Travel: Gallic roots still visible in historic Gallia County


Present-day visitors to Ohio’s Gallia County will still see evidence of pride in the region’s Gallic roots, first and foremost in the name of the county and of Gallipolis, the county seat. In Gallipolis.

GALLIPOLIS — Land fraud seems a shaky foundation upon which to build a new settlement.

But the French settlers who arrived in 1790 in what now is Ohio’s Gallia County made a go of it, despite having in their possession worthless deeds bought from a swindler.

Present-day visitors will still see evidence of pride in the region’s Gallic roots, first and foremost in the name of the county and of Gallipolis, the county seat. In Gallipolis, they’ll also see one of the loveliest small-town riverfronts in the Ohio Valley.

When the new settlers arrived and discovered that they didn’t own any farms, they lived in rude cabins along the Ohio River in what is now City Park, a verdant 5 acres in the heart of the city.

The tree-filled park, lined on three sides by historic and picturesque homes and commercial buildings, offers a magnificent view of the river and, on the other side, of the West Virginia hills. The park also hosts an ornate 19th-century bandstand that has become a city emblem and several grand monuments, including a memorial listing the county’s war dead — too many, for sure — from every American conflict.

Among the historic structures in downtown Gallipolis is Our House Tavern, a brick building built in 1819. The tavern served travelers throughout the 19th century until it was converted to other uses. It is now a city museum that tells the story of the original “French 500” and other early settlers, including the many Welsh who arrived to farm and work in the region’s abundant iron furnaces.

Gallipolis sits at the beginning of the Welsh Byway, a designated scenic highway linking old Welsh churches and historical sites and extending into Jackson County to the northwest.

Visitors will also learn about Gen. Lafayette’s visit to the tavern in 1825 — and see the jacket that he left behind.

The French Art Colony is another institution that pays tribute to the city’s roots. Located in a restored 1855 Greek-revival mansion, it hosts art shows, classes and live performances and has beautiful grounds suitable for a delightful stroll.

The Ariel Opera House, built in 1895 and noted for its acoustics, is another important downtown arts venue. Now a performing-arts center, it houses the Ohio Valley Symphony.

Next to the opera house is the old Colony Theater, which has been wonderfully converted into a restaurant. The Colony Club has table seating on its mezzanine but retains its movie screen and theater seating on the theater floor. I had a very tasty lunch there one afternoon while enjoying the old Joan Fontaine horror movie flickering in the background.

Speaking of restaurants, Bob Evans opened his first restaurant in Gallipolis. The farmer and entrepreneur, who founded the Bob Evans Restaurant chain, ran his operation from his farm in western Gallia County near Rio Grande.

The original farm now houses the Bob Evans Homestead — a museum, event venue and Bob Evans restaurant. The museum, in the Evans family’s old brick farmhouse, offers a self-guided tour through the restaurant’s history.

The homestead is also the site of the popular Bob Evans Farm Festival, scheduled this year for Oct. 12-14. The festival includes entertainment, traditional arts and crafts, farm contests and children’s events.

Although you can certainly enjoy a classic breakfast at Bob Evans, my favorite spot for a latte and a pastry or bite of breakfast is nearby Twinkleberries Coffee & Bake Shop, a friendly little stop in Rio Grande.

Gallia County also boasts two wineries: Merry Family Winery, which also makes its own craft beer; and the new Twisted Vine Family Vineyard. The latter, which opened this summer, has shady outdoor seating with a beautiful view of the vineyard. Both wineries are a great place to catch weekend entertainment or while away a lazy, sunny afternoon.

Gallia County grows wilder as you drive southwest along the county’s backroads, many unpaved, into Wayne National Forest. Outdoor lovers can backpack and hunt in season in the forest and hunt the 13,000-acre Crown City Wildlife Area. (My first experiences as a young hunter were in Gallia County with my father and grandfather. Fond memories, those.)

Hikers will find several trails in the county, including the paved Gallia County Hike and Bike Trail on an old railroad bed running from Gallipolis toward Bidwell; and the wild and rugged Symmes Creek and Morgan Sisters trails in Wayne National Forest

On occasion, I’ve walked through the forest for miles without running into another soul. But when you do find a fellow Gallia County explorer, be sure to wave and say “hello”— or maybe “bonjour.”

 

sstephens@dispatch.com

@SteveStephens



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