COLUMBUS, Ohio (WCMH) — Ohio’s first and longest-running lesbian bar is receiving statewide recognition this weekend when a historical marker is installed at the site of the former pub.
Summit Station is being commemorated on Saturday with the dedication of a historical marker from Ohio History Connection placed permanently in front of where the bar once stood. In the University District, the bar was one of the first lesbian pubs in the nation and welcomed patrons for nearly four decades before closing in 2008.
“It was a really special place that was open to anybody who was going to be respectful to the lesbian community,” said Julia Applegate, a senior lecturer at the Ohio State University and documentarian leading the bar’s dedication.
Summit’s marker is the third in the state to honor the LGBTQ+ community and the first in central Ohio. A marker was installed near the Dayton Metro Library in 2009 to commemorate Ohio-born Natalie Clifford Barney, a lesbian writer who hosted a literary salon in Paris, and in 2017 a marker was placed on West 28th Street in Cleveland near the first Lesbian-Gay Community Service Center.
Petie Brown, a part-time bartender at the pub then called Jack’s A Go-Go, purchased and renamed the bar Summit Station in 1980. Brown created such a “warm and welcoming space” for Applegate, who was a patron of Summit beginning in 1993 when she moved to Columbus after college. Nearly 30 years later, Applegate said she was learning about Ohio State’s library system and discovered a lack of documentation covering LGBTQ+ achievement. She then began researching how to install a marker cementing Summit into Ohio history.
“The bar came to mind for me as an appropriate and important place to document because it played such a critical role in the lesbian community for almost four decades,” Applegate said.
Megan Wood, executive director of Ohio History Connection, said the organization designates about 30 markers each year, and all Ohioans can pursue a marker for a location they identify as historic. The application process requires community members to collect research building a case explaining why a site deserves recognition. Summit’s application was incredibly compelling, Wood said, especially given just two of the more than 1,800 markers statewide honor the LGBTQ+ community.
“History needs to be recognizing all people and their humanity,” Wood said. “Sometimes, these places are threatened, or they go overlooked. Having community members say, ‘We don’t want this to be forgotten as lesbian bars are really disappearing,’ that makes it also a really important history moment to remember and commemorate.”
Summit’s dedication is an opportunity to honor Brown and the members of the LGBTQ+ community who paved the way for younger generations, Applegate said. She hopes the marker is inspiring to local LGBTQ+ youth facing several bills introduced at the Ohio Statehouse aiming to restrict the minority community.
One bill heading for a floor vote in the House of Representatives is the Save Women’s Sports Act which would ban trans athletes from participating in school sports aligned with their gender identity. The Save Adolescents from Experimentation Act is also moving forward and would prohibit various medical treatments for trans minors.
In addition, House Bill 183 has been introduced to ban trans students from using a restroom aligned with their gender identity at schools, along with the Parents’ Bill of Rights which advocates said would force educators to out LGBTQ+ students.
“It’s vicious, the attacks that are being levied against LGBTQ+ community members and those that love us,” Applegate said. “But, part of how we stay strong is to know our history.”
Saturday’s dedication begins at 1 p.m. where the bar once stood at 2210 Summit St., now occupied by Summit Music Hall. Applegate, Wood and other members of Ohio History Connection, city council and the university-area commission are speaking before the marker is unveiled at about 2 p.m. Then, guests can join the celebration inside for live music, food trucks and more.
In addition, Applegate and the team behind Summit’s marker are furthering their mission by producing a documentary film detailing the bar’s history with interviews of patrons from across the decades.
“Generations of LGBTQ+ people have been brave enough to live their authentic selves, including right here in the university-area district in Columbus, Ohio,” Applegate said. “It doesn’t matter how much hate is sent our way, we’re going to be proud and out and strong and resilient because that’s what LGBTQ+ people do, that is our forte.”
Learn more and Summit Station and the forthcoming documentary here.