We love exploring America’s back roads and small towns and finding overlooked gems that the tourist brochures never cover. In a series of weekly blog posts we will be sharing some of America’s lesser-known small town museums, historic sites, and oddball attractions, on a state-by-state basis. We don’t have room to cover each and every attraction in every state, but hope to give you some ideas for places to see in your travels.
Note: Because Pennsylvania offers so many interesting places to visit, I have broken it into two separate blog posts. Part 2 will be posted next week.
Allentown: The Mack Truck Historical Museum displays a collection of vehicles made by the Mack Truck Corporation, including a 1900 Mack bus and a 1918 Mack fire truck.
Allentown: The America on Wheels Museum is dedicated to telling the story of America’s love affair with not only automobiles, but anything that moves. Exhibits cover everything from antique automobiles to muscle cars, motorcycles, and commercial vehicles.
Altoona: Altoona was the heart of the Pennsylvania Railroad in the 19th century. At the Railroaders Memorial Museum, a large collection of vintage rail cars are on display.
Altoona: Five miles west of town on State Route 4008, Horseshoe Curve is an engineering marvel. Carved into a mountainside in 1854, the curve allowed steam engines to climb over the steep Alleghany Mountains. Exhibits at the Visitor Center tell the story of the project and the Observation Platform provides dramatic views of trains passing through the curve.
Ashland: At Pioneer Tunnel Coal Mine, visitors experience a real anthracite coal mine. Visitors ride into the Tunnel on mine cars rebuilt to carry passengers, powered by an electric mine motor. Deep inside the Tunnel, guests alight from the cars to follow guides as they give an explanation of deep-mining methods.
Audubon: On a farm in rural Pennsylvania, John James Audubon first glimpsed the curious birds of the New World that would become his lifelong passion. Now the Audubon Center at Mill Grove shares his home and his artistry with the conservation movement he continues to inspire.
Avella: One of western Pennsylvania’s wonderful off-the-beaten path destinations is the Meadowcroft Museum of Rural Life, a charming 19th century village that preserves the history of life on the land in Western Pennsylvania over the centuries.
Bedford: Old Bedford Village is a 36-acre living history village depicting American life in the period from 1750 to 1890. Included are over forty buildings, some over 200 years old.
Bethlehem: The National Museum of Industrial History tells the story of America’s industrial achievements over the last 250 years.
Birdsboro: Pioneer explorer Daniel Boone was born and raised in Birdsboro. The Daniel Boone Homestead displays exhibits and artifacts on frontier life.
Bradford: The Zippo/Case Museum tells the story of two popular American products, the Zippo lighter and Case knives. The museum displays rare Zippo lighters and Case knives, an eleven foot long American flag that displays more than 3,400 red, white, and blue Zippo lighters, a fascinating “knife-in-motion” hologram, and ZAC (Zippo And Case), a mesmerizing seven-foot audio/kinetic ball machine full of motion, sound, and colors produced by its gears, chimes, chutes, and climbs.
Bushkill: The Pocono Indian Museum traces the history of the Delaware Indians through displays of ancient artifacts, weapons, and tools that provide a look at life among the Indians for thousands of years. The museum shows the Delaware Indian’s peaceful coexistence with other Indians, and the shocking and short 100 years it took the white man to virtually eliminate almost all traces of the tribe’s existence.
Bushkill: Bushkill Falls, often called the “Niagara of Pennsylvania,” is among the Keystone State’s most famous scenic attractions. This unique series of eight waterfalls in the wooded Pocono Mountains is accessible through an excellent network of hiking trails and bridges which afford fabulous views of the falls and the surrounding forest.
Chadds Ford: At the Battle of Brandywine, fought near here in 1777, British forces defeated George Washington’s army and were able to move unopposed into Philadelphia. The Brandywine Battlefield Visitors Center exhibits uniforms, weapons, and artifacts found on the battleground. On the park grounds, not far from the center, are both Washington’s headquarters (the Ring House) and Lafayette’s quarters (Gideon Gilpin’s farm house).
