A Step Back in Time


Vermilion Port Authority
Three locations

Riverview RV Park and Marina
1270 Vermilion Rd.

Moes Marine Service
5336 Liberty Ave.

Romp’s Water Port
5055 Liberty Ave.

Key Harbour Marina
921 W. River Rd.

Maple Grove Marina & Park
1120 Vermilion Rd.

Vermilion Power Boats
5054 Liberty Ave.

Valley Harbor Marina
1295 W. River Rd.

Don Parsons Inc. & Mystic Belle
636 Sandusky St.

Mario’s Landing Marina
6417 West River Rd.


A Step Back in Time

by Melissa Topey
The waterfront community of Vermilion offers the finest in Ohio lakefront living, but with a soft, nostalgic feel.

A cozy harbor town of 10,500 residents, Vermilion, Ohio provides spectacular views along the Vermilion River and the shores of Lake Erie. But don’t be fooled into thinking it’s a quiet existence; this small city roars to life in so many ways!

Recreational boating, personal watercraft, kayaking, canoeing — there’s plenty of water-based activity all around, and a few sheltered sandy beaches from which to watch sailboats glide silently past against the backdrop of a dreamy sunset.

It all comes together to make Vermilion a boater’s summer sanctuary.

Great public docks in the charming downtown area assure boaters are within walking distance to fine dining and eclectic shopping.

Rest assured, anyone that is spending time in Vermilion will find the people charming, welcoming and accustomed to entertaining visitors. 

This place is something special.

Rich boating history

Vermilion sits on Lake Erie straddling Erie and Lorain counties, just 21 miles from Sandusky — home of world-renowned Cedar Point amusement park. The town was originally founded in 1837 as a small fishing community and organized itself as a village in 1844.

Vermilion is boating — from its beginning as a humble fishing village; to its rise as a shipbuilding port; to its current status as a summer haven for today’s recreational boater.

“There has been shipbuilding and a huge fishing industry here at times,” says Bill McCarthy, operations manager for Vermilion Port Authority. “We are still a boating community with a New England fishing town atmosphere.”

Today boating is more of the tourist industry. It is a perfect place for boaters with vessels of all sizes.

“It is beautiful on the waterways,” McCarthy says.

Vermilion has 17 marinas and boatyards to accommodate the needs of boaters with its 1,000 total ramps and slips. Boaters will appreciate the fact that the east and west approaches into Vermilion Harbor, the harbor itself and portions of the Vermilion River were recently dredged out. Marked depths range from 8 to 12 feet.

“The best thing you can do is call ahead and make a reservation,” McCarthy says.

Public boat docks are available along McGarvey’s Landing, where you’ll find breathtaking views from the Vermilion River boardwalk and historic Harbour Town. Many of the local festivities take place at the boardwalk.

A great place to relax in downtown Vermilion is Exchange Street Park, where you will find additional public docks.

Water Works Municipial Docks is located in the center of Vermilion’s historic district and within an easy walk of quaint boutiques, groceries, restaurants, Main Street Beach, overnight accommodations, and historic homes. 

Captain’s quarters

Vermilion was once hailed as a large shipbuilding port. At least 75 schooners were built on the riverfront from the 1800s into the early 1900s. These schooner captains, who sailed all over the Great Lakes, choose to build their homes right here in town.

Vermilion is proud of the collection of homes that still stand as a testament to its nautical history, affectionately referred to as “The Captains Homes.”

“They have so much character,” says Margaret Wakefield Worcester, chair of the Vermilion Historic Registry Community. “Craftsman spent time working on amazing details. Not many communities have them, so they are very unique.

Built from 1819 to 1929, many of these homes remain as private residences. Plaques outside each home mark their individual history. “Some are very outstanding; some are a working man’s home,” Worchester says. “A lot of them are within walking distance from the docks.”

There are 16 Captains Homes listed on a Captains Homes walking tour brochure available through Main Street Vermilion, Worchester says. Set off on foot or rent a golf cart to check them out.

There’s Captain Moody’s House, built in the early 1880s, at the northwest corner of Exchange and South streets. The Queen Ann-style home of Captain Walper stands across the street from the Moody House. Worchester herself lives in the Greek Revival-style home of Captain Alva Bradley, originally built in 1848.

Research is still ongoing, but there may be as many as 50 of these homes in Vermilion, she says.

Downtown: Where it’s at

For obvious reasons, Vermilion was once called the “Village of Lake Captains,” and the moniker still fits.

The center of summer activity in Vermilion is its vibrant downtown, and most of the city’s 17 marinas put you close to the action.

In addition to its marina, Don Parsons offers a unique experience with its Mystic Belle Boat Tours. Visitors can sit back, relax and experience someone else at the helm for a change, as they cruise the navigable waters and Vermilion Lagoons in a 35-foot paddlewheel tour boat built in 1965.

“Its a very unique area, quiet and quaint,” Parsons says. 

The water tours are a perfect way to drink in the sights and view the Vermilion Harbor. Knowledgeable guides share with passengers the history of Vermilion and the river. The boat ride meanders up the river, navigating wildlife and natural scenery. 

Located in the heart of downtown Vermilion, you will find Moes Marine Service. This full-service marina specializes in the repair and restoration of wooden boats. 

“But what we really do here is share our love of boats and the water with our community and those visiting our hometown of Vermilion,” says Mike Moes of Moes Marine. “We understand that not everyone owns a boat, so we want to ensure that people have access to boating in our waterways through other unique opportunities, such as our electric boat rentals and classic speedboat charters.”

Kayakers can take off on a 27-mile-long adventure to explore the beautiful sights and sounds of plant and wildlife on the Vermilion-Lorain Waterway trail. Nature lovers will see herons, egrets and maybe a Bald Eagle. Kayaks can be put in the water at the Main Street Beach or at the city public boat ramp off of Water River Road.

