OHIO, the easternmost of the Great Lakes states, lies to the south of shallow Lake Erie. This is one of the nation’s most industrialized regions, but the industry is largely concentrated in the east, near the Ohio River. To the south the landscape becomes less populated and more forested.

Enigmatic traces of Ohio’s earliest inhabitants exist at the Great Serpent Mound, a grassy state park sixty miles east of Cincinnati, where a cleared hilltop high above a river was reshaped to look like a giant snake swallowing an egg, possibly by the Adena Indians around 800 BC. When the French claimed the area in 1699, it was inhabited by the Iroquois, in whose language Ohio means “something great”. In the eighteenth century, the territory’s prime position between Lake Erie and the Ohio River made it the subject of fierce contention between the French and British. Once the British acquired control of most land east of the Mississippi, settlers from New England began to establish communities along both the Ohio River and the Iroquois War Trail paths on the shores of the lake.

During the Civil War, Ohio was at the forefront of the struggle, producing two great Union generals, Ulysses Grant and William Tecumseh Sherman, and sending more than twice its quota of volunteers to fight for the North. Its progress thereafter has followed the classic “Rust Belt” pattern: rapid industrialization, aided by its natural resources and crucial location, followed by 1970s post-industrial gloom and a period of steady revitalization that has been stopped in its tracks by the current credit crunch.

Although the state is dominated by its triumvirate of “C” towns (Cleveland, Columbus and Cincinnati), the Lake Erie Islands are its most visited holiday destination, attracting thousands of partying mainlanders. Cincinnati and Cleveland have both undergone major face-lifts and are surprisingly attractive, as is the comparatively unassuming state capital of Columbus.

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