Chalfont: The Byers’ Choice Christmas Museum displays festive Christmas displays year round. Visitors can watch artisans handcrafting Christmas figurines from the observation deck or shop in the Gift Emporium, which offers the widest variety of Byers’ Choice products anywhere.
Columbia: At the National Watch and Clock Museum in Columbia, the history of the science of measuring time and making timepieces, called horology, is chronicled with interesting and intriguing exhibits that include the entire range of timekeeping, from the earliest sundials to ultra-modern atomic clocks that can measure time in nanoseconds.
Doylestown: The Moravian Pottery and Tile Works, a National Historic Landmark, is a working history museum. Handmade tiles are still produced in the style they have been for nearly 150 years.
Drexel Hill: The Museum of Mourning Art displays original objects that tell the story of death in emblems. The skull, the skeleton, crossed bones, the lamb, angel, wreath, urn, and the stages of life are all familiar designs found on engravings, books, clocks, bells, gates, jewelry, ceramics, and a variety of other objects produced between the seventeenth and nineteenth centuries.
Easton: The National Canal Museum is the only museum in the country dedicated to telling the story of America’s historic towpath canals. The museum features four galleries filled with hands-on exhibits that educate and entertain parents and children alike.
Easton: At Crayola Experience you can take a virtual tour of the Crayola factory and learn all about how crayons are made and the history of the company.
Elverson: At Hopewell Iron Furnace National Historic Site, a restored 18th century company town, visitors can tour a company store, tenant houses, and other buildings that were part of the Hopewell Iron Furnace that supplied iron to the American Colonies.
Erie: The Firefighter’s Historical Museum displays over 1,300 pieces of firefighting equipment and memorabilia.
Erie: The brig Niagara, Commodore Perry’s flagship during the pivotal 1813 Battle of Lake Erie, has been reconstructed and is on display here at the Erie Maritime Museum.
Farmington: The Somerset Historical Center preserves the history of life in rural southwestern Pennsylvania from the times of the region’s first farmers to the present day through exhibits, workshops, and educational programs.
Farmington: The battle at Fort Necessity in the summer of 1754 was the opening action of the French and Indian War, which ended with the removal of French power from North America, setting the stage for the American Revolution. Fort Necessity National Battlefield preserves the old battleground. The Visitor Center features a twenty-minute movie that tells the story of the battle. Talks, tours, and historic weapons demonstrations are offered during the summer months.
Franklin: See and hear over 100 old-time automatic musical instruments, including calliopes, carousel band organs, music boxes, nickelodeons and orchestrions at the DeBence Antique Music World Museum, located at 1261 Liberty Street.
Gallitzin: The Allegheny Portage Railroad was a great achievement in early travel. A system of inclined planes and a nine hundred foot tunnel carved through solid rock by Welsh coalminers made this feat possible. Today the Allegheny Portage Railroad National Historic Site includes the Summit Level Visitor Center, the historic Lemon House, Engine House #6 Exhibit Shelter, the Skew Arch Bridge, picnic areas, and hiking trails.
Gettysburg: Gettysburg National Military Park preserves large areas of the site of one of the bloodiest battles in the Civil War.
Gettysburg: The Shriver House Museum, dedicated to the civilian experience during the Battle of Gettysburg, is situated in the heart of Gettysburg’s historic district. The home of George and Hettie Shriver appears much the way it did when it was first built in 1860. Guides in period dress recount the harrowing story of the Shriver family’s experiences during the battle of Gettysburg. The thirty minute tour includes all four floors, including the Confederate sharpshooters’ nest in the attic, where at least two rebel soldiers were known to have been killed.
Gettysburg: Visitors to Eisenhower National Historic Site can tour the farm President Eisenhower used to escape the pressure of the White House, and where he lived after his retirement.
