Yankee Drummer Repeats Civil War Veteran’s 1913 Trek from Pittsburgh to Gettysburg

 My story below comes at a poignant time, on the cusp of Memorial Day, a holiday originally established to commemorate the Union and Confederate soldiers who died during the American Civil War (1861-1865). I had the extreme pleasure of talking to a musician and military veteran from Greensburg, Pennsylvania who will soon embark on a historic trek to Gettysburg. Accompanied by a friend and fellow veteran on his trek, Jim Smith hopes to not only acknowledge the sesquicentennial of the Battle of Gettysburg (July 1-3, 1863) but also honor the memory of a Civil War drummer and highlight the significant role that musicians played in military history.

The Original 1913 Trek

 At 9:00 a.m. on May 26, 1913, 70-year old Peter Guibert, a Civil War drummer boy who saw war on the battlefields of Gettysburg with the Union Army, left what was then known as Allegheny City Hall, located on Pittsburgh’s Northside. He was accompanied by  62-year old John Conroy, a friend and veteran of the Comanche Indian Wars in Texas, and several instruments including a brass-shelled snare drum.

19 days and almost 200 miles later, the two men arrived in Gettysburg on June 13, joining other Union and Confederate soldiers to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg. Although they hitched a ride on a Bell Telephone wagon to finish off the last few miles to their destination, Smith and Conroy primarily walked the entire distance, stopping in towns along the way to entertain and educate crowds with their music.

The Yankee Drummer: Jim Smith, of Greensburg, PA

The Yankee Drummer: Jim Smith, of Greensburg, PA (courtesy of Leonard DeCarlo)

A hundred years later, Guibert and Conroy’s modern counterparts – Jim Smith of Greensburg and Ray Zimmerman of Acme – plan to repeat that 1913 journey with the purpose of honoring the role that military musicians played in war and educating the public of their importance. Peter Guibert’s snare drum will accompany them.

Smith and Zimmerman plans to step off from the former site of the city hall, now West Park, at 9:00 a.m. on May 26, 2013 and cover the 200 miles that their early 20th century counterparts did a century ago, also arriving in Gettysburg on June 13 to take part in the Battle of Gettysburg Sesquicentennial events.

Ray Zimmerman, of Acme, will portray veteran John Conroy (courtesy of Leonard DeCarlo)

Before embarking on the journey, they will perform at a ceremony at Peter Guibert’s grave in Highwood Cemetery in Pittsburgh on May 24. During the 18-day trek, Smith and Zimmerman will also stop in various Pennsylvania towns and participate in educational events and “campfire entertainment,” featuring Guibert’s drum. Places they are scheduled to appear include: Pittsburgh’s Soldiers and Sailor’s Memorial Hall and Museum on May 27 for Memorial Day; Greensburg and Latrobe on May 29; in Ligonier on May 30; the 1806 Old Log Church in Schellsburg and the Bedford Historical Society on June 2; Chambersburg on June 8; and the James Gettys Hotel in Gettysburg on June 13. Although subject to change as more dates are added, the current schedule can be found by clicking here.

Joining them at several stops along the way will be Professor Guibert’s Blue and Gray 1913 Reunion Band, established by Smith, after learning that Peter Guibert had performed with a band comprised of Union and Confederate soldiers at the Gettysburg 50th Anniversary reunion, thanks to a picture found at the National Archives.

Between Greensburg and Gettysburg, Smith and Zimmerman plan to follow the original 1913 route of the Lincoln Highway as it was most likely the route that Guibert and Conroy followed a hundred years ago, based on newspaper account that placed the pair in towns that were located along the road.

Officially established in 1913 from already existing roads, the Lincoln Highway is also celebrating its centennial this year. The route is considered America’s first transcontinental highway and served as the main thoroughfare through major cities and towns across the country.

The Yankee Drummer: Jim Smith

 Known professionally as the “Yankee Drummer,” Smith has been passionate about drumming ever since was he was young boy growing up in Palmyra, New York. It’s an avocation that has stayed with him almost seven decades. His maternal grandfather, C.F. Palmer, was a draftsman and “quite a musician” who played both drums and piano and established a Boy Scouts drums and bugle corps in the 1920s. After World War II, the corps was reorganized into American Legion and Veterans of Foreign Wars drum corps.

“I can remember walking along my grandfather’s side with the drum corps,” said Smith, via phone interview.

