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Hostel in an Ohio Valley

May 03, 1987|DAN SHERIDAN | Sheridan is a Chicago free-lance writer.

PENINSULA, Ohio — There's a terrific place for an overnight stay halfway between Chicago and New York.

It's clean, cheap and set in the beautiful Cuyahoga Valley National Recreation Area southeast of Cleveland. But it's most definitely not for everyone.

The Stanford House Hostel, an 1843 farmhouse, is surrounded by wooded hills, ski runs and golf courses and is close to the historic Ohio and Erie Canal.

The recently restored white farmhouse has been open since June, just three winding miles from Exit 12 of the Ohio Turnpike (I-80), a day's drive and 375 miles east of Chicago.

Rates went up Jan. 1 from $6 to $7 for the night. Motels closer to the turnpike, without the charm of the 29-bed hostel, advertise rooms for $32.

And they don't have Jim Marquardt, a friendly resident manager who delights in telling the history of the Stanford farm and the once-booming valley.

Mills powered by the Cuyahoga River dotted the now-protected valley more than 100 years ago; the land was axed clear of trees for buildings and farms. Irish immigrants hand-built the canal in the 1820s and died there by the hundreds from disease.

Between Ski Areas

About the loudest sound today is the quiet whoosh of snow-making equipment at the Boston Mills ski area across the valley. The hostel, at 6093 Stanford Road, is between the Boston Mills and Brandywine ski areas.

Remember that it's a hostel, not a motel. That means no alcohol, no smoking and no pets. It also means you must arrive between 5 and 8 p.m. and be out by 9:30 a.m. On a crowded night, lights go out at 11 and you could be sharing a room with other men or women in bunk beds.

Each guest gets a chore to do. You can cook your own food in the modern kitchen, but there's no restaurant there and none nearby.

Restrictions and the prospect of some supervision keep many people away. That's OK by Marquardt; that's what makes staying at Stanford House an experience.

"Hostels are places where people meet," Marquardt said. "There are no holes for people to hide in here. The first thing I did was change it so everybody has to eat in one room. The more it's used, the less it looks like a museum."

Foreigners on Weekdays

On an early morning walking tour with Marquardt down to the canal and the recently discovered earthworks of a 19th-Century canal lock, we followed tracks left by a large deer along a semi-frozen trail. A soft fog in the valley was a cloud that rested on the frosted trees and rustic buildings.

In the black walnut- and oak-beamed farmhouse, guests Paul Kenny, 22, of Kalgoorlie, Western Australia, and Chris, a young man from Buffalo, N.Y., were having breakfast. Wearing an "I'm Backing Australia" polo shirt, Kenny complained that crowds at the America's Cup yacht races at home were pushing up rents and driving people from their apartments.

Kenny, who was doing the grand tour in a $250 car he bought in Los Angeles, had come from Chicago on his way to Niagara Falls, New York City and then Europe. Chris was going to Kentucky; his wife was away visiting her mother.

Young foreign travelers are more likely to stay during the week; guests on more crowded Fridays and Saturdays tend to be older and American.

There are 29 beds in eight rooms for 30 people (one is a double bed). Bathrooms and sleeping areas are segregated by gender, although there are two rooms for families or couples. You can bring a sleeping bag, as most do, or rent sheets and a pillowcase for $1.50. You must bring personal toiletries but can rent a towel and washcloth for $1.

Stanford House, sponsored by the Northeast Ohio Council of the American Youth Hostel Assn., is 22 miles from Cleveland. From Interstate 80, take Exit 12 to Ohio 8 south. Turn right at Boston Mills Road and go west for three winding, hilly miles. Turn right onto Stanford Road just before the Ohio and Erie Canal. The hostel is on the right, three quarters of a mile north, at 6093 Stanford Road, Peninsula, Ohio. Phone (216) 467-8711.

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