Cleveland November 23, 2016
The Little Town Near Cleveland That Might Just Be The Most Unique Town In The World
Oberlin, Ohio, is featured in a book entitled
by historian Nat Brandt, and has a history steeped in rebellion, political drama, and the fight for equality. It’s home to about 8500 people, about 3000 of whom are students. About half an hour from Cleveland, it is now a quaint liberal college town with a vibrant young community. Oberlin’s history makes it one of the most important and unique towns in the United States and the world, and its present makes it somewhere you’ll want to visit every weekend. The Town that Started the Civil War
Oberlin was a unique town from the very beginning, and prior to abolition was a safe haven for escaped or freed slaves.
In September 1858, an African-American man named James Price was kidnapped and arrested by US Marshals for violating the Federal Fugitive Slave Law. Having escaped slavery in Kentucky, Price had been living freely in Oberlin for two years when an accomplice of his former owner found him and alerted the authorities. The townspeople of Oberlin were outraged at this violation of Price's rights, and plotted to free him.
The rescue mission furthered the Abolitionist movement in Ohio and outraged anti-Abolitionists elsewhere.
Some accounts claim that over 600 people gathered to pressure the authorities to release him. When attempts to free Price through the legal system failed, about thirty people (pictured above) rushed the building in which he was being held and snuck him out through a window. He was spirited back to Oberlin, where he was harbored by a future Oberlin College president, before escaping to Canada. 'The Rescuers' became local celebrities. Those released from prison were welcomed back to Oberlin with fanfare. It is this event which is credited with being so divisive that Oberlin became "the town that started the Civil War".
Oberlin College was dedicated to coeducation and un-segregated higher education.
Black men and women were welcomed in Oberlin, and was a common thoroughfare or way-point to Canada, or a final destination for escaped slaves. Truly a unique town for its day, Oberlin College accepted both men and women, and both black and white students. White women were enrolled alongside white men from 1837, and African-American men and women from the 1850s.
Mary Jane Patterson (pictured) was the first African-American woman in the world to earn a bachelor's degree. She graduated from Oberlin College in 1862.
Oberlin and Oberlin College are the home of many long-standing traditions.
The first Illumination in Oberlin was a celebration of the election of Abraham Lincoln in November 1860. A series of lanterns were lit across the town. As an abolitionist town with a large black population, Lincoln's election was a huge victory. It became a college tradition in 1903, and now occurs annually during Commencement, with tens of thousands of lanterns lighting the campus and surroundings.
Oberlin is a beautiful town to explore.
Restored heritage buildings abut state-of-the-art facilities around town. It's a perfect stop on the way to Cedar Point, but there is so much here that it's worth a day trip (or several) on its own.
The best thing about a college town is college appetites!
Oberlin has an unusually diverse array of good, reasonably-priced food for a small Midwestern town. The Feve is a favorite of both locals and those in-the-know who are passing through. Their brunches are famous - delicious and affordable. Try Agave Burrito for amazing organic mix-and-match-style Mexican. Treehugger's Cafe has some of the best vegetarian and vegan fare around. Don't forget to save some room and pop into Cowhaus Creamery for some outstanding artisan ice cream afterwards!
It's well known that college students require a regular caffeine hit...
... so there's plenty of places to bunker down with a book or laptop and sip delicious coffee.
The Local, and Slow Train Cafe have the best coffee in town. The Local is a hole-in-the-wall basement cafe, and slays the latte competition. Slow Train Cafe has a bit more room to move (or, rather, to not move for several hours). Try the lavender scones with your mocha, or have a drink from their well-stocked bar. They're owned by the same people, so you know the quality is top-notch.
Find local organic produce at the Oberlin Farmers Market.
One benefit of being surrounded by farm country is the amazing produce! Local farmers sell their produce at this weekly market. Because many small farms produce food only seasonally, you'll always get something different or unique at the market.
Even the graffiti in Oberlin is beautifying.
Oberlin has a large amount of rogue knitted graffiti (pictured). Not only is this graffiti totally removable, it's also totally adorable.
Public graffiti has become part of local culture in Tappan Square.
There is a story that in 1882, 39 students rolled a seven ton glacial rock from nearby Plum Creek to Tappan Square as a practical joke. There are now three boulder-sized rocks there, placed in 1882 and 1898, which have been constantly repainted since the 1960s. They are now public collaborative artworks in the truest sense: anyone can paint these boulders at any time. They've seen everything from political protests to marriage proposals. So if you're planning a trip to Oberlin, pack a can of spray paint!
There are fun multicultural dance and music events from community organizations and the Conservatorium...
... and collaborations between local artists.
Oberlin hasn't forgotten its roots and remains a town that's safe for, and welcoming to immigrants and refugees.
Oberlin is one of few sanctuary cities in the area. Recently, over 2500 (around two thirds) of the students and faculty of Oberlin College have petitioned for the college to become a sanctuary campus for undocumented immigrants. The petition was started to “honor Oberlin’s stated commitment to social justice, diversity, and inclusion, while extending its history of providing refuge for those seeking freedom.”
Of course, every small town has its charms. Take a look at the lists
here and here to explore some of the other beautiful small towns in Ohio. Have you been to Oberlin? Do you think it’s earned the title of “most unique town in the world”?