“Valley Voices” – Upcoming Ligonier Blog Series

The Diamond in Ligonier

Photo by Jennifer Sopko

Next week I’ll be posting the first of a new regular blog series I’m starting on this website entitled “Valley Voices.”  Each month I plan to feature a personal story or a series of memories from someone in the Ligonier community (past or present, local or expat) about the valley. I’ve spent a lot of time researching and writing about the Ligonier Valley, but I would like to showcase the voices of other people familiar with the valley’s history who have grown up here, lived here and loved here.  What do they remember about growing up in Ligonier? What makes this area so beloved and special? Everyone has their own memories about this region and I think that adds another wonderful layer to the history that is so integral to Ligonier.

So, I want to hear what YOUR voice has to say! If anybody out there has any great Ligonier stories to share with me that you think could be a part of “Valley Voices” please send them my way!


“Ligonier Valley Vignettes” Giveaway!

Ligonier Valley VignettesHappy Friday everyone! My birthday is coming up soon and to celebrate I’m giving away one copy of my book! Goodreads is hosting a giveaway where if you are a Goodreads user you can enter to win a free copy of Ligonier Valley Vignettes: Tales from the Laurel Highlands by clicking here.  The giveaway ends on Thursday, August 8 – my birthday!  Good luck!

R&R at the R’n’R Hall of Fame

I’ve had quite a busy year so far, between working on my book, running back and forth between Pittsburgh for my day job and Ligonier for my night gig, and trying to get back on track with other long term writing projects and a community band.  So a weekend getaway was desperately needed!  We recently went to Cleveland and visited The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum.

Rock and Roll Hall of Fame 01Regardless of certain opinions about the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and the institution’s questionable nomination criteria and practices (I probably agree with you), I think the museum showcases a wonderful collection of historic musical artifacts and that’s what I appreciate about it. It has Roger Daltrey‘s fringe outfit from the The Rolling Stones Rock and Roll Circus! It has Bruce Springsteen’s lyric notebooks! Look, there’s Neil Peart’s snare drum! The rock hall has also opened up a library and archives on the outskirts of he city where I’d probably give my right arm to work.  Imagine all of the cool documents and artifacts they have there that are NOT on display!  Imagine putting together one of the rotating exhibits such as the current Rolling Stones exhibition! Imagine researching those pieces of history and writing those informative exhibit labels!  (Hire me?! I’ll work remotely from Pittsburgh!)

But I digress! I think Dave and I spent about five hours walking through the museum.  Both of us have been there before, but it was great to take our time absorbing every single bit of information imparted on all of those exhibit labels, gaze at the details of the guitars on display and find our favorite bands’ signatures on the Hall of Fame wall. We also found Dave’s name in a leather-bound notebook containing the master list of charter members who joined when the museum originally opened!  Here are some of my highlights from our visit:

Saturday at the Sweet Shop

I was a little nervous when I looked out the window and saw a steady rain falling on Saturday morning, but luckily the storms held off for the Summer in Ligonier Arts and Crafts show! I spent a nice afternoon at the Ligonier Sweet Shop where I signed copies of Ligonier Valley Vignettes and was surrounded by delicious-smelling chocolates!

Ligonier Sweet Shop 05

Thank you to Cokie Lindsay, joined by husband Richard, for hosting “Ligonier Valley Vignettes” at the Ligonier Sweet Shop on Saturday afternoon! (Photo by Jennifer Sopko)

Cokie Lindsay has owned the Ligonier Sweet Shop for about three years and the shop has been a wonderful supporter of my book.  Cokie has a close tie to a story included in Ligonier Valley Vignettes: her grandfather, the late Nick Gallo, established Ligonier Beach almost 90 years ago, on July 4, 1925.  Although the beach, dance floor, band shell and famous tilted wooden wheel are all long gone, the enormous pool is still there, filled with ice cold water to cool off patrons during hot summer days.