Although he didn’t immediately take to the instrument, he began taking drum lessons in elementary school, after his grandfather passed away, and joined a drum and bugle corps.

“My two loves have always been the drums and the fifes, the military kind of music,” said Smith.

Smith’s passion for military drumming specifically was sparked by a record he purchased, Civil War – Its Music and Its Sounds by famed conductor Frederick Fennell at the Eastman School of Music, which was based on Fennell’s experienced growing up in New York with Civil War encampments.

“I was blown away by the record,” Smith said, later getting in touch with Fennell, who subsequently connected him with Bill Street, the head of the percussion department at Eastman, who worked with him on drumming fundamentals.

At age 17, Smith started his own drum and fife corps with best friend Craig and Craig’s father, who was a fifer. He named the C,A. Palmer Fife and Drum Corps after his late grandfather.  The band recently celebrated its 50th anniversary.

“There are hundreds of kids who have since gone through and been members of the C.A. Palmer Fife and Drums Corps” and started corps of their own, according to Smith.

Smith attended Purdue University and studied engineering, which would be his chosen industry throughout his life. Yet he chose the school because of the opportunity to play in the band and continue his avocation in music, and was selected for the New York All State Band and Rochester Junior Philharmonic Orchestra. By the time he finished college, Smith was teaching a full schedule of drum students and leading several drums lines at local high schools in New York.

In 1965 Smith was drafted and joined the United States Navy Reserve, later attending the Officer Candidate School. He became the drum section leader in the boot camp drum corps and a band master.

Since college, Smith has been instrumental in establishing multiple drum and fife corps throughout the United States and internationally, several of which remain active today or have inspired spin-off groups. In 1968 he founded the Tippecanoe Ancient Drum and Fife Corps, the only French-style drum corps in the United States.

After serving as an engineering officer in the South China Sea and Vietnam, where he saw 18 months of combat and operations, Smith was home ported in Japan, where he married and raised a daughter until returning to the United States in the early 1980s. During his stint in Japan with the navy reserves, he organized the Ancient Mariners of Japan, who performed during the 1976 Bicentennial celebration. The 13-member group developed a strong repertoire of drum and fife music and was renowned all over Japan.

Smith settled in western Pennsylvania and now lives in Greensburg. His intermittent engineering work allows him to travel and continue to perform with various music groups throughout the country, as well as teach his drumming skills.

“Drumming has been a part of my life for a long, long time,” said Smith.

Reprising the Journey

A serendipitous chain of events set this project into motion 30 years ago, according to Smith. Guibert’s drum, inherited by his niece Betty Mower, sat dirty and damaged in her attic for years 1982, when she saw a newspaper article touting Smith’s drum and fife corps background and experience in drum restoration and contacted him about restoring the drum.

Smith ended up purchasing Guibert’s drum, later deciding to restore the “old rusty relic” to its former glory. Likely made in France or Germany, the brass-shelled snare drum measures just under 16 inches in diameter and is decorated with red-stained counter hoops. During his restoration of the drum, he found a silver-tipped drum stick inside the head, which matched drumsticks pictured in a 1910 carte de visite taken of Guibert performing with another drum, authenticating the original ownership of the Civil War instrument.

Prompted to investigate Guibert’s life after performing with the drum at the request of the former director of Pittsburgh’s Soldiers and Sailors when the museum was threatened with closure, he discovered that the drummer boy had embarked on this epic march to Gettysburg.

Over the years, Smith has connected with relatives and descendants of Guibert and conducted research at local historical organizations between Pittsburgh and Gettysburg to piece together the drummer’s background. He credits researchers like Joyce Hernacane of Schellsburg for helping dig up valuable information about the Civil War musician

Two years ago, a discussion about Guibert’s drums and trek during an open house in a Gettysburg antique about Guibert’s drums, his journey, and the upcoming Gettysburg sesquicentennial prompted the idea for a reprise. Soon, friends, family, peers, Civil War buffs and Guibert’s descendants were encouraging him to undertake the journey.

The tour is being coordinated by Leonard DeCarlo, an Air Force veteran who served in Vietnam and longtime friend of Smith’s. Ray Zimmerman, a fellow member of the Armbrust Veterans Association, was recruited to fill the role of John Conroy and play the bass drum along the way.

