Old Hilliard is Your Next Destination
By Nicholas Dekker
The History of Old Hilliard
All aboard! Did you know Old Hilliard got its start as a train station on the Piqua and Indiana Railroad? Its location west of Columbus made it the perfect place to ship agricultural products, supplies and equipment to and from the surrounding farmland. In fact, the city was originally named Hilliard’s Station, and while the trains may not roll through town any more, it’s still a vibrant and valuable destination.
That history has not been forgotten. Visitors to Old Hilliard frequently stroll through Weaver Park to see the recreated Historic Village, complete with the refurbished original train station, a caboose and other railroad-centric landmarks. Stunning public art like Curtis Goldstein’s new mural on Center Street depicts the city’s railroading past. And anyone can walk, run or bike the Heritage Trail, built out of the old railroad right-of-way.
But whether you’re a long-time resident or first-time visitor, there are plenty of reasons to pause in Old Hilliard.
Get Cultured in Old Hilliard
All throughout the year, Old Hilliard bustles with cultural activity. The Art Deco stylings of the Makoy Center is the backdrop to a roster of fairs, performances and private events – many couples have said “I do” at the Makoy! Thanks to the Hilliard Arts Council and the Hilliard Civic and Cultural Arts Center, the city enjoys a wealth of cultural activities like theater and dance performances, arts classes and the Old Hilliardfest. From June through August, the Center hosts a popular Summer Concert Series; weekly performances of blues, funk, rock, gospel and jazz draw crowds around Hilliard’s Station Park, the Norwich Street Gazebo and other outdoor venues.
Central Ohio also has a long history of daring and creative comics and cartoon artists, and the award-winning Packrat Comics, a local staple since 1993, keeps the love of colorful storytelling alive for future generations. They’ll help you find old favorites from Marvel, DC, manga and more, along with shirts, bags, toys and other gifts.
With the formation of the Hilliard Public Art Commission in late 2018, Hilliard made a renewed focus on public art and the value it brings to cities, beautifying neighborhoods, attracting visitors and giving residents a proud landmark. Headed up by local resident Kelley Daniel, known for the sunflower murals on her garage in Old Hilliard, the Commission has already facilitated new sculptures, murals and other installations. One of the most visible creations is Curtis Goldstein’s new 15-by-35-foot mural on the brick wall of Otie’s Tavern. The stunning mural is like a little history lesson in Hilliard: it depicts a steam locomotive, the local water tower and sunflowers – the official flower of Hilliard. The best part is that the mural is visible to guests lounging on the patios at the Center Street Market.
This year also saw the unveiling of a new mural on the Hilliard Civic & Cultural Arts building by local artist Mandi Caskey. It’s one of two community murals made possible by Amanda Schaeffer, an art and ecology teacher with Hilliard City Schools. Schaeffer received a grant from the Ohio Arts Council to create Caskey’s mural and another one at the Innovation Learning Center’s Hub with local artist Stephanie Rond.
Dine Your Way Through the District
And it can’t be said that you won’t eat well in Old Hilliard. A simple stroll up and down Main Street shows you enough options to keep you fed for weeks!
One of the city’s long-time favorites, the Starliner Diner, made the move to Old Hilliard in 2016 after its previous location on Cemetery Road was redeveloped. They haven’t broken stride in serving up favorite Cuban and Mexican dishes like chilaquiles (this author’s personal favorite), huevos rancheros, Cuban sandwiches and Creole macaroni.
Or follow the smell of wood smoke to Legacy Smokehouse, which makes its home in a renovated house along Main Street. If you can’t choose from their menu, just order the Lil’ Tex Sampler, where you’ll get pulled pork, tender brisket, house-made sausage and ribs, plus sides like smoked mac and cheese or brisket baked beans.
Old Hilliard isn’t short on comfort foods, either. Grab a seat on the patio at Abner’s Casual Dining while you feast on biscuits and gravy, Cowboy burgers, French dip and country fried steak. You won’t leave hungry. Likewise, Old Bag of Nails pairs pub favorites (hello, fish and chips!) with pints of beer in a comfy setting, while Local Cantina serves up a load of tacos, quesadillas and nachos to go with your craft beer and cocktails. Otie’s Tavern & Grill is a long-running neighborhood favorite for cold beer, wings, burgers, pizzas and above all – good company. Close by, Sports on Tap is the spot to keep up with your favorite teams while savoring good pub grub and drinks.
