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Ohio LGBTQ sites will be honored through new Ohio History Connection effort

 A brand new Ohio Historical Marker commemorates Summit Station, one of the state's longest-running LGBTQ bars. It stands in front of the former bar, which is now The Summit Music Hall in Columbus.
Svetlana Ter-Grigoryan, Wendy Korwin
The Ohio History Connection
The Ohio History Connection recently memorialized Summit Station, one of the state's longest running lesbian bars, with a historical marker. It's the first LGBTQ site in Central Ohio to receive a marker.

Former patrons of Summit Station say the Columbus bar was once busy every night of the week — full of people playing pool, shooting darts and plotting feminist revolutions.

“Ladies Night, Every Night. Men $5,” declared a sign posted outside.

Summit Station earned its reputation as a safe space for lesbians and queer people when trumpet player Petie Brown sought part-time work behind the bar in 1970.

An out lesbian, her presence attracted scores of other lesbian women, trans and queer people.

Petie Brown and Julia Applegate stand at a podium next to a covered Ohio Historical Marker.
Svetlana Ter-Grigoryan, Wendy Korwin
The Ohio History Connection
Petie Brown, the owner of Summit Station, speaks at a podium with Julia Applegate, a former patron. They are preparing for the unveiling of the site's new historical marker.

“Of course people were drinking,” remembers former patron Julia Applegate. “But it wasn't a place that you went to necessarily just because you wanted to have a drink. You went there because your people were there.”

Summit Station closed in 2008. Its three decades-plus of operation made it one of the longest running lesbian bars in the state.

This month, the Ohio History Connection honored it with an Ohio Historical Marker.

Of 1,800 markers statewide, the new plaque is just the third in the state to mark a site of LGBTQ significance, and the first in Central Ohio.

But it won’t be the last.

Summit Station’s memorialization kicked off a broader initiative by the Ohio History Connection to recognize more LGBTQ place-based history.

Over the next three years, the state historical society has plans to recognize at least 10 more LGBTQ sites.

“This is one way with one group of Ohioans that we can help recognize them and uplift their stories,” said Ben Anthony, the community engagement manager with the Ohio History Connection. “We owe it to every single Ohioan that hasn't been able to see themselves in the historical marker program to find a way into it and to make sure that the program serves them as well.”

With funding from the Institute of Museum and Library Services, a community engagement coordinator with the Ohio History Connection has been traveling the state, collecting stories and memories from LGBTQ community members.

“It's not just important to Ohio lesbian history or Ohio LGBTQ history or Central Ohio women's history. It is important to the history of the state of Ohio.”
Julia Applegate

The ultimate goal, Anthony said, is to establish historical markers based on these stories, while simultaneously collecting oral histories, source material and objects to better document LGBTQ history in Ohio.

“We've already heard so many harrowing stories about survival, about joy and about challenge,” he said. “And we want to show the full depth and complexity and breadth of a community that hasn't been seen enough in the Ohio historical marker program.”

For people like Applegate, who advocated for Summit Station to receive its historical marker, the recognition is a big deal.

“To have a historical marker flies in the face of everything that we've been taught about ourselves,” she said. “We were taught that we don't matter, that we're not legitimate, that we should be ashamed of who we are and how we live and who we love. This historical marker, it's a public acknowledgment of the important role that our lives have played in the state of Ohio.”

Having a marker not only legitimizes that history, she said, it encourages more people to engage with it.

“It's not just important to Ohio lesbian history or Ohio LGBTQ history or Central Ohio women's history,” she said. “It is important to the history of the state of Ohio.”

Erin Gottsacker is a reporter for The Ohio Newsroom. She most recently reported for WXPR Public Radio in the Northwoods of Wisconsin.