Friday, September 3, 2021

Stepping Back in Time in the Schuylkill County Coal Region

Last Saturday, I was up for a change of scenery, minus a long car ride, so I decided to spend a jam-packed Saturday afternoon in the Pottsville area, which is located about an hour away from where I live. It's something I had never done before, so everything in this blog was new to me. 

Since my husband loves kielbasa, our first stop was at a well-known area kielbasa shop. That was followed by a trip down history lane where we enjoyed tours of the Schuylkill County Historical Society, the Yuengling Brewery and Jerry's Automobile Museum. That was followed by a trip to the beautiful Hope Hill Lavendar Farm and dinner at a railroad station-turned restaurant in Tamaqua. 

A Destination Fit for Foodies

No coal region visit is complete without visiting a kielbasy place. (I'm going with their spelling now.) My husband, who is wild for the stuff, was like a kid in a candy store when he entered Kowalonek's in Shenandoah. The small shop started out as a grocery store in 1911 at Chestnut and Chester Street in Shenandoah and later moved to its current location on 332 S. Main Street. You can learn more about the place from the video below.

Shoppers visit the beloved institution for everything kielbasy: fresh or smoked keilbasy, dried kielbasy, kielbasy cabbage bake, kielbasy bacon bombs (pieces of kielbasy wrapped in bacon and finished with a mustard glaze), kielbasy burgers, kielbasy lunch meat and more. Also for sale are meatballs, crab cakes, hot bologna, hot dogs, slab bacon and pierogies, to name just a few. Be sure to take a cooler along; we did.

Learning about History at the Schuylkill County Historical Society

The Schuylkill County Historical Society is located in what was once the Centre Street 
Grammar School.

The next stop on our visit was the Schuylkill County Historical Society at 305 N. Centre Street. For $5, you can take the official tour through the handsome, two-story building, which was once the location of the Centre Street Grammar School constructed during the Civil War. My friend Susan Dellock is a volunteer there and arranged for Jay Zane, President of the Board of Directors of the Schuylkill County Historical Society, to lead us through the building, explaining exhibits along the way.

Exhibits at the Schuylkill County Historical Society.

Guests who take the tour will begin by learning about the Native Americans that initially inhabited the area and afterwards, the coal miners who worked long, hard hours to support their families. A fun fact about coal and its relationship to Schuylkill County: despite two centuries of active mining, the county's 783 square miles still boasts the largest accessible reserves of hard coal known in the world.

Another interesting tidbit about the area is that the famous Dorsey brothers hailed from Shenandoah. Jimmy Dorsey released "Tangerine" in January of 1942, a song written by another Schuylkill County native, Victor Schertringer (of Mahanoy City). The record remained at the top of the charts for 15 weeks. Another song made famous by the Tommy Dorsey Orchestra with vocalist Frank Sinatra, was "I'll Never Smile Again."  In 1996, the post office released a stamp celebrating the dynamic due and their influence on popular music. The clip below is Sinatra and the Dorsey Brothers in Las Vegas Nights (1941). 

Also featured at the historical society is the story of an unsung hero of technology, John Walson (1913-1993), who is responsible for creating the first cable TV system. Walson owned an appliance story in Mahanoy City and set his mind to fixing the pesky problem of the mountains blocking the signal from Philadelphia television stations. In 1948, he erected an antenna tower on top of a nearby mountain and ran army surplus wire from the mountan to his store, connecting homes along the way. In 1979, Congress and the National Cable Television Association recognized him as "the founder of the cable television industry."

John Walson, of Mahanoy City, is recognized today as the "founder of the cable television industry."

Another famous Schuylkill resident featured at the society is Pottsville author John O'Hara. You may be aware of his many works like Appointment in Samarra, Pal Joey, A Family Party and The Big Laugh.  He was said to have modeled his characters after 1920s Pottsville socialites, renaming Pottsville Gibbstown--a topic I'll touch upon later in this blog.

Author John O'Hara hails from Pottsville.