 The Master of Military Militia Music: Peter Guibert

Over the years after purchasing Peter Guibert’s drum, Smith started researching the drum and the life of the German Pittsburgher who formerly owned it, thanks to descendants he tracked down and information he found in local archives and historical organizations.

Born on January 4, 1844 in Germany, Guibert enlisted with the Union Army in Pittsburgh and began his military career as a drummer boy in Company F of the 74th Pennsylvania Infantry, a German-speaking regiment mainly comprised of recent German immigrants like Guibert’s family. Later, he served with the 77th Pennsylvania Volunteers and may have also been part of Company D of the 79th Pennsylvania Infantry. He participated in several engagements during the Civil War, including the Battle of Gettysburg.

For many years Guibert’s descendants had a difficult time tracing the drummer as his name was misspelled  on 74th Pennsylvania Infantry monument in Gettysburg (a mistake later corrected with help from Smith).

A Pittsburgh Press article from May 23, 1932, published a year and a half before his death, described Guibert’s stint as a drummer boy and related a “stirring tale” in which the drummer was involved during the Civil War.

Thanks to childhood experiences in Pittsburgh, he was one of only three Yankee soldiers encamped on an island in South Carolina who knew how to row a boat and subsequently selected to transport men and ammunition under cover of darkness to a Confederate encampment across the way.

The newspaper quoted the 88-year old Guibert’s recollection of his experience: “Our officers were anxious to send a few men and ammunition to the other side, under cover of darkness, believing if they could get a stronghold there, they would be able to route the ‘Rebs’ and thereby chalk up one more step toward ultimate victory.”

After arriving in Gettysburg on June 13, 1913, Guibert and Conroy performed a free concert with The Blue and Gray Reunion Band of 1913. Guibert, billed as “Wizard of the Drums” and “Master of Military Martial Music” performed as the featured artist at the Walter’s Theater for three weeks. He was also featured as the opening act for The Battle of Gettysburg, an epic silent film.

“He was busy. He was very busy there during the three weeks between his arrival on the 13th and the actual commemoration of the battle and the reunion itself,” said Smith, surmising that these performance earned Guibert enough money for his stay in Gettysburg.

Guibert continued in music as a one man band and well-known entertainer, and knew how to play the fife, harmonica and slide whistle, in addition to his trademark drums. He passed away at age 89 on December 7, 1933.

The striking parallels between the two drummer boys, born almost an exact century apart, led Smith to believe that a guide hand has been involved in his endeavor. Not only did the pair share a mutual love of drumming and participated in multiple bands throughout their careers, but they were born almost 100 years apart, Guibert on January 4, 1844 and Smith on February 2, 1944. Both men served their country in the armed forces, Guibert in the army, and Smith in the navy reserves. Both men planned a 200-mile trip at age 70.

Throughout their military careers and their civilian work (Peter as a barber and Smith as an engineer), both men remained passionately involved in music and continued to play the drums. The Pittsburgh Press article notes that “Although [Guibert] was a barber for many years, his drums were never still for long.” Smith’s research corroborated this assessment by revealing that Guibert was a member of multiple Pittsburgh-area bands.

Unfortunately, John Conroy’s life is still somewhat shrouded in mystery. Smith hopes that the trek will spur relatives and descendants of Conroy to turn up information about the veteran, who served in Texas during the Comanche Indian Wars, from 1870-1872. Although Smith is unsure if Conroy was originally a musician like Guibert, he assumed that if Conroy wasn’t a musician, he would have been by the time the pair arrived in the Gettysburg.

 Drummer Boys

 According to Smith, the purpose for this trip is to educate the public about the important role that military musicians, particularly drummers, played on the battlefield before and during the Civil War.

“There’s a very strong tradition for military drumming that has been lost,” explained Smith.

Although soldiers had to be 18 to join the Union army, many of them were actually teenagers and these young boys served as drummers. It’s possible that Guibert may have fudged his own age, as he would have been 17 years old in October 1861 when mustered into service, but a Civil War Veterans Card found at the Pennsylvania State Archives lists his age at enrollment as 21.

However, this information is questionable; although the card refers to Company F and the 74th Infantry, it enlists Guibert’s enrollment at Hunters Chapel, Virginia instead of Pittsburgh. If any readers can shed some light on this, it would be much appreciated.

