Category Archives: Maryland

Mile 1 – Coney Island/Curtis’ Famous Wieners, Cumberland, Md.

Curtis'/Coney Island on North Liberty Street in Cumberland has been open since 1918.

Curtis’/Coney Island on North Liberty Street in Cumberland has been open since 1918.

If you are able to dine at only one place in Cumberland, Curtis’/Coney Island Famous Wieners has to be on your short list.

It’s pretty much the best hot dog joint ever (says a Western Marylander).

But seriously, Curtis’/Coney Island is steeped in Cumberland history, and has been around long enough to span at least four generations. If you meet a Cumberland native (like me), chances are their parents and grandparents have had hot dogs in the exact same booths – but decades earlier.

Just a note – Curtis’ and Coney Island are the same place now, but were separate establishments until about 13 years ago – more on that farther down. I’ve rarely heard anyone ever refer to the place as “Curtis’,” instead referring to it by the “Coney Island” name, so that’s the name I’ll be using.

Memorabilia on the walls of Curtis'.

Memorabilia on the walls of Curtis’.

Coney Island has been around since 1918, and as far as I know, the recipe for “Coney Island sauce” hasn’t changed since it was created. The restaurant has always been a family affair, too. Currently, Gino Giatras is the proprietor, taking the place over from his father, Louis “Louie” Giatras (Louie died in 2007). Locals tend to refer to members of the Giatras family by their first names, regardless of whether or not they actually know the family personally.

Coney Island can be traced to business ventures by Greek immigrants around the beginning of the 20th Century. Louie’s obituary in the Baltimore Sun states that the first hot dog was sold around 1905, and the product took off. Because of the food’s success, the family started two hot dog joints – Coney Island and Curtis’.  Curtis’s was located at 35 N. Liberty St., and Coney Island was farther up Liberty Street toward Baltimore Avenue. Both restaurants were essentially the same menu-wise, and both had kitchens in the front of the restaurant, but each had different decor.

The old red booths moved from the original Coney Island location when it was merged with Curtis'.

The old red booths moved from the original Coney Island location when it was merged with Curtis’.

In 2000, the restaurants combined, with Coney Island moving into an expanded Curtis’. Today, the side where Curtis’ looks pretty much the same as it always has. On the other side of the restaurant, the iconic red booths that were part of Coney Island were moved into the new dining area when the hot dog joints merged.

The restaurant’s walls are covered in memorabilia, most notably historic newspaper articles, Pittsburgh Steelers decorations and photos. Gino is usually working, yelling orders in the small kitchen at the front of the restaurant.

So about the actual food…

My usual go-to: hot dogs with sauce, fries and a vanilla Coke.

My usual go-to: hot dogs with sauce, fries and a vanilla Coke.

Coney Island/Curtis’ is particularly famous for its sauce that goes on hot dogs. The base is hamburger, which is combined with several seasonings to produce a sauce that is drier than toppings at other hot dog establishments, but still fairly moist. Of course, there are all the regular toppings as well.

Curtis’ also makes vanilla Coke/Pepsi the old fashioned way – by actually adding syrup to the soda. I believe they make cherry Coke the same way, too. They also make a few other old-fashioned drinks as well (none with alcohol).

A view toward the front of Curtis'.

A view toward the front of Curtis’.

You can order at the window for take out, or seat yourself at the booths or at the bar to be waited on. The wait staff generally tends to assume that you’re a local and know what you want, so be sure to take a look at one of the menus on the wall as you’re finding a seat (this has thrown off some of my friends from out-of-state). Chances are you’ll be ordering a hot dog anyway, but still.

Hot dogs are ordered by amount and topping. So, for my usual three hot dogs with sauce (I tend to indulge when I’m home), I order “three with sauce.” I’ll usually have an order of fries brought to share with the table as well (they’re the crinkle-cut kind).

The bar at Curtis'.

The bar at Curtis’.