As guests are led to the second floor, they will learn more about famous individuals who were born in the area, like four-star Army General George Joulwan (RET), who served our country for 36 years and finished his military career as the Commander-in-Chief United States European Command and Supreme Allied Commander in 1997. The Joulwan exhibit  shows how the son of an immigrant family from rural Pottsville rose to the highest pinnacle in the United States Military. Visitors will see many of Joulwan's personal items, starting with his days at Pottsville High School and West Point, then proceeding through the phases of his career.

There is an extensive Civil War exhibit on the same floor in which a great many native sons who served are profiled.

The Historical Society also features Pottsville natives who were not so upstanding, like a few members of the Molly McGuires. Visitors will learn more about these notorious individuals who met their demise at the end of a rope.

These are but a few of the enlightening stories that unfold at the Schuylkill County Historical Society. The society is open Wednesday-Friday from 10-4 p.m. and on Saturdays from 10-2 p.m.

To learn more, visit their website by clicking here.

A Visit to America's Oldest Operating Brewery

The exterior of America's oldest operating brewery.

Next on the list was a visit to the Yuengling Brewery. Free tours are held from 10:30 to 3:00 p.m. Monday-Saturday. During our visit, we learned that Yuengling was established in 1829 and is the oldest operating brewery. It is currently run by Richard L. Yuengling and his four daughters, who are the sixth generation and will be taking over the brewery when he steps down.

Guests are led through the underground caves where they used to fill the barrels of beer. Word has it that about a half dozen workers would congregate there every morning and they'd bring their coffee cups to fill them with beer before starting work. 

During our tour, much of the Brewhaus was closed due to Covid restrictions, but we did have the opportunity to view the bottling room and the breakroom, otherwise known as the Rathskellar, where the workers could relax and unwind with a cold brew before heading back to work. Perhaps I picked the wrong places to work! Astonishingly, it wasn't until the 1990's that the permissive practice was prohibited. 

The Rathskellar, or breakroom, where workers unwound with a beer before heading back to work.

Other interesting facts: Yuengling sources their hops from Washington State and each barrel is aged 21 days.  The brewery makes 16,208 cases a day and taxes are, not surprisingly, rather hefty. Currently, the state takes $2.48 a barrel and the feds get an $18 cut.  The company had to pivot to making ice cream during prohibition, but people could still order their Porter for medicinal purposes.

Yuengling Porter was accessible via prescription for "medicinal purposes." I wonder how many politicians suffered ailments requiring these prescriptions during that era.

At the end of the tour, we were treated to two large beer samples. On tap were Yuengling Porter, Yuengling Lager, their oldest product known as Lord Chesterfield Ale, their light beer known as Flight and Oktoberfest.

My friends Sue and Paul enjoying a beer with my husband Mike.

Guests depart through the gift shop, which features tee-shirts, sweatshirts, hats and other Yuengling memorabilia, along with various types of beer, available by the case.

A Trip Down Memory Lane at Jerry's Classic Cars & Collectibles Museum

Jerry's Classic Cars & Collectibles, located at 394 S. Centre Street, is ranked as the #2 attraction in Pottsville on TripAdvisor. Guests will see a collection of not only classic cars, but other items that are designed to transport visitors back in time to a simpler era.


Jerry Enders and his wife Janet opened the museum in 1994, after spending many hours transforming  the Morgan Studebaker dealership from the 1900s, into what it is today. Guests can admire classic cars in both of the two showrooms on the first floor, then climb the stairs to the second floor to see a millinery, a soda shop, a kitchen, an auto parts store, a barbershop and more--all dating back to the 1950's era.

Scenes from the second floor of Jerry's Classic Cars & Collectibles.

Remember when I mentioned author O'Hara earlier in this post? Well, I stopped to read a newspaper article focused on John O'Hara and posted on a window on the second floor of the museum. The title read, "How much of Gibbsville is Pottsville, Balitas asks?" In the article, Dr. Vincent Balitas gave a lecture on this very topic. Balitas said that when O'Hara visited Pottsville after Samarra was published in 1934, people he barely knew approached him on the street and took him to task for allegedly putting them in his book. It goes on to say that the book's sexual frankness and depiction of corruption in Gibbsville's upper classes made it taboo in Pottsville for several years. 

