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

Lincoln Highway Gumshoes: To Bedford and Back

Check out the beautiful peaks and valleys along the Seven Mile Stretch of the Lincoln Highway! (Photo by Jennifer Sopko)

Check out the beautiful peaks and valleys along the Seven Mile Stretch of the Lincoln Highway in Pennsylvania! (Photo by Jennifer Sopko)

For my birthday I decided that wanted to take a road trip that somehow incorporated the Lincoln Highway.  I’ve really enjoyed learning more about the country’s first transcontinental highway throughout its centennial year.  After all, it passes right through the town of Ligonier, where I’ve spent a lot of time and where most of my published works are based.  In addition, I actually grew up near the Lincoln Highway, in White Oak, PA. The main road through the borough – Lincoln Way – was deliberately named in order to attract travelers off the real Lincoln Highway into McKeesport.

Well, I needed to pick a destination for our ramblings, so I thought it would be neat to spend a night in historic Bedford, Pennsylvania.  I had heard wonderful things about the town and county and I’ve passed signs and the exit for it on the PA Turnpike many a time, but never made a venture there before.  Originally known as Raystown, Bedford was incorporated around 1751, prior to the French and Indian War.  It was the site of what was later named Fort Bedford,  one of four fortified supply posts along the Forbes Road constructed across Pennsylvania – Great Britain’s 1758 campaign to capture Fort Duquesne from the French. Among other attractions, Bedford also boasts the Old Bedford Village (an 18th century living history village) and more than a dozen rare and scenic covered bridges.

To get to Bedford, I wanted to follow the original 1913 route of the Lincoln Highway.  So Dave and I spent last weekend as Lincoln Highway gumshoes, following the road east, from Greensburg to Bedford, and back.  I figured that was just far enough to allow us to take our time exploring the road with no strict timetable. I literally was a gumshoe, as I ended up stepping in gum at Grand View Point, checking out the site of the lost Ship Hotel. The one piece of gum on the ground and I found it!  Argh.

On Saturday morning we left armed with three of Brian Butko’s Lincoln Highway books (the PA traveler’s guide was invaluable), some screen shots of the Lincoln Highway Association’s interactive map (thank you for the tip, Brian!) and some recommendations from Brian and my pal Cece Otto.  I think we were pretty successful finding most if not all of the accessible sections of the 1913 route, plus some great attractions along the way, although we couldn’t hit everything, so we have some unfinished business to take care of next trip.

Dave was a great sport the whole time, hitting the brakes and turning the car around whenever we passed a turn-off, helping decipher maps and instructions and risking poison ivy while searching the roadsides for hidden history and lost sections of the road.   I think he appreciated seeing all of this history with his own eyes.

You can follow our drive using the LHA’s interactive map and learn a bit more about the portion between Greensburg and Stoystown in my previous posts about the Lincoln (here, here and here).  Here I’ll just highlight some of this past weekend’s adventure. Make sure to check out the captions for each photo.

There are so many great attractions along the Pennsylvania leg of the Lincoln Highway: historic buildings and sites; roadhouses and taverns offering delicious food; kitschy shops; murals, gas pumps and roadside giants of the Lincoln Highway Heritage Corridor’s 200-mile Roadside Museum; and the sites of things and places that used to be. We enjoyed a few must-see places along the way:

I think the coolest part of the trip was following the Lincoln Highway onto side roads that veer off of Route 30 and tracking down defunct sections that are no longer drivable.   Several things helped us confirm that we were indeed following the route: the interactive map, Brian’s descriptions and clues such as road signs (for “Lincoln Highway,” “Old Route 30,” Old Lincoln Highway”), businesses with “Lincoln” in their names, the telltale path of telephone poles which usually indicate a former roadway, and traces of the roadbed still detectable beneath the grass.

We stayed at the 1940’s-era Lincoln Motor Court, located about five miles west of Bedford in Manns’ Choice, as Cece recommended.  It was awesome!  Bob and Debbie Altzier and their family have owned the Lincoln Motor Court since 1983.  Long before that it had served many travelers along the Lincoln Highway as a tourist cabin court.  Today it’s the only one of its kind still in operation on the Lincoln.  Our cottage (one of twelve) was quaint and comfortable and we would definitely stay there again.

We drove through downtown Bedford on Saturday afternoon into evening.  The main street through town, Pitt Street, is the Lincoln Highway – Route 30 actually bypasses the town.  What a charming town, filled with beautiful and historic buildings and attractions!  We had dinner at the Jean Bonnet Tavern, which dates back to 1762 and sits at the intersection of two important roads: The 1758 Forbes Road and the 1755 Burd Road (later incorporated into the Glade Road in 1772). Here are a few cool things we saw as we passed through:

We took a detour off the Lincoln Highway to have Sunday brunch at the historic Bedford Springs Resort, now known as the Omni Bedford Springs Resort & Spa, which dates back to the early nineteenth century.  Dr. John Anderson began construction on the hotel in 1804 and it grew from there to serve the many people who were coming to Bedford to benefit from the medicinal properties of several mineral springs in the area, including several U.S. presidents and numerous prominent businessmen and ladies of society.  After a massive $120 billion renovation, the resort reopened a few years ago after being closed for years.

