Some things remain a mystery, like why weathermen in the Harrisburg area appear to be fixated on a town that takes two hours to reach by car. For as far back as I can remember, local prognosticators have dutifully reported on the temperatures in Havre de Grace, Maryland, which makes little sense to me. After all, Philadelphia and West Chester are within striking distance, yet we rarely hear about the weather there.
My curiosity eventually got the best of me and I began researching the little town of less than 15,000. I learned that in 2014 the area was named by Smithsonian Magazine as one of the top 20 best small towns to visit, so I decided to travel there earlier in the month to learn more about what makes it so special.
I now understand why the place is so highly regarded, although I'm still a bit flummoxed as to why local weathermen are so entranced, other than the fact that it always seems warmer there than in my neck of the woods.
In my next blog post, I'll share more about this scenic area situated at the mouth of the Susquehanna River and the head of the Chesapeake Bay, but for now, I'll share a little more about three historic B&Bs, which are all located conveniently near shops, restaurants, and other destinations.
The Vandiver Inn Located at 301 S. Union Avenue, the Vandiver Inn is known as a premier wedding destination, so chances are you may see a bride or two during your visit.
The mansion dates back to 1886 and is named after Murray Vandiver, who served as Secretary and Treasurer of Maryland and as Mayor of Havre de Grace.Vandiver built the large Victorian "cottage" as a present for his wife, so it seems quite fitting that today it is a popular wedding venue.
The Vandiver Inn
For a time, the house served as an apartment complex, but in the 1980s it was restored to its former glory. Stained glass windows which had previously been removed and sold were amazingly tracked down by the new owners and returned to their proper place.
An attractive bronze lights the way to the rooms upstairs.
Guests can choose from among three houses when staying at the Vandiver Inn. We spent the weekend in the comfortable Cockburn Room in the Kent House located right next door to the main mansion. The attractive room features a sitting area, a private entrance, and a porch overlooking the lawn. Breakfast is served at the main house each morning and can be enjoyed on the lovely and spacious front porch during warmer weather.
A lovely setting for sipping on a large cuppa Joe.
The sitting room at the Vandiver Inn
Guests help themselves to ala cart breakfast items here. Our hot morning dish was crab quiche.
The inside of the Cockburn Room
The sitting area of the Cockburn Room.
What's happening behind me? We could have had a birds-eye view to an "I-Do" or two, but we decided to allow them their privacy.
The Spencer-Silver Mansion The Spencer-Silver Mansion dates back to 1896 and is known as one of the largest historic houses in Havre de Grace built as a private residence. Crafted of granite from nearby Port Deposit, the structure is recognized as the only High Victorian stone mansion in the city.
The Spencer Silver Mansion
The house was constructed for John Spencer, a merchant and foundry owner and was later purchased by Charles Silver, the owner of a local cannery.
At one point in time, according to owner Carol Nemeth, a group of doctors joined together with the intention of gutting the stunning structure to make way for a clinic. Luckily, Nemeth was willing to pivot from her occupation in International Banking to proprietor of a bed and breakfast.She used her passion for historical preservation to restore the home to its former glory and has been lovingly caring for the property for the past 29 years.
The main house consists of four guest rooms furnished with Victorian antiques. A two-story cottage tucked away behind the mansion features a whirlpool bath, a spiral staircase, a living room with a working fireplace and a queen-sized bed.
Sitting room of the Spencer-Silver Mansion
Second-floor sitting area of the Spencer-Silver Mansion
An alcove in a bedroom in the Spencer-Silver mansion
A working antique phone from France
A sitting area on the second floor of the Spencer-Silver mansion
Porch of the Spencer-Silver mansion
Guests are encouraged to relax in the secluded backyard garden
La Cle D'or GuestHouse
Antique lovers will find something of interest in every turn of the head at La Cle D'or (Key of Gold) Guesthouse located at 226 North Union Avenue.
The home dates back to 1868 and was once the home to Henry Harrison Hopkins, a pharmacist who built the structure in the Second Empire Style. The Maryland Inventory of Historic Properties describes the home as having "an eclectic, even eccentric style that became popular after the Civil War."
Owner Ron Browning is always ready, willing and available to discuss the provenance of each antique with an encyclopedic knowledge and guests are encouraged to inquire about the pieces, many of which are for sale.
The former history teacher owns furniture that dates back to the 1700s, Delft pottery dating back to the 1600s, an 1800's "flow blue" china collection, documents signed by Lafayette and Louis XIV and an authentic Renoir, to name just a few of the impressive items on display.
