Seeking Stories & Photos for New Idlewild Park Book!

Photo by David Zajdel

Photo by David Zajdel

The next year is going to be pretty busy! I’m pleased to announce that I have started working on my second book for The History Press, which will tell the story of Idlewild Park, Pennsylvania’s oldest amusement park!

I need your help! I’m seeking never-before-heard stories and rare photographs from past and present visitors, employees and amusement park enthusiasts to feature in this forthcoming book on Idlewild Park. Anyone interested in sharing their memories is encouraged to join my Idlewild Park Memories Facebook Group, tweet me, or contact me through my website.

For more than a century, Idlewild and SoakZone in Ligonier, Pennsylvania, has captured the hearts and imaginations of those who grew up visiting what’s considered one of the most beloved children’s parks in America. What began as a scenic picnic ground for the Ligonier Valley Rail Road in the late 19th century is now recognized as the oldest amusement park in Pennsylvania, the third oldest in the country and the 12th oldest in the world. The park will celebrate its 140th season in 2017. This new book will revisit the history of Idlewild, from the historic land on which it was developed, to its connection with the railroad, the innovators that commercialized and expanded the park, the classic rides and attractions created there and the cherished memories of people who grew up or worked at Idlewild.

Idlewild Park is one of the best known and treasured landmarks in not only the Ligonier Valley but also in western Pennsylvania and beyond. I’m looking forward to delving deeper into the park’s fascinating history and sharing new and unique stories with the public!

Click here for official press release.

Book Brainstorming

Hanging out at Jack Rabbit's Trading Post on Route 66 in Joseph City, Arizona (photo by David Zajdel)

Hanging out at Jack Rabbit’s Trading Post on Route 66 in Joseph City, Arizona (photo by David Zajdel)

Hello friends and happy fall! I can’t believe we are on the cusp of a new season. Where did all of the time go? It was a very busy summer for me between writing projects, musical gigs and traveling… and I’m still behind in everything I wanted to accomplish! I’ve also been lax in blogging, but you can also follow me on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram as I do post there more regularly. Check out some pictures I’ve snapped from my wanderings, including a recent trip to Arizona that included some adventures along Route 66.  I’m still freelancing for the Latrobe Bulletin (almost 11 years!) so feel free to browse the articles I’ve written about Ligonier happenings and local government as I continue to post them here on my website.  Also, I’ll once again be promoting Ligonier Valley Vignettes at the annual Fort Ligonier Days during the weekend of October 10-12 at the Ligonier Sweet Shop, so please stop by to say hello!

One major thing I am currently working on is developing a proposal for a second local history book with The History Press. I’ve brainstormed some ideas with my editor and I’ve already received some great suggestions from friends. What do you think would make an engaging and informative read about history in Pennsylvania, whether it’s focused in Ligonier, Pittsburgh, Westmoreland County, western Pennsylvania or statewide? I’m interested in hearing what local history topics readers want to learn about that may not have been covered before. What history fascinates you? Let me know in the comments or send me an email through my contact page. Thanks!

 

Please help save McKeesport’s historic 1908 roundhouse!

Courtesy of Jenni Dangel, WIP Arts

Courtesy of Jenni Dangel, WIP Arts

UPDATES: Please join the “Save the McKeesport Roundhouse” open Facebook group here! Please sign our Change.org petition asking Mayor Mike Cherepko to help stop the demolition by clicking here!

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News broke last Saturday that the Municipal Authority of Westmoreland County intends to demolish a historic building located near the Fifteenth Avenue Bridge in McKeesport, PA – a century-old roundhouse that was originally part of the Municipal Water Softening and Filtration Plant. The demolition was originally scheduled for June 10 – only days after the news was announced.  So far, the building has been spared, but for how long? We are trying to spread the word about this and encourage people in the community to help us convince the MAWC to save this landmark.

The roundhouse has been an important and iconic structure in McKeesport for more than 100 years. As the first facility in the region to provide safe drinking water, the Municipal Water Softening and Filtration Plant significantly impacted the health and welfare of local residents. The building has been designated a local historic landmark by Pittsburgh History and Landmarks Foundation and Matt Bauman, a Liberty Borough native and a teacher in the McKeesport Area School District, has been hoping to nominate the 1908 building to the National Register of Historic Places.