Each company, comprised of about 60-100 men,  typically had a pair of drummers or one drummer paired with a fifer or bugler that played very specific signals in order to direct the soldiers on the field at a moment’s notice. It would have been impossible to hear the commander’s spoken (shouted) orders on the field, over the noise of marching soldiers, horses and gunfire, so the drumbeats were a critical means of communication.

“You had to have at least one strong drummer to serve as the voice of the commander and to help coordinate the movements of the troops,” explained Smith, who knows about a half dozen of the approximately thirty commands a drummer needed to know.

“There were very specific signals that the drummers had to known and be able to execute and the troops had to be well practiced to they would respond in the heat of battles and in the chaos and confusion,” he added.

Off the battlefield, a drummer was also responsible for camp duty – a series of signals that marked the soldiers’ daily events and tasks, from sunrise to sunset. Camp duty began with a wake-up call (reveille), and progressed through the day to included morning assembly, breakfast, sick call, guard duty, various drills and a clean-up alert, among other signs, finishing the day with an evening parade (tattoo) and a lights out call (taps).

Another of the musicians’ jobs was to provide ceremonial music for marches, parades and other events, sometimes combining to form regimental or brigade bands.  Smith says this is the only aspect of the military drummer culture that has survived today.

“Drummers and fifers would adapt the folk tunes of the day and turn them into marching airs,” said Smith, and that’s how well-known marches like “Yankee Doodle Dandy” and “Battle Hymn of the Republic” originated.

Since they usually had a strong right arm, developed by leading the troops on the battlefield, drummers could also be called upon to administer punishment with a multi-tailed whip called a cat o’ nine tails that they carried around with them, Smith said.

However, by the outbreak of the Civil War in 1861, the role of the drummer began to decline, with the advancement of rapid-fire weapons that afforded smaller contingents of troops better range and accuracy from anywhere on the battlefield.

“The fact of the matter is that technology of weaponry that had changed so dramatically in the 1850s that the use of a drummer and the use of standard Napoleonic tactics were just made obsolete,” explained Smith.

Missing Memorial

 The ultimate goal of this project is to raise awareness and funds to build a memorial to all of the military musicians that served on the battlefield. The Peter Guibert Trek is currently funded by the Northside Leadership Conference but Smith is working to establish a non-profit organization for the proposed memorial.

 “Nowhere in the country is there a memorial to the world of the drummers, the fifers and the buglers, who served with the infantry on the field of battle,” lamented Smith.

One way the Yankee Drummer hopes to raise funds for the memorial is by selling pairs drumsticks patterned after sticks used during the Civil War and made from the wood of trees that were actually on the Gettysburg battlefield in 1863. Collaboration between Civil War period drumstick maker George Carroll in Alexandria, VA, a wood turner in Lancaster, PA and an engraver in Danville, PA made this fundraiser possible.

Smith will play all 250 pairs of drumsticks during his trek and keep of log of where they are played. The drumsticks will be made out of either White Oak or Pin Oak that stood on the “Bloody Wheatfield,” at the Coaster Avenue brickyard or at James Longstreet’s headquarters.

Each pair of drumsticks will be signed and certified, noting the location where they were played, as well as the source and grade of the wood. The sticks will be made in three different grades of wood with three different price points and will be available for purchase after the trek ends. Proceeds will go to the military musician memorial fund and a portion of the cost will be tax-deductible

Union and Confederate veterans could ride the Pennsylvania Railroad to Gettysburg for free for the Gettysburg 50th Anniversary Reunion, so why would Peter Guibert and John Conroy decide to walk the almost 200 miles instead? That’s the underlying question a hundred years later. Smith admits that, although he’s pondered that question for months, he has yet to shed some insight on Guibert’s motives and thinking. Neither a diary nor a journal from either Guibert or Conroy has yet emerged.

“The only think we can conclude is that Peter for most of his life walked everywhere,” said Smith.

 Follow Jim Smith and Ray Zimmerman as they set out to trace Civil War drummer Peter Guibert’s 1913 trek from Pittsburgh to Gettysburg through their website and Facebook page

Sources Consulted:

Ayers, Ruth. “Drummer Lad Faces Death in Foe’s Camp.” The Pittsburgh Press. 23 May 1932.

Burger, T.W. “Gettysburg’s 150th: Man to retrace Civil War drummer boy’s steps.” PublicOpinionOnline.com.