Your food will typically come out within just a few minutes – probably a lot quicker than most fast-food places. If you’re dining in, your bill will be given to you with your food, but don’t feel rushed. Pay at the front when you’re ready to go.

Coney Island is open Monday through Saturday from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. It is closed on Sunday. Parking is available on North Liberty Street and throughout downtown Cumberland. After lunch or dinner (or breakfast?) at Coney Island, visit the relatively large variety of shops in downtown.

If you’re heading farther west along the National Road, check out other great hot dogs at Fiddle’s Confectionery in Brownsville, Pa., or Shorty’s Lunch in Washington, Pa.!

Curtis Famous Weiners on Urbanspoon


Summer 2013 Festivals Along the National Road

Last year, I posted a list of festivals I had found that were scheduled along or near the National Road during the summer months. It proved to be one of the more popular posts this blog had, so I figured I would update the list to reflect this year’s events. If there’s anything that should be added, I’d like to know!

All States

May 29-June 2: 10th Annual National Road Yard Sale, Maryland to Missouri. See information from Old Storefront Antiques, where the tradition started, here.

Maryland

May 23-26: DelFest, Cumberland.

June 8-19: 45th Annual Heritage Days Festival, Cumberland.

June 28-30: 36th Annual Grantsville Days, Grantsville.

July 4: 37th Annual Soapbox Derby, Frostburg.

Sept. 21: Bicentennial Celebration of the Casselman River Bridge (see the bridge on this blog), Grantsville.

Pennsylvania

May 17-19: 40th Annual National Road Festival, Southwest Pennsylvania.

June 13-15: The 10th Annual National Road Chainsaw Carving Festival, Addison.

June 15: 12th Annual Beer & Gear Festival, Ohiopyle.

Aug. 5-10: Mountain Area Fair, Farmington.

Aug. 9-11: The 33rd National Pike Steam, Gas & Horse Assn. Show, Brownsville.

Aug. 23-25: Italian Festival of Fayette County, Dunbar (near Uniontown).

Sept. 2-7: West Alexander Fair, West Alexander.

Sept. 21-22: 43rd Covered Bridge Festival, Washington and Greene counties.

West Virginia

June 28-30: Ohio Valley Black Heritage Festival, Wheeling.

July 26-28: Upper Ohio Valley Italian Heritage Festival, Wheeling.

Aug. 9-11: Heritage Music Bluesfest, Wheeling.

Aug. 24: 6th Annual Wine and Jazz Festival, Wheeling.

Aug. 30-Sept. 1: Wheeling Vintage Raceboat Regatta, Wheeling.

mid-Sept.: Wheeling Heritage Port Sternwheel Festival, Wheeling

Ohio

Columbus Fairs and Events

June 13-July 20: Springfield Summer Arts Festival, Springfield.

July 12-13: Zanesville Pottery Lovers’ Show and Sale, Zanesville.

July 18-21: Jamboree in the Hills, Belmont.

Aug. 2-3: Y Bridge Arts Festival, Zanesville.

Aug. 9-11: 45th Salt Fork Arts & Crafts Festival, Cambridge.

Aug. 16-17: Reynoldsburg Tomato Festival, Reynoldsburg.

Sept. 21-22: Preble County Pork Festival, Eaton.

Sept. 28: Hebron Music and Arts Festival, Hebron.

Indiana

Indianapolis

May 23-June 1: Banks of the Wabash Festival, Terre Haute.

June 5-8: Jubilee Days, Knightstown.

Sept. 7-8: Hoosier Fall Fest, Knightstown.

Sept. 20-21: Quaker Day Festival, Plainfield.

Oct. 3-6: Riley Festival, Greenfield.

October: 10th Annual Clay County Popcorn Festival, Brazil.

Illinois

May 31-June 2: Fun Fest for Air-Cooled VWs, Effingham.

Labor Day Weekend (unconfirmed dates): Casey Popcorn Festival, Casey.

September (unconfirmed dates): Grand Levee/Harvest Festival, Vandalia.

Fall (unconfirmed dates): Harvest Moon Music Festival, Vandalia.


