Last week, I found myself at our State Capitol Building at the corner of Broad and High streets in downtown Columbus. For those who have never been, it is quite the magnificent structure. A historic limestone building on manicured grounds stands out among the high-rise buildings that adorn the adjoining streets.
Once you enter the building and go to the visitor’s center, you are immediately welcomed by a stone map of Ohio that is on the floor, with all 88 counties and 44,825 square miles that are represented in geologic fashion.
Ohio is often derided as a boring place. In a typical television show or movie, Ohio is where that never-often-mentioned family relative lives; you know, that middle-aged man or woman who happens to be an accountant.
The political talking heads still regard Ohio as a swing state, but also declare Ohio to be in the heart of “flyover country.” I am sure to those who live on the coasts, our state is covered with pollution spewing factories surrounded by trailer parks. They probably think we are lot like Kentucky, except we talk more normal.
But there I was, face to face with a large map of our state and it hit me. As much as Ohio is one state, we are certainly not as quaint as others believe we are, but we aren’t exactly as homogeneous as I believe we are.
Ohio is probably best described as a collection of six or seven different states within a state. And it is right there in the Statehouse where those differences get played out day after day.
Perhaps the clearest differences are seen in our biggest cities. Columbus, Cleveland and Cincinnati, are the “Big Three” and while they share a state, that might be all they have in common. Cincinnati has a strong German heritage and a history of National League Baseball. Cleveland is more eastern European and has their own history of American League Baseball. Both cities, old and grandeur, give the vibe that while they are still strong and vibrant, there is this feeling that perhaps their best days are behind them.
Columbus, on the other hand, gives the impression that its history is still being written. With vast swaths of farmland on all sides of it, Columbus gives the impression that metro region is still growing and working toward a bright future.
Even our rural areas seem different. Drive through portions of western Ohio and it’s evident that the early German immigrants brought their faith, which was a major driver of community life. Towns were not only distinctively known by their name, but by the shape of the tallest church steeple.
Move to northern Ohio and the land is still flat and corn still grows tall, but our Great Lake, Lake Erie, plays a major role. Those pike roads lead travelers up to the lake to places like Sandusky and Huron. Many of the ancestors of these towns came from Connecticut and other New England states.
And then there are places like Appalachia, which evokes emotions that are altogether different. These early settlers from Virginia and Kentucky explored America’s first frontier.
Ohio was the first state carved out of the Northwest Territories and these Southerners armed with land grants came to explore and settle this new land. The rocky and hilly land didn’t do well in farming, but those hills held coal that helped fill the steel mills of places like Youngstown.
And of course, we can’t forget the ancestry of the Native Americans. Some of the earliest known Native American civilizations, such as the Adenas, made their home here in southwest Ohio. These people lived anywhere from 1,000 to 200 B.C. The culture was known for its pottery and its impressive mound earthworks that were believed to be used as a burial ground.
For a state that is often seen as bland and an afterthought, there is really a lot to our state. A rich Native American history, a history of invention and innovation. A history of in-migration and out-migration.
As I stared at that map on the floor of the Statehouse, it became really clear: Ohio really is an amazing state.
William “Bill” Lutz is executive director of The New Path Inc. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.