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

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“Ligonier Valley Vignettes” Fall Wrap-Up

As I look back on this year and the time that has passed since my book came out, I can’t believe some of the events that I have been a part of during my marketing campaign. I’ve participated in several book sales and signings and given two presentations. For someone who is a very nervous public speaker, that’s a big deal!

This fall, I wrapped up my year of marketing with two events centered around the Diamond: a slide presentation at the Ligonier Valley Library and a holiday book signing at the Ligonier Sweet Shop during Black Friday weekend.

Photo by David Zajdel

Photo by David Zajdel

On Tuesday, October 29, I had the pleasure to give a presentation at the Ligonier Valley Library based on Ligonier Valley Vignettes: Tales from the Laurel Highlands. As I summarized each section of my book and worked my way chronologically thorough the history of the Ligonier Valley, I displayed some slides containing images from my book. Afterwards, I met with some of the wonderful people who came out to hear my talk.

I also talked about the history of the Ligonier Valley Library and how a late-nineteenth century library presence eventually evolved into a community institution that’s connected to a county-wide system of libraries. The Ligonier Valley Library is very near and dear to my heart, as they have not only supported my research efforts for the past ten years, but I’ve made some wonderful friends there, most notably Pennsylvania Room Archivist Shirley Iscrupe, who I’ve talked about before. I can’t thank the Pennsylvania Room enough for its support. It’s been my haven for many years.  My book is intricately tied to the library, as many of the images contained in it are from the Pennsylvania Room’s collection.  One of the vignettes I included was a story I originally wrote for the Ligonier Echo about the library’s history that coincided with the 65th anniversary of the Ligonier Valley Library Association.  And, of course, Shirley wrote the wonderful foreword for Ligonier Valley Vignettes.  I really look forward to working with the library for many more years to come.

Photo by David Zajdel

Photo by David Zajdel

After my talk, Shirley presented me with a beautiful framed reprint of a map of Ligonier from 1900.  I will treasure it always.

I must thank the library, Director Janet Hudson, Pennsylvania Room Archivist Shirley Iscrupe and Pennsylvania Room Clerk Theresa Schwab for hosting my presentation and book signing event. Oh, and THANKS FOR THE COOKIES AND CIDER! (Yum!)

I also want to thank everyone who came out on a chilly fall night to hear my talk – I really appreciate you coming out to support me and learn about some of the great history that happened in the Ligonier Valley. It really means a lot!

Ligonier Sweet Shop 11-30-13

Photo by Jennifer Sopko

Also, this past weekend, the Ligonier Sweet Shop hosted me during a holiday book signing during Small Business Saturday. The town was really hopping that weekend, first with Light-Up Night on Friday, where Dave and I got to meet Santa Claus before he joined a short parade around the Diamond.  Saturday was a busy shopping day and lots of people were out and about patronizing the shops and restaurants that are integral to the tourism that support the town. I have been very lucky not only to partner with a great small business in town owned by very kind people, Cokie and Richard Lindsay, but also to be able to build another connection to my book, as Cokie’s family owned Ligonier Beach, which I talk about in Ligonier Valley Vignettes.  All in all, it was very nice to start the holiday season off with some fun holiday events in Ligonier.

I don’t have any other author events scheduled until the spring, so I plan to take some time this winter to brainstorm ideas for the next book… Any suggestions?

October Events for “Ligonier Valley Vignettes”

Ligonier Valley VignettesHappy Fall! Between promoting Ligonier Valley Vignettes, traveling to Bedford, PA along the Lincoln Highway, vacationing in various national parks in southwestern Utah, and my usual extracurricular activities, it was quite a busy summer!  I expect the upcoming fall season to be just as busy, but I hope to continue promoting my book, work on some feature articles and brainstorm some ideas for a possible second book. Before all of that, I have a couple of big  events planned for the month of October!