 Yet, the MAWC wants to tear the roundhouse down to build a storage shed!  A cheap, run-of-the-mill storage shed with no intrinsic historic value, no aesthetic worth whatsoever.  I understand it costs money to restore the building to useable condition. But it’s also going to cost money to build the storage shed, which definitely won’t last as long as the current 106-year-old building.  As a municipal water authority this historic water softening plant is the MAWC’s HISTORY.  And they want to destroy a landmark rather than learn from it. Shameful.

I am a local writer and historian who grew up in McKeesport and White Oak.  I am a proud graduate of the McKeesport Area School District.  My family grew up, lived and worked in McKeesport and look back on its prosperous years fondly. It saddens me that the MAWC is going to destroy another piece of this city’s history instead of helping in one way to revitalize it. The city can rally and this is a way to help it do so.

I’m not alone. Many people in the McKeesport community and beyond are trying to save this important structure from oblivion.  Jenni Dangel, of WIP Arts, has been valiantly rallying the troops via social media (Thank you Jenni, for some great thoughts).  Jason Togyer wrote two powerful editorials this week in Tube City Almanac that I think beautifully sum up why we should not only care about saving the roundhouse but also why it’s important to preserve our local history overall. I encourage you to read them by clicking here and here.  You can read more about the history of the roundhouse here.

I implore the MAWC to stop the demolition plans. I implore them to work with local historical organizations and community members to come up with a feasible way to reuse this wonderful landmark.  If you feel the same way, please contact the MAWC immediately at 800-442-6829 or mawc@mawc.org to tell them not to demolish the 1908 roundhouse.

What I’ve been up to…

Greetings friends! I can’t believe it’s May already and we are a third of the way through 2014. Where has the time gone?!

I’ve managed to stay quite busy over the last few months, once I thawed out from this monstrous winter.  Still, I have many more projects planned and even more ideas swirling around in my head… and not enough time! When I’m not able to sit down and write a full-fledged blog post about my endeavors, I try to stay active on Twitter, Pinterest and Instagram – please follow me there, too!

Ligonier Swinging BridgeI’ve tried to stay active in the Ligonier community by attending some recent events, such as the Ligonier Ice Fest and Bob Stutzman’s talk on his new book, Images of Rail: The Ligonier Valley Rail Road. I’ve also written several feature stories for the Latrobe Bulletin, in addition to covering regular local government meetings.  Reporting for the newspaper has given me amazing opportunities to meet new folks, visit new places and learn about what’s going on in the Ligonier Valley. I’ve talked to many kind and extraordinary people while on assignment.  I often wonder if our paths would cross if I weren’t a writer.  Have a read:

Ligonier Theatre #02Plaque fundraiser to keep screen lit at historic Ligonier Theatre
-April 19-20, 2014
Kid-centric season planned at Fort Ligonier
-April 7, 2014
LWA seeks teens for summer program
-April 1, 2014

New Ligonier Valley Trail signs connect town, townshipLigonier Valley Trail Sign
-March 22-23, 2014
Ligonier Coffee House celebrates 10th season
-March 15-16, 2014
Valley Youth Network in 20th year helping Ligonier teens
-March 8-9, 2014

 

Dave and I took advantage of a lovely Easter respite to follow history along the roads of western Pennsylvania. We are very blessed to live in this region as history is truly in our backyard.  You know I love following my now-beloved Lincoln Highway, so we obviously ended up there, but we also followed an earlier road also significant to American history – the National Road, the country’s first federally funded highway, which originally connected the east coast to the Ohio River and generally followed much of the Braddock Road. Today, US Route 40 follows the road’s general alignment, so we basically headed east from Uniontown towards Maryland and stopped at several attractions along the way. Check out some of my pictures:

Fort NecessityMt. Washington TavernTollhouse in Addison, PA

National Road Mile MarkerBraddock Road RemnantBraddock's Grave

Music is also a big part of my life. I’ve been rehearsing with the Penn-Trafford Community Band and had the honor of playing flute for an Easter vigil at St. John de la Salle in Delmont, PA.   More exciting news: Dave has also been hard at work with one of his two bands, Bad Boy Blues Band.Bad Boy Blues Band #01  This spring, the Greensburg-based group released Temptation’s Coming, its first album of original music. It’s a unique mix of various styles, including modern blues and rockabilly. Dave produced and mixed the album. Check out the band’s website to find out when and where they’ll be playing this year.  You can purchase their album online via iTunes or CD Baby or at a show near you.  Please come out and support local musicians!