What struck me as interesting about the article is that Edith Patterson, the city's librarian, refused to put it on the shelves. "He brought a farm vocabulary to our people, one that they never had," she said. It's things like this that visitors may miss if they hurry through the museum, so be sure to take the time and take things in and you may be surprised at the interesting tidbits you'll encounter.

Jerry's Classic Cars & Collectibles is open Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays from noon to 5 p.m. from May through October. 

Enjoying the Sights and Smells at Hope Hill Lavendar Farm

Wendy and Troy Jochems owned two horses and wanted to take charge of their boarding, so they did the obvious thing—they purchased a farm. “We bought a 33-acre Christmas tree farm in Pottsville, and after the trees were all harvested, we decided to put in lavender,” says Wendy, adding that it was her husband’s idea. The pair bought the plants as plugs, then grew them in a greenhouse in four-inch pots before planting all 1500 of them on Memorial Day weekend in 2011.

The public responded well to the business, inspiring the couple to expand operations. They now tend to  approximately 3,000 plants. The duo also sells lavender items online and in a farm store located on site where they also carry works from local artists and Made in USA products. “We dry our lavender and use it for bouquets, sachets, and culinary lavender. We also distill essential oils for soaps, lotions, cremes, eye masks and neck wraps, and every Mother’s Day weekend we host a plant sale as well,” said Wendy.

Staci Keen from Mohnton is a regular customer. “I teach massage. Our group visits to learn how to make essential oils, and the farm is just beautiful,” she says. Keen also likes the skincare products that the couple sells, including the lavender toner and moisturizer. 

Wendy says what she enjoys most about the business is interacting with customers like Keen. “What I like about lavender is that it is so versatile. It’s not only a lot of fun, but we also make friends with our customers. That might be the best part of what we do,” says Wendy.

Hope Hill Lavender Farm is located at 2375 Panther Road, Pottsville.

Good Eats! 

If you, like me, are fascinated with repurposed destinations, you'll love what's been done to the Tamaqua Railroad Station. John Ross and his wife opened the restaurant in 2016, using a photo from when the railroad opened in 1874 as a guide to map out the new decor. I think they did quite the job, wouldn't you say?

A shot of the Tamaqua railroad station circa 1874.

The Tamaqua Station Restaurant today.

Selections include appetizers like potstickers and crab-stuffed mushrooms, soups and salads and burgers and sandwiches. Entrees include steaks, salmon, swordfish and even old-school dishes like liver and onions. The restaurant offers a variety of craft cocktails as well,  like mules, martinis and mojitos.

And last, but not least, is the Sunday brunch, where customers can order items like crabcakes, lobster omelettes, prime rib, filet mignon and lobster tail and more.

If that has you salivating, you can learn more about the Tamaqua Station Restaurant here.

Schuylkill County is like stepping back in time in so many ways, from the old-school storefronts, to the people who are friendly and will still smile and offer greetings when they pass you in the street. One thing that causes me to chuckle is the inexplicable profusion of bars that seem to be housed inside residences, but that's another thing that makes this area unique.

There's more to do in Schuylkill County, but I thought this might give readers an idea of a few ways to make the most of their day if they decide to visit this interesting and eclectic neck of the woods.


Thursday, August 5, 2021

Exploring Corning's Downtown Museums


A few weeks ago, my husband and I decided to take a trip to Corning, New York, to check out the Rockwell Museum and the Corning Museum of Glass. Corning is located in the Finger Lakes region of New York and is known as the Crystal City. We visited the area years ago and never quite made it to the Rockwell. I recall being impressed by the Richardsonian Romanesque building featuring a buffalo stampeeding its way out of an upper floor window and vowed to return to see what it was all about at a future date. 

The future date came later than I thought--14 years to be exact.

