Tuesday, May 18, 2021

Plenty to Do and See in Reading, Pa

The historic Reading Pagoda was completed in 1908 and was intended to be a luxury resort atop Mt. Penn, but due to a bank foreclosure and denial of a liquor license, it never was opened.

I’m sure I’m not alone in looking forward to traveling this summer, but doesn’t it figure that once things begin to return to a semblance of normal, we end up with higher gas prices? If the price of gas has you down, you may want to consider exploring closer to home. I travel quite a bit and still marvel at what I have yet to experience in our area. A recent trip to Berk’s county took me to a Hawk Sanctuary, a renovated train-station turned restaurant, a Barn Star Art Tour, a train trip on a renovated railroad, a museum, an art collective and a cave that has been a tourist destination for 145 years. These destinations were all new to me and I was able to see them all on one tank of gas.

Hitting the Open Road

If you’re not quite up to mingling with crowds yet, you can take a scenic ride through rural Berks county on a self-guided Barn Star Art Tour, make a stop at Crystal Cave and continue on to Hawk Mountain.

Barn stars, otherwise known as “hex signs,” are a type of Pennsylvania Dutch Folk Art. According to Patrick Donmoyer, Director of the Pennsylvania German Cultural Heritage Center at Kutztown University, the designs are first and foremost artistic, but they tell of the culture’s interest in the heavens and the cosmos. One of the artists featured on the tour is Milton Hill, who began painting at the age of 14 under the tutelage of his father and grandfather. “He was extremely elaborate and created designs that were previously less complex,” said Donmoyer. Hill is just one of many artists whose work can see along the trail. According to Donmoyer, the tour traverses about 40 miles and can be completed in about an hour and 15 minutes.

The Sunday Barn in Virginville features artwork by Milton Hill.

Three miles into the tour, guests will arrive at Crystal Cave, which attracts thousands of visitors every year. A 55-minute guided tour begins with an educational film called, “Inside the Earth. Afterwards, a tour guide leads guests are through the cave, pointing out fascinating rock formations comprised of stalactites, stalagmites, flowstone and more. One interesting fact pointed out by the guide: A wedding reception once took place there. I researched this later and a photo of the bride and groom can be found on the internet. Even more implausible is that a piano was somehow lugged there. After climbing several dozen steps and getting plenty winded while making my way to the cave, I wonder how they managed.

View of outbuildings from atop the hill at Crystal Cave

Interior rooms at Crystal Cave

Crystal Cave giftshop

A small detour along the Barn Star Art Tour will take visitors to Hawk Sanctuary in Kempton, which features a visitor’s center, eight miles of trails and beautiful vistas.  From August 15 through December 15, staff and volunteers are stationed at lookouts to help visitors spot hawks, eagles, falcons and vultures. Annual counts for this four-month period average 18,000 raptors.

I wish I would have seen more hawks when I visited, but the vistas were beautiful

Activities for Art Lovers

Seward Johnson's "Calling Girl"

The Reading Public Museum features science, history and art displays, a planetarium with children and adult programming and a 25-acre arboretum open daily from sunrise, to sunset. The fine art collection includes 700 oil paintings by American and foreign artists. Rodin, Picasso, Monet and Degas are among their collection, as are contemporary artists like Warhol, Chihuly and native son Keith Haring.

Elton John with Billy Jean King

Outfit worn by Rosie Casals on the Virginia Slim circuit, 1975

Special exhibits rotate seasonally. When I visited, women’s tennis fashion was the focus and represented by the Seward Johnson statue greeting guests at the entrance. After seeing many Seward Johnson works at the Gardens for Sculpture in New Jersey, I learned that it’s easy to spot them. There’s also one (of Abe Lincoln) on the square in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania.

Large girl reading, by Henri Matisse, 1923

What I also found interesting is that the Neag Planetarium is featuring Floyd Final Fridays for Pink Floyd fans like myself, with shows occurring at 8, 9 and 10 on various Fridays throughout September. That would have been something I would have enjoyed had I known about it prior to my visit. Children’s programming is also featured throughout the week. Check their website here for information and times.

The Goggleworks Center for the Arts gets its name from a goggle factory that operated at the site from 1871-2002.  Today it is a 145,000 square foot community art and cultural center that offers art classes in various mediums, from glass, to metals, paint, ceramics and more. A community art room enables both amateur and professionals to work side by side, ostensibly to learn from each other. While I was there, I tried my hand at making a glass flower in their glass blowing area, with a little help from the staff.

