Away from the lakeshore, 35 miles southwest of Cleveland between I-90 and US-20, the attractive college town of Oberlin (pop. 8,331) serves up an idyllic slice of Middle Americana. Founded along with the surrounding town in 1833, Oberlin College has a history of being at the leading edge of American education, despite (or perhaps because of) its location far from the madding crowds. In 1837 Oberlin became the country’s first coed college. It was also among the first to embrace the education of African Americans: In the 19th century, Oberlin awarded more degrees to black students than all other mainstream American colleges combined. Today, it’s on the cutting edge of creating a sustainable, renewable future.
The Oberlin College campus spreads west of the town’s green main square, which is also graced on the east side by the neoclassical facade of the Allen Art Museum (87 N. Main St., 440/775-8665, Tues.-Sun., free). The museum displays an overall survey of world art—Japanese prints, Islamic carpets, and modern painting by the likes of Cézanne and Diebenkorn. Architecture fans should take note: The old gallery was designed by Cass Gilbert, who also planned a handful of Romanesque buildings on campus; a new wing was added in 1976 by Robert Venturi. The museum also offers guided tours on the first Sunday of each month ($5) of a nearby house designed in 1947 by Frank Lloyd Wright.
The town of Oberlin seems preserved in a time warp, mostly avoiding the trend-swapping café culture of many college towns. Its few blocks are lined by an old five-and-dime, an Army surplus store, a hardware store, and a bookstore, all along the south side of the broad town square. Another block south holds a spacious, modern library (with free Internet access) and a nice Mediterranean-flavored café, The Feve (30 S. Main St., 440/774-1978), which has fresh hummus, good coffee, and cold Guinness on tap. For a place to stay, try the comfortable and historic B&B Buckeye and the Frog (171 Elm St., 440/990-6500), or the turquoise-green motor-court cabins of the Sunset Motel (44077 Oberlin-Elyria Rd., 440/375-0808, $55 and up), due east of downtown.