DeCarlo, Leonard. “Backgrounder.” May 13, 2013. Peter Guibert Trek. Print.

DeCarlo, Leonard. “Yankee Drummer to duplicate 1913 Pittsburgh-Gettysburg trek.” May 13, 2013. Peter Guibert Trek. Print.

“Drummers of the Civil War.” http://www.civilwar.com/overview/soldier-life/148548-drummers-of-the-civil-war.html

Guibert, Peter. “Civil War Veterans’ Card File, 1861-1866.” digital images. Pennsylvania State Archives. http://www.digitalarchives.state.pa.us.

Guibert, Peter. “Pennsylvania Veterans Burial Cards, 1777-1999.” digital images. Ancestry.com. http://www.ancestry.com

Reeder, Carolyn. “Drummer boys played important roles in the Civil War, and some became soldiers.” The Washington Post. 21 Feb 2012. Web. 16 May 2013.

Smith, Jim. Phone interview with author. 16 May 2013.

Smith, Jim. Phone interview with author. 20 May 2013.

“Veterans Start on March to Gettysburg Battlefield.” The Pittsburgh Press. 26 May 1913.

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Along the Lincoln Highway with American Songline – Leg #1: Greensburg to Ligonier

I have Lincoln Highway fever!

Cece Otto and pianist Aaron Gray on stage at Ligonier Town Hall.

Cece Otto and pianist Aaron Gray on stage at Ligonier Town Hall. (Photo by Jennifer Sopko)

After I caught American Songline songstress Cece Otto’s performance at the Ligonier town hall last Thursday night, we decided to meet up over the weekend and do some sightseeing along the Lincoln Highway since she was spending the next week in the greater Pittsburgh area.  We spent a beautiful Saturday by taking a mini road trip through western Pennsylvania, from Greensburg to Stoystown and back, tracing the original 1913 Lincoln Highway route and stopping at various murals and gas pumps along the way.  I had an absolutely wonderful day.  It was great to spend the day with a new friend and do some historical exploring.  Throughout the next series of posts I plan to relate our travels and try and describe how we followed the route.

The tricky part about following the Lincoln Highway is that not only are there different generations of the road where portions were rerouted, but some sections are either inaccessible (blocked, difficult to drive on, located on private property) or destroyed, so at some points you have to follow detours or subsequent generations of realignments. We tried to follow the original 1913 route as much as possible and were successful most of the way that was drivable, according to the Lincoln Highway Association’s interactive map. Thanks to the Lincoln Highway Heritage Corridor, the 200 miles of the route that they cover have been marked with signs, which reassured me that we were going the right way!

Greensburg to Ligonier

Historic Hanna's Town

Photo by Jennifer Sopko

Although Hanna’s Town is not located on the Lincoln Highway, the site’s historical importance lured us there for a visit. Founded in 1773 and named after Robert Hanna, the colonial settlement known as Hanna’s Town was the first county seat in Westmoreland County and the first English court west of the Allegheny Mountains.  It was an important settlement during the Revolutionary War Period.  The town was irretrievably burned in 1782 during a British and Indian attack during one of the last battles; the land was eventually converted to farmland and the county seat was permanently moved to Greensburg in 1786.

Left to right: Louise Tilzey-Bates, Cece Otto, Me

Left to right: Louise Tilzey-Bates, Cece Otto, Me

Photo by Jennifer Sopko

Today the site is managed through a partnership between the Westmoreland County Historical Society and Westmoreland County Parks and Recreation and features a reconstructed tavern and courthouse, three 18th century log houses, a Revolutionary-era fort and a wagon house. Historians and archaeologists have benefited from the extraordinary amount of artifacts that have been found in the area through digs.  We happened to visit during the season’s Opening Day and met up with Louise Tilzey-Bates, heritage tourism coordinator for Westmoreland Heritage, a county-wide partnership of historical organizations.    We also watched a gun demonstration by a militia encamped in the fort.