On this trip, I learned that Corning has made great strides promoting the downtown area, which is now known as the "gaffer district." For those unfamiliar with the term, a "gaffer" is a glass-blowing artist. The "gaffer district" is about six blocks long and home to approximately 250 businesses, where visitors can shop, dine and and stay.

Visiting the Rockwell

When most of us think of Rockwell, we envision the famous old artist puffing on a pipe and painting such iconic scenes as "Freedom from Want," where the matriarch of the family presents a turkey to a group of smiling faces gathering around a holiday table, but don't confuse the two.  Robert F. Rockwell, Jr., born in Bradford, Pennsylvania, is the man for whom the Corning museum is named. He moved to Corning in 1933 to run his grandfather's department store. Approximately 25 years later, he bought his first Western painting and was subsequently hooked, or perhaps I should say 'lassoed.' For the next 25 years, he amassed paintings, sculptures, drawings and Native American artifacts, showcasing them at his department store on Market Street in Corning.

When we visited, Marketing Manager Willa Rose Vogal explained to us that the museum is a Smithsonian Affiliate. "In 2015, the Rockwell Museum earned the prestigious designation and is now the only Upstate New York conduit to the Smithsonian and its many resources," she said. 

Guests who visit will first encounter a timeline detailing how Rockwell's pieces went from being a decorative backdrop in his department store, to being moved to the Baron Steuben Hotel in 1976, thanks to his friendship with Frederick Carder, founder of Steuben Glass Warks. The collection was moved one last time to Corning's former City Hall (now the Rockwell Museum), thanks to Corning Glass Works, which funded the interior and exterior renovation costs of the old building, which dates back to 1893.

A Remington adds a dramatic backdrop to the jewelry department at the department store on Market Street, which the Rockwells owned.

The collection spans three floors, with a mix of nineteenth-century American paintings, historic bronzes, Native American artifacts, contemporary native art, art by twentieth-century modernists, illustration art and contemporary photography. 

Bronze, by Cyrus Edwin Dallin, titled, 'On the Warpath,' dates back to 1914

The striking painting below evokes the fury and power of the hunters and the hunted. The oil on canvas is titled "Buffalo Hunt," painted by William Robinson Leigh and dates back to 1947.

Buffalo Hunt, by William Robinson Leigh.

Rockwell was particularly fond of Remingtons. The one pictured below is titled, "The Rattlesnake." Take note of the small rattlesnake in the statue and the subsequent tumult that ensues. (Those who are Remington fans may want to take note that there is another impressive collection of Remingtons located in Sharon, Pennsylvania at a country inn called Tara.)

The Rattlesnake, by Frederic Remington

The Rockwell also is home to more contemporary exhibits like the one below called, "Blanket Stories, by Marie Watt, 2017. Watt's blanket column series explores the universal human connection to textiles and each one has a story. To read their stories, visit this link.

Every blanket has a story. 

Among the native American collection is this interesting and aged, yet well preserved, cradleboard on which infants were swaddled. This one dates back to 1865.

1865 Cradleboard.
The Rockwell Museum is also active in the community. Children can visit activity stations in the nearby Kids Rockwell Art Lab which makes art collection accessible to kids and is meant to inspire an appreciation for art at a young age. A lovely terrace with an attractive view is also available for public events.

The terrace of The Rockwell Museum.

The Rockwell is also participating in the Alley Art Project, an educational mural program established in 2008 to connect local high school students to The Rockwell and the community at large. Students create murals for credits and community service hours towards their high school diploma. They are supervised by Rockwell educators and artists as they learn about art, history and design. Visitors of the museum can pick up an "Alley Art Project Scavenger Hunt" brochure to learn where to find the art, while, at the same time, learning a little more about the Corning area.

The Rockwell Museum is located at 111 Cedar Street, Corning, NY. Tickets are currently $11.50 for adults, $10.50 for AAA, Military and 62 and older and $5.50 for students. Teens 17 and under can visit for free.

The Corning Museum of Glass

Not far from the Rockwell Museum is the Corning Museum of Glass and visitors can ride a shuttle between the two. A combined ticket to both museums is also available at a discount. 