It was also fun trying to spot some history Easter eggs along the way. We saw three original concrete markers that the Boy Scouts of America installed along the Lincoln Highway in 1928 – in Ligonier, Stoystown and near the crossroads of the 1758 Forbes Road  and 1755 Burd Road (later Glade Road) in Bedford (intersection of Route 30 and Route 31). Because the Lincoln Highway, as America’s first transcontinental road, was comprised of already existing roads through the country like the ones just mentioned, we can also find traces of those roads.  Through Pennsylvania the Lincoln generally follows earlier roads includes the Pittsburgh-Philadelphia Turnpike (it was actually a string of turnpikes that stretched across the state), the Pennsylvania Road and the Forbes Road.  We were able to find the locations of four circa 1818 markers from the Bedford-Stoystown Turnpike, thanks to Brian’s traveler’s guide; two of them on the Lincoln Highway and the two other are located on Route 30 where it diverges from the Lincoln.  However, we sadly discovered that one is no longer there – only the base of the marker remains. Was it accidentally hit and demolished by a passing car? Or was it deliberately stolen (and sold)? If it’s the latter, I’m not only sad, I’m also angry. Part of that marker’s historical significance is the spot where it is located and to remove it from there is just reprehensible.

Well, it was a jam-packed weekend traveling along the Lincoln Highway.  I hope to get back out there again to explore additional sections of the road. This has just been a fun experience learning about this important road this past year.  I have much respect for those highway historians and artists out there that have traveled this road extensively and solo.  I couldn’t have followed the road as diligently as we did without having Dave along or my friends’ advice and I thank everyone for your help! Readers, if there’s anything we may have missed that you suggest we check out in this area, or what we should look out for on future trips east and west, leave me a comment below!

Along the Lincoln Highway with American Songline: Leg #3 –Stoystown Back to Greensburg

I’m gearing up for an upcoming trip back along the Lincoln Highway to Bedford, Pennsylvania, but before I do that, I should get us back to home base first…

After American Songline’s Cece Otto and I reached our final destination in Stoystown, Pennsylvania during our mini road trip this past spring, we turned around and retraced our steps back to Greensburg.  We had plenty of daylight left and wanted to check out a few more attractions along the Lincoln Highway Roadside Museum as we drove west. When we reached the stop light in Jennerstown (the lone stop light!), we made a right at the intersection onto Somerset Pike/Route 985, and stopped down the road at the Mountain Playhouse and Green Gables Restaurant to check out another vintage gas pump.

I love the vivid colors on this gas pumI love the vivid colors on this gas pump, located at the Mountain Playhouse and Green Gables Restaurant in Jennerstown, PA! (Photo by Jennifer Sopko)

I love the vivid colors on this gas pump, located at the Mountain Playhouse and Green Gables Restaurant in Jennerstown, PA! (Photo by Jennifer Sopko)

There’s a lot of history in these two places, both founded by farmer James Stoughton.  The Green Gables Restaurant started out as a roadside sandwich stand in 1927. Little by little, Stoughton and his sister, Louise Maust, gradually expanded the humble establishment.  In order to attract more business to the restaurant, Stoughton added the Mountain Playhouse next door. Not only is the Mountain Playhouse home to one of only 12 professional summer stock theater companies in America, it’s also Pennsylvania’s oldest professional summer stock theater.  The theater is actually an abandoned gristmill dating back to 1805 that was originally located in Roxbury, Somerset County.  Stoughton had it moved to its present site in Jennerstown in 1938.

As the playhouse grew in popularity after World War II, Stoughton kept improving and expanding Green Gables. The restaurant even kindled a romance between Stoughton and the architect he hired to design the main banquet room, which features timber and stone from local barns as well as four oak tree trunks from Stoughton’s mother’s family farm. Beautiful works of arts are also sprinkled throughout the restaurant and around the grounds. The Mountain Playhouse continues to feature Broadway-quality productions every season.

Moving on, Cece and I continued west out of Jennerstown, up and down Laurel Summit, through Laughlintown and back through the center of Ligonier. Basically we retraced our earlier journey east, which you can read about here and here, with a few exceptions. At the eastern end of Ligonier, we were able to take a portion of the original Lincoln Highway we could not access traveling east.  Instead of merging onto Route 30 (the Lincoln was later realigned here), we followed Old Route 30 bearing to the right past the Loyalhanna Watershed Association in order to continue along the 1913 route.

