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Explore Plain City

Hundred-year-old covered bridges, remnants of tallgrass prairie, and the occasional arrowhead unearthed in a farmer’s field aren’t the only links to history in Plain City. Elements of the area’s past are still a big part of life in the present. Families continue to farm the land of their great-grandparents. Children still fish and swim in Big Darby Creek. And everyone can still get a taste of authentic Amish Kitchen Cooking.

A Simple History Lesson

The town of Plain City was originally called Westminster when it was founded, but not long after, its name was changed to Pleasant Valley. It's easy to see why. Once the favorite hunting and camping grounds for Wyandot and Shawnee Indians, the Darby Watershed welcomed the first European settlers in the 1800s. Here they found a temperate climate, tree-lined riverbanks, nutrient-rich till soil, and a tremendous variety of plant and animal life.

Growth was slow and uncertain in the early years of Pleasant Valley, but the town had the advantage of being located on Post Road, over which many of the early pioneers traveled as they made their way west. Businesses and mills began to spring up. Then the railroad came in 1851, bringing cheap transportation and the future to the village.

Corn

During the 1850's, when cries of slavery and abolition were rampant over the nation, Pleasant Valley was an important station on the Underground Railroad, which shuttled slaves northward to Canada. Some of the newly freed people remained in the town and their descendants still live in the community.

In the year 1871, there were at least four towns in Ohio named Pleasant Valley. In 1877 the citizens petitioned to change the name of the town to Plain City. By the late 1920s, Plain City had become an important railroad shipping point for livestock. Droves of sheep and cattle were driven through the center of town and down Maple Street (then Railroad Street) to the pens and loading chutes across from the depot.

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An Early Home for the Amish

It might not look like it now, but years ago Plain City was home to many Amish families. The first group of Amish settled in Plain City in 1896. And by 1904, there were three large Amish churches, made up of 20 to 30 families each. Here, they tended prosperous farms, raised their families, and practiced a simple, separate way of life.

But by the 1940s, modern inventions, such as the automobile, began to tempt the younger generation. The incursion of worldly technology spurred the beginning of an exodus from the area. Families began looking for a more isolated place to live.

Around 1944, a number of Amish families left the community, followed by another group in 1966, and yet another in 1975. Some of those who left Plain City went west to Wisconsin and Missouri. Others went to quieter, less worldly communities in Holmes County Ohio where fewer distractions existed.

Today, an estimated 400 to 500 families of Amish descent still live nearby, but only a handful of citizens born and raised in the Old Order Amish tradition remain in Plain City. Horse-drawn buggies, once a familiar sight along its streets, are now gone. Yet there are reminders of Amish life throughout the community, lending truth to the idea that the bounds of Ohio’s Amish Country are defined more by cultural ties and shared traditions than by geography.

Amish Kitchen Cooking draws not only tourists but also the locals to Plain City’s landmark, Der Dutchman Restaurant and its sister restaurant, Dutch Kitchen. The Plain City Amish landscape also includes cheese houses, country stores, handcrafted furniture shops, farmer’s markets, and auctions, which offer an entire evening of entertainment on the second and last Fridays of every month.

Good to know box: Union County has 4 covered bridges

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Classic Americana

Located only half an hour away from the airport and downtown Columbus, Plain City is a friendly, familiar American small town where you’ll find plenty of ways to make the most of an afternoon or a long weekend.

Tourists and townsfolk alike eagerly await the area’s warm-weather, outdoor festivities. At the Miami Valley Steam Threshers Festival, the third week in July, artisans demonstrate antique machinery and visitors enjoy an art fair and flea market. The Shekinah Mennonite Festival in Plain City offers additional old-fashioned, family-friendly fun. At the Shekinah Mennoite Festival, the second weekend in September, airplanes and hot air balloons are added to the entertainment.

The area is also popular with cyclists. Columbus-area bicyclists ride to Plain City on Saturday mornings just to partake of the generously portioned breakfasts at Dutch Kitchen—particularly the just-baked cinnamon buns that are well worth pedaling miles for. Of course, the scenery helps!