Photo by Jennifer Sopko

After leaving Hanna’s Town, we caught the Lincoln Highway about midway through downtown Greensburg on East Pittsburgh Street.  Generally following East and West Pittsburgh Streets, the Lincoln Highway went straight through the city as it connected many cities and towns along the route.  It’s easier to follow the road eastbound, starting off on Tollgate Hill Road (turn right at the Gabriel Brother’s intersection on Route 30) because East and West Pittsburgh Streets are now one-way.  If you are heading westbound, you’re going to be detoured along West and East Otterman Streets.  After stopping for a quick picture of a painted Lincoln Highway sign on a viaduct, we left downtown Greensburg and hopped onto Route 30, which we followed until passing Westmoreland Mall. I was pretty excited to find what my friend characterized as a Lincoln Highway Easter egg: a subtle reminder of the road’s presence in this area.

Making a right at the main intersection past the mall, we followed Old Route 30 (the Lincoln) for a bit, got back onto Route 30 and made a left onto Frye Farm Road/Trail 604/Old Route 30 (the Lincoln). I have to confess that for a short distance we followed a 1930 realignment of the Lincoln Highway instead of the 1913 route (my bad!). We followed some windy roads, passed the Inn at Mountainview and ran parallel to Route 30 as the Clair E. Frye farm, before being forced to rejoin Route 30 at Beatty Crossroads (intersection of Beatty County Road and Sand Hill Road), near the new home of the Westmoreland County Historical Society.

Unfortunately, at this point the Lincoln Highway disappears for a while and so we weren’t able to join back up with it until we passed Latrobe. The route between Beatty Crossroads and Latrobe is not drivable as it essentially passes through what is now Arnold Palmer Regional Airport. Allegedly there are remnants of the road in the fields near the airport and I am told there are actually remnants of four roads near the site of St. Xavier’s Academy and Convent (the oldest Sisters of Mercy institution in the country): 1) the Forbes Road; 2) the Old State Road/Pennsylvania Road/1790 State Road; 3) the Philadelphia-Pittsburgh Turnpike; and 4) the Lincoln Highway. However, we couldn’t see anything from the highway and to do so would probably require us trespassing on private property and getting yelled at.

After leaving Latrobe, we rejoined the Lincoln Highway right after where Route 30 splits into eastbound and westbound lanes that straddle both sides of the Loyalhanna Creek for several miles.  This is such a beautiful drive through the Ligonier Valley, with walls of lush, towering trees on both sides of the road, creating a cool, shady tunnel. This is a pretty confusing stretch because the Lincoln Highway, the Route 30 bypass and the former roadbed of Ligonier Valley Rail Road all run together in this area. I think it’s easiest to generalize the eastbound lanes as the Lincoln Highway and the westbound lanes as the Route 30 bypass around Ligonier (former railroad roadbed).  When the eastbound and westbound lanes meet up again the 1913 Lincoln briefly becomes the westbound lanes near Timberlinks Golf Course until heading up into the hills near the intersection of Route 259 (along an inaccessible stretch) and then running parallel to Route 30  as it heads into Ligonier. I’ll explained more about this going westbound when I detail our return trip in a future post.

Shirley Iscrupe shows us a unique postcard featuring Betsy, the Lincoln Highway Association’s 1918 Packard Twin-six touring car furnished by the Packard Motor Car Company. (Photo by Jennifer Sopko)

Cece and I spent a very lovely afternoon in Ligonier, a very picturesque and historic town.  After having lunch right on the Lincoln Highway at the Ligonier Tavern, we visited the Ligonier Valley Library. I wanted Cece to meet Shirley Iscrupe, the Pennsylvania Room Archivist, and check out the library’s annual historical photo show, the theme of which is the Lincoln Highway through the Ligonier Valley.  Not only does the exhibition feature wonderful pictures of the Lincoln Highway in and around the town, but it also focuses on the businesses and attractions that sprung up along the route. The photo show runs until June 29. Ligonier (Fort Ligonier, to be exact) was an important point along the Forbes Road, a strategic British expedition to take Fort Duquesne and usurp control of the Forks of the Ohio from the French (now the confluence at present-day Pittsburgh) during the French and Indian War. It’s not surprising that, since colonial days, Ligonier continued to be a featured town along main roads through western Pennsylvania, including the Lincoln Highway.

Mill Creek Bridge Ribbon Cutting Ceremony

Photo by Jennifer Sopko

After following the gradual progress of the Ligonier Valley Trail over the last few years, as it grew from an abstract idea into a scenic half-mile stretch of limestone, I was excited to attend the ribbon cutting ceremony for the new bridge that was installed over Mill Creek a few weekends ago.  Thanks to the bridge, the Ligonier Township Recreation Board and partners will be about to extend the trail into the borough and beyond.  I wasn’t involved in the project’s inception or development, but I hope in some small way I helped out by occasionally telling the story of the trail through my newspaper articles.