This is another scenic little stretch of road, climbing up the hill and winding down through an expansive farm field.  The road runs parallel to the Route 30 bypass (with a lake on the south side) and passes by the former site of Shirey’s Lake View Motel (a tourist cabin court), the Colonial Inn (which closed not too long ago… sadly before my friend Rose and I got to try their famous mushroom soup) and a pretty little lake around which you can see ducks and geese.  Rose and I actually had dinner with some of these guys one night at the Colonial Inn (sans mushroom soup).

Students at Eastern Westmoreland Career and Technology Center in Latrobe, PA designed and built this Lincoln Highway Roadside Giant in Ligonier. It's huge!  (Photo by Jennifer Sopko)

Students at Eastern Westmoreland Career and Technology Center in Latrobe, PA designed and built this Lincoln Highway Roadside Giant in Ligonier. It’s huge! (Photo by Jennifer Sopko)

Anyways, eventually Cece and I were forced to get back onto Route 30.  You can actually see a portion of the old road heading up into the hills but it’s on private property.  I’m not quite sure how much of the road still exists up in there.  The original Lincoln would have crested the hill and come back, joining up again around where another Roadside Giant sits near the former site of Donato’s Gas Station, at the intersection with Route 259.  This is my favorite of the Roadside Giants I’ve seen so far: a 25-foot-tall replica of a 1940s Bennett gas pump.  We got a couple beeps from passing motorists while we took pictures from various angles.

This pump is located along Route 30 West at the entrance to the Timberlinks Golf Course, across from Idlewild Park. (Photo by Jennifer Sopko)

This pump is located along Route 30 West at the entrance to the Timberlinks Golf Course, across from Idlewild Park. (Photo by Jennifer Sopko)

We continued along Route 30 westbound, which is still the Lincoln Highway for a brief stretch past Idlewild Park.  We stopped at the Timberlinks Golf Course to check out a weather beaten, carousel-themed gas pump. The golf course is closed (it was a bit tricky to pull my car in and turn around) and the gas pump looks like it has been forgotten.  A little further down, where the lanes of Route 30 split on either side of the Loyalhanna Creek, is where the Lincoln highway becomes the eastbound lanes, which we followed earlier that day.  So we were forced to continue on the Route 30 bypass, which was built atop the former roadbed of the Ligonier Valley Rail Road as it passed through the gorge.

To continue along the Lincoln Highway, before we reached Latrobe, we took an exit off of Route 30 to Youngstown and followed Main Street heading west.  Main Street, which passes through the small town, is the original Lincoln Highway. I got confused on the trip up and we missed this portion heading east, which would have spit us out a little ways before the Lincoln Highway Heritage Corridor offices located in the Johnston House near the Kingston Dam.  Dating back to 1815, the historic building originally served as a residence for the Alexander Johnston family as well as a travelers’ inn.  On our way through Youngstown we passed a historic roadhouse called the Tin Lizzie Tavern and followed some winding roads which led us to the Arnold Palmer Regional Airport. 

The original Lincoln Highway passed right through the airport, as I mentioned in my first post.  We drove into the airport in order to check out yet one last gas pump, located outside of the entrance to DeNunzio’s Restaurant.  We had just enough daylight to get a few pictures of this cool pump before jumping back onto Route 30 towards Greensburg, picking the Lincoln Highway back up along Frye Farm Road and crossing over near Westmoreland Mall.

At the spur west of the mall, we followed the Lincoln straight into Greensburg instead of bearing left on the bypass.  If you keep in mind that the purpose of the road was to tie all these main roads together, the route makes sense. Today, new bypasses are being built to funnel traffic outside of congested cities and towns, but a century ago, the point was to get the traffic into town so that local businesses could benefit from the visitors and tourists.

Left to right: Cece Otto, Brian Butko, Jennifer Sopko, Rick Sebak

Left to right: Cece Otto, Brian Butko, Jennifer Sopko, Rick Sebak

Our last stop was Little E’s Pizzeria, a gluten-free pizza shop in South Greensburg, where Dave met us for dinner.  The gluten-free, soy-free pizza we shared was surprisingly delicious!  A few days later Cece was continuing west towards Pittsburgh.  However, our time together was not quite over! A few days later met up for lunch at Enrico’s in the Strip District with some fellow local history buffs you might recognize: Brian Butko and Rick Sebak.   Here was some honest-to-goodness, face-to-face social networking, as Dave would say! We all work on different projects and in different formats, but we all have an appreciation for local history. In this instance, it was the Lincoln Highway that brought us together. What a nice afternoon!

All in all I spent a great day getting to know Cece and this small portion of the Lincoln Highway in western Pennsylvania. She’s in Wyoming now, and I’m really interested to see her finally reach the western terminus of the road in San Francisco within the next month. Maybe someday I’ll see as much of the Lincoln Highway as she has, but right now I’m just taking it a few miles at a time.

