Friday, July 14, 2017

A Historical Walking Tour of Bellefonte

Those who read this blog may recall that I returned to the town of my birth during the month of June to enjoy the area during the warmer weather. (I visited a year before in the winter months.)  While trip planning, I decided to set my sights on learning a little more about the many interesting and stately structures that dot the town.

I learned that by the early 1800s, Bellefonte had become the most influential town in Pennsylvania between Pittsburgh and Harrisburg due to the booming iron industry. Today, many of those magnificent structures built by the titans of the time still stand.

For those who need a frame of reference, Bellefonte is located just 12 miles northeast of the State College, Pennsylvania where my father received his bachelor's degree. He was a mere sophomore when I arrived kicking and screaming at the hospital in nearby Bellefonte and I think I recall being informed that professor awarded him an "A" on an exam that day. Of course, that could just be family lore; I'm not entirely sure.

Those interested in visiting the Bellefonte area can easily fit in a little side trip to the thriving town of State College or stroll the grounds of "Old Main" in University Park and browse the blocks of shops that are located directly across the street from the college. I took a picture of the campus prior to getting caught in a downpour the weekend of our visit.

The building known affectionately as"Old Main" located in nearby University Park
Viewing Bellefonte's Beautiful Buildings
I'm not sure how many people imagine living like a local when visiting another town, but I often entertain such flights of fancy. When I saw all the grand homes, my reporter instinct kicked in and I wanted to learn more. Lucky for me, the Talleyrand Citizens Committee did the initial work by creating a map listing 46 structures with a brief explanation of each. Copies are available at the Central Pennsylvania Convention and Visitors Bureau located at 800 East Park Avenue, so I stopped on the way into town to grab a copy and let my imagination wander.

It just so happened to be hot as blazes that weekend, so my goal of seeing each building fizzled along with my energy thanks to the scorching sun, but I am happy to say I managed to capture pictures of many of them, so without further adieu, here is what I learned on my self-guided, (albeit truncated), walking tour of Bellefonte.

First National Bank Building & Crider Exchange Building
The First National Bank Building was once home to Pennsylvania Supreme Court Justice Thomas Burnside. First erected in 1872, it was later rebuilt 27 years later (this time with the Crider Exchange Building attached) after a fire decimated the home. The Talleyrand Park Citizens Committee describes the two buildings as "flamboyant examples of picturesque, eclectic 'anything goes' architecture."

Attorney's Row
Located on East High Street on the North side of the courthouse, "Attorney's Row" contains examples of Italianate Period, Pennsylvania farmhouse and Georgian architectural styles.
George Grey Barnard house
At 113 E. Linn Street sits the birthplace of American sculptor George Grey Barnard. Barnard trained at the Ecole Nationale Superieure des Beaux-Arts in Paris from 1883-1887 and is famous for the statues that flank the entrance Pennsylvania State Capitol in Harrisburg. Models of those sculptures can be seen at the Centre County Library and Historical Museum.
You can see the statues and read more about a controversy that took place in 2011 in Harrisburg here.
Barnard is interred in Harrisburg, as per his request to be near his art.
Model of the sculptures that greet guests at the entrance to the Pennsylvania State Capitol can be seen at the Centre County Library and Historical Museum.

The Brockerhoff Hotel built in 1864
The Brockherhoff Hotel, located at 105 S. Allegheny Street, was built in 1864 by Henry Brockerhoff, who also built a grist mill in the area. The structure is a fine example of 1860-1870 Gothic Revival architecture and operates today as an assisted living facility.

The Reynold's Mansion
The Reynold's Mansion (rear view)
The Reynolds Mansion was once the site of a tavern that was popular in the late 1700s and run by a man by the name of George McKee. The current imposing structure was built in 1885 by a wealthy businessman, landowner, and banker by the name of Major William Frederick Reynolds. The exterior stone, known as "blue brownstone" due to its hue, was quarried by the Hummelstown Brownstone Company in Hummelstown, Pennsylvania. The mansion incorporates Gothic, Italianate and Queen Anne styles and today operates as a luxury bed and breakfast

The Hastings Mansion
Daniel H. Hastings became Pennsylvania's 21st Governor and once resided in this impressive structure described by the Talleyrand Historical Society as a "polyglot" of architectural ideas, mostly classical. What I found most interesting about Hastings was that he began his career as a school teacher in Clinton County at the young age of 14 and by 18 was named principal of Bellefonte High School. Before being elected governor, he was involved in several other businesses, from coal mining to banking. Intelligent and industrious, he also worked as editor of the Bellefonte Republican newspaper. As a member of the Freemasons, Hastings also served as Worshipful Master at Bellefonte Lodge #268.