Flower making in the glass shop.

Amateurs and professionals work side by side at Goggleworks.

Steampunk artwork by Julio Cesar Cepeda Duque

Some of my favorites by David Bogus--these are ceramic suitcases.

More from David Bogus

A separate room tells the story of Wilson Goggles, which used to be produced onsite.

Visitors are welcome to tour the facility free of charge and view the work of the many talented artists who create there. Also onsite at the Center is the 130-seat Albert and Eunice Boscov Film Theatre, which shows arthouse and international films.

The Albert and Eunice Boscov Film Theatre

Good Eats

Folino's retail store and tasting room.

Cucina Cafe

A selection of wines we chose to bring home with  us.

Cucina Cafe

Antipasto salad.

Folino Estate Vineyard, Winery and Restaurant near Kutztown is run by a family who has 40 years of experience in the restaurant industry. Guests can taste award-winning wines in their tasting room from Wednesday through Sunday, then walk over to the Cucina CafĂ© located in the same building for pizza, pasta, salads and more. If you love your lasagna extra cheesy, you can’t go wrong ordering it here.

For a bit of nostalgia, grab a bite at Jimmie Kramer’s Peanut Bar and Restaurant in downtown Reading, where little has changed over the decades, not least of which is the outdoor sign with the smiley peanut man wearing pants, bowtie and suspenders overlooking cursive lettering spelling out Jimmie Kramer’s name. Jimmie Kramer’s dates back to 1933 and lays claim to being one of the first restaurants to serve peanuts and invite guests to throw the shells on the floor. The story has it that Jimmie always wanted to give his guest a little something extra, a lagniappe, of sorts, so when he ran out of pretzels, he asked an employee to run across the street to a peanut roaster and a trend was created.  Menu items include steaks, seafood, wings and other American fare.

Jimmie Kramer's Peanut Bar dates back to 1933.

To dine in a unique and beautiful setting, there’s the Saucony Creek Craft Brewery + Pub located in the restored Reading Railroad Franklin Street Station, which was built in the 1930s in the Renaissance Revival Architectural style. Its soaring windows, ornate details and terrazzo floors make it something special to see and if a train passes by, expect all the diners to stand up and clap; it’s a tradition.

Saucony Creek Craft Brewery + Pub operates in a repurposed train station.

Take a Ride on The Coalbrookdale Railroad

Continuing with the railroad theme is the tourist destination located in Boyertown that takes visitors on a scenic, roundtrip ride from Boyertown, to Pottstown. The railroad boasts some of the most beautiful railcars you’ll ever see, with stained-glass windows and a wealth of little details designed to give the passenger a feeling of opulence.

White tablecloth service aboard the Coalbrookdale Railroad.

Guest Relations Manager Nathan Labb said that non-profit rescued some of the cars from Canada and the project started out with one diesel, a coach and a caboose. Today there are six cars in service, three on the property and three awaiting restoration. According to Labb, the cars underwent a restoration taking between 1,000 and 2,000 man-hours to complete. “It took us about three years to get everything running and this is our seventh year of tourist operations,” said Labb, adding that restorations are covered by ticket sales, private donations and state and federal grants. A particularly busy time for the railroad is on Mother’s Day when families take mom out to eat brunch and dinner aboard comfortable surroundings made even more special by white tablecloths and fresh flowers.

The tour presentation highlights the importance of the early iron works which flank the railroad tracks for nearly the entire distance of the line. 


My husband and I stayed at the Reading Doubletree by Hilton, which is located near the Santander Arena, a half mile from Goggleworks and two miles from the famous Reading Pagoda, (completed in 1908 and intended to be a luxury hotel/restaurant for a resort that never came to fruition).

We enjoyed our stay there and can highly recommend the hotel. Not only was the manager a presence (he greeted us within a few minutes after we checked in), but we also saw him meeting with his staff often to ask what they had done that day to make guests comfortable.  Another service, of which we took advantage, was the shuttle to various places, like Jimmie’s and Saucony Creek.

The above suggestions should keep the most ambitious traveler busy for a while, or at least for a long weekend. To learn more about what to see and do in the Reading area, visit Pennsylvania’s Americana Region website at https://visitpaamericana.com/.