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…

Following the Drumbeats of the Yankee Drummer

I love to spend time in the library doing traditional research and interviewing people for my history stories, but it’s really cool to get to experience history as it’s happening in person.  That’s why I had embark on a mini-quest to find the Yankee Drummer today.

I previously wrote about the parallel journeys of two pairs of American military veterans separated by a century but connected by a passion for music.  Civil War drummer Peter Guibert and Comanche Indian War veteran John Conroy walked from Pittsburgh to Gettysburg in the spring of 1913 to join Union and Confederate veterans at the 50th Anniversary Reunion of the Battle of Gettysburg.  A hundred years later, their modern counterparts – Yankee Drummer Jim Smith and friend and fellow veteran Ray Zimmerman – are replicating the 1913 trek in order to educate the public about military musicians and commemorate the Battle of Gettysburg sesquicentennial.  The pair are joined on their journey by the brass-shelled snare drum that Peter Guibert played at the Battle of Gettysburg, now owned and restored by Jim.

The modern-day Peter Guibert and John Conroy marching along the Lincoln Highway. (Photo by Jennifer Sopko)

Jim and Ray have been making their way through Western Pennsylvania this week and I really wanted to try and meet up with them before they got too far east.  Just before lunchtime I found the duo marching along the Lincoln Highway in the sweltering heat right outside of Jennerstown on their way to Stoystown!   In tow were trek coordinator Len DeCarlo and friend and retired teacher Greg Sweeney.  As I gained on the convoy slowing moving down the road and pulled over at a local watering hole I could hear the drumbeats from the antique drum that not only survived a brutal war but also the passage of time.

It was so cool to meet Jim Smith (left), Ray Zimmerman (right), and the awesome 19th century drum.

It was so cool to meet Jim Smith (left), Ray Zimmerman (right), and the awesome 19th century drum. (Photo by Leonard DeCarlo)

I’ve really enjoyed corresponding with Jim and Len over the phone and through email and it was a pleasure to meet them in person, along with Ray and Greg.  I was afraid bad timing might cause me to miss them as I drove through the area, but lo and behold I spotted them! I couldn’t believe it! The group pulled over into the same little parking lot I was in to rest in the shade and grab a well-deserved drink of water.  The sweaty, dusty and sun-baked journeymen  shared stories about their amazing but difficult journey since setting out from Pittsburgh’s Northside on May 26.

When I met up with the Peter Guibert Trek, they had finally overcome a difficult walk up the Laurel Summit, just east of Laughlintown, which Jim said he could not have done with his friend Ray to motivate him.  According to the Len, the group is trying to average about ten miles per day in order to keep on schedule. Jim told me that yesterday they stayed overnight with the Metz Family, a local Jennerstown family who learned about the trek and offered the travelers their home as accommodations.  I imagine that Peter and John would have received the same hospitality along the Lincoln Highway on their way to Gettysburg, back in 1913.   In today’s world, it’s very touching to find that there still are kind and generous people out there willing to extend a helping hand and excited about historical projects like these.

Peter Guibert played this lovely instrument during the Civil War, even on the battlefield at Gettysburg.

Peter Guibert played this lovely instrument during the Civil War, even on the battlefield at Gettysburg. (Photo by Jennifer Sopko)

It was so awesome to see Peter Guibert’s drum in person.  What an amazing historic artifact from an incredibly important time in our nation’s history.  It’s incredible that this instrument has survived all this time. Until I spoke to Jim, I never knew that the role that military musicians (drummers, fifers and buglers) played during times of war was so important.

After a short break from the heat, the group set out again towards Stoystown.  Tomorrow they plan to perform at the 1806 Old Log Church in Schellsburg at 10:30 a.m. with Professor Guibert’s Blue and Gray 1913 Reunion Band.  Afterwards they will provide campfire entertainment at the Bedford Historical Society in Bedford at 2:30 p.m.

The Peter Guibert Trek resumed from this spot just east of Ligonier Township this morning.

The Peter Guibert Trek resumed from this spot just east of Ligonier Township this morning. (Photo by Jennifer Sopko)

After I parted ways with the Peter Guibert Trek and headed back west I stopped at Walat’s, just outside of Ligonier Township on the Lincoln Highway (Route 30), to take a picture of the marker that Jim and Ray left there yesterday. Throughout the journey to Gettysburg, they plan to mark every spot where they decide to stop for the night, along with the date.  The next day, when they resume their journey, they will mark the same point with the day’s date.

If you see the Yankee Drummer, his drum and his fellow musician marching down your way, stop and say hi or give them a wave to encourage them along their trek! If you miss seeing them in your town, you can follow their progress at www.peterguiberttrek.com.

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.