The Potter Home
This Georgian home located on the corner of Allegheny and Howard Streets was built in 1815 by John Miles, the son of Colonel Samul Miles, Mayor of Philly and founder of Milesburg.

The Bellefonte Courthouse 
The Bellefonte Courthouse was initially constructed in 1805 and a new one was built in 1854. The Soldiers and Sailors War Memorial, along with the statue of Andrew Gregg Curtin, who served as Governor of Pennsylvania from 1861-1867, were designed by Joseph M. Huston, the architect of the state capitol building in Harrisburg. (Huston, by the way, was one of five people who was convicted of graft in 1910 when the capitol building cost overruns raised a few eyebrows.)
Ironmaster's Home
The house pictured above is located at 420 N. Allegheny Street and representative of the homes built by Ironmasters in the 19th century. This particular home was built by George Valentine of the Valentine Iron Company and dates back to 1879. By 1898, the Valentine Iron Company's heyday had run its course and the company was sold to out-of-state buyers at a Sheriff's sale.
The Bush Arcade
The Bush Arcade was built in the late 1880s to replace the original which was destroyed by fire. In the late 1880s, it was home to a bank, offices, a gentleman's clothing store, a post office, a dry goods store and other retail.
An old picture of the Bush arcade ( Fred D. Smith collection)
Bellefonte's First Hospital
Bellefonte's first hospital was housed at 113 South Spring Street. The lot on which the building stands was first owned by Thomas Burnside who practiced law in Bellefonte and went on to become a member of the U.S. House of Representatives and justice of the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania.
Brisbin Home
Pictured above is what was once the abode of James Sanks Brisbin, a teacher who purchased and edited the Centre Democrat newspaper in Bellefonte and later served as a general in the Union Army during the Civil War. Built in 1865, it was constructed of bricks that were hand wrapped and shipped from Philadelphia and is a fine sexample of Italian revival architecture. Today the structure is home to offices.
A Historical Marker exists in front of this Anna Wagner Keichline building 
Anna Wagner Keichline was born in Bellefonte in 1889 and by age 14 she was breaking barriers by exhibiting her talent in woodworking and taking home first prize at the county fair for an oak card table and a walnut chest. Keichline studied at Pennsylvania State University before transferring to Cornell, where she was the fifth female to graduate with a degree in architecture. The enterprising and hard working Centre County native went on to become the first female architect in Pennsylvania. During her lifetime she worked on many projects, accrued seven patents, advocated for women's rights and served as a special agent during WWI.  To this day, all of Keichline's buildings in the area are in good condition and in use. That includes the Plaza Centre, which now operates as an antique gallery, and is located at 124 West High.

"The Manse" at 201 W. High
This was the site of a home belonging to Reverand James Linn, pastor of the Bellefonte Presbyterian Church. Linn's son Samuel went on to become a Pennsylvania judge for whom Linn Street is named. "The Manse" at 201 W. High once operated as the First National Bank and is a mixture of Gothic, Romanesque and Egyptian architecture. The picturesque building is now home to the law offices of Hamilton and Kimmel.

Once part of the Pennsylvania Match Factory, Big Springs Spirits operates now as a distillery.
Matches were hot back in the day and Bellefonte was home to one of the largest match factories in the United States, producing the product on this site from 1900 through 1947. Workers completed all aspects of production here, transforming a simple block of wood into all manner of matches, from strike-anywhere matches, to safety matches, parlor matches and noiseless double-dip matches. According to the historical society, the factory reached its peak employment during World War II, supplying water-proof matches to American servicemen at home and abroad.

The match factory may have closed, but employees there are still helping people get a little lit. Big Springs Spirits has been operating in the area since 2014 and provides guests with an inviting space to kick back and socialize. Owners Kevin Lloyd and Paula Cipar now distill 12 libations, including vodka, several rums, gins, whiskey and cream bourbon, so when you tire of touring, Big Springs Spirits is the perfect way to end the day.

