Monday, May 30, 2011

Cambridge Springs, PA to Cleveland, OH on Route 6

Brian and Minne Sprague
Sprague Brew Works
Venango, PA
Kitsch, farmland, the Big City and a “beery nice” surprise;  today’s 115 mile drive was a varied experience.

Sprague Farm & Brew Works
Venango, PA
Leaving Cambridge Springs, I happened upon the "Brewmaster Award" winning Sprague Farm Brew Works (officially in the little hamlet of Venango, PA).  A wooden chain-sawed horse and colorful sign drew me in, although it was early morn.  A guy was standing in the driveway, invited me in to “see his pub,” and though I didn’t have much in the way of expectations, I took him up on it.  Now, I’m letting you all know that if you happen to hit this little gem-  owned by locals Brian and Minnie Sprague - when it’s open come in for a craft-on-tap.  There’s live music on weekends, a decent pub menu and the only bar in the world made from the original mast base of the 1812 Flagship Niagra, which sailed during our War of Independence. Brian is a “chain saw artist” and when the ship was being renovated he had the opportunity to take parts that were being replaced.  The Spragues work hard, but love their chosen independent business.  “I make, promote and drink beer for a living,” says Minnie.  “I LOVE my job!”
Market House, Meadville, PA

Next town; Meadville, which really needs better signage off of Route 6. I managed to find the Market House by asking people on the street.  It was a mini version of Philly’s big Market house, with a dozen or so purveyors of locally jarred foods, knickknacks, and “The Cookie Lady” who sells cakey, warm from the oven scones in a stately brick building.

As you leave Meadville on Route 6, keep an eye out on your right for the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (or PENNDOT as it’s called here). Their complex is rimmed by a very funky, snap-shot-worthy roadsign mural.  Another artistic surprise in Northern PA!

Conneaut Lake Park
Conneaut, PA
Conneaut Lake, PA
Route 6 pairs with 322 in this very commercial part of the road, but by the time I got to Conneaut Lake, family establishments, marinas and tackle shops prevailed.  There’s an old family amusement park – Conneaut Lake Park - about 2 miles off 6, but looks as if it’s seen better days.  The park sits beside the Conneaut Lake Hotel, one of those faded glory resorts that looks as if it could use some sprucing up itself. The whole montage was too forlorn to be kitschy.

In Linesville, though, kitsch was in full force at the Pymatuning State Park Spillway where – I kid you not – “Ducks walk on the fishes backs.”  You take a left off of Route 6 for two miles, past the Fish Hatchery through gorgeous lakeside landscapes. The tourist area is unmistakable – right on the road (there’s a parking lot, and shop where bread for the fish and t-shirts are sold). I took video of these gaping carp congregating together for a hunk of hot-dog roll.  It was pretty gross, I have to say.

From Linesville, I left the land of recreation and entered the land of hard farm work.  PA crosses into Ohio at Pennline – but there was no Welcome to Ohio sign at all on Route 6. 

Terrain flattens out, silos and red barns appear at intervals, and I go through towns laid out a bit differently than they are in PA.  Small Ohio farm towns all seem to have a tiny central green around which Route 6 circles.  I passed through communities named Andover, Rome, Hartsgrove, Montville, and Hambden before arriving in the larger town of Chardon.  There’s a collection of shops and restaurants on the historic green there.  I stopped in to the Chardon Brew Works (“First brewery in Geauga County since prohibition,” according to the menu).  Pub food and beer were ok.  Not inspired (iceberg lettuce salad), but good enough to sustain me till I got to Cleveland.

Kids Hoes
Lake Metroparks Farmpark
Kirtland, OH
"People Mover"
Lake Metroparks Farmpark
Kirtland, OH

Diva Pony
Lake Metroparks Farmpark
Kirtland, OH

Sow With 9 Three-Week-Old Pigletts
Lake Metroparks Farmpark
Kirtland, OH
But one stop first – in Kirtland – and one I encourage every Route 6 road-tripper to see; Lake Metroparks Farmpark. ($6 adults, $4 kids)  You can’t miss it on the left side of Route 6 – with its big dark blue, white topped water tower.  Originally an Arabian Horse Farm on 235 acres, Farmpark portraysf life on a working farm (it IS a working farm, said the guy who escorted me around, Joe Pales); allowing visitors to touch, smell, feel all the animals and equipment involved in this way of life.  It’s low-tech and innovative at the same time.  A horse driven wagon is the “people mover” and gets visitors from one area to another. The Plant Science Center incorporates a greenhouse where kids can learn to plant by actually getting their hands dirty, a “touch” learning center with things to twirl and push, and an extensive hydroponic garden.  The Machinery Building houses antique farm machines that are used during the Fall Harvest Festival. There’s a Barnyard – home to a bunch of farmyard animals including large pigs who know the feed truck well.  “When the pigs see it, it sounds like a riot here,” Joe said. My personal favorite was the enclosed Arena and Well-Bred Shed where sheep are sheered and babies are born.  A sow had given birth to nine plucky piglets just a few weeks earlier, and I watched that huge worn out Mom with her brood and sympathized.  You can easily spend an afternoon here, so plan accordingly.

From Kirtland, it’s 25 miles to Cleveland – and once you pass the fine homes in the Euclid section, you arrive into town through Cleveland’s run-down East side.  Route 6 does not turn a blind eye to American blight.  In this case (and other’s back East) it thrusts right through it.  The Route pairs with Route 20, until Superior Ave.  There is no sign that Route 6 makes a right on Superior, but once you make the turn, there’s the 6West sign shining brightly on the next block.  I’m glad I did my homework and knew where to make that turn.  I traversed through boarded up buildings, check-cashing shops and package stores.  And then, suddenly, Cleveland downtown loomed.  I’ll let you know where to eat, what to see and where to stay in tomorrow’s post…..

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