Thursday, April 22, 2021

Pittsburgh's Heinz History Center Touts Award-Winning Exhibits

If I had more time in my schedule, I'd visit Pittsburgh more often. As it stands, however, I have yet to lay eyes on many tourist attractions, beyond the Duquesne Incline, so that's what I set out to do a few weeks ago with the John Heinz History Center as the focal point of my visit.

The Heinz History Center is one of the more interesting museums that I've visited. In fact, it ranks up there in my top 10 and no, you don't need to be from Pittsburgh to enjoy it. I'm not, and I found it quite fascinating and I learned a bit more about Pittsburghers who made a significant contribution to history. 

The Largest History Museum in Pennsylvania

The 370,000 square foot, six-story museum, located in Pittsburgh's historic strip district, was once home to the Chautauqua Lake Ice Company, which closed in 1952 due to the popularity of refrigeration.

The Heinz History Center was once home to the Chautauqua Lake Ice Company.

The first thing visitors will see upon arrival have to do with modes of transportation, from antique cars, to an antique wagon that once transported Heinz products and Pittsburgh Streetcar #1724. Removed from service in 1988, the streetcar underwent a four-month restoration before being transported to its new home at the Heinz History Center. Guests are encouraged to walk through the trolley, peruse the old ads above each seat and harken back to the days where streetcars played a larger part in the daily lives of many.

A stainless steel car that Allegheny Steel salesmen drove.

What I found particularly interesting was the stainless steel car, which is one of six designed by Allegheny Steel. Lucky sales reps had the opportunity to get behind the wheel of these beauties to demonstrate the metal's durability and resistance to weather, wear and corrosive elements. This particular car is more than sixty years old and has been driven approximately 200,000 miles. 

While we're on the subject of transportation, I should also mention the cute ride pictured below, which dates back to 1927 and carried many an excited child around the twists and turns of the roller coaster at the Kennywood amusement park, located in West Mifflin, Pennsylvania. The cars were replaced in 1982 and this particular one had weeds growing up through the floor until it was refurbished by the maintenance department in a style akin to ones that were popular in the 1970s. The height check figure is a reproduction of Howdy Doody, a character that was popular in the 1950s.
A popular ride at Kennywood, which still entertains young and old today.

Visitors who take the elevator to the second floor will get an interesting glimpse into the life of Pittsburghers who made their mark on the world in the area of medicine, moon exploration, music and more. 
"Lola" was made by Shirley Yee and students at the Art Institute of Pittsburgh.

This dinosaur was, in 2003, part of an outdoor public art exhibit called "DinoMite Days." The stegosaurus, known as Lola, is layered with newspaper clippings and photos that tell the story of Pittsburgh's past. 

How many of us take portable music for granted? I remember the huge boom boxes of the 1970s. People would look ridiculous nowadays if they toted them around. And prior to that, there were was the orchestrion. You can see one of those huge machines at the Asa Packer mansion in Jim Thorpe, Pennsylvania. Money was no object to Asa Packer's daughter, who had it shipped via train every year when she vacationed in Florida. 

These days, music is much more portable and you may have a Pittsburgher to thank. Nathan Schulhof created the forerunner to the MP3 player and you can see his notebook and his "Listen Up" player here. 

Visitors will also find plenty of Pittsburghers in the medical industry who were responsible for improving life for all of us. Dr. Thomas E. Starzl is one such individual. Known as the "father of liver transplantation." Starzl performed the first transplant in 1968 at the University of Colorado and was later in charge of the liver transplant program at UPMC. Since then, thousands of liver transplant operations have been performed, saving many lives.

Dr. Thomas E. Starzl, known as the "father of liver transplantation."

Sports fans will enjoy the "museum inside the museum" at the Western Pennsylvania Sports Museum located on the second floor of the Heinz History Center.  There guests can inspect sports memorabilia from teams which hail from Pittsburgh. Below is a figure of Steeler Franco Harris gearing up for his famous "Immaculate Reception."
Franco Harris eternally reenacts his famed "Immaculate Reception."

Also housed at the Heinz History Center is a tribute to Elektro and his dog Sparko, which debuted at the New York World's Fair in 1939. Known as the first voice-activated robot, Elektro weighed more than 250 pounds, smoked cigarettes and could count to 10 on his fingers. The Westinghouse Electric Company was responsible for creating the pair, which captivated audiences with an hourly show at the Westinghouse Pavilion.