Peter Guibert Trek DrumsticksDave and I also met up with Yankee Drummer Jim Smith, who you may remember replicated Civil War drummer Peter Guibert’s 1913 trek from Pittsburgh to Gettysburg for the Gettysburg sesquicentennial last year, along with friend Ray Zimmerman, trek coordinator Len DeCarlo, and Peter Guibert’s original drum.  Check out my posts on their remarkable 200-mile journey here and here for more background.  I purchased one pair of the 250 pairs of drumsticks that Jim used along his trek – proceeds of which will fund a future monument honoring military musicians.  All 250 pairs were crafted from the wood harvested from pin oak and white oak trees certified to have stood during the Battle of Gettysburg, July 1-3, 1863.  I am so honored to have played some small part in Jim and Ray’s historic journey, which is another point in a more than 150-year-old story that started with the Civil War, continued with veterans Peter Guibert and John Conroy, was commemorated by Jim and Ray and hopefully will be continued with the erection of a permanent monument. Again, what remarkable people I get to meet through my writing. If you’d like to purchase a pair of drumsticks, please contact me for more information.

I’m also gearing up to start some new Ligonier Valley Vignettes marketing and explore some other writing opportunities. I’ve also been extremely involved with the Westmoreland County Historical Society and their programming and fundraising events and it’s been wonderful (and crazy).  Stay tuned for a future blog post about that!

Merry Christmas!

Christmas 2013Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to everyone! Thank you for following me here over the past year. I really appreciate everyone’s support and friendship. The holidays are here, the year is winding down and it’s time for some reflection on this past year before making plans and goals for the next one.

2013 was an eventful year for me with the release of Ligonier Valley Vignettes, but I continued to work with the Latrobe Bulletin throughout the year by not only covering monthly meetings but also writing some features on happenings in the Ligonier Valley.  I was really pleased to be able to cover some great local stories this year.  I learned so much more about the Lincoln Highway than I ever knew before after meeting a traveling songstress (now friend) who passed through Ligonier during the road’s centennial. I heard stories of hope and healing from local veterans who traveled down through the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon.  Ligonier townspeople of all ages accomplished extraordinary things this year, from charitable work in a third-world country to jumping rope through New York City on live television.  I also covered some recent holiday-themed events in town that hopefully sparked fond memories and reminded us all of the true reason for the season. Please enjoy!

“Vintage Christmas in Ligonier” display lights up library
-December 6, 2013
Ligonier churches to host 2nd annual “Christmas Story and Nativity Display”
-November 30 – December 1, 2013
Ligonier jump rope team in Macy’s Parade
-November 23-24, 2013
Local vets share stories of healing from Grand Canyon trip

-November 9-10, 2013
LV Library to celebrate dinosaur’s 10th birthday
-October 16, 2013
Grand Canyon rafting trip helps wounded vets heal
-October 7, 2013
Ligonier missionaries spread ministry in Nicaragua
-August 5, 2013
Lincoln Highway songstress celebrates road’s centennial
-May 1, 2013
Ligonier trail bridge for Mill Creek arrives
-March 15, 2013

Huzzah! “Ligonier Valley Vignettes” Hits Fort Days!

Photo by Jennifer Sopko

Photo by Jennifer Sopko

Compared to the madness that descended upon the valley during the annual Fort Ligonier Days festival this past weekend, Ligonier sure looked like a ghost town when I drove up to cover back-to-back meetings in the township on Tuesday night.

Despite the rain on Friday, I had a fantastic time promoting Ligonier Valley Vignettes all weekend at the 54th annual Fort Ligonier Days, which took place October 11-13, 2013.  It was a long and tiring weekend, but such a worthwhile experience.

The three-day event, which was first held in 1960, commemorates the Battle of Fort Ligonier (also known as the Battle of Loyalhanna), which occurred on October 12, 1758. The French and their Indian allies attacked the Post at Loyalhanna on this date, in retaliation for an earlier reconnaissance mission gone awry, but the fort was successfully defended. In fact, the garrison, which was later renamed Fort Ligonier, was never taken by the enemy during its eight years of active service (1758-1766). After the battle, in November, the Forbes Campaign continued the final 50 miles towards what’s now Pittsburgh to take usurp control of the Forks of the Ohio from the French during the French and Indian War.  The French fled, leaving the charred ruins of Fort Duquesne for the British to claim and build a new fort upon: Fort Pitt. The rest, as they say, is history.

