There are plenty of lodging options around Marietta from the riverboat era Lafayette, to romantic B&B’s, well-known hotels, motels, and camping facilities.