Come along with me as I learn more about my own State,
and follow for possible visits to these mentioned places in the future!
The last time I did any traveling was in September of 2020. Half of Pennsylvania was still shut down due to…everything. But my family and I were experiencing an intense case of cabin fever. We were still able to work, but we missed doing all the summertime things we’d come to love participating in the years prior. So for my birthday I planned a trip to Johnstown, Pennsylvania. As with many PA towns, Johnstown drips with history, and I mean that quite literally. Go check out that blog post when you’ve got the time. The photo at the top of this post is from that trip.
Yesterday before work, I began reading a book by a local individual named Bill O’Neill. The title: THE GREAT BOOK OF PENNSYLVANIA – The Crazy History of Pennsylvania with Amazing Random Facts and Trivia. Now I’ll admit I already knew a good 75% of what Mr. O’Neill wrote about. As a life long resident of this Commonwealth, how could I not? I’d definitely give this to someone who just moved here who may not know these things. The book is, however, where the idea for this blog post came from. For years I’ve wanted to tour around my own state more often. Maybe now I’ll have more incentive to do so. I’m not yet done reading it, but here are eight Pennsylvania places I’d love to visit in my lifetime.
Kennett Square – Mushroom Capital of the World. Kennett Square, closer to Philadelphia (or Philly) than it is to Pittsburgh, has boasted its status as the Mushroom Capital of the World since the 1880s. In fact, if you type “kennett square mushroom” into a search, the festival is the first thing that comes up. Anyone want to make a bet that the mushrooms in your fridge probably came from Chester County? Kennett’s population was roughly 600 in the 1860s. Today it’s around 6,000.
The Kennett Mushroom Festival is held annually in early September. The festival has been highlighted on Food TV. Annual parades are held on Memorial Day, Halloween, and before the Christmas holidays. Kennett Square celebrates Cinco de Mayo, which is organized by Casa Guanajuato, and other local companies. A free summer concert series is held on Wednesday evenings at the beautiful (over 100 acre) Anson B Nixon park. In mid-May, the famous Kennett Run occurs that ends at the Park pavilion. The Kennett Brewfest is held each Fall, featuring unlimited tastings of select brewers pouring different, rare, exclusive, limited, or seasonal beers. The local art galleries, studios, and independent boutiques participate in First Friday Art Strolls each month, presented by Historic Kennett Square. During temperate months there is an outdoor farmers market at the Genesis Walkway on State St. every Friday afternoon. These are but a few of the events for families and visitors throughout the year.Source – Wikipedia
My apologies if you’re one of those who has a strong aversion to fungus. I, for one, love a good mushroom. They enhance just about any dish they’re added to – meatloaf, stew, skewers, stir fries, soups. The list is a vast one. Needless to say, you’ll probably find me visiting the Mushroom Capital of the World in the near future. I’ve always loved the idea of small town Pennsylvania. Contrary to what people believe, Pittsburgh is the second most populated city in PA, after Philly. I find I often crave small town life. This brings us to our next historic small town: Lititz.
Lititz. Lititz knows what they’re about. They absolutely know they’re a tourist town in Pennsylvania. The above screenshot came directly from Visit Lititz, PA, and the tagline reads “The Coolest Small Town in America. I want to visit Lititz so, so badly. That was some bad grammar, but I really don’t care right now. Events are slowly coming back, and Lititz is no exception. And honestly? I really love their website (of course I do – it’s also built via WordPress!)
Just as Johnstown is, Lititz is a “blend of old and new.” Many PA small towns must be in order to survive, especially after many of the state’s industries pulled out in the 1980s. Let’s just say that Pittsburgh itself was a very depressed town. If we thought Pittsburgh was depressed in the 80s, the surrounding small towns also had to figure out their next steps. Behold: Lititz. As with many PA small towns, it has connections to the Civil War. Lititz especially due to its proximity to Philadelphia. The main reason I want to visit this small town isn’t its festivals, quaint shops or historical buildings (though all those are huge draws). No. It’s the railroad that runs through it.
I want to ride the rails. “The Reading and Columbia Railroad operated passenger service through downtown Lititz until 1952. Norfolk Southern continues to operate freight service to Lancaster, while the line between Lititz and Ephrata has been converted into a rail trail. A replica of the Lititz Depot was constructed at its former location in Lititz Springs Park in 1999, along with a small museum in a Reading caboose.” source: wikipedia
But, look! There’s a connection here to another place in Pennsylvania I’d love to visit: The Moravian Book Shop In Bethlehem, PA.