I really appreciate the Ligonier Sweet Shop for hosting a book signing – it’s been great to be able to interact with the community and promote my book.  Thank you to the wonderful people who stopped by to purchase a copy of Ligonier Valley Vignettes.  It was great to meet new people and chat with some of my friends.  Here’s a few pictures from Saturday:

My First Book Talk!

WCHS Talk 7-18-13

Photo by Jennifer Sopko

Thank you to everyone who came out last night to hear my first book talk at the Westmoreland County Historical Society! It was great to meet those of you I haven’t met before and chat with some of my friends and family.  Thank you to the Westmoreland County Historical Society for hosting last night’s event, which was a really fun ice cream social.  I really appreciate everyone’s support of Ligonier Valley Vignettes.

WCHS Talk 7-18-13

Mmmmm ice cream sundae! Fun fact: Joseph A. Greubel, grandfather of Valley Dairy’s “Ice Cream Joe” and great-grandfather of the current owner Joe E. Greubel, was the first to commercially manufacture ice cream in Westmoreland County, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Jennifer Sopko)

It’s been about ten years since I’ve spoken in public and I was nervous about giving my first official talk about Ligonier Valley Vignettes but I think it went very well.  I wanted to introduce myself to those in the community who weren’t familiar with my work, summarize the history covered in my historical stories and explain how the book came about. Three of the vignettes in my book were originally published in the Westmoreland History Magazine, so I wanted to highlight those.  I also wanted to talk about some of the great experiences I had conducting research for my book by visiting historic sites and talking to some great local history experts and members of the community. I’m relieved to have made it through the experience to be rewarded with a delicious ice cream sundae afterwards, complete with ice cream from Valley Dairy, whose family’s history making ice cream stretches back into the late 19th century.

If you missed my talk, I’ll be giving another talk at the Ligonier Valley Library in late October.  I will be at the Summer in Ligonier Arts and Crafts Show this Saturday, July 20 from 12:00-2:00pm in the Ligonier Sweet Shop if you are out and about.  Check my events page for more details.

Thank you all again for coming out in the heat wave! I hope to see you all again soon! Thank you to everyone who send me good thoughts. And thank you to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette for running a great piece on me and the ice cream social in yesterday’s edition.   Here are just a few pictures from last night’s event:

Along the Lincoln Highway with American Songline: Leg #2 –Ligonier to Stoystown

I’ve been meaning to check back in with Cece Otto, who is currently singing her way west during her American Songline concert tour, en route to the western terminus of the Lincoln Highway in San Francisco.  She recently participated in the road’s big centennial celebration in Kearney, Nebraska, but I’m going to pick up where we left off during our day trip along the Lincoln Highway in western Pennsylvania back in May. I’ve been following my new friend via her social media accounts and it looks like she’s been meeting some wonderful people, seeing some amazing historical sites and really getting to know the Father Road.  I hope she continues to have a safe trip across the country, and it sounds like she is, save a temporarily broken trunk at the beginning of her trip, intermittent internet access, some recent flooding that prevented her from driving along an original portion of the Lincoln in Iowa and feeling under the weather lately.

Back to Pennsylvania we go! Luckily we had no inconveniences or disasters during our Saturday together. As I mentioned in my previous post, we stopped in the beautiful town of Ligonier for some refreshments at the Ligonier Tavern and checked out the Lincoln Highway photo show at the Ligonier Valley Library, Cece and I headed east out of town up to Stoystown, which is about 20 miles east. I had never been past Laughlintown and Cece had missed a few roadside attractions on her way through a few days earlier, so we thought that would be a nice drive.

One of my favorite things to point out about Ligonier is that the town literally sits along the Lincoln Highway, which was only one of multiple historic routes that passed through town throughout its history. In the beginning, the Lincoln Highway was a connection of pre-existing roads from New York City to San Francisco.  Across Pennsylvania, the Lincoln Highway generally followed the path of the Philadelphia-Pittsburgh Turnpike, which was actually a string of turnpikes across the state; one of these was called the Greensburg-Stoystown Turnpike, which is what passed through Ligonier. Pre-dating the turnpike was the Old State Road (also known as the 1794 Road).  Before that, in the mid-eighteenth century, the Forbes Road cut through the valley. It is simply amazing how many layers of road history can be found here.