A replica of the cigarette-smoking Elektro and his trusty mutt Sparko.

If you're of a certain age, you've no doubt heard of "Rosie the Riveter" and you can thank a Pittsburgher by the name of J. Howard Miller for that.  The freelance artist painted the poster for Westinghouse Electric and was later celebrated in a hit song, which cemented the iconic figure in the minds of the public as a patriotic symbol of how women could contribute to the war effort by working on assembly lines. You can hear the song here. 

Rosie the Riveter created by Pittsburgher J. Howard Miller.

In another part of the museum is the story of a real-life heroine by the pen name of Nelly Bly--born Elizabeth Jane Cochran, one of the first female investigative reporters. Her story is extremely interesting. I'll sum it up simply by saying that she went undercover in an insane asylum and had trouble making it out. I guess she was that convincing and it makes me wonder how many writers today would be held indefinitely.

Nelly Bly played her insanity role a little too well.

The Mister Rogers Exhibit

The Mister Rogers Exhibit attracts both young and old alike. Brady M. Smith, Director of Marketing and Communications, said the exhibit attracts children, parents and grandparents. "It is arguably the most popular display at our museum," said Smith, adding that when visitors walk in and see X the Owl's Tree, or King Friday XIII's castle for the first time, "they just light up with a sense of nostalgia that overwhelms them." 
The Mister Roger's exhibit is one of the most popular at the Heinz Center.

Did you know that there's a Mister Roger's Trail? You can read more about it in my article here in Central Penn Parent.

Speaking of trails, there's also an exhibit on the Lewis and Clark expedition which launched in Pittsburgh. This is a piece of history that neither I, nor my husband knew. You can follow their trail and learn of a modern-day family who also set off on a family excursion to follow the very same trail.

The History of Heinz Products

Finally, it wouldn't be the Heinz Center without seeing the evolution of the brand over the years, from the advertising, to the products sold. Walnut ketchup anyone?

I'd be curious about the color of this product. 

It may surprise visitors to learn that Heinz began their foray into food with gherkins, hence the "pickle kit," which salesmen travelled with to demonstrate the sizes sold.

You can plan your trip around a visit to this museum like I did and afterwards walk around Pittsburgh's strip district, which is home to dozens of restaurants, food shops and retail establishments that draw locals and visitors alike.

To plan your visit, or learn more about admission prices and hours, visit the website at heinzhistorycenter.org.

Friday, March 26, 2021

New Hope--One of America's Favorite Towns

If you enjoy riverside dining, boutique shopping and cultural attractions, you'll love New Hope, Pennsylvania. There's a reason why Travel + Leisure magazine named it "one of America's favorite small towns."

New Hope Clock

New Hope, located along what was once the main highway between Philadelphia and New York City, was also the choice of travelers for overnight stays before they were ferried across the Delaware River the following morning. George Washington was even said to have stayed here the night prior to his crossing of the Delaware River. Originally known as "Coryell's Ferry," the small town later became known as New Hope after a fire in 1790 destroyed several mills in the area. The reconstruction project gave the town "new hope" and the name stuck.

New Hope Mills Marker
Historic Sites

For history lovers, the Bucks County town delights with several historic sites. There's the Joshua Ely House, comprised of two sections: one built in the 18th century and the other built in the 19th century. The fieldstone house is one of the last examples of the large "Manor" type residences and is exemplary of the wealth of farmer Joshua Ely. The historic home was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1985 and, for a time, was the location of a fine dining restaurant by the name of La Bonne Auberge.

Joshua Ely House
The Joshua Ely House.

Located across the street from the Joshua Ely House is the Parry Mansion Museum, built in 1784 by one of New Hope's founders, Benjamin Parry. The structure is now home to the New Hope Historical Society and visitors can arrange to tour the 11-room mansion, free of charge, during normal times, of course. Pennsylvania's historical sites are slated to resume operations on April 30, 2021, but it would be best to check their website before making plans.

Parry Mansion Museum
The Parry Mansion Museum.

Another notable historic structure, which I regrettably failed to lay eyes on, is the Cintra Mansion, located at 181 W. Bridge Street. The mansion was built in the 1800s and is said to have been designed like a Portuguese palace and was owned by a wealthy industrialist by the name of William Maris, who was forced to sell it to the Ely family after the demise of the cotton mill in 1835. It remained in the family for 100 years until Joseph Stanley and his partner Dewey Curtis purchased the property in 1973. Curtis, who was once a curator for Pennsbury Manor, worked with Stanley in the antique business, using the first floor as a showroom. When Stanley died in 2008, the house went on the market. The last article I could find about the place was an account written by a reporter in 2013, where plans were being hatched to transform it into condos. 

Also of note is the William Kitchen House comprised of three sections, with the oldest being built in 1770. You can learn more about William Kitchen by clicking on this link

A Cornucopia of Shopping Opportunities

There are quite a few small, boutique shops in New Hope, where one can buy clothes, gifts, toys, candy and more. One of my favorite shops for browsing is the Topeo Gallery. The shop specializes in glass creations like beautiful lamps and gift items. If any of those lamps catch your eye, you can take one home for between $550 and $1200 apiece. I settled on buying two pairs of attractive earrings for $16, proving that some of their items are budget friendly, as well. 


One of the beautiful works of art for sale at Topeo. 

Art glass shop

Glass guitars
Pendant lights and glass guitars hang from the ceiling.

If you have kids, or grands, you might want to stop near the train station at the Playful Mule, where you can find games, kids' books, dolls, blocks, water toys and a whole host of other items that children will be sure to enjoy.

The Playful Mule sells an assortment of toys to please the little ones.

Good Eats
One of the newer attractions in New Hope is the Ferry Market. Established in 2016, the Ferry Market, located at 32 S. Main Street, offers a wide selection of food to tempt your tastebuds, from pizza, to coffee, to vegan dishes and macarons, there's a little something for everyone.

Truffles at the Ferry Market
Sciascia in the Ferry Market offers an array of truffles, bark, macarons and more.

During our short stay, we chose to dine at Martine's Riverhouse Restaurant. The attractive eatery located along the banks of the Deleware River, serves American seasonal cuisine in a casual setting and boasts the best view in New Hope.

Duck confit spring rolls
Duck confit spring rolls and a Caesar salad.

Caesar Salad

Comfortable Lodging

You'll find a whole host of B&Bs in New Hope, along with some standard lodging a bit further out of town. One notable change that may surprise you if you haven't visited in awhile, is that the historic Logan Inn is being expanded and transformed into an improved version of its former self. The Logan Inn, known as Buck's County's oldest and only in-town continuously operating Inn, was sold for $5.6 million dollars to Landmark Realty in 2016 and is currently fenced in as work continues to be done. Landmark Realty, which has a reputation for adaptive reuse, plans to improve the Inn's curb appeal and work with New Hope's Historical Architectural Review Board to renovate and return the property to its landmark status.

New Logan Inn
The new, improved Logan Inn is currently under construction.

We chose to stay in the heart of the action at Olivia's Bridge Street Inn. The Inn, built in 1817, is nestled along the canal and is conveniently within walking distance of most shops and restaurants. The fact that we had our own parking space made it even more attractive and our comfortable room sealed the deal for future stays. 
Eagle sculpture
Olivia's from the street.

Olivia's exterior

Bedroom at Olivia's

Our suite had two beds, a refrigerator, a microwave and a Kuerig coffeemaker.

Suite at Olivia's in New Hope

The sitting room at Olivia's.

dining room
A shot taken from the dining room of Olivia's.

The Bucks County Playhouse
The Bucks County Playhouse deserves its own category for its history alone. The Playhouse is located on the site of the former grist mill I mentioned earlier and dates back to the 1930s. 

The Bucks County Playhouse has been pleasing audiences since the 1930s.

Its website boasts a long list of famous stars deemed, "theatrical royalty." Among the many are Grace Kelly, June Lockhart, Kitty Carlisle, George C. Scott, Dick Van Dyke, George Segal, Bob Fosse, Angela Lansbury, Jack Klugman and many more.

Take a Train Ride

Rail car

The New Hope Railroad is fun for the entire family and offers one-hour round-trip excursions from New Hope to Lehaska. The railroad also hosts special holiday events, like the most recent Easter Bunny Express. You can learn more about upcoming trips by visiting their website here.

My stay was short, but jam packed and that's what's nice about New Hope. You can see quite a bit in a short amount of time. Hopefully these few suggestions will jump start some ideas on how you can best enjoy this quaint, charming, electic little town.