A front view of La Cle D'or Guesthouse
A lion guards the front of the La Cle D'or Guesthouse
Living room of La Cle D'or
Alcove at La Cle D'or
Dining room at La Cle D'or
Antiques at La Cle D'or
The Lapis Lazuli room at La Cle D'or
The Russian Room at La Cle D'or
Back patio at La Cle D'or
These interesting, excellent and comfortable lodging options are just a few that are available for your stay in Havre de Grace. For those who enjoy architecture and history, they also have the added advantage of being located on the Lafayette Trail.
Many thanks to Tyler Buck for taking the time to show me around the town during my stay and for literally opening the doors to these beautiful venues.
Located in Harford County Maryland at the confluence of the Susquehanna River and the Chesapeake Bay, Havre de Grace is a scenic and small walkable town that is ideal for a laid-back getaway.
Those who read this blog regularly may have noticed a recent post about several beautiful B&Bs located conveniently within walking distance of restaurants and shops, specifically the Vandiver Inn, La Cle D'or Guest House and the Spencer-Silver Mansion. The elegantly appointed Bed and Breakfasts are not only rich in history, but are also located on the Lafayette Trail, which is a fantastic way to see the highlights of Havre De Grace. The scenic walk is demarcated in blue on the sidewalks of the town and leads visitors on a three-mile-long path to highlights like historic structures, parks, museums, and marinas.
Traversing the Lafayette Trail
Located on the Western Bank of the Susquehanna River, the Susquehanna Museum at the Lock House is the first stop along the Trail. The private, not-for-profit educational institution educates visitors on the importance of canals in facilitating early trade and commerce in the area. Visitors learn about the building of the 45-mile canal that ran from Havre De Grace to Wrightsville, Pa and the "locks" that were devised to raise and lower canal boats to adjust for the difference in elevation as they passed through the channels.
The Lock House Museum
A model interprets how the locks operated
Toll log at the Susquehanna Museum at The Lockhouse
The sturdy, two-story structure overlooking the Susquehanna was built in 1840 and was home to the lucky lock tender (what a view) and his family. The house also served as an office for toll collections. Free tours are available to the public from April through October.
Next stop is the Tidewater Grille where we enjoyed lunch and a nice view of the Bay. In keeping with the theme, I ordered a lunch of clams, shrimp and mussels.
Visitors can browse a large collection of antique toys, furniture, sports memorabilia and other vintage items. Be sure to visit the second floor to inspect the plethora of breweriana on display.
Bahoukas Antique Mall and Beer MuZeum is housed in a former hardware store that dates back to 1890.
Breweriana located upstairs at Bahoukas
Not far from Bahoukas is the old Chesapeake Hotel. The structure, built in 1896, is particularly noteworthy because it was a favorite of Al Capone, who would book a room there while visiting the nearby Graw Racetrack. We learned a little more about "The Graw" thanks to Annie McLhinney-Cochran, who operates McLhinney's Speakeasy Museum and International Market located in downtown Havre De Grace.
According to McLhinney, Maryland was the only state that refused to embrace prohibition. "Capone gambled here because he could drink," she said. Today the Chesapeake Hotel operates as a restaurant by the name of the Backfin Blues Creole De Graw.
Quite close to the Backfin Blues is a nondescript structure once known as the A.P. McCombs Building, built by the founder of the Havre Republican newspaper, now known as "The Record." Today it houses JoeRetro, a vintage Market, featuring gifts, vinyl records and new, used and upcycled items. I found a cool Pyrex necklace there. The store features the largest collection of Pyrex cookware I have ever seen. Keep an eye out for another, much fancier A.P. McCombs building in town--you can't miss it. The beautiful pink dwelling done in the Queen Anne style is located at 120 S. Union Avenue and was built in 1880.
This attractive, pink Queen Anne style house once belonged to newspaper mogul A.P. McCombs
Statement necklaces crafted from broken Pyrex.
Drinking, smoking and cards--a convenient gift for the enablers out there
An A.P. McCombs building that is a little more utilitarian in style. Now home to JoRetro.
A little further along the trail is the Henry Harrison Hopkins House built in 1868. Today it operates as La Cle D'or Guesthouse, an elegant B&B which features an outstanding collection of antiques.
An alcove at La Cle D'or
The Lapis Lazuli room at La Cler D'or
The patio at La Cle D'or
La Cle D'or from the front
Next on the Lafayette Trail is one of the largest houses built as a private residence in Havre De Grace--the Spencer-Silver Mansion. It, too, operates as a Bed and Breakfast.
