With that slogan — A Small Town on a Great Lake — Vermilion, Ohio continues to trumpet its presence as a traditionally quaint and friendly small harbor village along the southern shore of Lake Erie, just a half-hour west of Cleveland. Its downtown captures the appealingly ‘simpler times’ of narrow, pedestrian-thronged streets flanked by curio shops, ice cream parlors, restaurants, chocolate vendors, and nautically-themed boutiques, housed in restored brick and clapboard structures (which, radiating from the heart of town, soon give way to pastel-tinted lakeside beaches and resort cottages).
Originally settled in the early 1800s as a harbor and fishing community, Vermilion had become a village by 1844. The Vermilion River provided ready access to the Lake and its commerce, along with ample anchorage for both commercial and recreational vessels. The community became known as the ‘Village of Lake Captains’, due to the many fine sea captains’ homes that soon dotted the roads radiating along the lake shoreline. With Congress’ construction of the Vermilion Lighthouse in 1847, lake and river commerce were further bolstered.
Throughout the early 1900s, as the Vermilion River increasingly proved inadequate to the needs of larger commercial shipping vessels and increased traffic volume, commerce on the water gave way to recreation. Vermilion became a thriving community of recreational boaters and vacationers. Many beaches and attendant cottages sprang up to meet the summer resort needs of visiting Northern Ohioans. Strung along State Route 6 paralleling the lake shore, one encounters such getaways as Beulah Beach, Mai-Dor, Walk in the Water, and Cottages at the Water’s Edge.
By 1960, Vermilion had merged with the neighboring village of Vermilion-on-the-Lake, becoming a city in the process. Vermilion straddles the two northern Ohio counties of Erie and Lorain. The city encompasses nearly eleven square miles of land and water.
Today Vermilion is home to roughly 10,000 permanent residents, with the population swelling each summer as beach cottages, restaurants and retail facilities fill. Vermilion Harbor, once home to ship building, now gives way to canoes, sailboats and jet skis. A small paddle wheeler offers rides on the Vermilion River, while the Main Street Beach offers panoramic views of the sunset over Lake Erie. Local Parks include Sherod Park on the lake shore, and Linwood Park along the bends of the Vermilion River. Farther upriver is the Riverview RV Park and Marina.
The city is packed with visitors each for each fall’s Woollybear Festival, and the mid-June Festival of the Fish is the biggest entertainment event of the year. Others include the Annual Chocolate Festival, the Vermilion Triathlon/Duathlon and the Great Lakes Pirate Fest. Historic SummerFare rounds out the visitor attractions, with its Antique Craft and Boat Show, street dance, BBQ and antiques show. Railfans can get their fill of almost non-stop rail train traffic through Vermilion. The city has also established and maintained its Harbour Town 1837 Historic District as the vintage downtown core. There one can find both restored residential and commercial structures of the Queen Anne, Italianate, Victorian and Arts and Crafts styles.