To keep yourself fueled up for your Old Hilliard explorations, stop by Coffee Connections on Main Street. First begun as a coffee cart, the business has grown to three locations: the original shop, a stall inside Center Street Market and one across from Ohio State’s campus. The family-owned shop features fresh-roasted coffee, cold brew, espresso, pour overs, smoothies and other treats.
And there’s always more to come! Main Street is now home to Hilliard Station Baking Company, a family-run bakery focused on cupcakes and other confections.
But what is there to do in Old Hilliard? Plenty! The district is home to fairgrounds, parks, trails, museums and historical sites. The Historic Village at Weaver Park preserves Hilliard’s past for visitors to explore, from the original train station, train cars and other structures. Book a tour with the Hilliard Historical Society to learn about the pioneer days.
The city proudly hosts the annual Franklin County Fair at the Fairgrounds, held every July with loads of live music, animals, side-splitting performances, competitions and games.
First Responders Park is a somber but beautiful spot in Old Hilliard. It memorializes the first responders and others who perished on September 11, 2001. Visitors can pay their respects at the reflecting pool, view the names of the fallen carved into the granite walls and admire the steel sculpture crafted from World Trade Center material.
The Early Television Museum is the only museum of its kind, and you’ll find it right in Hilliard! Founder Steve McCoy used to work in television repair, and out of his growing collection of refurbished TVs, he founded the museum. The destination features a fascinating assortment of restored television sets and equipment from pre- and post-WWII, as well as early color TVs, receivers and even rebuilt cathode-ray tubes.
Hilliard’s Station Park sits across from the Center Street Market. On those hot summer days, it’s abuzz with the sounds of families scampering through the water fountains, while weekend evenings it hosts local bands.
Starting at Station Park, the Heritage Rail Trail is a converted railroad right-of-way that travels northwest out of Old Hilliard toward Plain City. The multi-purpose trail is a relatively flat stretch perfect for walking, running or biking. It takes you past local houses and eventually out into open farmland waving with corn and other staple crops. Along the way, it passes by Homestead Metro Park, with its own set of trails, playgrounds, water features, replica train station, caboose, covered bridge and amphitheater. Further along, you’ll encounter the smaller Heritage Trail Park, a peaceful setting to relax or let your furry friend romp and play in the dog park.
Center Street Market
The most prominent addition to Old Hilliard’s dining and communal scene is the new Center Street Market. Home to Crooked Can Brewery and about 10 unique vendors, the market has quickly become a favorite gathering spot for the community. Crooked Can’s taproom opens into the market hall, creating a seamless flow. Pick up a High Stepper IPA or OHI YO Heartland lager, then stroll through the market and order zesty dumplings and steamed buns from Dumplings of Fury, towering meatball subs from Meatball Mafia, barbacoa tacos from Two Step Tacos and gyros from Pitabilities.
Need something sweet to finish off the meal? Take your pick from luscious mini cheesecakes from The Cheesecake Girl, giant cookies and brownies at Bakes by Lo or colorful popsicles crafted from natural ingredients at the Rime Time Curiosity Crafted Pops cart.
You can also snack on Al’s Delicious Popcorn, sip a cappuccino from Coffee Connections or shop for unique tees, jewelry, home décor and other gifts at Serendipity…the Art of Happy Discoveries.
All of this is best enjoyed on the spacious patio outside the market and along closed-off Center Street. The brewery is a centerpiece of the Designated Outdoor Refreshment Area (or DORA), so guests can purchase beverages at participating businesses, then stroll the district, drinks in-hand.
This year’s DORA Designated Outdoor Refreshment Area (DORA) has expanded in both its frequency and footprint. From Tuesday, June 1 until Sunday, October 31 , 2021 the DORA will be active from noon to 9 p.m. seven days a week.
The expanded boundaries will add Yabo’s Tacos,5259 Franklin St; the Makoy Center, 5462 Center St; Benito’s, 5286 Center Street; Hillgarten, 4131 Main St; and the planned Junction by Westwood, 5460 Franklin Street to participating businesses. The DORA also includes Otie’s Tavern & Grill, 5344 Center St.; the Old Bag of Nails Pub, 4065 Main St.; Local Cantina, 3975 Main St.; Starliner Diner, 4121 Main St.; Legacy Smokehouse, 3987 Main St; Abner’s Casual Dining, 4051 Main St.; Crooked Can Brewing Company & Center Street Market, 5354 Center Street.