The Spencer-Silver Mansion dates back to 1896
An alcove in a bedroom of the Spencer-Silver Mansion
Within sight of the Spencer-Silver mansion is the Vandiver Inn. The Inn operates as a B&B and has been the site of many "I Dos," which is appropriate since it was a gift to a bride from her husband. Murray Vandiver served as State Secretary and Treasurer of Maryland and as Mayor of Havre De Grace.
A view from the front of the Vandiver Inn
This porch was made for relaxing at the Vandiver Inn
Take the Lafayette Trail down to the Bay and you'll see the old Bayou Hotel. The four-story fieldstone building opened in 1921 when Jazz was all the rage. It was forced to close its doors in 1932 due to a fire. Upon re-opening, further losses were incurred when "sinkboxing," the favored form of duck hunting in the area, was outlawed. The Depression proved to be its death knell and in 1934, the hotel went out of business. The structure later became home to Franciscan nuns before it was sold in 1953 and converted to apartments. Years later, after a period of extensive renovations, developers transformed the hotel into luxury condominiums.
The Bayou hotel, popular during the Jazz Age, still stands today.
The Concord Point Lighthouse is stop number 41 on the Lafayette Trail. The oldest, continuously operating lighthouse in the country was once slated for demolition before a concerned citizen's group banded together to save it. I was shocked to see how small it is!
The Concord Point Lighthouse is the oldest, continuously operating lighthouse in the country.
Nearby at 720 Concord Street is "The Keeper's Dwelling," which dates back to 1827 and served as the original lightkeeper's house. The honor of serving as lightkeeper was bestowed upon John O'Neill for his efforts in keeping the Brits literally "at bay."
A front view and the inside of "The Keeper's Dwelling"
The Keeper's Dwelling is open from 1 to 5 p.m.on weekends from April through October.
Further on down the road at 201 St. John Street is the Seneca Cannery, which has been repurposed into a large antique market. If you want to get a flavor for an area, visit a local antique market. A few months ago I visited Strasburg, Pennsylvania and discovered an array of old railroad artifacts from lanterns, to conductor's logs, time tables and an old doctor's case used on a train. Guess what I found at the Seneca Cannery? That's right, decoys--more than a few of them--and a lot of cool other things too. Oh and if your relatives have any old, wooden clothespins, it might be a good idea to keep them around. They're selling for $10 a pop.
Decoys on sale at the Seneca Cannery
An antique sewing machine repurposed into a lamp
And, of course, we know what these are--the one in the middle is selling for $10
There are many more stops along the Lafayette Trail. For those who enjoy shopping, Havre De Grace offers plenty of opportunities for that as well, with its blocks of shops selling anything from giftware, to jewelry, to art and apparel.
I purchased one this artifact candle at Blue Heron downtown. The artifact was a liberty coin.
I think my favorite shop in Havre De Grace was Glyph. Located at 233 St. John Street, Glyph sells high-end stationery, writing instruments and other unique and interesting items that make perfect gifts. I just had to take a picture of this beautiful gift wrap.
There are plenty of restaurants from which to choose in Havre De Grace. For lunch, I recommend The Vineyard Wine Bar located at 142 N. Washington Street. While there, I enjoyed a delicious chicken salad wrapped in naan.
I finished every bit of this delicious chicken salad wrapped in naan and served at The Vineyard Wine Bar
A unique place I stumbled on during my trip was Washington Street Books and Music. I entered expecting a typically sedate book store, but encountered something else entirely. Can I really call it "new age," these days? Abba blared over the sound system, while rows of 20-somethings browsed through comic books that lined one of the walls. Situated around the retail space chockablock with crystals, toys, minerals and other curiosities, were dozens of floor-to-ceiling glass cases displaying an array of costumes. I soon realized that this was more than a bookstore. The owner, seeing my quizzical look, explained that an adjacent room contained even more costumes. It turns out that he is a movie buff and is in the process of creating an entertainment museum. To date, the store boasts a collection of 250 movie costumes, scripts, and props from more than 70 different films. It's a shame I couldn't get decent pictures due to the glare, but I'll share one below just to give you an idea.
Exploring Havre De Grace can be done leisurely in a period of two or three days and if the weather is nice, don't neglect to "walk the boards" of the scenic Promenade.
Sights from the Promenade above and below.