Mile 24 – Penn Alps, Grantsville, Md.

The entrance to Penn Alps on a rainy evening.

Tucked neatly near the Casselman River near the Casselman River Bridge, Penn Alps has been serving traditional American fare since the late 1950s.

Like The Casselman Inn just up the road, Penn Alps features a menu built around the German-inspired Mennonite and Amish cuisine, but Penn Alps has a larger dining area, seems to have a bit larger menu and also has a popular buffet. Other dining rooms can be, and are often, reserved for private dinners.

A sample of the typical buffet food at Penn Alps.

Besides being adjacent to the National Road, the history of Penn Alps itself is tied to transportation. Although the present building is comprised of several additions, the original building dates to around 1818, and served travelers along the National Road. The oldest alignment of the highway that leads to the Casselman River Bridge is along the north side of the building, which is the oldest part of the complex. The modern U.S.-40 ALT alignment runs immediately to the south.

The lobby at Penn Alps.

Since Alta Schrock, the founder of Penn Alps, bought the building, the entire facility has evolved into a campus, featuring the Spruce Forest Artisan Village, which provides space for area craftsmen to produce and show off their work. Included in this complex of buildings is an early 19-Century house – the Miller House – and Stanton’s Mill, an old gristmill. While the grounds are free and always open, the actual artisans are at their posts intermittently from May through October.

Some of the work produced at Spruce Forest can be purchased in the gift shop inside the Penn Alps  restaurant. The shop also sells locally-produced baked and canned goods to take home.

One of the dining areas at Penn Alps.

Penn Alps is an ideal stop for travelers and locals who not only want to sample great food, but who are also looking for a locally-produced quality souvenir – edible or not.

Penn Alps is open Monday through Friday from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. and Saturday and Sunday from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Buffet hours are Friday from 3 p.m. to 8 p.m. and all day Saturday and Sunday. The restaurant can be reached at 301-895-5985.
Penn Alps Restaurant and Craft Shop on Urbanspoon


Mile 0 (literally) – National Road Monument, Cumberland, Md.

The newly-finished National Road monument. Between fundraising and construction, the mounument took about a year to complete.

The new National Road monument in Cumberland is finally open, after the city dedicated the monument on Sunday, June 10, as part of the annual Heritage Days festival.

The new monument is placed approximately at the start of the National Road’s original routing on Greene Street at Riverside Park. Fundraising for the monument started last year during the 200th anniversary of the start of construction of the National Road. There is also a time capsule around the monument that is supposed to be opened in 2211.

To be clear – the National Road was eventually re-routed through The Narrows and LaVale (current U.S.-40 ALT), rather than over Haystack Mountain (currently Md.-49). So, this monument marks the original route, and not the route that exists today.

The first National Road monument in Cumberland is located in a traffic island on Greene Street, and almost unnoticeable.

Previously, this historic spot was marked only by a small concrete marker in a traffic island at the intersection of Greene and the Blue Bridge, which brings traffic to Cumberland from Ridgeley, W.Va. Riverside Park, at the confluence of Wills Creek and the Potomac River, already had George Washington’s headquarters and remnants of Fort Cumberland, so the park was pretty unique already. The National Road monument, in my opinion, fits in well with what exists already.

U.S. Rep. Roscoe Bartlett (R-Md.) speaks during the dedication ceremony at George Washington’s Headquarters.

Another fact about the monument – in addition to Cumberland and Allegany County, communities in three states helped with funds for the monument: Frostburg and Grantsville, Md.; Brownsville and Claysville, Pa.; and Wheeling, W.Va. I found the fact that municipalities a good ways away from Cumberland would be willing to help with such a project. Of course, the major funding still came from the city, the Allegany County Historical Society, the U.S. Dept. of Transporation (through a National Scenic Byways grant) and other private donors and businesses.

The crowd at the dedication of the National Road monument at Riverside Park on June 10. The new monument is in the background.