Gettysburg: Both the Union and Confederate armies crossed the 100 foot long Sach’s covered bridge in the days leading up to the battle, and part of General Lee’s army fled across the bridge as they retreated after the battle. During the fighting a field hospital was established in a field next to the bridge, and three Confederate deserters were hung from the bridge’s rafters. All of this has earned it the reputation of being the most haunted bridge in America. There are many stories of ghostly orbs or mists, lights moving about after dark, and visitors have reported a feeling of overwhelming sadness, or even of anger, hanging over the bridge.
Hallam: The Haines Shoe House on U.S. Highway 30, east of York, is shaped like a shoe and was built to promote a local shoemaking factory. Today the Shoe House is a gift shop and soda fountain.
Harrisburg: The sights, sounds, and history of firefighting come to life at the Pennsylvania National Fire Museum. Housed in the 1899 Victorian firehouse Reily Hose Company No. 10, the museum houses an outstanding collection of artifacts from the hand-drawn equipment of yesterday to modern tools of today.
Harrisburg: The State Museum of Pennsylvania offers visitors four floors of exhibits and activities presenting Pennsylvania’s story from earth’s beginning to the present. The Museum offers a multi-media planetarium, which allows visitors to learn about and explore the stars and planets. There are also archaeological artifacts, minerals, paintings, decorative arts, animal dioramas, industrial, and technological innovations, and military objects representing the Commonwealth’s heritage since 1905.
Harrisburg: Harrisburg is home to one of the best museums on the American Civil War to be found anywhere. Located in beautiful Reservoir Park, the National Civil War Museum is the only museum that covers the entire American Civil War with equally balanced portrayals of both the Union and Confederate causes.
Hershey: Besides all of the tourist trap activities associated with the Hershey Theme Park, Hershey is home to the Antique Automobile Club of America Museum, with one of the finest collections of antique and classic cars under one roof. The museum shares its facilities with the Museum of Bus Transportation, where you can see a very nice collection of vintage buses.
Hershey: You can learn about Milton Hershey, the candy empire he created, and the model town he founded through a variety of exhibits, original working machinery, and unique artifacts at the Hershey Museum.
Huntingdon: The Swigart Museum in the nation’s oldest automobile museum and displays an excellent collection of antique cars, many manufactured before World War I.
Indiana: Hollywood actor Jimmy Stewart was born and raised in Indiana. Each year at Christmas the downtown is decorated in the theme of Stewart’s most popular movie, It’s a Wonderful Life. The Jimmy Stewart Museum has exhibits on the actor’s life and career.
Johnstown: On April 31, 1889, an earthen dam 14 miles upstream from Johnstown collapsed and a 40-foot wall of water destroyed everything in its path. When the tidal wave subsided, nearly 1,900 homes and buildings had been destroyed and 2,295 people had died, including 99 entire families. Everybody in Johnstown lost a relative or a friend in the flood. 777 unidentified victims of the 1889 flood are buried in a mass grave in Johnstown’s Grandview Cemetery. The tragedy is remembered in the Johnstown Flood Museum with exhibits and photographs of the aftermath of the flood.
Kempton: Bird watchers will love Hawk Mountain Sanctuary, located along the Appalachian Flyway in east-central Pennsylvania. Hawk Mountain Sanctuary offers visitors an outstanding, year-round nature experience with its mountaintop vistas, eight miles of hiking trails, and thrilling autumnal raptor migrations.
Kutztown: Located on a 30 acre 19th century farmstead with a stone farm house, barn, and a circa-1870 one-room schoolhouse, the Pennsylvania German Cultural Heritage Center preserves Pennsylvania Dutch history, folklore, and traditions.
Kutztown: A tour of Crystal Cave reveals the wonders of this underground attraction that includes such rock formations as the Giant’s Tooth, the Prairie Dogs, the Natural Bridge, the Totem Pole, and the Crystal Ballroom.
Lackawaxen: Author Zane Grey lived in Lackawaxen from 1905 until 1918. The community always held a special place in his memories and was chosen as the site of his final resting place. Today, Grey’s home from 1914-18 is preserved by the National Park Service as part of Upper Delaware Scenic and Recreational River.
