Few places have retained that old-fashioned simplicity like Wilmington, Ohio, making getaways there a back-to-basics remedy for the everyday.
Although I had no plans to stay overnight, I wandered into the General Denver Hotel, built in 1928 and restored by owners Mark and Molly Dullea. This four-story Tudor Revival exudes understated elegance, but the hotel’s no-phones policy, a heroic attempt at living life as it existed when the hotel was built, was the primary reason I made a mental note to stay there on my next visit.
The hotel’s comfortable pub, swarming with locals, made it a promising spot to settle down for lunch. While I did consider an old-fashioned pimento cheese sandwich, I settled on the Huntsman, a pretzel roll stuffed with slow-cooked beef, mushrooms,
General Denver Hotel
81 W. Main St.
718 Ohio Ave.
50 W. Main St.
Peace Resource Center
51 College St.
Quaker Heritage Center
1870 Quaker Way
Later, I couldn’t resist a banana split at Gibson’s Goodies. Wilmington claims the banana split was actually invented here in the early 1900s, so it was only natural I try one by Mary Gibson, who’s famous for making them just like the original.
I vowed to walk it off on the Wilmington College campus, a picturesque college founded in 1870 by Wilmington’s Quaker community. Though small, the campus comes alive in the fall when students return and football games take center stage.
The school’s Quaker Heritage Center, a collection of exhibits about the Quakers who settled in southwest Ohio, was a short walk away. I strolled through the more than 1,200 feet of displays in the Oscar F. Boyd Cultural Arts Center, learning thatQuakers played an important role as peace activists; in fact, the society was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1947. Knowing this, I couldn’t leave campus without a visit to the Peace Resource Center — outside of Japan, it has the largest collection of materials related to the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. TheStories of Hope exhibit was particularly moving, with detailed scrapbooks by the Hiroshima Maidens, survivors who came to the U.S. in 1955 for reconstructive surgery.
My curiosity about Wilmington’s Quaker influences satisfied, I headed to the Murphy Theatre for a showing ofThe Church Basement Ladies, a musical comedy.
I arrived early for an up-close look at the historic theater’s interior with its red upholstered seats and red velvet curtains. The chandeliers, tiled floors and richly polished wood made the performance even more special, revealing what it must have been like when the curtains first opened in 1918. Wilmington native Charles Murphy, who owned the Chicago Cubs during the franchise’s heyday, built the Murphy Theatre to draw the biggest stars of the time. Today, the theater’s marquee is still as prominent as ever in tiny downtown Wilmington.
Sometimes the best remedy for the stresses of modern life is an escape to the past. Despite today’s conveniences, nothing can quite replace the elegance of an old theater, the luxury of customer service from a bygone era or the delight in an old-fashioned sundae.