These are just a few of the 46 structures on the historical, self-guided walking tour provided by the Talleyrand Park Citizens Committee. The map not only lists addresses, but also provides specifics on each of the structures, along with historical markers, information about the seven Governors who hailed from the area, topographical insight and other interesting information that makes the beautiful borough of Bellefonte unique.

Happy Touring!

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

A Summer Day in Beautiful Bellefonte, Pa

The first time I visited Bellefonte, I let out a huge wail after someone slapped my rear and I haven't been the same since. It took me decades to muster up the temerity to return to the town of my birth, but I finally found the time to give it another shot, and I'm happy to report, there was no violence involved.

I lasted visited on a cold, winter weekend in 2015 when the air was frigid and the sky overcast, but my room at The Queen Bed and Breakfast located on Linn Street was cozy and comfortable. I quickly fell in love with the small town and the romantic Victorian architecture. Soon I was dreaming of residing in one of the stately mansions until reality set in and I imagined the heating bills. I awoke from my reverie when the stars in my eyes morphed into menacing dollar signs.
The Reyolds' mansion located on Linn Street is just one example of the beautiful buildings in Bellefonte.

That cold November afternoon, I watched Talleyrand Park whiz by from the warmth of my car and vowed to return when the weather was warmer and the grass greener.

Last weekend I finally returned to Bellefonte and once again enjoyed the hospitality of Nancy Noll at The Queen. The Victorian bed and breakfast is located within walking distance of downtown, yet residential enough to be evocative of living like a local. Noll seems to think of everything to ensure guests' comfort, from lights that turn on automatically as you pad down the hallways, to providing coffee, tea, and mini-refrigerators on each floor.

During this excursion, my husband and I stayed in the Governor's Suite. Bellefonte breeds Governors, it seems--a total of seven native sons have been elected, hence the name. Our room was spacious and thoughtfully appointed with a fishing theme, luring one's interest with interesting items at every turn. We slept soundly--the king-sized bed was a dream and the lovely, bright, separate sitting room was perfect for reading, or writing a blog, for instance.

The Governor's Room at The Queen with its incredibly comfortable King-sized bed.



A bright and cozy sitting room, perfect for reading or working.
A prelude to delicious eggs benedict.

This shot was taken through the window of the Governor's Suite
Getting Lit at an Old Match Factory
Since Talleyrand Park is adjacent to Big Spring Spirits, I thought why not take a little detour for a large libation. Founded in 2014, the distillery, which has a cocktail room and tasting lounge, is run by Penn State grads Paula Cipar and Kevin Lloyd, who repurposed space in an old match factory. The building dates back to 1931 and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Big Spring Spirits
The interior is modern, eclectic and spacious with bar, table and couch seating. Customers can choose from an array of rum, vodka, whiskey and "Governor's" gin. The owners pride themselves on being the first LEED-certified distillery in the state of Pennsylvania, the second in the country and the third in the world. Spirits are crafted with Bellefonte's award-winning Big Spring water deemed "Pennsylvania's Best Tasting Water" at the Pennsylvania Rural Water Association Conference. (I didn't realize what a big deal water tasting was until I became a "Certified Water Taster" myself. You can read more about my experience as a water judge here:

Strolling through Talleyrand
Finally, I returned to Talleyrand. Lush and in full bloom, it made for a bucolic tableau. Few were visiting the park that sunny afternoon other than several small children frolicking on the playground and a few teens conversing on benches. A gazebo is available for picnics and coin-operated grain dispensers allow visitors to feed the huge fish that swim languidly in the waters below.





Bellefonte native and sculpture George Grey Barnard (1863-1938) is also recognized in the park with a bust of Lincoln cast from an original. The sculptor is best known for his statuary which flanks the main entrance of the Pennsylvania Capitol Building. (See an earlier Bellefonte entry in this blog to view the scale model that is located in the Centre County Library and Historical Museum.)
Lincoln sculpture by George Grey Barnard
Another homage to the past located in Talleyrand Park is a memorial to the seven Pennsylvania Governors who hailed from the area.
Bellefonte Governors' Memorial

Classic Car Show Hosted by Bellefonte Cruise
Every Fathers' Day weekend, Bellefonte Cruise rolls into town. This is the 29th year for the event that brings automobile aficionados into downtown Bellefonte. A Friday-night sock hop kicks everything off and the fun continues through the weekend. This year's "Cruise" attracted thousands of spectators and featured more than 300 cars, trucks and motorcycles.