Of course, with 2012 being an election year, Maryland politicians (or representatives of those politicians) had to visit the city to speak at the dedication ceremony. Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.), Rep. Roscoe Bartlett (R-Md.) and State Del. Wendell Beitzell all spoke in addition to Cumberland Mayor Brian Grim and Allegany County Commissioner Michael McKay.

To visit the monument, parking is available along Greene Street in Cumberland. There is also public parking at the Western Maryland Railroad Station, and a pedestrian bridge over Wills Creek connects the station area to Riverside Park.

The National Road monument in Cumberland fits into the surrounding Riverside Park.


Summer 2012 Festivals Along the National Road

Planning out summer activities? Check out this sampling of events happening along the National Road this summer! Of course, some are missed, but here’s what I’ve been able to track down:

All States

May 30-June 3: National Road Yard Sale, Maryland to Missouri.

Maryland

May 24-27: DelFest, Cumberland.

June 9-10: 44th Annual Heritage Days Festival, Cumberland.

June 22-24: 35th Annual Grantsville Days, Grantsville.

July 4 (tentative): National Road Monument dedication, Cumberland.

July 4: 36th Annual Soapbox Derby, Frostburg.

Pennsylvania

May 18-20: National Road Festival, Southwest Pennsylvania. (Note: I have had a hard time finding a website giving details about this year’s festival, but it is happening.)

June 14-16: The 9th Annual National Road Chainsaw Carving Festival, Addison.

June 16: 11th Annual Beer & Gear Festival, Ohiopyle.

Aug. 7-11: Mountain Area Fair, Farmington.

Sept. 5-10: West Alexander Fair, West Alexander.

Sept. 15-16: Covered Bridge Festival, Washington and Greene counties.

West Virginia

June 24: Ohio Valley Black Heritage Festival, Wheeling.

July 29: Upper Ohio Valley Italian Heritage Festival, Wheeling.

Aug. 10-12: Heritage Music Bluesfest, Wheeling.

Aug. 25: Wine and Jazz Festival, Wheeling.

Ohio

Columbus Fairs and Events

June 15-July 22: Springfield Summer Arts Festival, Springfield.

July 7-15: Zanesville Pottery Show and Sale, Zanesville.

July 19-22: Jamboree in the Hills, Belmont County.

Aug. 3-4: Y Bridge Arts Festival, Zanesville.

Aug. 10-11: Salt Fort Arts & Crafts Festival, Cambridge.

Aug. 18-19: Reynoldsburg Tomato Festival, Reynoldsburg.

Sept. 15-16: Preble County Pork Festival, Eaton.

Sept. 22: Hebron Music and Arts Festival, Hebron.

Indiana

Indianapolis

May 24-June 2: Banks of the Wabash Festival, Terre Haute.

June: Jubilee Days, Knightstown.

September: Hoosier Fall Festival, Knightstown.

Sept. 22: Quaker Day Festival, Plainfield.

Oct. 4-7: Riley Festival, Greenfield.

Oct. 5-7: Clay County Popcorn Festival, Brazil.

Illinois

June 1-3: Fun Fest for Air-Cooled VWs, Effingham.

Sept. 1-3: Illinois Popcorn Festival, Casey.

Sept. 28-29: Grand Levee/Harvest Festival, Vandalia.

Fall: Harvest Moon Music Festival, Vandalia.


Mile 25 – The Casselman Inn, Grantsville, Md.

The Casselman Inn, Grantsville, Md.

When the National Road was first built, taverns and inns sprang up along the side of the road, catering to long distance travelers, who, in the 1800s, could only travel a limited distance each day. Many of these inns are still standing, but have since been converted into private residences or other uses. The Casselman Inn in Grantsville, however, still operates the same way it has for nearly 200 years – as both a place for food and a place to sleep.

