By Danielle Taylor | Header photo by Kyle Yates
History in the Making
The Pennsylvania Great Outdoors region has a rich history filled with significant events and noteworthy people, and as you drive around, take note of the historical marker signs you see along the roadways. Some recall memories of hope, such as the Elijah Heath marker near the Jefferson County Courthouse, which honors an abolitionist and judge who helped slaves make their way to freedom on the Underground Railroad, while others share info on the region’s development, including the numerous signs noting Native American history and industrial progress. However, many important historical sites quietly exist in harmony with their modern-day surroundings, but they’re just as intriguing and worthwhile to seek out and explore.
Those interested in immersing themselves in the past will want to check out Cook Forest State Park’s annual Living History Weekend and French and Indian War Reenactment events, which take place early each summer. During the Living History Weekend, costumed characters relay insight on life during significant parts of our nation’s history from a variety of cultural perspectives. The French and Indian War event depicts life in the 1700s with plenty of historically attired characters reenacting tactical engagements, cannon and musket fire, camp life, war councils, trading post events, and more. Craftspeople skilled in the trades of the time showcase their endeavors as well, including blacksmithing, silversmithing, tent making, candle making, and powder horn crafting.
Several area historical societies and museums share intriguing local history, and they’re well worth a visit. The Clarion County Historical Society operates a museum tracing the county’s history with period rooms, a military room, a women’s history room, a simulated general store, industry exhibits, and rotating displays from the society’s vast collection. In the early 1900s, Brookville’s Twyford Motor Car Company made the world’s first four-wheel drive automobile, and the Jefferson County History Center showcases one along with many other interesting rotating exhibits and the impressive Bowdish model railroad. The Forest County History Center in Tionesta reveals artifacts from Native American and early settlers to the region, and visitors can find maps for a self-guided driving tour of sites of historical interest throughout the county at the Forest County Visitor Center on Elm Street. The Cameron County Historical Society operates The Little Museum, which features items from the lumbering and dynamite industries as well as personal effects from Hollywood cowboy Tom Mix and U.S. General Joseph McNarney, two noteworthy area residents. The Elk County Historical Society runs the Robinson Museum, which offers resources for historical and genealogical research, and the Center House Museum, which features a replica of a Victorian-era doctor’s office, among other exhibits. The society also manages Decker’s Chapel, listed in the National Register of Historic Places as one of the smallest churches in the country, which recently underwent an $80,000 renovation.
Brockway’s Taylor Memorial Museum houses a vast display of glass from local industry, plus many interesting artifacts from the lumbering, mining, and farming communities in the surrounding area. The Coolspring Power Museum houses a collection of more than 275 antique internal combustion engines and numerous exhibits on the development of this significant technological innovation.
Outdoor heritage destinations throughout the region include several parks, historical districts, and remnants of the region’s industrial heritage. Near I-80’s Hazen exit, the new Scripture Rocks Heritage Park features 64 engraved boulders carved by the peculiar Douglas M. Stahlman in the early 1900s. Although most carry messages inspired by the Bible, others convey personal philosophies all his own, and one calls out the names of everyone who owed him money. The Mt. Zion Historical Park near Benezette shares info and artifacts from the area’s history and also honors local veterans and citizens with a variety of memorials.
In Clarion County, the imposing Helen and Buchanan Furnaces still stand more than a century and a half after they were built and abandoned. These two cold-blast charcoal iron furnaces, each more than 30 feet tall, used charcoal to heat ore and produce iron in the mid-1800s, and visitors can still walk around the massive structures and revisit a bygone time. Brookville’s Victorian Main Street tour includes 14 downtown stops, and at each, an interpretive sign details a historic location, topic, or person that helped shape the town. In Ridgway, the town’s Lily of the Valley National Register Historic District features its own beautiful Victorian homes and mansions. Walking tour maps are available at the Elk County Chamber of Commerce Welcome Center on Main Street.
Arts, Theater, and Music
The region also offers a wide variety of cultural destinations and experiences to explore. In Cook Forest State Park, the Sawmill Center for the Arts hosts a variety of arts and craft shows and classes throughout the year, and the popular Craft Market sells creative handmade works by local artists ranging from stoneware to paintings to barn decorations. Through the summer, the open-air Sawmill Theater presents mysteries, comedies, and Broadway musicals performed by community and university actors from throughout the region.
In Clarion County, the Allegheny RiverStone Center for the Arts in the charming resort town of Foxburg presents a widely varied performance series each year featuring jazz, Celtic, classical, and many other types of music. The center is home to a mighty Wurlitzer theater organ, which performers showcase in a variety of concerts and recitals, and it hosts a number of visual art exhibits each year as well. Clarion University’s Marwick Boyd Fine Arts Center welcomes many local and touring performances throughout the season, everything from the classics to musicals and comedies.
Cameron County’s Chamber of Commerce and Artisan Center, a stop on the PA Wilds Artisan Trail, sells handmade wares and hosts art classes to bring out your creativity. The shop features work from more than 65 local artists, ranging from homemade soaps to fine paintings.
The Elk County Council on the Arts, also a PA Wilds Artisan Trail stop, includes a sales gallery on Main Street in Ridgway featuring the works of local and regional artists. The organization also sponsors several events showcasing Elk County artists. Finally, Ridgway lets loose at the Chainsaw Carvers Rendezvous each spring, where skilled chainsaw carvers from around the world create gorgeous works of art within a fascinating cloud of sawdust.
Learn more and find other interesting places to visit in the Pennsylvania Great Outdoors region by going to VisitPAGO.com or calling (814) 849-5197.