Few things top the thrill of boarding a train, settling into a seat and being lulled by the soothing sounds of the tracks as you gape out the window at breathtakingly scenic vistas.
The punctuality, comfort and efficiency of rail travel have led me to enjoy some memorable train experiences. I’ve explored Great Britain on its National Rail network and traveled between major German cities on the Deutsche Bahn Inter-City-Express (ICE) train. I’ve taken the high-speed Eurostar from London to Brussels, riding through the channel tunnel between Great Britain and France. Best of all was a seven-hour ride on the Glacier Express from Zermatt to St. Moritz in Switzerland.
So it was with great delight that I recently discovered I could ride the rails through an historic Ohio valley and see many wonderful sights. All aboard for a trip on the Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad to discover the Cuyahoga Valley National Park and its star attraction, the Village of Peninsula!
A three-hour roundtrip sightseeing excursion on the Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad between Akron and Independence, Ohio affords an opportunity to discover the natural beauty and history of the Cuyahoga Valley.
Trains have been traveling through the valley since 1880, when the Valley Railway opened to serve farmers, merchants and factories along its route by transporting agricultural products, natural resources and livestock to the lake port of Cleveland. Passenger service ended in 1963; freight trains stopped running in 1985. Today, the historic rails are owned by the National Park Service, which manages the Cuyahoga Valley National Park, a 22-mile-long, 33,000-acre stretch between Cleveland and Akron.
During a three-hour roundtrip between Akron Northside Station and Rockside Station, the train follows the bends, winds and curves of the Cuyahoga River. It travels parallel to the Towpath Trail, a popular path for bikers, walkers and runners on which horses and mules originally pulled boats along the Ohio & Erie Canal. It chugs by a bronze statue of an Indian carrying his canoe, a monument to the original Portage Indian Trail which followed a section of the Cuyahoga Valley.
Between the stations at Botzum, Indigo Lake, Peninsula, Boston Mill and Brecksville, the train passes meadows of native switchgrass, glacial-cut gorges and steep hillsides of forests.
It travels under impressive bridges and viaducts, next to trunk sewers and dams, and past the nests of eagles, Great Blue Herons and other wildlife. And it chugs past historic landmarks, like the restored yellow buildings of Jaite, a company town established in 1906 to house employees of the Jaite Mill, which made bag liners for flour and cement.
As other industries like boat building, quarrying and brickmaking developed, villages sprung up along the canal. One of those is Peninsula, a picturesque place that is worth at least a layover, or better yet, a separate visit altogether.
Laid out in 1837 and incorporated in 1859, Peninsula owes its name to a sharp bend in the Cuyahoga River which encircled land and formed a peninsula. Due to its prime location along the canal, which opened in 1827 to link the area to outside markets, Peninsula boomed, becoming the largest village in Boston Township. This historic community was selected as one of the “Best Old House Neighborhoods 2012: Small Towns” by This Old House. It was also named as one of Ohio Magazine’s Best Hometowns for 2013.
Peninsula is a good place to begin exploring the area. Walk along the Towpath Trail and admire the fan-shaped lunette and Federal-style architectural features of the Boston Land & Manufacturing Company store and post office, built in 1836. Today, the building is home to the Boston Store Visitor Center, offering exhibits that tell the story of canal boat building in the valley.
A reproduction of the elegant stern of a Peninsula-based canal boat named The Sterling is also there to admire. Fans of covered bridges seek out the Everett Road Covered Bridge, the only remaining covered bridge in Summit County. Built in the 19th century, the bridge crossing Furnace Run was destroyed in the 1913 flood, but a historically accurate replica was finished in 1986. Besides offering orientation information, the Peninsula Depot Visitor Center provides a glimpse of what the depot’s office would have looked like in 1923, when the depot was in its prime as a center of community life.
Fellow history and architecture buffs will find themselves weak-kneed in the heart of Peninsula. Behold the Stick Style glory of the Boston Township Hall! It was built in 1887 by the Peninsula Board of Education to consolidate two one-room schoolhouses into a centralized location. Its architect was John Eisenmann, who not only designed the Cleveland Arcade and Ohio’s state flag, but also provided drawings for the Perry’s Victory and International Peace Memorial at Put-in-Bay. The Cuyahoga Valley Historical Museum is on the second floor of this building. Outside stands an Ohio Historical Society marker honoring the hall and Eisenmann that was placed there to celebrate Boston Township’s bicentennial in 2011.
Walk past a charming lineup of homes on Main Street to the Bronson Memorial Church, which was constructed under the supervision of Hermon Bronson in 1839. First known as Bethel Church until 1889, the small frame Classic Greek Revival building was remodeled in the 1880s to the more trendy Carpenter Gothic style of the day.
The Grand Army of the Republic (G.A.R.) Hall is another restored 1880’s Victorian landmark in Peninsula. Once a meeting place for Civil War veterans, it hosts performances by local musicians, cooking demonstrations and lectures.
Other nearby sites include Brandywine Falls, where you can admire the 65-foot waterfall and its surrounding Berea Sandstone from a boardwalk. Stops for a future visit include the Hunt Farm Visitor Information Center, highlighting agricultural history and recreational opportunities in the valley, and Beaver Marsh, where you can spot beavers, muskrats, otters and water fowl along a wetland boardwalk.
Tomorrow I’ll tell you about what won my “Favorite Place in Peninsula” award. Until then, learn more about this historic and beautiful place by checking out Cuyahoga Valley National Park Handbook, by Carolyn V. Platt, and Cuyahoga Valley — a pictorial history compiled by Melissa Arnold of the Cuyahoga Valley Historical Museum, the Peninsula Library and Historical Society’s Randolph S. Bergdorf and the Cuyahoga Valley National Park Association’s historian, Sam Tamburro — that was published in 2004 as part of Arcadia’s Images of America series. Faith of Our Fathers: The Story of the Bronson Memorial Church, compiled by the Rev. Roderic B. Dibbert, and Life Along the Canal: The 1849 Journal of Robert Andrew, edited by Bergdorf, provide insight into Peninsula’s history. Guide Book for the Tourist and Traveler over the Valley Railway!, by John S. Reese, was originally published in 1880, but a facsimile edition is available for modern-day sightseers.
There’s more to this story. If you’d like to discover it on your own, visit the Boston Township website, where you’ll find links to documentaries and articles about the formation of the park, including a copy of “The Secret Valley: Ohio’s Unknown National Park,” from the February 1989 issue of Ohio Magazine.