Ligonier BeachAnyways, the Lincoln Highway cuts right through the center of Ligonier and is now known as East and West Main Streets until it splits off a little further east out of town. Once you get past Ligonier’s town square, known as the Diamond, you’ll come to a spur at St. Clair Grove (a small park named after Revolutionary War Major General Arthur St. Clair) where East Main Street splits and continues right down to Route 30 and the Lincoln Highway heads left. The windy, narrow Lincoln ascends and descends a hill, eventually meeting back up with Route 30. One neat attraction that can been seen from the lofty height of that hill is Ligonier Beach, which boasts one of the country’s largest swimming pools and has been in operation since 1925. You can see the whole pool from atop that hill.

Between Ligonier and Stoystown, a good deal of the highway in this area is generally what is now designated as Route 30, with a few jogs off the main thoroughfare along a two-lane road through picturesque countryside that Cece directed me to follow as we motored east. Consulting the Lincoln Highway Association’s interactive map once again, it looks like we only missed a couple sections – one section in Laughlintown that was not drivable and another small section of originally paved located on private property. Dating back to 1797, Laughlintown is the oldest town in the Ligonier Valley and was named after Robert Laughlin, who was allegedly a blacksmith on the Forbes Campaign, according to my friend Shirley Iscrupe.  It was the considered the main until Ligonier developed and usurped that claim. The Compass Inn Museum and the Laughlintown Pie Shoppe are notable places in this area. The Ligonier Valley Historical Society is also located in Laughlintown.

Created by Somerset County Technology Center students, this Lincoln Highway roadside giant east of Jennerstown, PA alludes to the Great Allegheny Passage Bike Trail that passes through the region. (Photo by Jennifer Sopko)

We climbed the Laurel Ridge until we reached the highest elevation (2,684 feet above sea level) and coasted back down the other side of the mountain.  This was really a beautiful stretch of road and I only wish we had more time to go farther. Taking the time to study the Lincoln Highway by actually traveling gave me a good exposure to one of the Ligonier Highway Heritage Corridor’s initiatives: a roadside museum along the approximately 200 miles of Lincoln Highway that it maintains throughout Pennsylvania stretching from Adams County to Westmoreland County. The roadside museum features site markers, wall plaques, interpretive waysides and murals at various points along or near the original route of the Lincoln. It also includes 22 vintage 1940s-style gas pumps that Pennsylvania artists were commissioned to repaint in various themes. Click here for a great guide to all the exhibits along the way.

This mural, located about midway between Jennerstown and Stoystown, is painted on the side of Yaste Greenhouse Barn. It's enormous!

This mural, located about midway between Jennerstown and Stoystown, is painted on the side of Yaste Greenhouse Barn. It’s enormous! (Photo by Jennifer Sopko)

We stopped a few times along the way to check out some of the roadside museum, which included an enormous barn mural and a “bicycle built for two” roadside giant, both located east of the small borough of Jennerstown, which is now notable as the home of the Jennerstown Speedway and Mountain Playhouse (the latter we stopped at during our return drive).  A village originally named Laurel Hill existed there as early as 1818, according to surviving deeds, and served as a stagecoach stop along the Forbes Road.  Later, the town was renamed after English physician Dr. Edward Jenner, who is credited with discovering the smallpox vaccine.  Jennerstown was incorporated as a borough in 1874 and officially laid out and deeded in 1882.

Here I am with the elusive mural and gas pump at Blanset Hardware in Stoystown.

