Autumn in Ashtabula

Ashtabula County Events

Sept. 16 – Oct. 31
Halloween 2016 Monster Crawl

Oct. 1 – 2
Brant’s Apple Fest

Oct. 2 & 9
Covered Bridge Trolley Tour
& Cavatelli Dinner

Oct 5
Woof Wednesday

Oct. 8
Natural Areas Wine Tour

Fridays & Saturdays in October
Signore Baldino’s Circo Bizzarro

Oct. 8 – 9
Ashtabula Covered Bridge Festival

Oct. 14 – 15
Wine Country Progressive Dinner

Oct. 29
Brant’s Apple Orchard Halloween Event

Oct. 29
Hallowine Party


Ashtabula Recreational Unlimited

Ashtabula Yacht Club

Jack’s Marine Inc.

Kister Marina and

North Coast Marina & Campground

Redbrook Boat Club

Riverside Yacht Club

Sutherland Marine


Autumn in Ashtabula

by Jane Ammeson
Victorian-era Ashtabula offers autumn entertainment with festivals, historic covered bridges, wineries, apple orchards, sandy beaches, parks and more.
A lovely port city on a curve of land where the Ashtabula River meets Lake Erie, Ashtabula has a charming historic downtown filled with unique shops, galleries and restaurants. For nature lovers, Ashtabula’s city parks and beaches offer options for boating, watersports and fishing.

Numerous wineries are nearby, like Debonne Vineyards in Madison, Ohio. This winery has been in operation for 100 years, making it the state’s oldest and largest vineyard. Covered bridges can be found on the winding roads of Ashtabula County. This includes one of the world’s longest covered bridges, the 613-foot-long Smolen-Gulf Bridge, and the shortest in the nation, the 18-foot Liberty Street Bridge.

Some of these covered bridges date back to the 1850s, while others are more modern, like the Smolen-Gulf Bridge, which was built in 2008. There used to be more than 60 covered bridges in the county, but many have since been replaced with modern cement and concrete bridges; there are now 18 left in the county, spread out over the three cities of Ashtabula, Geneva and Conneat and the county’s seven villages. To celebrate the covered bridges that remain, the Ashtabula County Covered Bridge Festival in October (this year October 8-9) features a parade, a car show and bridge tours.


Positively Bridge Street

In the late 19th century, Ashtabula Harbor was the busiest port on the Great Lakes, shipping large quantities of coal and iron. The bustling shipping port became a hub for immigrants from Finland, Sweden and Italy. A melting pot of nationalities, Ashtabula Harbor in the 1800s held the rather dubious honor — along with Calcutta and Shanghai — of being one of the most raucous ports in the world.

Oh, what a difference a century or so makes. The city’s famous Ashtabula Lift Bridge, listed on the National Register of Historic Places, welcomes you into port. The revitalized Bridge Street District’s commercial Victorian-era buildings, which in rowdier days housed bustling bordellos and the toughest of dive bars, have been renovated and replaced with hip, mainstream tenants like Marianne’s Chocolates. This purveyor of handcrafted sweets is known for its bestselling dark chocolate sea salt bark, dark chocolate sea salt caramels and kettle-fresh small batch candies like milk chocolate turtles.

Once a butcher shop owned by Thomas Rennick and his family from 1889 to 1962, the mantra at Rennick Meat Market — a farm-to-table restaurant housed in the same building and honoring its past — is “butcher inspired American food.” Seasonal appetizers include deep fried beets, cheddar cheese curds, poutine (the Canadian dish of French fries topped with gravy) and Kobe corndogs with house-made ketchup. There are, of course, a variety of cuts from ribeye to the lesser known bavette — comparable to flank steak but more tender.

Need a jolt of caffeine? Harbor Perk has just the thing: Roasted and brewed on-site specialty coffees such as lattes and cappuccinos, as well as teas, smoothies and locally-made pastries. Visit Briquettes Smokehouse for Southern-style barbecue and great craft beer, featuring a welcoming patio and slow-smoked meats.

The family-owned Carlisle’s Home in the Harbor is one of many eclectic shops on Bridge Street. The store features home decor, a wine of the month, gifts and Cherith Valley’s Hot ‘n Spicy treats. Handmade leather purses, sterling silver jewelry, paintings and photographs are among the many items at DeFina’s The Harbor Store. Check out the unique body care products, artistic and retro clothing, jewelry and accessories at Heartmade Boutique.


Fruit of the vine

Call it lake effect: With its long stretch of Lake Erie shoreline and rich soil, Ashtabula County creates a microclimate perfect for growing high-quality grapes. The county produces 75 percent of all the grapes grown in Ohio and is the only designated American Viticultural Area (AVA) in the state.

Once a major producer of Concord grapes used in making jams, jellies and juice, the 25 wineries located in the county now grow a sophisticated range of grapes perfect for making merlot, chardonnay, syrah, pinot, Riesling and dessert wines.

“We have fantastic winemakers here,” says Nancy Camp, who with her husband owns Barrels & Bridges Tours. “The nice thing is they’re not pretentious at all; they’re just very nice people making great wine.”

Camp says they offer several wine tours that combine history with tastings, including 4- or 5-hour trips that visit four to seven wineries and cross several historic covered bridges. No matter what your palate is, there’s a grape for every taste.

“If you like sweet Kool-Aid wines, we’ve got them,” says Stephanie Siegel, executive director of Ashtabula County Convention and Visitor’s Bureau. “If you like very dry reds, we have those too. Our wineries aren’t just places to come and sample, they also offer a lot of events.”

Take in the view from above at Debonne Vineyards; their signature summer tethered hot air balloon rides lift you up 50 to 70 feet in the air. In June, the vineyard also hosts the Hot Air Balloon Night Glow and Rally where you can enjoy dinner underneath illuminated hot air balloons and float in untethered balloons.

The small downtown Park Avenue Winery is open year-round and produces less that 110 cases of wine each year. Sample their wines while sitting on the patio of the renovated historic home. The cheese plates and flatbreads on the menu pair well with the wine.


Fish stories

The significance behind Ashtabula’s name continues today: It’s an Algonquin Indian term meaning “River of many fish.”

Depending on the season, the waters of Ashtabula River and Lake Erie abound with yellow perch, steelhead, walleye and bass, says Bill Hill, owner of Compensator Fishing Charters and captain of the Compensator, a 30-foot Baha cruiser. Hill offers 8-hour fishing trips on Lake Erie’s Central Basin. “The walleye fishing is excellent,” says Hill. “This area really is the Walleye Capital of the World.”

Michael Frey, owner and captain of Bite Me Sportfishing, also runs daylong trips that typically depart at the break of dawn into what he describes as “walleye-rich waters.”

“We’re in a very calm area back here; the fishing is good,” says Roy Skinner, vice commander of Riverside Yacht Club on the Ashtabula River.

Hop aboard a fishing charter, including Sturgeon General Charters, at Kister Marina. Located on the Ashtabula River just south of the Bascule Lift Bridge, Kister Marina features gated entry, parking within 20 feet of your boat, water and electricity at each dock, and new camper sites.

Four charters, including Bite Me, operate out of Ashtabula Recreation Unlimited (ARU). ARU also offers 120 campsites, dry storage for your boat and six launch ramps.
“In the fall, you can fish for walleye, perch and steelhead right here on the river,” says ARU manager Tony Ellis.


The great outdoors

With jewel-like beaches stretching along the Lake Erie shore, there are plenty of places for sun, water and fun.

“Walnut Beach has a great sandy beach with lots of space to set up your beach chairs and spread out your beach towels,” says Siegel, noting the park also has a waterfowl pond where white mute swans and mallards come to rest.

Walnut Beach amenities include a playground, volleyball courts, bocce courts, picnic tables and a short boardwalk. Another bonus is the pretty view of Ashtabula’s historic lighthouse.

Open year-round, the 18-hole disc golf course, boat launch, bait shop, bocce court and swimming beach are popular features at Lakeshore Park. The 54-acre park has five on-site pavilions, making it a great venue for family outings.


Becoming unmoored

Ashtabula offers a plethora of activities and events, but for those docked at marinas, the issue may be getting there.

“One of our members will usually loan out his car so a boater can get groceries and other supplies,” says Skinner. “We’re close enough to downtown, so people staying at the [ARU] marina can walk,” says Ellis.

Camp says that they offer pick-up services for those going on their wine and covered bridge tours at whichever hotel or marina they are staying at.

Ashtabula County Transportation System (ACTS) provides door-to-door service for those traveling anywhere in the county. Call 24 hours ahead to schedule.


Culture hub

There’s a wide spectrum of creative endeavors at the Ashtabula Arts Center, which offers classes, performances and activities in the areas of dance, theater, music and visual arts. The Arts Center has been a part of the community for 60 years, offering programs for all ages and levels of artistic talent. It also hosts workshops in pottery, painting, wood working, knitting and screen painting.

Bridge Street Art Works, a co-op of local artists, sells creations such as jewelry, painted furniture, pottery and home décor. The fine art co-op also hosts classes and gallery displays.

The city celebrates its natural artwork during the annual Ashtabula Harbor Beach Glass Festival each June. The two-day festival highlights local artists, the beautiful harbor and handmade jewelry.

Built in 1871 and once the home of the light keepers and Coast Guard chiefs, the Ashtabula Maritime Museum in Walnut Park displays artifacts such as vintage photos of Ashtabula during its heyday as a shipping port, paintings, navigational equipment and tools. For those really into this kind of thing, another great feature at the museum is the world’s only working-scale model of a Hulett Ore Unloading Machine. The museum is in the planning stages of a $5 million addition. The future 7,000-square-foot building will house much-needed additional space for permanent and traveling exhibits, educational programs and special events.

Ashtabula was once the site for several stops along the Underground Railroad. One of those stops was at the Hubbard House, which has been made into a museum located in Walnut Park. The museum tells the story of the Hubbard family, who helped escaping slaves find their way to freedom by hiding in the home’s basement.


Celebrating October

At the pet-friendly Brant’s Apple Orchard, October is the time for fall harvest activities like cider making and apple picking. Brant’s grows 22 varieties of apples and offers anything and everything related to the fruit: Caramel apples, apple cider donuts, cider slushies, pies, turnovers, muffins, cooking demonstrations, hay wagon rides and more.

Have you ever wanted to dine in a covered bridge? Order a pie and enjoy the view at Covered Bridge Pizza Parlor, made from restored pieces of the historic Foreman Road Covered Bridge.

Ashtabula County boasts more than 100 restaurants. It may be hard to choose, so follow the Locavore Trail for a taste of what’s best.


Like the wines of the region, no matter your taste and interest, there’s always a fun adventure waiting in this lovely port city.



South Shore JUN17