Lancaster: The Amish Farm & House provides visitors with an accurate glimpse into the Amish way of life. Knowledgeable guides take visitors through the house on a 45-minute guided tour and explain the lifestyle of the Lancaster County Amish. Deeded from William Penn, the land has been farmed since 1715. Many of the farm’s historic buildings remain and are open to visitors.
Lancaster: Steeped in Victorian elegance, the Fulton Opera House in downtown Lancaster shines as a theater not just for its fantastic stage productions, but also for the historical importance of the building whose history is as rich and layered as its striking architecture. The theater maintains its original marble pillars and plasterwork, complemented by crystal chandeliers and Art Nouveau show posters. Its richly painted interior, embellished with gold trim, is a reminder of similar theaters from the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
Lancaster: The Landis Valley Museum is a living history museum that collects, conserves, exhibits, and interprets Pennsylvania German material, culture, history, and heritage from 1740 through 1940. The museum’s historic buildings include a farmstead, blacksmith shop, print shop, school, general store, pottery shop, barn, and a Conestoga wagon shed.
Lancaster: The Mennonite Information Center offers visitors the opportunity to learn about the unique way of life of the Amish and Mennonite people of the region. Visitors will see a short film about the faith and life of the Mennonites and Amish, a walk-through exhibit, a well-stocked bookstore, and can take a guided tour to homes, farms, and businesses owned and operated by Amish and Mennonite families.
Lebanon: Located a few miles south of town, the Cornwall Iron Furnace is the only surviving intact charcoal cold blast furnace in the Western Hemisphere. Established in 1742, Cornwall Iron Furnace supplied cannons and cannonballs to George Washington’s army during the Revolutionary War. Today the furnace is a State Historic Park, with tours and exhibits.
Ligonier: At Fort Ligonier you can journey back in time two centuries to relive the stirring days of young Colonel George Washington, General John Forbes, and the encounters of the British and Americans against the French and Indians. The impressive fort is a full-scale, on-site reconstruction of the 1758-1766 original, situated on a commanding hilltop in the beautiful Laurel Highlands.
Lititz: At the Wilbur Chocolate Company’s Candy Americana Museum, visitors can see a fascinating collection of chocolate memorabilia that includes 1,000 varieties of molds, tins, and boxes, early candy machinery, marble slabs, starch trays, copper kettles, and more than 150 hand-painted European and Oriental antique porcelain chocolate pots, some bearing the names Haviland, Limoges, and Dresden.
Meadville: The Johnson-Shaw Stereoscopic Museum exhibits stereographic photographic products including equipment, documents, and stereoscopic photography that spans a century of the stereoscopic industry, with primary focus given to the Keystone View Company, which emerged as the largest domestic producer in the industry.
Mifflinburg: The Mifflinburg Buggy Museum re-creates a time when life moved at a slower pace. Located in an original buggy shop with belting and pulleys, tools, machinery, and forges, the museum looks just as it was when it closed for business in 1931.
Mill Run: Fallingwater, perhaps the most famous home built by architect Frank Lloyd Wright, is open for tours.
Nazareth: Nazareth is the home of the Martin Guitar Company, loved by serious musicians the world over. Visitors can tour the Martin Guitar Museum, featuring displays that showcase over 170 exquisitely crafted guitars that parallel the company’s 175 year history. After visiting the museum, take a factory tour and follow a guitar from rough lumber to a finished product, which requires more than 300 steps to complete by skilled craftsmen who take pride in their work.
North East: The Lake Shore Railway Museum is a restored 1899 passenger train depot with extensive displays of 19th and 20th century railroad memorabilia and equipment including GE and Heisler locomotives built in nearby Erie, Pullman sleeping cars, a dining car, caboose, and antique freight cars.
Orrtanna: Mister Ed’s Elephant Museum houses one of the largest and most unique collections of elephants in the world, with over 12,000 elephants from all over the world, made from just about every substance known to man.
Thought For The Day – If a turtle loses its shell, is it naked or homeless?