This is the 29th Year for the Annual Bellefonte Cruise

Thus ended a full day's worth of activities in Bellefonte. Day two included a walking tour, which I will save for another blog entry. Meanwhile, those interested in visiting may want to check out a few upcoming events in this scenic and historic area.

Upcoming Events
Bellefonte Arts & Crafts Fair, August 11 and 12
Annual Fall Festival and Halloween Parade, October 14
Bellefonte Victorian Christmas, December 8 and 9

Friday, June 2, 2017

Chambersburg in Two Days

The Old Jail, which is home to the Franklin County Historical Society.
One of my favorite things to do when the weather turns nice is to jump in the car and hit the road to explore a nearby town, so when an opportunity to visit Chambersburg arose, I was more than happy to clear the schedule for two days to get a better sense of what the area has to offer.

What is a bit odd about my trip to Chambersburg is that despite writing a weekly article for the Chambersburg Public Opinion for a period of approximately seven years, I never spent any significant time in the area.

Oh sure, I managed to get there for a few major annual events like Icefest, which I've written about many times, and the re-creation of the Burning of Chambersburg (which I highly recommend), but taking a leisurely poke around wasn't in the cards for various reasons, that is, until recently.

For those needing a little background, the Borough of Chambersburg is located approximately 13 miles north of Maryland and is home to approximately 20,000 residents. The area is known for its rich history and more importantly its resilience after the entire town was burned down and forced to rebuild back in the 1800s.

Exploring Downtown
The walkable downtown has many shopping opportunities, but first, it may be helpful to know the parking logistics. Several lots are conveniently located around town, but most meters still take quarters, even though they appear to be modern, with kiosks and a central location for paying. You won't find me complaining about the cost, however. It's not often you have the opportunity to park in a downtown area for a mere 25 cents an hour.

Shops, Restaurants and More
When I pulled into the downtown area, not only did the mural located at 33 N. Main Street catch my eye, but I also learned that the adjacent lot provided parking that is convenient to nearby restaurants and shops at the aforementioned bargain of 25 cents an hour.
A Chambersburg Community Art Project led by Isaiah Zagar
Later research revealed that the mosaic was the result of a community art project led by Philadelphia-based mosaic mural artist Isaiah Zagar--the same individual who was responsible for creating Philadelphia's Magic Gardens, a destination I've yet to visit.

While downtown, I made it a point to stop in one shop in particular. Olympia Candy Kitchen has been a mainstay in the Chambersburg area since 1903 and various musicians I'd interviewed throughout the years mentioned visiting it while performing at the nearby historic Capitol Theatre.

The business, which began as a soda fountain and candy store, has lasted through the Great Depression and World War II. They've modernized their production equipment over the years but have maintained the old-fashioned decor which harkens back to a simpler time and features hanging gas lights and Tiffany lamps.

The Old Jail

After exploring downtown, I headed out to the Franklin County Historical Society for a tour of "The Old Jail." Built in 1818, the jail was one of the few structures that survived the burning of Chambersburg by Confederate forces in 1864.
Wagaman's Pharmacy recreated in the Old Jail. The business was run by a father/son team from 1886 to 1966 and was located at 49 N. Main Street. On display are original drugs and equipment.
These vessels used to hang in the window of pharmacies. A red color warned of a disease outbreak.

Used as a prison for 150 years, the jail is enclosed by a 20-foot high limestone wall and has housed numerous prisoners throughout the years. Docents share their stories and invite guests to inspect the cellar, which contains five-domed dungeons complete with rings in the walls and floors used for shackling prisoners.

Guides also tell the tale of Louisa Brand, who wrapped herself in a flag in a successful effort to spare her house from being burned to the ground.  The flag is displayed in a glass case in the jail. Another building of note that was spared the burning was the Masonic Lodge located at 74 South Second Street due to the intervention of a high-ranking Confederate Officer, who also happened to be a Freemason.
Louisa Brand wrapped herself in a flag so the Confederate troops would spare her home. She also brandished a revolver...
Dungeon area of the jail. 