If you, too would like to walk the Lafayette Trail, brochures are available at the Havre De Grace visitor's center located at 450 Pennington Avenue, or you can download the mobile app by visiting explorehavredegrace.com and tapping the "Walk the Lafayette Trail" logo.
Now's a great time to visit since most museums close at the end of October and don't re-open until April.
A marker in front of the house where Cline grew up.
For Patsy Cline fans, it’s difficult to believe that the year 2017 marked the 54th anniversary of the legendary singer’s death, but fans and devotees continue to keep her memory alive.
Movies, books, musicals, plays and even blogs pay tribute to the life of the iconic performer and recording artist. A loyal fan club, run by her daughter Julie Fudge, is still going strong. Those interested in sharing their enthusiasm can learn more about the club here. For the devoted Patsy Cline fans who enjoy her songs, sing her praises and are just plain “Crazy” about her, the pilgrimage to Winchester is a must. A few weeks ago I visited her humble abode located in a residential section of Winchester at 608 S. Kent Street where tours are conducted from April through October.
The modest house on Kent Street in Winchester, Virginia where Patsy Cline grew up
Born to a Teenage Mother
Few would have predicted that future stardom would blossom from Patsy Cline's humble beginnings. Born Virginia Patterson Hensley in 1932 to a 16-year-old seamstress mother and a 43-year-old blacksmith father, the road was often rocky for the family, who, by all accounts, moved around quite a bit. After the father left the household in 1948, the family settled into the small Kent Street home pictured above. Cline, who was introduced to music at an early age, often sang along with her mother Hilda in church. To make up for the income lost when the father left, Patsy dropped out of high school, working as a soda jerk and waitress. Despite her circumstances, the burgeoning young singer held tightly to her hopes and dreams. Cline admired stars of the era like Jo Stafford and Hank Williams and in 1947 convinced a radio disc jockey to allow her to perform on his show. The talent coordinator, impressed by her potential, invited her back. This, in turn, led to more appearances at local establishments where she would sport her signature fringed Western outfits.
Copies of Cline's original sketches are on display in the dining room. Patsy would design the costumes and Hilda would sew them.
Replicas of Cline's costumes hang in the dining room.
Patsy Cline gained national attention in 1957, when she landed a gig on Arthur Godfrey’s Talent Scouts. Singing her now-famous song, “Walkin’ After Midnight,” she wowed the audience, sending the applause meter into the stratosphere. “Walkin’” shot up to number two on the country music charts and climbed to number 16 on the pop charts, officially earning her the distinction of being one of the first country singers to achieve a “crossover” pop hit record.
From Triumph to Tragedy
Cline reached the height of her popularity in the early 1960s when she was named the number one female artist in 1961 and 1962. When she released, “I Fall to Pieces,” it, too, became a crossover hit and climbed to number one on the country charts and number six on the pop charts, once again demonstrating her wide appeal. She went on to receive acclaim for a string of hits before tragedy struck.
On March 3, 1963, Cline sang at a benefit held at the Soldiers and Sailors Memorial Hall in Kansas City for the family of disc jockey “Cactus” Jack Call, who had died in an automobile accident approximately one month earlier. Dense fog prevented her from flying out of town the following day. Although friend Dottie West tried to convince her to take the 16-hour drive back to Nashville in the car, Cline opted instead to fly out on a small Piper PA-24 Comanche plane on March 5, ignoring reports of continued inclement weather which included high winds.
Cline’s manager, Randy Hughes, untrained in instrument flying, took the helm and on the evening of March 5, 1963, crashed the aircraft in the driving rain approximately 90 miles from Nashville. Cline was dead at the age of 30. Ten years after her death, in 1973, she became the first female artist to be inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame.
Fans Keep Her Memory Alive
To this day, fans remain dedicated to keeping Patsy Cline’s memory alive. Her childhood house is open to tours, guided by dedicated volunteer docents who are eager to share details of the singer’s short life.
The dining room of the Patsy Cline house where many costumes were created.
"It is a joy to meet the people who come from all over the world to visit the home of the legendary singer. Her music is still played and is very popular even though she died more than 50 years ago. I am proud that she grew up in the same community where I was born and live," said docent and volunteer Joyce McKay.
Kitchen of the Patsy Cline House
Living room of the Patsy Cline House
Kitchen nook overlooks the large backyard where the family grew vegetables.
