Some Nelsonville businesses worried that the new U.S. 33 bypass would take away business traffic. Now, a few years later, Nelsonville has become a destination instead of the bottleneck it once was as drivers passed through this Athens County town. Few ever turned off the congested highway to explore Nelsonville’s picturesque downtown a few blocks away.
Nelsonville was selected in 1985 as the movie location for Mischief, a teen comedy set in the 1950s. It had the right small town Midwest look and still does in many ways. The fountain still dominates the center of town. The downtown square is lively on performance nights at Stuart’s Opera House, and Final Fridays are a gathering time for the artistic types as galleries and shops stay open in the evening, often with themed events adding an extra level of creativity. Final Fridays are scheduled every month except December when the town focuses on an event called North Pole Nelsonville, a holiday parade, and Santa’s Workshop on the square.
The imposing Stuart’s Opera House, which anchors one end of the square, has been restored and regularly hosts a variety of performers, bands, and events in the small theater on the second floor, including regional and national acts. Too big for the Opera House, their annual Nelsonville Music Festival in late spring is held outdoors at Hocking College. As musician Andrew Bird commented, “It’s the perfect size festival. Any bigger and you’d lose something.”
Need more reasons to visit? Thunder in the Valley is an impressive July 4th fireworks display. The Hocking Valley Scenic Railroad is a seasonal destination for families and rail buffs to ride the rails along the Hocking River and visit Robbins Crossing, an assemblage of historic cabins and buildings on the Hocking College campus. In August, there is the hometown Parade of the Hills. October brings color to the forested hillsides and the Ohio Smoked Meat and Barbeque Festival.
At any time of year, the now quieter traffic pattern is a blessing for those visiting for a train ride or bargains at Rocky Boots Outlet just two blocks from the railroad station. It’s an easy walk almost anywhere in town, and there are many comfortable-as-a-soft-pair-of-jeans days when visitors and locals gather at FullBrooks Café on the square for coffee, a break from a bicycle ride, or a visit to the shops and galleries that stock locally made crafts. Nelsonville is an impressive small town destination — worth taking a turn off the bypass!