The Corning Museum of Glass was founded in 1951 by Corning Glass works as a gift to the nation on the company's 100th anniversary. By 1978, the museum had outgrown its space. This occurred again in the 1990s and by 1996 plans were underway to complete a $65 million renovation to include a new visitors' center, a Contemporary Glass Gallery, a Hot Glass Show demonstration stage and a hands-on Innovation Center, along with an 18,000-square-foot Glassmarket, noted for being the largest museum shop in the country.

Since we visited in 2007, the museum has expanded yet one more time. In the beginning of 2012, it was announced that the museum would undergo yet another expansion project, this time for $64 million.
One of the first halls visitors encounter after checking in.

The Corning Museum prides itself on showcasing 35 centuries of glass artistry, with pieces by Dale Chihuly, Klaus Moje, Karen LaMonte and more, with galleries representing Near Eastern, Asian, European and American glass making, from antiquity to the present day.

I'll be sharing the odd, the interesting and the beautiful here, like this piece that caught my eye first. Created by Vanessa German in 1976, this is called, "The Walker: for how to honor the price of compassion--how not to die of lies." That's quite a title. The sculpture is made of found wood, cloth, doll parts, a tattered quilt, blown glass and many other things that the artist found useful in her journey to showcase her talents in what she describes as "a power and a healing."
The Walker, 1976

Not far from "The Walker," was a wall of humble drinking glasses, which turned into a copse of trees when viewed from a short distance.

Fruit is always a favorite subject of artists, so it stands to reason that the Corning Museum would have what is seen below in its collection. I remember enjoying this 14 years ago, so it bears mention that patrons who visit more than once, with a few years in between, may encounter the same pieces years later, although I think the museum keeps the most popular on display and rotates the rest. This was made by Flora Mace and Joey Kirkpatrick in Seattle, Washington in the year 2000 and is called 'Still Life with Two Plums.'

Still Life with Two Plums, 2000
There's a reason why a group of crows is called a "murder," and the striking piece shown below suggests that. It is aptly named 'Carrion' and was created by Javier Perez in 2011 in a place known for its glass--Murano, Italy. The crows in the display were taxidermied

Carrion, 2011
I came across this contemporary piece and was immediately reminded of graffiti. I was intrigued to learn that it's a pot pipe, made by David Colton of Massachusetts in 2018. I would have been interested in seeing someone demonstrate it.

Untitled, David Colton, 2018

The piece below, which is reminiscent of Mr. Potatohead, reveals the artists' sense of humor with his title: "Self-Portrait (Clown).
Self-portrait (clown), 2018

The unique display below is called 'Meditation in Saffron' and was created by artist David Chatt, who, when strolling through his Seattle neighborhood, was irked by the detritus left behind and decided to weave glass beads over the objects. Among items seen here are a pacifier, a syringe, a parakeet bell and a Tootsie Roll wrapper.

Meditations in Saffron, 2006

The oversized coffee pot shown below was created in Belgium in 2011 by Job Smeets and Nynke Tynagel and is simply called 'Coffeepot, from the Containers II Series.'

Visitors, if not careful, may miss beautiful light fixtures, like the ones below, by failing to look up. 

Another Chihuly can be seen near the check-in area of the Museum.

The piece below was also made by the internationally known artist Dale Chihuly. This one is part of the Macchia Seaform Group and was created in 1982. Chihuly's Seaforms are characterized by their soft colors and open forms that are the result of shaping the glass without heat, gravity and using minimal tooling.

The interesting items shown below were displayed at the Museum when we visited 14 years ago and are still there, likely due to their popularity. Pieces like this were crafted for Indian Palaces between 1860 and 1920 after appearing at world's fairs and attracting customers from India.
Furniture made for Indian palaces.

The next piece is a copy of the Liberty Bell and was made by the Fry company for display at the Lewis and Clark Exposition in Portland, Oregon in 1905. It remained in the Fry showroom until the company closed in 1934.