The living room where the family watched Patsy perform
Fan Mark Borchers said he wasn’t exposed to Patsy Cline until 1980, when he took advantage of an introductory offer to purchase six eight-track tapes for a penny as part of his enrollment in a music club. “One of those was the Patsy Cline Story. "I played that tape to death and still have it to this day,” he said. Borchers, who read a book about Cline, learned her mother Hilda’s general address and decided to send her a note. Hilda wrote back and that was the beginning of a meaningful friendship. Not only did Borchers learn details on how to join the fan club, but he was eventually invited to Hilda’s house where he dined with the family and even held Cline’s Lifetime Achievement Grammy. “Hilda retrieved it from the closet and I held it in my hands--talk about a special moment in a young man’s life,” said Borchers.
Paying Respects Having finished my tour of the house, I took a moment to pay my respects to the singer who is laid to rest at nearby Shenandoah Memorial Park with her beloved husband Charlie Dick. Her unassuming grave can be spotted behind the funeral home. Be sure to bring along at least one penny to lay on her grave--a tradition that's said to bring good luck.
Patsy Cline is buried in the Shenandoah Memorial Park next to her husband Charlie Dick.
To learn more about the Patsy Cline house, or to plan a visit, be sure to visit the web page at http://celebratingpatsycline.org/.
Lamb, pork, pancetta, veal, rabbit, pheasant, tripe, brains--you can find it all at Biancardi's.
Italians instinctively know that food and love go together like spaghetti and marinara sauce. I was lucky to learn that lesson early while growing up and feasting on delicious Italian food crafted lovingly by my grandmother Josephine. Nana spent many hours in her small, cozy kitchen preparing a variety of Italian specialties as only she could, but it was her ravioli and meatballs that we loved the most.
The smell of simmering sauce would permeate the air tempting our taste buds as we approached the porch. Without fail, my dad would make a bee-line for the kitchen, grab a fork and stab a meatball from a simmering pot, inevitably dripping sauce on his shirt in an effort to escape her smack as she shooed him away. I think they both secretly enjoyed the ritual.
Years have gone by and they are gone, but every time I bite into a good Italian meatball, or indulge in a decadent dish of ravioli, I'm reminded of how much I miss them both and wonder if either of them visited Arthur Avenue at some point in their lives.
I recently learned of the foodie destination located in the Belmont section of the Bronx thanks to a local travel travel agency that offered a bus trip to the area. It piqued my curiosity, so I signed up and was soon exploring the neighborhood also known as "the real Little Italy." Chockablock with Blocks of Shops No matter where you live in these United States, you're likely noticing the demise of the "mom-and-pop" establishments. The fact that many continue to thrive in this small area is a testament to their grit and determination. Many of the businesses are passed down from generation to generation. Maria Cappiello is just one of the individuals who shared her "Arthur Avenue" story with me. Her father was born in 1929 in a cold water flat above his parent's butcher shop on the famous street. "He and his brothers all became butchers and his sister married a man who worked in the store. That man went on to open a deli in the market that is still thriving today," said Capiello, whose mother arrived from Italy in 1951, moved to the neighborhood and frequented the shop. Cappiello said she spent many fun times on Arthur Avenue visiting both sides of her family in the 1970's and 80's and returns to this day with her children to visit and dine in the old neighborhood. Danielle Oteri, founder of food tour company "Feast on History," also has familial ties to the area. Her great-grandfather Albino Oteri opened a fish market on Arthur Avenue in 1916.Today she shares stories with tourists who come from miles around to stock up on provisions and take a leisurely stroll around town to indulge in bits and bites of this and that.
Treats along the way include salami and freshly made mozzarrella at Joe's Italian Deli. (Photo Courtesy of Danielle Oteri, Feast on History)
"We have many amazing mom-and-pop shops and our goal is to keep people coming back," said Oteri. And it appears they do. Many individuals who rode the bus with me knew the routine and brought coolers along to stow their purchases for the ride home. Oteri takes guests to 12 iconic establishments where they can taste products and learn more about the history of the businesses, many which have survived for years, like Tino's, known for its pizza (shown below), subs, dried pasta and an impressive selection of olive oil and vinegar.
Tino's delicatessen is another stop along the tour. (Photo courtesy of Danielle Oteri, Feast on History)
A popular stop along the way is Calabria's pork shop known for its "sausage chandeliers." A few of the stand-out products include soppresatta, capicollo and a paprika-coated Italian bacon named pancetta Calebrese, "It's a butcher shop devoted solely to pork, which used to be more common years ago," said Oteri, adding that they butcher and cure all their own meat onsite, rather than in a warehouse. "The quality is magical," she said.