Moravian Book Shop in Bethlehem, PA – The Oldest Bookshop in North America. With other Eastern seaboard cities like Boston, Philadelphia and New York, who would’ve thought that the oldest book store would’ve been founded in Bethlehem, PA? Of all places? Bethlehem, about a five hour drive from Pittsburgh, is one of those places you rarely hear about on the news, and that’s a good thing. Even though Bethlehem is just under an hour and a half from Lititz, their ties to the Moravian Church are undeniable. Lititz was founded by members of the church in 1756.
For a century, only Moravians were permitted to live in Lititz. Until the middle of the 19th century, only members of the congregation could own houses; others were required to lease. The lease system was abolished in 1855, just five years before the beginning of the Civil War. More information can be found in the book A Brief History of Lititz Pennsylvania by Mary Augusta Huevener, published in 1947.Source – Wikipedia
Back to Bethlehem. Also known as Christmas City, USA, it boasts a history longer than that of the United States itself. As such, it’s no surprise that it’ll also be home to “The Oldest Bookshop in North America.”
During the Revolutionary War, the Moravians were pacifists but doubled their output of hides to support the American cause. The Continental Army Hospital was located here in the Brethren’s House. Over 500 soldiers died in Bethlehem and are buried on the hillside along First Avenue. The story of Moravian farming still exists in the historic site known as the 1748-1848 Burnside Plantation which interprets early farming within the city limits of our community.source: History of Bethlehem
The bookshop is featured on the Discover Lehigh Valley website, and it also services Moravian College. Naturally, as a writer and a reader and a blogger, I want to visit “The Oldest Bookshop in North America.” Not only that, but visiting Bethlehem itself would also be a big bonus.
Tassel Pharmacy, Latrobe – The Great American Banana Split Celebration. Latrobe wasn’t officially recognized as the birthplace of the famous banana split dessert until 2013, according to this article via CBS Pittsburgh. Folks weren’t sure if it originated in Ohio or Pennsylvania, so that accounts for how long it took for Latrobe to be recognized as such. Not only that, but I can easily visit Latrobe for their next annual celebration as it’s only an hour’s drive from my home in Pittsburgh (compared to nearly four hours to get to Lititz or Kennett).
Even this Ohio site acknowledges David Strickler’s invention of the dessert first:
Despite Wilmington’s claim that Hazard invented the banana split, it appears that David Strickler actually invented the dessert in 1904. Strickler worked at a pharmacy in Latrobe, Pennsylvania, and he invented the treat to increase business.source
Latrobe has its connections to the railroad industry with Oliver Barnes, as well as the Palmer family. Does the name Arnold Palmer sound familiar? It should if you like the beverage, or even golf. How about Fred Rogers? Latrobe is also home to the training grounds for many sports teams in Southwest PA, including the Pittsburgh Steelers. Still, Latrobe’s biggest claim to fame comes in the form of the sweet treat everyone knows and loves.
Never have I been interested in the football training camps that take place every year. Never have I been interested in golf or alcohol. What do I love? Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood and banana splits. I don’t believe that Tassel Pharmacy itself still exists, but the rail town certainly does. Let’s go get some ice cream in Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood, okay?
Easton – The Crayola Company. Pennsylvania can boast many claims to fame, but one of the most visual comes in the form of art. Crayons, to be precise. Even though I am a life-long Pennsylvanian, I’ve never personally visited the company or its offerings myself. As for the town’s history, the Penn family (more precisely Thomas Penn, brother to William Penn) had a hand in Easton’s founding. This small town has been on my radar for a while, and not just because of the Crayola Company.
Easton’s history is just as long and rich as the aforementioned towns of Kennett Square, Lititz and Bethlehem. When the canals came into play in the 1830s, Easton’s valley became an integral cog in the canal wheel.
The Great Square has been the site of the oldest, continuously operated outdoor Farmers Market since 1791. It is also the site where Robert Levers read the Declaration of Independence to the gathered public on July 8, 1776, standing on the steps of the courthouse. The Civil War Monument that now stands on the old courthouse site, is a 75 foot tall obelisk topped by what is locally called “The Bugler.” Formally named the Soldiers’ & Sailors’ Monument, the obelisk was designed to honor all of the armed forces who fought in the Civil War, and was dedicated to local veterans in 1900. Each year, the monument is shrouded by a one hundred foot Peace Candle, which is ceremoniously lit the Saturday evening after Thanksgiving and remains on display through January.source
As you can see, Easton’s history runs far deeper than the Crayola Company. While Crayola is the original draw, it’s Easton’s history which keeps me interested in visiting.
As always, there we have it. Five Pennsylvania places I’d love to visit. Some are rather far away – a state away. Some are closer to home. But I hope this post encourages you to take another look at your own State. If you’ve come to not like your State’s politics, then take a look at its history. Look at it with an unbiased eye, and be open to learning about both the good and the bad. Perhaps you’ll learn to fall in love with your area once again.