The Casselman is unique in that it blends two facets of Americana – a historic inn and Mennonite culture, which is especially strong in eastern Garrett County. The modestly-decorated dining area has the look and feel of a large family dining room, complete with a fireplace. Staff is typically dressed in either a modest, plainer clothes or sometimes even  more traditional Mennonite attire (think head coverings, for women). Every person a diner encounters – regardless of wait staff, hosts or bakers – is friendly and hospitable, making the restaurant feel even more less like a restaurant and more like a family’s home.

The hot roast beef sandwich at The Casselman.

The food is extremely well-priced, and many of the features are cheaper than a meal at a fast-food chain. Many of the ingredients are made-from-scratch on-site, and the bread is freshly made in a bakery in the basement (again, a traditional Mennonite connection). The menu pulls together traditional American, Mennnonite and local (seafood) cuisine. Despite the more or less “plainness” of the food, everything has rich flavor. For myself, I had the hot roast beef sandwich, which was served on Casselman Inn-made bread. Should one visit for dinner, bread and butter are included with just about everything on the menu. Just to point out a difference between the Casselman and many other inns still operating on the National Road – no alcohol is served (there are just Mennonite connections everywhere!). On the way out, there is the opportunity to buy many of the Casselman-made foods, notably bread, apple butter and desserts. See the menu here.

For overnight accommodation, the Casselman has two options: the first is a 40-room motor inn directly behind the original building that was built a few decades ago. The other option is one of four guest rooms in the old building – upstairs above the restaurant part.

So why all the Mennonite connections? The answer stems from both the heavy presence of Amish/Mennonite adherents in Garrett County and Somerset County, Pa. (many of whom used the National Road to move to this area), and the current owning family, the Millers. The Casselman was built in 1824 as “Drover’s Inn.” Over the decades of its existance, the name and owners have switched several times, until Ivan and Della Miller bought the property in the 1960s. Since Ivan was a Mennonite bishop, it only made sense for the Millers to operate their business in accordance with their beliefs. Although both patriarch and matriarch have died, the Miller family continues to operate the business in the same manner. (Small world note: my journalism professor at Huntington University in Indiana was Kevin Miller, who is a direct descendant of Ivan and Della. Yes, he is also a strong Mennonite).

One of the shelves of available food for sale at The Casselman.

The Casselman Inn is located at 113 E. Main St. in Grantsville – right in the heart of the town. The inn is open for three-meal service Monday through Thursday, 7 a.m. to 8 p.m.; and Friday and Saturday, from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. Everything but the lodging side of the business is closed on Sunday (need I say more about Mennonite connections?). The restaurant can be reached at 301-895-5266, and the number for overnight accommodations is 301-895-5055.

For those who are also interested with the National Road (like me), right in front of the Casselman is a mile marker with two historic-information signs.

The Casselman Inn on Urbanspoon


Mile 24 – Casselman River Bridge S.P.

The original Casselman River Bridge near Grantsville, Md.

Just outside the town of Grantsville, Md. is Casselman River Bridge State Park, a small, four-acre site that preserves a stone bridge that served as the original crossing of the National Road over the Casselman River. The 80-foot bridge was built in 1813, and underwent a significant restoration in the 1970s. At the time of its construction, it was the longest single-span stone arch bridge in the country.

The current U.S. 40 bridge and the I-68 bridge from the original Casselman River Bridge.

Interestingly, this crossing was in use as part of the National Road until 1933, when the modern bridge that carries ALT-U.S. 40 was built. And in the 1980s, Interstate 68 was completed slightly farther upstream. In lobby of the Penn Alps restaurant, which lies just beyond the eastern end of the old bridge, there is an aerial shot of all three bridges crossing the Casselman River, which to me is an interesting juxtaposition of transportation history in the U.S. In fact, even from ground level, it’s possible to get photos of all three bridges together.

The park is free, but unstaffed, and is located at 10240 National Pike, Grantsville. A recently-completed walking path and crosswalk enables visitors to walk to the park and Penn Alps from Grantsville. There are picnic tables and plenty of room to walk around and fishing is allowed in the Casselman River. For more information, visit the Maryland DNR’s web page for the park here.

The deck of the Casselman River Bridge