Book Brainstorming

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

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

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

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

 

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!

My First Book Talk!

WCHS Talk 7-18-13

Photo by Jennifer Sopko

Thank you to everyone who came out last night to hear my first book talk at the Westmoreland County Historical Society! It was great to meet those of you I haven’t met before and chat with some of my friends and family.  Thank you to the Westmoreland County Historical Society for hosting last night’s event, which was a really fun ice cream social.  I really appreciate everyone’s support of Ligonier Valley Vignettes.

WCHS Talk 7-18-13

Mmmmm ice cream sundae! Fun fact: Joseph A. Greubel, grandfather of Valley Dairy’s “Ice Cream Joe” and great-grandfather of the current owner Joe E. Greubel, was the first to commercially manufacture ice cream in Westmoreland County, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Jennifer Sopko)

It’s been about ten years since I’ve spoken in public and I was nervous about giving my first official talk about Ligonier Valley Vignettes but I think it went very well.  I wanted to introduce myself to those in the community who weren’t familiar with my work, summarize the history covered in my historical stories and explain how the book came about. Three of the vignettes in my book were originally published in the Westmoreland History Magazine, so I wanted to highlight those.  I also wanted to talk about some of the great experiences I had conducting research for my book by visiting historic sites and talking to some great local history experts and members of the community. I’m relieved to have made it through the experience to be rewarded with a delicious ice cream sundae afterwards, complete with ice cream from Valley Dairy, whose family’s history making ice cream stretches back into the late 19th century.

If you missed my talk, I’ll be giving another talk at the Ligonier Valley Library in late October.  I will be at the Summer in Ligonier Arts and Crafts Show this Saturday, July 20 from 12:00-2:00pm in the Ligonier Sweet Shop if you are out and about.  Check my events page for more details.

Thank you all again for coming out in the heat wave! I hope to see you all again soon! Thank you to everyone who send me good thoughts. And thank you to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette for running a great piece on me and the ice cream social in yesterday’s edition.   Here are just a few pictures from last night’s event:

On the Road with Ligonier Valley Vignettes: The Westmoreland Arts & Heritage Festival

It was a beautiful (and hot day) along the lower lake at Twin Lakes Park. (Photo by Jennifer Sopko)

I hope everyone had a nice long Fourth of July weekend!

I had a pretty busy weekend between holiday festivities, social outings and participating in the Westmoreland Arts & Heritage Festival last Friday.  I had already planned to help out at the Westmoreland Heritage booth that evening, but decided at the last minute to try and sell some copies of Ligonier Valley Vignettes.  I figured it would be a good learning experience and also allow me to practice interacting with people as a seller.

Here I am beating the heat on the Heritage Trail! (Photo by David Zajdel)

Here I am beating the heat on the Heritage Trail! (Photo by David Zajdel)

All in all the WAAHF was a really great experience and I’m glad I took a chance and participated in the festival.  Dave came along to help man the booth I had from 11:00am until 3:00pm and I was grateful for his help greeting people, filling our cooler with cold drinks, and buying us some delicious kettle corn.  Thankfully my booth was set up on the Heritage Trail, which was a shady, tree-lined path off of the main vendor area that wrapped around the lower lake at Twin Lakes Park in Greensburg, PA.  It was really sunny and hot that day so I was glad to be in the shade.  I think the heat chased quite a few people to the trail!

I sold a few books and got the chance to meet and talk to some folks who stopped by to check out my book, including a gentleman from Ligonier who told us about performing in a band as a ninth grader during the town’s bicentennial celebration in 1958.  He remembered President Eisenhower’s visit to the town for the celebration!  I also met Jessica Kadie-Barclay, the managing director of West Overton Village and Museums in Scottsdale, PA, who was hunkered down in a neighboring booth.  We bonded over our mutual hate of creepy-crawly forest-dwelling bugs! Bleck! Dave and I decided we really want  to check out the village and museums sometime this summer, especially the distillery!

A view of all the wonderful free materials available from Westmoreland Heritage. (Photo by Jennifer Sopko)

A view of all the wonderful free materials available from Westmoreland Heritage. (Photo by Jennifer Sopko)

After we cleaned up the booth for the evening’s author to take over, I walked around the festival for a little while before heading over to join some other folks at the Westmoreland Heritage booth located at the beginning of the Heritage Trail.  Westmoreland Heritage works in conjunction with the Westmoreland County Historical Society and local cultural and historical organizations to promote heritage tourism throughout the county.  I was glad to help them out.

These nice flowers from my sister worked perfectly in this mug! (Photo by Jennifer Sopko)

These nice flowers from my sister worked perfectly in this mug! (Photo by Jennifer Sopko)

Thank you to everyone who stopped by my booth to pick up a copy of Ligonier Valley Vignettes, check out my booth or chat! Thank you to my sister, Michele, for helping me get organized for the festival.  Thank you to Dave for braving the heat and helping me set up and peddle my book during the whole block of time. Thank you to the rain for holding off.  Thank you to WAAHF Dxecutive Director Adam Shaffer, for giving me the opportunity to come on board at the last minute. I am looking forward to participating again next year, which will be the festival’s 40th anniversary.

Here are a few more pictures from the 2013 Westmoreland Arts and Heritage Festival:

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.