For a city that seemingly has stood in Toledo's shadow for years, Perrysburg is carving its own identity again.
Last fall, Ohio Magazine named Perrysburg one of the state's top five hometowns.
Now, the city has received accolades on the national level. The August, 2009, edition of Family Circle that hits newsstands Tuesday lists Perrysburg as one of America's 10 best towns to raise a family - pretty good exposure for what some outsiders view as a homogenous bedroom community.
Family Circle is one of the world's most widely distributed monthlies, with a circulation of 3.8 million and a readership it puts at 21 million.
"Obviously, it puts us on the map. It lets other people know we're doing things right now," Perrysburg Mayor Nelson Evans said. "Hopefully, it's another feather in our cap for businesses looking to relocate."
Downtown Perrysburg retains its historic charm that lures shoppers and strollers. The city also has industry, big-box shopping, and large, stately homes in its architectural mix.
That begs the question: Why Perrysburg?
OK, first things first, since everyone knows Perrysburg's cross-river rival, Maumee, will put on a good face and try to suppress its envy.
Maumee, named an All America City in 2006 by the National Civic League, was not eligible for the Family Circle honor.
The magazine said it limited its search to communities with populations between 15,000 and 150,000 people.
Maumee's latest population estimate, according to Census figures released last week, was 13,856.
Other small cities in this area that people find livable, such as Wauseon (7,246) and Port Clinton (6,135), also weren't considered.
Although Maumee's population estimate is down 1,381 people since the 2000 Census, Perrysburg is heading in the other direction.
Perrysburg and Bowling Green are two of the only communities in northwest Ohio and southeastern Michigan that posted gains between 2007 and 2008, according to the latest figures.
Meager gains, mind you. Perrysburg's population grew by only an estimated 49 people, from 17,000 to 17,049.
But for as sluggish as the Great Lakes region's economy has been, officials consider any increase noteworthy for this part of the country.
So what's keeping people in Perrysburg and drawing a few more?
Colleen Schwartz, Family Circle spokesman, said the magazine identified Perrysburg with the help of a New York research firm, Onboard Informatics, which specializes in real-estate data and demographics.
She said Family Circle was particularly impressed by Perrysburg schools.
It gave schools priority in this year's survey of towns, the third year the magazine has generated a list of best towns for families.
She said it based most of its decisions about schools on information provided by www.greatschools.net, which rates Perrysburg schools 9 out of 10.
Waterville rates a perfect 10, and Sylvania, Temperance, and Whitehouse schools rate as high as Perrysburg.
Perrysburg also was recognized by Family Circle for its affordable housing, churches, parks, recreation, trees, history, and architectural diversity, as well as some intangibles - such as kindness and generosity.
The magazine anecdotally cites the story of a displaced worker, Jamil Jemaa, 47.
His wife, Sonia, 36, found a $100 gift card in their mailbox from a secret donor one day. Shortly after that, a co-worker came over with bags of groceries and snacks.
Family Circle said it also was impressed to learn of an unidentified Perrysburg elementary school that raised $13,500 for the American Heart Association in 2008.
None of this surprises today's Perrysburg officials and their forefathers, who have long considered their city on the Wood County side of the Maumee River as something special.
After all, Perrysburg, founded on April 25, 1816, is one of only two cities platted by the federal government. Washington is the other one.
It was founded by a former U.S. government employee named Amos Spafford, the town's first settler.
He named it "Perrysburgh" in honor of Commodore Oliver Hazard Perry's stunning victory over the powerful British fleet during the Battle of Lake Erie on Sept. 10, 1813.
The "h" was dropped from Perrysburg's spelling in 1895.
Perrysburg's biggest artifact, Fort Meigs, was used in that war. It was built on a bluff overlooking the Maumee River.
Now the largest wooden fort still standing in North America, Fort Meigs attracts 40,000 visitors a year. It was named in honor of Ohio's fourth governor, Return Jonathan Meigs.
Perrysburg's Way Library, named for prominent citizen Willard V. Way, who passed away in 1875, has been at the same downtown intersection since 1892.
In February, it received the highest ranking from the Library Journal Index of Public Library Service for facilities with annual expenditures of $1 million to $5 million.
Although there are plenty of stately homes and historical landmarks in place, the city also has a mix of new development.
It includes big-box, warehouse-like businesses sprawling off I-75 to Levis Commons and an outdoor pedestrian mall with upscale furnishings.
"We aren't just a suburb of Toledo anymore. We are an entity of our own," Mayor Evans said. "We've grown up, so to speak."
Rick Thielen, Perrysburg's planning, zoning, and economic development administrator, said the city has never deserved its reputation as one of Toledo's bedroom communities.
Neither have Maumee or Sylvania, he said.
They're all part of the Toledo metropolitan area, yes.
But he said people shouldn't look at a map and see surrounding communities as homogenous ones existing in Toledo's shadow.
Perrysburg's recent accolades "just sort of points out what is obvious for a lot of people who live here," Mr. Thielen said.
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