Pork chandeliers at Calabria's (Photo courtesy of Feast on History)
Cheese lovers will find a little slice of heaven at Calandra's, which has been in operation since the 1930's. "At one time Calandra's used to sell ricotta only," said Oteri.
A shot of the interior at Calandra's
Today Calandra's offers an array of cheeses, pasta, sausage and more. I spotted the curiosity pictured below on one of the shelves and learned later that it's a lemon-flavored antacid that hails from Italy and is often taken after meals as a digestive. Galeffi is touted as "thirst-quenching" and "refreshing." The blurb on the bottle gave me a chuckle. It promises a taste that is superior to prior versions. Later research revealed that it is used as a substitute for Brioschi, which has gone out of business. But enough about indigestion...let's talk ravioli!
Galeffi--an Italian product used to aid digestion
Another Bronx institution located not far from Calandra's is Borgatti's Ravioli & Egg Noodles, founded in 1935. The third-generation, family run, specialty pasta shop has been recognized by the Food Network and Epicurious Magazine and was awarded a 29 out of 30 for quality by Zagat's Marketplace survey. All I know is that the overstuffed cheesy pillows were among the best ravioli I've ever tasted.
Borgatti's, founded in 1935, was where I purchased some of the best ravioli I ever tasted.
Purchases made during my trip.
Also worthy of mention is Teitel Brothers. The third-generation, family run business traces its humble beginnings to Jacob and Morris Teitel, a pair of Austrian Jewish immigrants who made their way to America by way of Ellis Island. It's been reported that Jacob speak Italian before he mastered English because his neighbors were predominantly Italian. For more than a century, the family has been doing business on Arthur Avenue and customers continue to flock there for Italian gourmet specialty items like imported olive oil, canned tomatoes, aged vinegar and fresh sausage, to name but a few. A must-stop for pastry lovers is Egidio Pastry which dates back to 1912 and is known as the oldest pastry shop in the Bronx. The shop remained in the family until the 1990's when the last daughter (who was in her 90's at the time) sold it to a woman of Italian descent by the name of Carmella Lucciola. "Carmella still uses all the original recipes written by hand on onion skin paper stored in a box in the kitchen. Bakers continue to refer to those recipes," said Oteri.
And no trip to the area is complete without a stop at the Arthur Avenue Retail Market where you'll find Mike's Deli, which earned national attention when Bobby Flay challenged proprietor David Greco to an eggplant Parmesan throw down. To find out who won, you can visit the webpage here. During my visit, I even witnessed a few fireworks while strolling between the stalls. An older woman and a younger female (whom I assumed were family) were engaged in a heated exchange. The younger one stormed off the job while the men just smiled and shook their heads; they knew better then to get involved. Don't ask me how I know. Ahh, nostalgia.
Scenes from Arthur Avenue Retail Market, taken from my perch at the Bronx Beer Hall.
The retail market carries nearly everything you'll need for a splendid repast, from meats, to cheeses, to pasta, fish and more. The Bronx Beer Hall is a relative newcomer that opened in 2013. Located in the heart of the action, it specializes in beer from local breweries and provides the shopper with a chance to take a break, grab a bite and enjoy an adult libation. I unloaded my packages on the bar and savored a glass of Cabernet before heading back out to explore. Restaurants Aplenty Arthur Avenue is no place for those watching their "carb" intake, so save up those calories and consider ditching the diet before visiting. I never experienced the food at the restaurants on Arthur Avenue since my time in the area was limited. Nonetheless, I did manage to snack along the way, tasting a little here and a little there. Having heard much about Michelin-recommended Tra Di Noi (meaning 'between us'), I made it a point to poke my head inside to snap a picture of the old-school, red-checked tablecloth, Italian mainstay.
Tra Di Noi is listed on TripAdvisor as the #1 restaurant in the Bronx.
The intimate trattoria ranks number one on TripAdvisor with its classical Italian cuisine . Chef Marco Coletta, who once cooked for Italian nobility, brings over 50 years of cooking experience to the table. It's definitely on my list of places to try when I return in May.
Walk off those calories
During my exploration, I stumbled on the Bronx Library Center, where I bought a few books and browsed amidst the stacks. I was pleasantly surprised to discover a thriving library in a busy shopping area. Other Bronx destinations worthy of mention include the Bronx Zoo and the New York Botanical Gardens both located in Bronx Park. The Bronx Zoo, is known for being the largest metropolitan zoo in the United States and is among the largest in the world averaging approximately 2.15 million visitors each year. The nearby botanical gardens are recognized as a National Historic Landmark. Dating back to 1891 the destination spans 250 acres and attracts nearly one million visitors per year. Events and exhibitions are listed on their website.
