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!

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.