Written by Danielle Taylor | Intro image by Jonnsea Photo
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. You may be surprised to learn about the impact this area has had on America’s development.
Several area historical societies and museums share fascinating local history, and they’re well worth a visit. 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 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. 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 historical points of interest throughout the county at the Forest County Visitor Center on Elm Street. The Cameron County Historical Society operates The Little Museum, one of Pennsylvania’s top seasonal museums, 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, which recently underwent an $80,000 renovation and is listed in the National Register of Historic Places as one of the smallest churches in the country. 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.
One of the region’s most intriguing museums is the Coolspring Power Museum between Brookville and Punxsutawney, which houses the world’s largest collection of historically significant antique internal combustion engines. Open one weekend a month from April to October, the museum features more than 275 of these machines, many of which still operate beautifully, across the 30-acre open-air institution, as well as numerous exhibits on the development of this game-changing technological innovation. The massive 75-foot-long 600-horsepower Snow engine is a true sight to behold, especially when it’s running!
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 Encampment 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 frontier military life in the 1700s with hundreds of historically attired characters reenacting tactical engagements, cannon and musket fire, camp life, and more.
Outdoor heritage destinations throughout the region include several parks, historical districts, and remnants of the region’s industrial background. Near Interstate 80’s Hazen exit, the new Scripture Rocks Heritage Park features 67 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. Take time to check out Jefferson County’s beautifully restored county courthouse, which celebrates its 150th anniversary in 2019. In Ridgway, the town’s Lily of the Valley National Register Historic District features its own beautiful Victorian homes and mansions as well as a number of historic properties being restored by the Ridgway Heritage Council. Walking tour maps are available at the Elk County Chamber of Commerce Welcome Center on Main Street. Ridgway is also buzzing about the new Brew Bank coming in at the old Elk County Bank building directly across from the courthouse, which will feature a microbrewery on the main level and lodging for travelers upstairs.