Anxious to escape from our desks for a few days, my husband, Joe, and I set out for some outdoor fun in Stark County. I was hoping for some art and history experiences; he’s all about food and cycling. Jackpot!
Our adventure started in Massillon at the Lake Avenue Trailhead. Over a cup of coffee on the shaded porch of a charming deli called the Blue Heron Café, we first considered a Canal Fulton Canoe Livery kayak trip on the Tuscarawas River, but ended up renting bikes from Ernie’s Bicycle Shop because Joe was eager to ride.
We opted for day passes so we could take our time on the historic Ohio and Erie Canal Towpath Trail. In the dry parts of the canal ditch on one side of the trail, yellow irises and wildflowers bloomed. In the areas where water stood, frogs hopped among the lily pads. I was charmed by the side-by-side turtles sunning themselves on a fallen tree, and again when we spotted a great blue heron. Both times, I flashed Joe an especially pleading grin and convinced him to pull over for an impromptu wildlife photo shoot. The river slowly made its way south on the other side of the trail. Lush trees shielded us from the sun and from nearby civilization as we cruised the flat, crushed-limestone trail a comfortable eight miles north to Canal Fulton, passing just a few other riders and walkers.
We arrived at the Canal Fulton Canalway Center in time to watch a 30-minute history video prior to boarding the St. Helena III, a reconstructed canal boat, for an hour-long, horse-drawn trip. As the history lover, I loved sitting back and relaxing, but Joe admitted he really enjoyed the serenity of gliding past gently rolling farm fields and thick woodlands.
Joe couldn’t resist the lure of one of the two old-fashioned ice cream shops near the landing, and with treats in hand, we strolled slowly through the village, where it was easy to imagine settlers beginning new lives with the promise of a canal and prosperity nearly two centuries ago. Fun discoveries were everywhere: a turreted tearoom and gift shop, vintage boutiques, a teddy bear shop, a speakeasy coffee house and a glassblowing studio with an Ohio art gallery. There were some tough choices to make, since we had to carry all of our purchases on the bikes, but we easily found room for saltwater taffy and chocolates from one of the specialty stores—it’s all about priorities!
We stopped for a soft drink on the deck of a watering hole overlooking the canal, and then we searched for the Canal Spirits Craft Distillery, tucked away in the lower level of the rustic, canal-side 1859 Brimstone building. We had heard several stories about restless spirits from the canal era—more history fun for me. That mysterious lore is reflected in the distillery name, and the owner added that liquid spirits have been linked to the area since the 1820s, when laborers who dug the canal were paid 30¢ a day and one jigger of whiskey. Being good sports, we totally embraced the spirit of the village in every sense of the word.
We rode back to Ernie’s to return the bikes and drove to downtown Massillon to share a design-your-own wood-fired pizza and a slice of house-made key lime pie at Kozmo’s Grille—where the exposed brick walls and tin ceiling recall the building’s birth as a canal warehouse.
The next morning, we drove to downtown Canton—another easy, eight-mile trip. We enjoyed an early lunch at Taggart’s Ice Cream, which has served up sweet treats since 1926. I leaned back in our high-back wooden booth and found myself wondering how many couples since then had sat right there, sharing the signature Bittner Special—a huge scoop of vanilla ice cream blended with house-made chocolate syrup and topped with salted pecans and whipped cream. It was impossible to know, so I happily took another creamy bite and smiled across the table at Joe.
After a relaxing, hand-in-hand stroll through downtown past local restaurants and art galleries, we were ready to eat again. The best way to get a taste of the town’s past as well as its best cuisine? A Canton Food Tour, starting at Bender’s Tavern, Canton’s oldest restaurant. I walked past the door with a sign labeled “ladies’ restaurant,” which has been preserved since 1902 when women weren’t allowed in taverns, and boldly entered through the door labeled “men’s restaurant,” the sandstone doorstep worn to a crescent. The chef’s choice for us was the restaurant’s traditional turtle soup, followed by charbroiled salmon that seemed to melt in my mouth. The food and service were as memorable as the old-fashioned ambiance.
We walked off a few calories as our enthusiastic and knowledgeable guide led us through Canton’s two-century-old downtown. We passed the huge Birth of the NFL sculpture on the site of the 1920 founding of the National Football League, and our guide pointed out that the Pro Football Hall of Fame is just a 10-minute drive north. As we strolled, we kept our eyes out for the other public art pieces sprinkled throughout the heart of the city, thinking how seamlessly Stark County blends its strengths—history, art, nature, food and football.
Our next culinary stop was George’s Lounge in the Arts District, where we sampled “Geormet” burgers—delicious, grass-fed beef patties with creative toppings. My favorite was the Spicy Jorge topped with homemade black bean salsa and roasted jalapeño for an unexpected kick.
Basil Asian Bistro, located in a quaint, brick building, served our food finale. We indulged in Szechuan-style mussels, a colorful avocado curry with chicken and a unique coconut spaghetti dish that gives traditional spaghetti and meatballs a run for its money. Joe and I were both extremely impressed with the incredible variety and rich flavors that we’d just sampled, knowing that we’d barely scratched the surface of what Canton offers.
After the tour, we walked to the nearby Canton Brewing Company, one of several craft breweries on our list to visit while in town. We were too full to indulge in the Scotch eggs and fried goat cheese balls on the restaurant menu, but we passed on through to get to the lively speakeasy in the basement, offering an exciting variety of beers on tap. Joe tried the Carpe Noctem, a coffee porter, and I ordered the Cascade Pale Ale, intrigued by its notes of grapefruit and pine. We clinked our glasses in a toast to our discoveries of the best of Canton.
The opportunities for active sightseeing, the intersection of our interests and, of course, the tasty food and beverages made our visit to Canton a lasting, happy memory for both of us.Plan an unforgettable getaway to Canton.