I can’t thank Cokie and Richard Lindsey enough for hosting me at the Ligonier Sweet Shop, where I signed books and helped to sell candy, chocolate and various other goodies and souvenirs. Without Cokie’s support I don’t think I would have had the success that I had at Fort Ligonier Days. The sweet shop sold a good number of books and I got to meet and talk with some really nice people who stopped by to check out Ligonier Valley Vignettes. I really appreciated everyone’s hospitality and I’m looking forward to future events there!

One of the cool things about talking to the people that took the time to stop and chat with me was that I learned about everyone’s personal connection to Ligonier. I learned from one gentleman, John Pollock, that his grandfather, John Svitlik, was identified as one of the coal miners in the picture of Old Colony mine and coke works that appears on the cover of my book. Doug Leichliter told me about his grandfather, Lee Riley, who was originally affiliated with the Connellsville Coal and Coke Company, but later got involved at the Fort Palmer works, thanks to his brother, Otto Gay.  Riley was also a member of the iron and coal police. Leichliter also mentioned that his great-uncle, Craig Graham, was a stone mason who primarily worked with field stone to create structures like barn bridges, fences and retaining walls and was responsible for some of the stonework at Idlewild Park. I also talked to a woman about the Marker Dairy Farm in Ligonier, which I think she and her husband (I think their names were Libby and Harry Marker) sold to the Western PA Conservancy about seven years ago. The farm had been in the Marker family since the 1700s!

Thank you also to my friends and family who came to visit me over the weekend!  My little sister Michele and her husband Derrick stopped by my table on Sunday, as did my friends Ashley and Steve. Tina and Rick, who completely immersed themselves in the festival for three days, came to entertain and feed me. Janet and Linda from the Ligonier Valley Library visited with some information on the library’s dinosaur for a feature I was working on (I was multi-tasking as usual!). Bob Stutzman from the Ligonier Valley Rail Road Association brought his copy of my book for me to sign (I’ll be returning the favor once his new book is released early next year). Thanks for your support!

As a reward for fighting the Fort Ligonier Days traffic (both vehicle and foot) to visit me, I took Dave to Fort Ligonier to watch an artillery demonstration and battle reenactment and also see George Washington’s handwritten Remarks in person. I think the history behind the festival often gets lost in the maze of food, craft booths and entertainment that absorbs the town and people forget what they are there to celebrate. (Hello? There’s a reason why Fort Days is held around October 12 every year!). I felt it was important that we honor the history of Ligonier by visiting the fort and participating in some of the events they had over the weekend. I also wanted to introduce Dave to a few of my friends at the fort.  He really enjoyed seeing the fort for the first time (and watching the guns and cannons explode!) and we plan to return when there’s not a million people around.

I sold and signed books, followed a two-hour parade, ate not-so-healthy food, watched (and heard!) cannons explode, spent time with people I love, danced, saw beautiful fireworks and celebrated history.  Plus, I took off work on Friday. All-in-all, not a bad weekend! Here’s a collage of pictures from my Fort Ligonier Days weekend:

The Ligonier Echo celebrates 125 years in print!

Ligonier EchoToday marks the 125th anniversary of the Ligonier Echo – the Ligonier Valley’s hometown newspaper!

The weekly newspaper was first published on September 5, 1888.  It wasn’t the first newspaper in Ligonier (four others preceded it), but it’s been the longest running of those publications. The location of the office has changed over the years, and so has its ownership, but the paper continues to report news from Ligonier every Thursday. Today, the Ligonier Echo is managed by Trib Total Media, which took it over from the Laurel Group. In its early days it was managed for almost 70 years by the Graham family, ever since Professor I.M. Graham became editor and owner in 1890.

Please check out today’s issue of the Ligonier Echo for a special commemorative section celebrating the paper’s anniversary.

I’ve been privileged to write several local history features for the Ligonier Echo during my career, some of which I was able to include in Ligonier Valley Vignettes.  I have to thank Editor Debbie Brehun for the opportunities to write these pieces and the Tribune-Review for permission to reprint them in my book.

I’ve also made a couple of really good friends through the Echo, like my friend Jewels.  Sadly (for me), Jewels has moved onto a wonderful new job opportunity, so I don’t get to see her at my regular meetings in Ligonier any more, but I can see her at lunchtime, since her new office is a short walk away from my day job.

So here’s to 125 more years for the Ligonier Echo and future Ligonier history articles for me to dive into

*Source Consulted:  Shirey, Sally. Images of America: Ligonier Valley. Charleston, SC: Arcadia Publishing, 2001. Print.