Here I am with the elusive mural and gas pump at Blanset Hardware in Stoystown. (Photo by Cece Otto)

Finally we arrived in Stoystown, another historic road town along the Lincoln Highway dating back to at least 1820 or earlier. Route 30 bypasses this town, so here was another instance where we had leave the highway and follow the main road through town in order to keep on the original Lincoln Highway. Because we were driving east, we were able to spot a wonderful mural painted on the side of a hardware store that Cece missed the first time passing through.  Thanks to a picture at the Ligonier Valley Library, we knew to look for an orange “Trust Worthy” sign jutting out from the front of the building. We felt very victorious finding this seemingly elusive mural, which was paired with a gas pump.  If you pass through the area, check out the borough’s national historic district, the Hite House (a historic hotel dating back to 1853) and a 1928 Lincoln Highway concrete marker at the eastern end of town.

We had plenty of daylight left to hit a few more Lincoln Highway exhibits on our return trip west…

On the Road with Ligonier Valley Vignettes: The Westmoreland Arts & Heritage Festival

It was a beautiful (and hot day) along the lower lake at Twin Lakes Park. (Photo by Jennifer Sopko)

I hope everyone had a nice long Fourth of July weekend!

I had a pretty busy weekend between holiday festivities, social outings and participating in the Westmoreland Arts & Heritage Festival last Friday.  I had already planned to help out at the Westmoreland Heritage booth that evening, but decided at the last minute to try and sell some copies of Ligonier Valley Vignettes.  I figured it would be a good learning experience and also allow me to practice interacting with people as a seller.

Here I am beating the heat on the Heritage Trail! (Photo by David Zajdel)

Here I am beating the heat on the Heritage Trail! (Photo by David Zajdel)

All in all the WAAHF was a really great experience and I’m glad I took a chance and participated in the festival.  Dave came along to help man the booth I had from 11:00am until 3:00pm and I was grateful for his help greeting people, filling our cooler with cold drinks, and buying us some delicious kettle corn.  Thankfully my booth was set up on the Heritage Trail, which was a shady, tree-lined path off of the main vendor area that wrapped around the lower lake at Twin Lakes Park in Greensburg, PA.  It was really sunny and hot that day so I was glad to be in the shade.  I think the heat chased quite a few people to the trail!

I sold a few books and got the chance to meet and talk to some folks who stopped by to check out my book, including a gentleman from Ligonier who told us about performing in a band as a ninth grader during the town’s bicentennial celebration in 1958.  He remembered President Eisenhower’s visit to the town for the celebration!  I also met Jessica Kadie-Barclay, the managing director of West Overton Village and Museums in Scottsdale, PA, who was hunkered down in a neighboring booth.  We bonded over our mutual hate of creepy-crawly forest-dwelling bugs! Bleck! Dave and I decided we really want  to check out the village and museums sometime this summer, especially the distillery!

A view of all the wonderful free materials available from Westmoreland Heritage. (Photo by Jennifer Sopko)

A view of all the wonderful free materials available from Westmoreland Heritage. (Photo by Jennifer Sopko)

After we cleaned up the booth for the evening’s author to take over, I walked around the festival for a little while before heading over to join some other folks at the Westmoreland Heritage booth located at the beginning of the Heritage Trail.  Westmoreland Heritage works in conjunction with the Westmoreland County Historical Society and local cultural and historical organizations to promote heritage tourism throughout the county.  I was glad to help them out.

These nice flowers from my sister worked perfectly in this mug! (Photo by Jennifer Sopko)

These nice flowers from my sister worked perfectly in this mug! (Photo by Jennifer Sopko)

Thank you to everyone who stopped by my booth to pick up a copy of Ligonier Valley Vignettes, check out my booth or chat! Thank you to my sister, Michele, for helping me get organized for the festival.  Thank you to Dave for braving the heat and helping me set up and peddle my book during the whole block of time. Thank you to the rain for holding off.  Thank you to WAAHF Dxecutive Director Adam Shaffer, for giving me the opportunity to come on board at the last minute. I am looking forward to participating again next year, which will be the festival’s 40th anniversary.

Here are a few more pictures from the 2013 Westmoreland Arts and Heritage Festival: