This post was written by my husband Adam to reflect on our visit to Wayne County Ohio. Special thanks to the Wayne county Visitors Bureau for hosting our trip!
Sara made arrangements for us to meet Marty ,with the Wayne County Visitors and Convention Bureau, at the Barn Restaurant just on the outskirts of rural Smithville, Ohio. The trip out provided us with scenic vistas of rolling hills and gentle farmlands. This in itself was a treat for our family, who are used to the more flatter regions of north central Ohio. The kid’s joy of the ride was apparent by both my daughter’s exclamations of passing wildlife as well as my son’s frequent reminders that he could smell cow poop.
I stubbornly refused Siri’s suggestions as I pulled into the parking lot ten minutes late for our scheduled rondevu (a slight that I would shamelessly blame the robotic-voiced assistant for). As is almost always the case with small children, one cannot simply arrive at a location, pop out of the car and expect to be in “touring mode”. It seems that one challenge or tragedy begets another. Today's rear-tragedy consisted of a chocolate covered little girl and a “hangry” little boy who was still sore with us for cutting into his Angry Birds time.
A beautiful walkway led us past roaming geese and ducks looking for handfuls of feed from quarter machines spaced strategically throughout the property. The path diverted us onto a small covered bridge, which spanned an equally small creek that was the early afternoon hang out of several awkward and furry goslings. The quiet waterfowl were taking advantage of the shade the bridge provided, as well as bobbing along a babbling little waterfall just beyond the span. An assertive mother goose reminded us that she was aware of our presence and would gladly nip us in an uncomfortable place (say the pinkie toe, nostril or webbing of the hand) if we got too close to her brood. We respectfully declined her bites for the restaurant's main entrance.
The Barn Restaurant is perhaps one of the most aptly named businesses in the region. It is literally an old barn converted into a charming eating establishment. Interestingly, one of the barns shorter sides sports a glass facade, which provides dining visitors with a wonderful view of a farm pond and a hilly country backdrop.
A small visitor’s center greeted us just past the main entrance. I was of the impression that this area was created with children in mind. A miniature train located near the log ceiling would cheerily begin its circuits whenever a particular red button was pushed. Of course whenever the Lehman children were in this room, said button was depressed and the train was in perpetual motion! Similar activities included a beehive display, a gigantic, community built puzzle depicting the Manhattan sky, and various antique farm equipment with interpretive signs.
We were introduce to Marty Starkey, the kindly and informative Executive Director of the Wayne County Convention and Visitor’s Bureau. I cannot stress enough the importance of speaking with a representative of a local visitor’s bureau when exploring an area for the first time. Of course this breaches the protocol of manliness, particularly where asking for directions is concerned. However, and this has been our experience, you will spend way too much time driving around aimlessly and turning around in frustration without knowledge of the area. Of course a popular alternative is to cram your glove box full of brochures whilst yelling at the poor person in the passenger’s seat who is only trying to make sense of the 1” x 1” map printed on the back of these little publications. I have suffered many a wicked paper cut from my wife who has used the edge of these brochures to swipe at me in true Game of Thrones-like fashions.
If you want to envelop yourself in the culture and feel of a place, one has to be willing to seek out a local. Otherwise, you are just an automaton marching in step with other families, window shopping the sidewalks of Main Street U.S.A. For us, Marty was just that local. A walking, talking, smiling plethora of knowledge; here before us stood a lady devoted to getting our little family a well rounded taste of Wayne county. The fun little twist of our adventures, would be that most of our stops would be a bit off the beaten path.
Our nice talk with Marty only served to enrage the beast that is my son’s stomach. After exchanging “so longs” with the Director, it was time to turn our attention to the hostess. En route, we passed the establishments famous “Old Time Salad Wagon”. As I purused the conestoga wagon of culinary options, my daughter whom I was carrying at this point murmured something resembling “Mommy” through her binkie. It was then that I noticed that Sara and Rolf were being seated, while the kind waitress gave me a patient look.
The Barn Restaurant has a menu full of country delights. As our visit fell in the lunchtime range, the entrees included large portions served with fresh local farm vegetables. Their kid’s menu (and accompanying crayons), provided quick, fun options for our goblins who typically chant “CHICKEN AND FRIES” when we are in an eatery. Of course this chant always seems amplified, particularly when we are seeking to minimize humiliation.
