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!

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!