The New York Botanical Garden features an impressive collection of plants, rotating exhibits, educational programs and a host of events according to season. (Photos courtesy of the New York Botanical Garden)
The NYBG features a Holiday Train show, which runs from November 22, 2015 through January 15, 2018
These are but a few of the age-old institutions that make Arthur Avenue what it is today. Have you visited? I'd be interested in knowing about your favorites before I return.
Are you one of those overachievers who has already trimmed the tree, bought and wrapped the gifts, baked the cookies and is spending time scanning Pinterest for more projects to complete before Santa arrives? Me neither, so adding an out-of-town getaway to your list might be piling on. (If you're wondering why my blog posts haven't been as frequent, let's just say I blame the season for the reason.) As an enabler, it's my job to encourage a self-indulgent getaway this time of year. After all, if your nerves are frazzled, it might be what you need to recharge your batteries so you can return home refreshed and ready to tackle any projects that await. Things do seem to get done one way or another, don't they? Have faith and keep moving is my motto.
One special place I like to visit each year is Bethlehem,located in the Lehigh Valley of Pennsylvania. And yes, I'll admit I've written about the regon a few times, but there's so much to do and see in the area that I always seem to find new ground to cover.
Selecting a Place for an Overnight Stay
Since I first set foot in Bethlehem about a decade ago, I immediately became enamored with the historic Hotel Bethlehem, which is particularly striking this time of year, touting dozens of wreaths, Christmas trees and larger-than-life toy soldiers. The hotel, constructed in 1922 at the direction of Bethlehem Steel President Charles M. Schwab, is located within walking distance of shops, galleries, restaurants and boutiques. Luminaries like Thomas Edison (pardon the pun) and Henry Ford were early visitors and the list of celebrities who have visited is rather long. Evidence remains in the form of pictures, which decorate the wall of the first floor Tap Room, so be sure to stroll over and have a look.
A picture taken from the second floor of the Hotel Bethlehem.
Staff sets up for Sunday brunch.
Pictures taken from the second floor of the Hotel Bethlehem.
The Hotel Bethlehem is also known for its fabulous brunch, which has earned a spot in the top 100 brunches list as recognized by the OpenTable Diners' Choice Awards. Every Sunday from 10:30 a.m. to 1:00 p.m., people come from miles around to enjoy the bounteous buffet, which includes a selection of seafood, a carving station, made-to-order waffles, omelets and more.
The hotel also offers fine-dining at "1741 on the Terrace," where CIA graduate Chef Michael Adams demonstrates his culinary talents with dishes like "Osso Bucco," lobster ravioli and New Zealand salmon.
"1741 on the Terrace" features Palladian windows and Moravian tile floors.
Don't leave without checking out the murals in the "Mural Ballroom." Painted by artist George Gray in 1936, the seven murals tell the stories of people and events in the area, from the founding of Bethlehem, to the birth of the iron and steel industry. Ben Franklin is pictured visiting the area to counsel the Moravians on self protection and a painting of Asa Packer recognizes the businessman's humble beginnings as a "Breaker Boy." Packer later controlled the Lehigh Valley Railroad, before founding Lehigh University.
The Liberty bell was removed from Philadelphia to prevent the British from melting it into cannon. The wagon broke down in Bethlehem, as depicted above.
A mural depicting Casimir Pulaski, Father of the American Cavalry, visiting the Marquis de Lafayette in Bethlehem in 1777.
Behind the Hotel Bethlehem is an historic area known as the Colonial Industrial Quarter where restored buildings located along the Monocacy Creek tell a tale of days of yore. Among them are a limestone tannery and waterworks (1792), known as the first municipal water-pumping system in the country. Replica buildings include a springhouse and a blacksmith shop where docents demonstrate and explain the craft. Exploring the area is free and signs along the path provide important historical details.
Located across the street from the Hotel Bethlehem is the oldest, continuously operating bookstore in the world. Established in 1745, the Moravian Book Shop offers a wide range of books and out-of-the-ordinary gifts to suit a variety of tastes. For those interested in gaming and shopping, the Sands Casino Resort is an excellent choice and offers not only comfortable accommodations, but a nice variety of dining options. Seafood lovers will enjoy Emeril's Fish House, with selections like King Crab legs and striped bass, oysters, scallops, crab cakes and a mouthwatering and popular buttermilk fried chicken.
