Monday, March 07, 2005

Marion County: Popcorn, Presidents, & Bologna

“Our belief at the beginning of a doubtful undertaking is the one thing (now get that – is the one thing) that ensures the successful outcome of your venture.” William James, from Norman Vincent Peale’s Power of Positive Thinking

Popcorn, Presidents, and Bologna. All find themselves at home in Marion County.

It doesn’t really matter what direction you enter Marion County from, as it provides large quantities of wide-open spaces (see photo at bottom, taken at the intersection of 95 and 98) for you to see.

But tucked in between the fields of corn and beans are some fun and interesting places.

One of the most popular is the Marion Popcorn Festival held the weekend following Labor Day each year. Marion is home to Vogel Popcorn (sold under Newman’s Own Gourmet Popping Corn and Act II), ConAgra Snack Foods (producers of Act II, Healthy Choice, and Orville Redenbacher) and Wyandot, Inc. (produces millions of pounds of caramel popcorn annually). The festival is an end-of-summer ritual for many in the Central Ohio area and a good one at that.

Marion is also home to the Warren G. Harding monument as the home of the 29th President. Harding is considered by many to be one of the worst President’s in American history; but don’t say that around Marion. Students in the city attend Harding High School and the team nickname is the Presidents.

Harding is buried in Hillside Memorial Cemetery but is not the only famous tomb in the city. The Gypsy of Marion County is buried in St. Mary’s Cemetery and is one of the area’s larger ghost stories.

The Harding Memorial is located on 423 just north of the Marion “mall.” With more “coming soon another great store” signs than actual open store fronts, the mall appears to be losing its battle with the growth of stores on Marion’s East Side and the growth of Polaris Parkway, about 40 minutes to the south.

Downtown Marion is a classic downtown. The revived Palace Theatre and a beautiful court house are anchors and a lot of small shops greet visitors – as long as they arrive before 5 p.m. The downside is that the community directly north and south of the downtown section are some of the more impoverished sections of the town. The Warehouse is located just down from the theatre and offers great Italian food at the right price. Heading out State Route 95 East towards U.S. 23 and the quaint Marion turns into a “neon paradise.” The chain shops clutter the road and bring commuters upon the exit ramp.

Getting out of Marion, heading south on U.S. 23 and driving for about eight miles travelers come to a Food Network favorite, Waldo. Last year Al Roker visited G&R Tavern and he wasn’t the first to enjoy a bologna sandwich in the community. G&R started the bologna trend and now you can find the treat in two of the cities restaurants. Ingles Sports Pub even offers a fried treat of bologna “poppers” which taste a lot like corn dogs. J. Angelo’s is a classic Italian place and a favorite of the wife and mine, with large portion sizes and great taste it is well worth the trip.

Marion County also is home to Green Camp, Prospect, La Rue (pronounced LAY roo), and Caledonia, along with numerous cross road towns. My personal favorite, for obvious reasons, was Tobias until I drove through the “town.” Sitting at the corner of Tobias and Kirkpatrick Road northeast of Marion off State Route 4, Tobias has a small workshop and one house. In an earlier – less mature time – the road signs might have been in jeopardy.

Toby's Note: Sorry about the poor photo of the courthouse. It got dark on me and this is the best I could get out of my little HP Digital Camera. I plan to retake the photos in soon, this Courthouse is very beautiful and deserves better than blur.

Key Facts (from The Ohio Almanac)
Population (2000): 66,217
Established: April 1, 1820
Per Capita Income (1999): $22,136
Persons Below Poverty (1997): 11.9%
Name Sake: "The Swamp Fox" of the Revolutionary War, General Francis Marion
Items of Interest: The Edward Huber Machinery Museum displays many examples of early farming and roadbuilding equipment; Delaware State Park, Warren G. Harding Home and Museum, Harding Memorial, Claridon Prairie Reserve, Killdeer and Big Island Wildlife Areas, Palace Theatre, Stengel True Historical Museum, and Wyandot Popcorn Museum.
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