The following piece was also on display during our visit 14 years' ago and is one of my favorites. It's called "Table and Cut Glass Boat," made in 1889 and 1900 respectively by Compagnie des Verreries et Cristalleries de Baccarat in Baccarat, France.

Table and cut glass boat, 1889 and 1900, Baccarat, France

Another favorite of mine is the beautiful lamp below made by Louis Comfort Tiffany. The shade with the dragonflies is so vivid and beautiful that it's hard to believe that the piece dates back to 1899.
Louis Comfort Tiffany, 1899
Speaking of Tiffany, visitors will also see additional Tiffany works at the Museum. The one below is referred to as "Tiffany Window with Hudson River Landscape."
Tiffany Window with Hudson River Landscape

The Tiffany window picture next is estimated to have been created in 1901 and was part of a United Methodist Church Window in Waterville, New York. It's called, "The Righteous Shall Receive a Crown of Glory."
"The Righteous Shall Receive a Crown of Glory," Louis Comfort Tiffany

Frank Lloyd Wright also makes an appearance at the Museum.Wright was commissioned to create a "playhouse" for the children of a man named "Avery Conley." According to Wright, the windows were inspired by parades. You can view one of them below.
A window created by famous architect Frank Lloyd Wright.

And what glass museum would be complete without a tribute to Harvey K. Littleton, one of the founders of the American Studio Glass Movement?  This is just one part of an eight-part series, called Eight Heads of Harvey Littleton. The series shows him as a gentleman, poet, teacher, a man of Frauenau (Germany) and a worker. 
Harvy Littleton, Germany, 1927
Guests of the museum will exit through the large gift shop, which takes up most of the first floor. There they will find glass Christmas ornaments, home decor, ladies accessories and more.

The largest museum gift shop in the United States is at the Corning Museum of Glass.

I ended up with these two items--earrings and a barrette.

I didn't take the time to create my own work of art, but I'd be remiss not to mention it. Right now visitors can make flowers, or cute pumpkins. Details on the specifics can be seen by following this link.

A young student watches the glass-making process.

The Corning Museum of Art is open 9 - 7 p.m. daily, Monday through Friday, May 28 through Labor Day and 9 to 5 p.m. daily Labor Day through Memorial Day. Advance ticket purchases are required. Learn more here.

Side Trips
The first side trip I'll recommend as part of a Corning excursion is a visit to Mark Twain's grave and study in Elmira, New York, located just 20 minutes away from the Corning Museum of Glass. When we visited his grave in the Woodlawn Cemetary, there were just a few others there checking it out like us.

We then continued on to the campus of Elmira College, which was a ghostown a few weeks ago since students were all on summer break. We were able to walk up to his study/writing cottage and peer inside.

As you can see, it's a cute little, enclosed gazebo-type structure, with plenty of windows, a fireplace, and a writing table inside. What more does a writer need? I did some research and discovered that he and his wife lived with the sister-in-law while summering in Elmira and the sister-in- law was not a fan of stogies he chain smoked, so this became a satisfactory accommodation. He subsequently penned Tom Sawyer and other novels here. I wish I could have captured a clearer picture through the windows.

The second side trip that I recommend is a visit to Watkin's Glen, which is a quaint little community that I may have enjoyed more if the Seneca Harbor Station restaurant would have allowed us to order a drink and enjoy the views of Seneca Lake, but they practically chased us off the property when we informed them that we weren't interested in ordering food. I recommend this side trip primarily for a beautiful waterfall tucked in a residentail neighborhood that we stumbled onto along the way in Montour. The waterfall is called SheQuaGa, the native American name for "tumbling waters" and is one block from the Montour town square.

As you can see, it's quite beautiful and the location in a residential area was quite the surprise. The falls are also known as Montour Falls. According to the historical marker, a sketch done in 1820 by  Louis Philippe, who later became the King of France, now hangs in the Louvre.

Well that's about it for the Corning Region. There's so much more to do, but if you have a two, or three day weekend set aside to see something new and different, the Corning area won't disappoint.