Fort Ligonier Days: October 11-13

First up is the annual Fort Ligonier Days – Ligonier’s annual three-day festival that commemorates the Battle of Fort Ligonier (or Battle of Loyalhanna), which occurred on October 12, 1758. The French and their Indian allies attacked the Post at Loyalhanna on this date, but the fort was successfully defended and the Forbes Campaign continued on to chase the French from Fort Duquesne and take control of the Forks of the Ohio during the French and Indian War.

I will be signing copies of Ligonier Valley Vignettes at the Ligonier Sweet Shop right on the Diamond all three days of the event:

Friday, October 11 from 10:00 a.m. until 4:00 p.m.
Saturday, October 12 from 10:00 a.m. until 5:00 pm.
Sunday, October 13 from 11:00 a.m. until 4:00 p.m.

I’ll be taking breaks throughout the day to watch the parade, check out artillery demonstrations at Fort Ligonier and sampling goodies from the yummy food booths around town, so look for me fighting the crowds around town! You can check out the Fort Ligonier Days itinerary by clicking here and the events scheduled at Fort Ligonier here.

Ligonier Valley Library: October 29 at 7:00 p.m.

Later on in the month, I will be giving a slide presentation at the Ligonier Valley Library related to Ligonier Valley Vignettes on Tuesday, October 29 at 7:00 p.m.  I will be selling and signing books afterwards. The library and its wonderful staff have been great friends to me over the past decade, ever since I started working in the Ligonier area, and I am happy to spend a nice evening with them! This event is one of many hosted by the library’s Pennsylvania Room throughout the year – you can find out more information here.

Keep updated on the places Ligonier Valley Vignettes will be this fall and winter by checking out my Author Events page!

WWI Casualties William Tosh & Benjamin Byers Part of Ligonier Valley Library Collection

You never know when you are going to stumble across a piece of history or when one is going to come walking through your door.

While I was visiting the Pennsylvania Room this week, Shirley Iscrupe shared with me a recent donation of World War I memorabilia related to two soldiers with whom I am familiar.

One of the vignettes that I included in Ligonier Valley Vignettes tells the stories of these two young men who left their homes in Ligonier Valley to fight in World War I but sadly didn’t come back alive.

Private First Class Benjamin Byers and Private William Tosh were the first two soldiers from the Ligonier Valley to be killed during World War I. Byers and Tosh both served in the 110th Pennsylvania Regiment, which was deployed to France in the spring of 1918, near the Western Front with Germany.

Both soldiers tragically died on the same day: July 30, 1918. Private Tosh, only 18 years old, was killed when German forces blew up the 110th Regiment headquarters located in the French village of Courmont, where he was working as a telephone operator. The 29-year-old Byers was shot and killed on the battlefield during an attack against the German army at Sergy Hill.

The American Legion Byers-Tosh Post 267 was named after them when it was established in 1927.

Ligonier resident Mary Lou Mitchell, who is William Tosh’s niece, donated the following materials to the Pennsylvania Room: two memorial cards from William Tosh’s funeral; the program of the 1921 Memorial Day unveiling of the World War I Honor Roll tablet at the Westmoreland County Courthouse and admittance card; and Westmoreland County’s Casualty List for World War I, 1917-1918.

Both Byers and Tosh are listed in the honor roll program and the casualty list.

The honor roll program and card were owned by Mitchell’s mother, Bessie Hoon, who survived the horrific 1912 wreck between freight and passenger trains on a blind curve along the Mill Creek branch of the Ligonier Valley Rail Road.  She fully recovered and went on to teach in the Ligonier Valley District for many years. Hoon and Tosh were brother and sister.

Thanks to Mitchell’s donation, these historic materials are now part of the permanent collection at the Ligonier Valley Library’s Pennsylvania Room.  The Pennsylvania Room is an incredible resource for local history and contains information about the numerous veterans and casualties from the Ligonier Valley, including Privates Byers and Tosh, who participated in the wars that shaped American history.

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.