For a vacation that will leave your family with lasting memories, come enjoy the best of both worlds (camping and boating) at Riverview RV Park and Marina. Riverview is located on the east bank of the Vermilion River and offers a tranquil landscape that creates the feeling of being miles away from the city while only minutes from downtown Vermilion’s quaint atmosphere of hometown shopping and restaurants. Experience Vermilion’s best-kept secret for a weekend escape, or kick back and relax for the entire summer!

For all your nautical needs while in the area, a must-stop is Harbortown Marine. This discount ship’s store carries marine equipment, parts, supplies, clothing, nautical gifts, flags and more. Family-owned and -operated, knowledgable, friendly staff is available to help with all your boating needs.

Step onto the docks knowing what the locals know: Brummer’s Homemade Chocolate and Chez Francois are can’t-miss stops. Both await anxious visitors to offer high-end candy and cuisine.

Candy land

A third-generation family business, Brummer’s is all about handing down candy-making knowledge for the tastiest of treats.

“When you come to Brummer’s, you are dealing with a Brummer, so we care,” says owner Bob Brummer. “This is our history — and our name.”

That history first began in Jersey City, New Jersey in 1904. The original Jersey shop is still in business today (though it moved from Jersey City to Westfield) and is operated by George Brummer, grandson of the company’s founder. Bob Brummer, George’s brother, opened the Vermilion location in 1990. 

Most of the chocolate and candy treats are made in-house using the same family recipe from 100 years ago.

Culinary magic

Zagat  named Vermilion’s Chez Francois as Ohio’s top-rated restaurant in 2013.

The restaurant boasts plenty of old world charm and combines the best in culinary delights (the Beef Wellington may be the best you will ever try!) with an award-winning wine list and specialty cocktails. It’s conveniently located right off the public boat docks in Vermilion.

Chez Francois offers the choice of a formal main dining room, where European elegance awaits, or outdoor dining along the water.

The restaurateurs believe in quality, fresh ingredients and frequently use locally sourced produce, such as that from the renowned Chef’s Garden in nearby Huron, or from Quarry Hill Orchards in Berlin Heights.

Local insight

There are several favorite local watering holes within easy walking distance of area docks. Rudy’s Bar is a casual stop to meet up with friends, tell stories and have a few laughs. Lake Erie Taphouse serves good food and offers a nice selection of craft beers. The place roars to life with entertainment each weekend.

Step into the Wine Vault and discover a hidden gem. The Wine Vault occupies a small space in the old Vermilion Bank building, but serves up big, creative food and a nice variety of beer and wine. The restaurant offers limited seating, but makes for a perfect date night hot spot.

Make sure you ask the server for a quick tour of the wine vault, which is an abandoned bank vault repurposed as a wine cellar.

If java is your drink of choice, then Decidedly Different Coffee Shop is perfect for an after-dinner coffee, latte or espresso. Pick up a memento of your Vermilion visit in the gift shop.

Another place to try is about a mile off the beaten path; a brand new restaurant called Blind Perch. This cool eatery has a speakeasy-type feel. It offers tasty food that’s locally sourced.

After enjoying a great meal, step back in time when you visit Big Ed’s Main Street Soda Grill. This old-fashioned soda fountain shop is destined to inspire feelings of nostalgia. Order a phosphate, egg cream or classic ice cream dessert. 

There’s also Granny Joe’s Ice Creamatorium, located in one of the oldest buildings in Vermilion’s Harbour Town district (circa 1850) and made famous with a mention on “The Tonight Show with Jay Leno.” Hard to believe what was once the town’s first funeral parlor now houses a local sweet spot. 

Summer lovin’

Vermilion in summer offers more than just pretty, tree-lined streets; it’s a city awash in the scent and vibrant colors of floral adornment.

About 100 Vermilion residents volunteer months of their time each year to plant flowers and hang baskets throughout the city in a display of civic pride known as Vermilion in Bloom. It’s all in preparation for Third Thursday, one of the city’s most popular summer events.

On the third Thursday of May, June, July, August and September, the city hosts a community art walk, complete with live street musicians. Hear everything from rock and country to soul and the blues as you leisurely stroll the sidewalks nursing an ice cream cone or sipping a coffee. It’s easy to get lost in the moment drinking in the sights and sounds of this charming waterfront community.

Buy locally grown produce, flowers, baked goods and even handcrafted items against the backdrop of a gorgeous white grand gazebo in Victory Park, Vermilion’s town square. The Main Street Vermilion’s Farmers Market rolls out the lush, green bounty of local fields every Saturday from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. June 28 through September 13 in Victory Park, at the corner of Main and Ohio streets.

After a morning at the market, leave time for soaking in the sun. Vermilion offers Main Street Beach, a swimming beach with an observation deck and concession stand. But be warned: There are no lifeguards on duty patrolling this strip of sand.

Usually less crowded is Sherod Park Beach, a 21-acre park with a grassy area overlooking a smaller beach. The park offers picnic tables, a shelter, ball field and walking trails.

For a truly unique tasting experience, be sure to include stops at area wineries: Matus Winery, Paper Moon and Vermilion Valley Vineyard.

“If you want a quality wine, you have to grow a quality grape,” says Joseph Fowler, co-owner of the Vermilion Valley Vineyard.

Vermilion Valley is one of the few area vineyards that grow old world European varieties of grapes.

“This is a wine that our forefathers consumed,” Fowler maintains.
Spend a day or two or three downtown, eat good food paired with the perfect wine and enjoy a lazy afternoon on the water.

Visit Vermilion and step back to simpler times. 

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