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Uno Scorcio di Milano
Written February 6, 2015


When I was a youngster, my parents and I sometimes would drive to Cleveland for business or to visit my uncle Jim.  From Richwood, Ohio, we’d head northeast on Route 4 for 70 miles, then take the Ohio Turnpike east.  The interchange where we got on the turnpike was next to a village called Milan.

A decade later and 20 miles further east, I enrolled at Oberlin College.  When my parents would come to visit me, we often wanted to take a little road trip for Sunday dinner.  Mother had heard that the Milan Inn was a good place to eat, so sometimes we drove over there, visiting a country craft shop along the way.  Once I even brought a friend along.

TBT 2000

As I recall, the menu was traditional American fare:  chicken, apple butter, nothing surprising.

I didn’t bring a camera, but on subsequent trips to Oberlin in 2000 and 2014, I revisited Milan and took snapshots.

Back in 1833, the same year my college was founded, Milan was incorporated as a village.  Its name is not pronounced like the city in Italy.  A couple of centuries ago, when pioneers were venturing into northern Ohio, they needed names for their new settlements.  They had read in books about famous cities elsewhere, but those books did not include pronunciation guides.  They had to guess.

“Here’s a pretty city name, Toledo in Spain.  How do you say it?  Toe-LEE-doe, I guess.  Or there’s LIE-muh in Peru, Mar-SALES in France, CAN-tun in China.  So many from which to choose!  Why don’t we borrow MY-lun from Italy?”

And so Ohio has a Milan that rhymes with stylin’.

Although it wasn’t located on Lake Erie, Milan was on the Huron River.  Only three miles downstream from the town, the river became navigable for sailing ships.  Therefore, alongside the upper river the townspeople dug a three-mile canal.  When it opened on the Fourth of July in 1839, Milan became a hub of boat-building and transportation.  Farmers brought their wagons from as far as 150 miles away with grain to be packed in barrels, loaded onto schooners, and shipped via the lake to far-off cities.  It’s said that before long, Milan was second only to Odessa in the Ukraine as the largest grain-exporting port in the world.

A stagecoach inn was built in the booming town in 1845 — the Milan Inn.

When my family dined there in 1968, it looked like this, complete with an ox yoke hanging from the sign.




When I returned in 2000, the awnings and sign were gone.  The dining room was not open for business, although I peeked through the window and saw there were still condiments on the tables.

But when I returned again in 2014, the 169-year-old building looked much better.  It had been repainted and the window boxes had been replanted.

TBT 2000

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The former restaurant had been turned into an antiques shop, or maybe an intiques shop.  It's called “Milan Inn-tiques.” 

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The second floor  is still in use as an inn.  It has been renovated into a single spacious suite, shown in these pictures from the Milan Inn website.

The windows look out onto the public square, where there’s a statue of a mother reading to her son.  Whom does the little boy represent?  Why, it’s none other than Milan native and inventor Thomas Edison!

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The street lamps around the square commemorate Edison’s first electric light bulb.  He also introduced audio and video recording, in the form of phonograph records and motion pictures.  He’s been called “the greatest innovator in American history” whose “focus on practical accomplishment set the stage for America’s global leadership.”

The house where Edison was born in 1847 still stands, a few blocks away on the north side of town. 

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Behind the Edison home, the back yard slopes downward toward the old canal basin.

In 1922, the 75-year-old Edison was asked about his childhood. 

(The quote is from the Register in the nearby city of Sandusky, and the old paintings below are from a Milan Inn mural depicting the village in 1845.)


“My recollections of Milan are somewhat scanty as I left the town when I was not quite seven years old,” he replied.

“I remember the wheat elevators on the canal, and Gay shipyard; also the launching of new boats, on which occasion the piece of land called the ‘Hogback’ would be filled with what seemed to me to be the entire population of the Town who came to witness the launching.

“I also recall a public square filled at times with farmers’ teams and also what seemed to me to be an immense number of teams that came to town bringing oak staves for barrels.

“I can just remember seeing a number of Prairie Schooners encamped in front of our house.  This was about 1849 or 1850, when I was but a mere infant, and I learned afterwards that these Prairie Schooners were carrying adventurers going to California to hunt for gold.”

Milan today is a beautiful little town of 1,356.

It resembles a village in New England, from whence many of its early settlers came.  The land on which it and Oberlin were built was once part of the frontier region that Connecticut claimed as its “Western Reserve ” until 1796.

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There’s interesting architecture, such as this 1912 Carnegie library just east of the Inn.  It's part of the Clevnet library system.

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Several residential blocks are bisected not by alleys but by pleasantly tree-shaded pedestrian walkways.

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TBT 2000

Back at the Inn, they say the second-floor suite “can accommodate 8 to 10 people comfortably and is ideal for traveling vacationers.”

Maybe you and your family or friends would like to take a vacation trip to Milan sometime.  It won't require flying to Europe.



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