Tag Archives: history

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.
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Mile 75 – Brownsville Heritage Center, Brownsville, Pa.

The Flatiron Building, Market Street, Brownsville.

Like I mentioned in my previous post, Brownsville (and the entire Monongahela River Valley) is struggling with a massive population exodus due to the disappearance of heavy industry in the latter half of the 20th Century. These communities are struggling to find their place in the modern economy while also dealing with a surplus of real estate left over from a more prosperous time.

However, there are bright spots, and groups like the Brownsville Area Revitalization Corporation are working to promote economic growth and community pride in the Mon River Valley. In a part of downtown Brownsville known as “The Neck,” BARC has kept up with the continued use of the Flatiron Building, which houses two museums and has also been home to a cafe and other businesses.

The Flatiron Building was built in 1835, and is on the National Register of Historic Places. This building predates more famous buildings with similar structures, like New York City’s version with the same name. It is arguably one of the best-preserved older buildings in Brownsville, and is one of the few that has also  undergone extensive modernization.

One of the two museums in the Flatiron Building is the Brownsville Heritage Center, which is strikingly informative and well-designed, and contains hundreds of artifacts from Brownsville’s rich history.

The front of the Brownsville Heritage Center in the Flatiron Building.

The Heritage Center takes up the front part of the building (the part that includes the point of the structure), and is designed to feature three different parts of Brownsville history, depending on what visitors can see out each window. A section of the museum is dedicated to railroad history in Brownsville, and thus windows in that section face north and west across the access road to the railroad and the former Union Station. The second section is themed around coal and coke history, and those windows face south and east toward the hills along the Mon River, which at one time, were home to coal and coke production in Brownsville. Finally, a large section of the museum is dedicated to the National Road, and windows in that section face the National Road (Market Street). There is also a large interactive map that lights different sections of the region depending on this history/industry involved.

I didn’t really expect a whole lot when I first found out that this museum existed, but I ended up spending at least 40 minutes exploring what the museum had to offer. Since I’m big into history, especially that of Appalachia and the Rust Belt, all three exhibits were equally fascinating. It was also cool to learn about the variety of industry that once called Brownsville home – from coke/coal to steamboat construction to a brewery.

The museum is connected to the Frank L. Melega Art Museum, and admission is free, but donations are accepted (and likely appreciated). Since the museum is also the tangible representation of BARC, a slew of information on BARC and Brownsville-area activities are also available.

The Flatiron Building is located at 69 Market Street in Brownsville, and the building is too unique to be missed. Parking is available throughout downtown, and parking is also permitted in front of the old Union Station. The museum is open Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., and Saturday and Sunday from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m., and can be reached at 724-785-9331. There is also a small gift shop within the museum.

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Mile 53 – Fort Necessity N.B., Farmington, Pa. (Part I)

The entrance to Fort Necessity National Battlefield, right off U.S. 40 - the National Road.

Until last week, I hadn’t been to Fort Necessity National Battlefield since the early 2000s, and I was expecting the site to look much the same as when I had last visited…nope. Instead, the park has built a massive new visitor center, complete with all kinds of interactive exhibits. So, instead of writing about Fort Necessity for one post, I decided to break it up into two parts, mostly to not have an overload with pictures.

In addition to travel in general, one of my specific goals is to see every unit of the National Park service. I’ve owned and kept an updated National Park Passport since I was 12 (2002), and I’m starting to run out of pages (but that’s another post). So, as any experience National Park traveler knows, every visit begins at the visitor center. Compared to just about every other park system in the country, NPS visitor centers are, for the most part, top-notch, and actually complete the entire park experience.

The beginning of the National Road exhibit in the visitor center.

Fort Necessity National Battlefield is one of two national park units that is actually located along the National Road or in a city through which it passes (this does not apply to the rest of U.S. 40, however). The other is Chesapeake and Ohio Canal National Historic Park in Cumberland, Md. The park preserves the scene of the first battle that sparked the French and Indian War.

We’ll start with the visitor center, which, again, is very impressive.  Inside are several connecting walk-through exhibits, which focus on the entire history of the park – not just the battle and war itself. Exhibits include the area before Europeans, the battle and war and my favorite – the development of the National Road and historic preservation. I was really impressed with the amount of information and attention to detail in all aspects of the short tour.

Inside the Fort Necessity replica.

Then, of course, is the centerpeice of the entire park: Fort Necessity. For some reason, it’s always surprising to me how small these old forts actually are. “This protected an army?!” At Fort Necessity, you can walk in and around the replica fort, which is simply a wooden structure surrounded by a circular wooden fence and then earthworks on the outside. The trail to the fort from the new visitor center is pretty cool – straight through a grove of pine trees before breaking open to the battlefield and the fort itself.

The replica of Fort Necessity.

The next post will highlight the outer areas of the park: Mt. Washington Tavern, Braddock’s Grave and Jumonville Glen.

The relatively new visitor center at Fort Necessity.

Fort Necessity National Battlefield‘s visitor center is open  every day from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., except federal holidays. The grounds are open for personal touring every day from sunrise to sunset.

Like some NPS sites, Fort Necessity does charge an entrance fee – $5 for adults, and children 15 and under are free. That fee allows for a weeklong pass to the park – well worth it.

Fort Necessity also teams with three other Pennsylvania NPS sites – Allegheny Portage Railroad National Historic Site outside Altoona and Johnstown Flood National Memorialsoutheast of Johnstown – to offer a yearlong entrance pass for all three sites for up to two pass owners and three other adults – for just $15. Again, well worth the price.

The entrance to the walk-through exhibit.