The wife and I have been working on a formula that baffles us, much like a mathematician struggles with 𝛑. The enigma is this: when is it best to order a meal for your children? When the day is long and the blood sugar is low, it seems wise to “preorder” your kids food so that the torture of them having to actually talk to you isn’t as taxing. The benefits of this choice is that your little ones get their plate a bit sooner than Mom and Dad. The downfall of this system is that your little ones get their plate a bit sooner than Mom and Dad. In other words, this gives them more time to declare that they hate what you ordered. Or, in the case of my son’s favorite stunt, eat his chicken and fries as if he is a competitive eater. This is always followed up with everyone’s favorite line, “let's go now, Dad.”
Fortunately, my children ate.
After settling the bill and tip, it was time to turn our attention to the outdoor activities that we spied on our way in, Similarly, the picturesque view of the restaurant served to tease us of the fun to come.
It wasn’t too difficult to discern that the local waterfowl are fed, and well! As I was bent over Harper, elbow deep in another diaper deposit, we were approached by both a wood duck and a Canada Goose. However, there expression soon registered something resembling confusion. They wisely chose to remain a few feet away, likely in fear of being diapered amongst their peers.
We purchased feed from quarter machines and made our way around to a gazebo, a walkway of which, jutted out into a pond. The fish were as ravenous as the geese, and our little ones enjoyed the interaction. That is of course until the feed and quarters run out. Luckily, there was a toy store on the premises.
To reach Toyrifix, all one need do is put down that duck feed, and head a matter of yards across the parking lot. This was a stroll that was welcome by all. I lagged behind so as to discreetly adjust my belt one notch. In doing so, I saw in passing a farmhouse with signage proclaiming it: The Buchanan Place. This I would later read, along with an olde time confection store, The Oak Cupboard, as well as the aforementioned Barn Restaurant, served to compromise the Barn Restaurant Shops as a whole. Since we had just eaten and had no desire to chase children within a shop full of breakables, we kept stepping.
Toyrifix has a fun, museum-like atmosphere to it. Most of the toys had a sample for children to play with. A rather neat way to diminish purchase regret. Sara and I exchanged Clint Eastwood nods in appreciation. Here were toys we remembered from our own childhoods. As my son delighted in Legos and stuffed animals, Harper and I spent some time spinning a Snake Top. This throwback from the seventies features a toy serpent which disappears and reemerges from an old school wooden top. I spied my wife gleefully in the girlie aisle.
I also spent way too much time contemplating the purchase of a toy submarine. I fondly recall receiving one of these beauties in a box of cereal back in my youth. The idea is to fill the little U-Boat with a concoction of baking soda, vinegar, and approximately thirty-four other chemicals. The results were that said sub would sink and rise hauntingly in your water glass for half a minute. It was, of course, unfortunate that the craft would then live out the rest of its days amongst corn-on-the-cob holders in the dish drainer.
Of course, those weren’t the only “blast from the past” toys to assault our senses. The shelves are stocked with treasures such as the Uncle Wiggily Board Game, wooden Labyrinths, Frontier Logs, Ant Farms and Jack-in-the-boxes. The merchandise within harkened back to a simpler time, whereas devices with wi-fi connection hadn’t yet gained control over our children’s imaginations.However, it is interesting to note that a good deal of the toys within Toyrifix are scientifically themed. In other words, parents back in the day also wanted their children to have a fun playing experience, whilst learning something in the process.
In the end, our little ewoks chose a dolly and a Lego contraption as their souvenirs. As Sara squared up the bill, I grabbed the kids, gave the Snake Top another spin and headed for the door.
Overall, our experience at the Barn Restaurant Shops was good. We took some nice photos of our visit, and Rolf and Harper are (as of this writing) still fond of that Lego set and a doll baby. I could only hope that residents of nearby Wooster appreciate this little nook within their backyard.
As for the Lehmans, we were sold the minute we stepped into the restaurant lobby. As we took in the kid-friendly environment, my children were approached by the host. Until our entrance, this kindly man had been standing vigilant guard over the daily specials board. He asked Rolf and Harper if they would like to see the Queen Bee. He then proceeded to lead them to the Honeybee display, and sure enough, to the delight of our six and two-year-olds, he quickly pointed her out to us. This guy clearly did this not as a work requirement, but because he was a thoughtful person who wanted to share his knowledge with our kids. I like to think that this is a reflection of Wayne County Hospitality.
As for us? We packed up, took Marty’s recommendations and headed to the first stop on the list: Kid’s Day in Downtown Wooster. But that as they say...is another story.
The Barn Restaurant Shops are located at:
877 West Main Street
Smithville, Ohio 44677
Our friend Martha Starkey is the Executive Director of the Wayne County Convention and Visitors Bureau. Located at:
428 West Liberty
Wooster, Ohio 44691