I got up early and headed to Ligonier on a beautiful Saturday morning to watch the ribbon cutting ceremony and I’m so glad that I did.  It was a very nice ceremony and an wonderful reason to spend some time outdoors enjoying the fresh area and sunshine.

Not only does the new bridge connect the borough and the township together, but it involved the cooperation of many people in both municipalities.  Trail Project Manager Rose Stepnick was joined by several trail committee members, including Ligonier Township Recreation Board President Sharon Detar and members Larry Shew, Elizabeth McDonnell and Bob Gangawere.  Other individuals instrumental in the bridge project included Ligonier Township Supervisor Tim Komar and Ligonier Borough Public Works Director Paul Fry.  The ceremony also attracted a happy group of residents who crossed the bridge for an inaugural hike along the trail and back for a total distance of one mile.

Here are a few photos I took of the ribbon cutting ceremony and inaugural walk:

American Songline Concert Tour Hits Ligonier on May 2

Feel like taking a road trip today?

Courtesy of Cece Otto

Courtesy of Cece Otto

Chicago-based singer and composer Cecelia Otto will be performing a free concert tonight, May 2, at 7:30p.m. at the town hall auditorium in at 120 East Main Street in Ligonier, Pennsylvania – her fourth stop during her American Songline journey across the country.

Cece is in the midst of a pretty awesome and ambitious project celebrating the centennial of the Lincoln Highway, America’s first named transcontinental highway.   In April, she kicked off a six-month concert tour where she’ll be performing early twentieth century popular music and highway songs in venues along the original 1913 route of the Lincoln Highway. All concerts are free admission. You can follow Cece’s progress throughout her singing travelogue project through her website and social media.

ALincoln Highway Signfter an inaugural performing in New York City, the site of the eastern terminus of the route, Cece has already traveled through New Jersey and headed west through Pennsylvania, stopping at historical sites and tracing the route of the highway as much as possible, until she arrived at the western terminus in San Francisco, California.  Portions of the original 1913 route have been rerouted, renamed, decommissioned and even destroyed, so it’s a difficult yet fascinating endeavor that Cece is taking on.

Cece stops in Ligonier tonight, where she’ll perform with pianist Aaron Gray, a junior at Saint Vincent College. Her set list will include popular operettas, classical pieces and vaudeville songs, music written about the highway and two original songs composed by Dr. Nolan Stolz that are based on The Complete Official Road Guide of the Lincoln Highway, published in 1916. After corresponding with Cece over the last few weeks, I’m really excited to see her performance, meet her in person and hopefully have some adventures learning more about the Lincoln Highway and its impact on the Ligonier Valley and western Pennsylvania in general.

Brian Butko’s map showing the Lincoln Highway across America can be found on his Lincoln Highway blog: http://lincolnhighwaynews.wordpress.com

The The Lincoln Highway really changed the way people traveled by car from town to town and cross-country in the early twentieth century.  Until bypasses were built to reroute increased traffic, the Lincoln Highway was the main thoroughfare through cities and towns like Ligonier, with visitors and tourists bringing revenue to the businesses and roadside attractions that sprung up along the route in 14 states: New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Iowa, Nebraska, Colorado, Wyoming, Utah, Nevada and California. In Ligonier, the Lincoln Highway passes right through the middle of town along East and West Main Streets.

The Lincoln Highway Pennsylvania Traveler's Guide by Brian ButkoFor more information on Cece Otto’s American Songline project, check out the April 29, 2013 edition of the Latrobe Bulletin, in which appears a feature article I wrote about her upcoming performance.  I’ve written a section on the Lincoln Highway in Ligonier Valley Vignettes, but I highly suggest to anyone that wishes to learn more about this historic highway to consult books by Brian Butko, who I consider the foremost authority on the Lincoln Highway, especially in Pennsylvania.  Also check out Brian’s Lincoln Highway blog, where he reports current news happening along the highway. If you want to see the different generations of the Lincoln Highway, the Lincoln Highway Association has a fantastic interactive map posted on their website.  I hope to use this map to help me navigate during my own little Lincoln Highway journey that I’m planning for this spring or summer.