Door opens to a cell in the older part of the jail. 
Close up of the lock to the front door of the jail.
Cell blocks in the newer part of the jail. 
Cell interior

The jail yard with gallows. 
Dungeon in the jail. 

I found it quite humorous that one apparent recidivist inscribed this on the walls of the jail. As a matter of fact, I thought him to be quite clever. Only later did I learn that his "poetry" was borrowed from an old folk song.
Old folk song penned by prisoner.

The Story of Escape Artist Merle Unger

One prisoner, who gained a bit of notoriety for his skill as an escape artist, was Merle Unger, whose crimes initially included things like car theft, breaking and entering and joyriding. It was said that he would scale the wall at night to carouse. The jig was up when he was caught playing bingo by a Deputy who, also there trying his luck, spotted him from across the room. In 1975, Unger attempted to "get gone for good." He scaled the limestone wall and escaped to York, Pennsylvania. One wonders what old Merle was thinking when he wrote a letter to his girlfriend in jail and scrawled his return address on the front of the envelope! Needless to say, Merle was recaptured. That particular incarceration lasted a whole three hours. Several months later a cot was made up again for him when he was caught robbing a Carlisle ice cream store.

I learned more about Unger quite by accident.  During my jail tour, I noticed that a staff member seemed to be making progress with a book. The bright yellow paperback, riddled with bullet hole graphics, was splayed right-side up on a desk with the front and back cover showing. Intrigued, I inspected further, The title read, "American Berserk, A Cub Reporter, a Small-Town Daily, the Schizo '70s." Well, that appeared to be right up my alley, so immediately after the tour, I visited Northwood Books on North Main in a quest to locate the novel. I strolled around for a bit until I stumbled into a back room where the author was reading from the very book I was seeking, so of course I nabbed an autographed copy.

The fun part about discovering the book was that the author Bill Morris worked as a staffer at the Chambersburg Public Opinion, the very same paper for which I wrote so many articles as a freelancer. Learn more about Merle Unger, the escape artist and his ultimate fate in Morris' book, which can be found here.

A Victorian Bed and Breakfast
bed and breakfast
During my visit, I spent a delightful two days in a spacious room in a beautiful old Mansion called the "Craig Victorian," located near Wilson College.The mansion features eight comfortable guest rooms and the woodwork inside is positively stunning. My room located on the third floor was spacious, complete with an adorable little writing table in the turret overlooking the street and I would be remiss if I didn't mention the quiche, which ranks up there among the best I've ever eaten.
The first floor of the Craig Victorian.
A glimpse inside my boudoir. I let the family cat in, which was likely against the rules. 

A sitting room inside the Craig Victorian. Note the little girl on the left. She has had quite enough of me canoodling with her cat Jasper.

A natural "sculpture" in front of nearby Wilson College.

A cheesy, delicious quiche served at the Craig Victorian Bed and Breakfast.

Brewery Suggestions
If you're a craft beer enthusiast, consider visiting Roy Pitz located at 140 North Third Street for a laid-back lunch and one of their award-winning beers, all of which are crafted on site in the basement of the repurposed three-story brick warehouse, which dates back to the 1900s.

Outside of Roy Pitz Brewery

The business is run by Chambersburg natives Ryan Richards and Jesse Rotz who joined forces to forge a business partnership. They opened the brewpub in Chambersburg in 2008 and have, to date, amassed 23 World Beer Championship medals. They most recently expanded into the Philadelphia area in May of 2017.

Inside Roy Pitz
If you're with a group and visiting Chambersburg sometime between Thursday and Sunday, the Gearhouse Brewing Company is a fun, spacious adult retreat, which serves beer crafted on site and small plates for sharing. Customers can wrap up a busy work week by gathering at the bar, retiring to adjacent rooms to play board games, engage in a competitive game of air hockey, or simply lounge around with libations on comfy couches.

The business opened in January and is the culmination of a project undertaken by six Chambersburg natives whose passion is beer and it shows. Follow their Facebook page throughout the year to learn about upcoming events like beer dinners and live music.
Inside GearHouse Brewing Co.
These few idea should give you a start on making the most of a short visit to Chambersburg--a town that marries history with modernity and offers a little something for everyone.