A “Last Great Place”

In 1991, The Nature Conservancy declared the Darby Plains one of the “Last Great Places” in the Western Hemisphere. The relative absence of dramatic modifications to the environment helped keep the Big Darby Creek system closer to what it once was.

Back in 1883, Dr. Jeremiah Converse, a physician of Plain City, described the area this way: This whole country was a sea of wild grass, and flowering herbs ... daisies, buttercups, wild pink, coxcomb, lilies, and many others equally beautiful. It was, indeed, a grand sight to a nature-loving mind, to look over these extensive prairie fields and behold them mantled with so luxuriant a growth of vegetation and decorated so lavishly with an almost endless variety of flowers, variegated with all the colors of the rainbow...

Today, only remnants of this untouched prairie remain around Plain City, but it still provides a wonderful window back into the time before European settlement. Near Plain City the natural heritage of the Darby Plains can be found among the weathered gravestones at the Bigelow and Smith Cemeteries. These preserves not only remind visitors of the area’s pioneer past, but also provide a glimpse of over thirty species of native prairie plants that once covered much of Ohio.

Though rare and scattered, mature burr oaks and post oaks, some from pre-settlement times, still survive in the Darby Plains. And the 18-acre, privately owned W. Pearl King Savanna in Madison County has been successful in maintaining one of the few remaining natural occurrences of oak savanna in central Ohio.

The natural environment of the Darby Valley, though deteriorated, remains an island of aquatic biodiversity in a sea of severely impacted Ohio and Midwestern streams. It is home to at least 103 bird species, including migratory birds, waterfowl, and grassland birds; almost a hundred species of fish; and an incredible variety of wildflowers and trees.

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Outdoor Activities for All

The Darby Creeks also boast an abundance of recreational opportunities for outdoor enthusiasts. With most of the natural setting intact, this sprawling watershed is a wonderful getaway for nature lovers of all ages and capabilities. From fly-fishing to cross-country skiing, the activities subtly change, as do the seasons.

Big Darby’s Colorful Wildflowers
Big bluestem
Indian grass
Ohio spiderwort
Nodding wild onion
Canada milk vetch
Partridge pea
Flowering spurge
Stiff gentian
Hoary puccoon
Indian paintbrush
Purple coneflower
Sawtooth sunflower
Scaly blazing star
Gray-headed coneflower
Whorled rosinweed
Rough dropseed
Butterfly weed
Rose pink
Mullein foxglove

In the summer, canoeing and kayaking are some of the best ways to experience this National Scenic Byway waterway The creeks’ navigability affords the novice and the veteran an enjoyable journey. Make sure to bring binoculars or a camera. As you quietly paddle down the Darbys you may see white-tailed deer, herons, great horned owls, spotted turtles, and beaver among the critters that live within the forested corridor.

Big and Little Darby Creeks are well recognized as two of the finest sport fishing streams in Ohio, too. Black bass, crappie, sunfish, smallmouth bass, and catfish all await the angler. Though low in numbers, native populations of the mighty muskellunge can be found in the creeks as well.

In area Metro Parks, trails challenge both the hiker and jogger. When Old Man Winter cooperates, there also is an excellent trail for the cross-country skier, plus sledding runs for downhill thrills.

As winter gives way to spring, the park is painted in spring wildflower glory and wildlife activity abounds. Tallgrass prairie remnants show off their colors as the summer wanes. These seasonal images beckon to be captured by the budding and experienced photographer.

Speaking of photography, you won’t want to leave the area without pictures of its real windows to the past—the covered bridges of Union County. These four historical covered bridges and a steel truss bridge were built in the 1860s and ’70s and are still in use.

The people and places of central Ohio have played an important role in shaping America’s history. Fortunately, that storied past remains alive in the architecture, natural beauty, and daily rhythms of classic communities like Plain City.

Come visit soon!

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