The Sands offers comfortable and spacious accommodations.
Unique lighting fixtures at Emeril's Fish House.
Buttermilk fried chicken at Emeril's.
Another famous chef represented at the Sand's is the talented "Buddy" Valastro. At "Buddy V's" the cake boss offers up food inspired by Valastro family gatherings with dishes like steak pizzaiola, linguine and clams with lobster and a wide-range of desserts ranging from Cannoli to Zeppole.
Take your chances on slots or table games after dinner, or consider heading next door to the Outlet at Sands Bethlehem. There you'll find a retailers like Charming Charlie's, Coach, Lenox, Dressbarn, Christopher Banks, Chicos and Talbot's, to name just a few.
Guests try their luck at the slots at Sands.
The Outlets at the Sands feature a variety of retailers.
Visiting the Hoover-Mason Trestle at the Steel Stacks Not far from the Sands is the Hoover-Mason Trestle, which I visited for the first time this year. The Hoover Mason Trestle was once used as a narrow gauge railroad to transport coke, limestone and iron ore needed to make iron. The railroad carried the materials from the ore yards to the blast furnace. Today people can get up close and personal with the 46-foot tall, 2,000-foot-long trestle via public walkway. As someone who once lived near Steelton, Pennsylvania, I am quite familiar with Bethlehem Steel, which employed many individuals in the area.
Peering down into a building where employees once worked.
Museums Galore Bethlehem has a rich history and, as such, there are no lack of museums. A few include the Apothecary (located behind the Moravian bookstore), the Moravian Museum of Bethlehem, Gemeinhaus, the Sisters' House, Burnside Plantation and the Goundie House, which is especially fun this time of year. Each day from December 5 through December 23, around 5:30 p.m., a town crier calls for everyone to gather round and a child is selected from the crowd to open the door of the house located at 501 Main Street. What's behind the door usually creates a bit of a buzz until the surprise is revealed, be it carolers, bagpipers or quartets who emerge from the house to entertain the crowd and afterwards distribute treats to the wide-eyed children. For the first time this year, I visited the only museum in Pennsylvania to be dedicated to the decorative arts. The Kemerer Museum of Decorative Arts is housed in three, interconnected, mid-1800's homes and features period rooms and galleries containing furnishings that reflect changes in style over the past three centuries. This time of year the museum is decorated for the season.
The Kemerer Museum of Decorative Arts Features Several Christmas trees to celebrate the season.
Celebrating American Excellence at the National Museum of Industrial History A newcomer to the Bethlehem scene is the National Museum of Industrial History (NMIH), which opened its doors in August of 2016. Housed in a 100-year-old former Bethlehem Steel Facility, the NMIH features approximately 100 machines borrowed from the Smithsonian's 1876 collection. The mission? To tell the story of America's industrial achievements through the accomplishments of our workers, innovators and entrepreneurs.
An old mosaic that was discovered in one of the Bethlehem Steel offices.
This Corliss Pumping Engine used by York Water Company kept the city supplied with water during Hurricane Agnes in 1972.
This slide-valve steam engine powered planes, drills, presses, boring mills and lathes.
One of the first steam hammers used in America was crafted in Manchester, England.
This "winder" transferred yarns from skeins to bobbins and was typically operated by younger workers in a mill until the 1920's until child labor laws became more restrictive.
Bobbin boys and girls worked nine hours a day in the silk mills in the early 20th century.
Further Off the Beaten Path
If you have some extra time and would like to explore the surrounding area, consider a stop at Vynecrest Vineyards & Winery. The family-owned business is known as the oldest vineyard in Lehigh County and makes approximately 22,000 gallons of wine per year. Today they offer a total of 20 varieties.
Tasting a few varieties in the lower level of the business.
Upstairs a crowd begins to gather on a Saturday night.
The Glasbern Inn located in Folgelsville, Pennsylvania offers overnight accommodations and a romantic restaurant that is open to the public seven days a week. People come from miles around to dine in the highly regarded restaurant housed in a 19th-century barn that features soaring ceilings, a cozy fireplace and field stone walls. The owners make it their mission to stay as local as possible in procuring their ingredients, many of which are grown on site.
Grass-fed beef tenderloin served at the Glasbern Inn.
After reading about all there is to do, you might understand why I find the Bethlehem area so enchanting during Christmastime and if you're lucky, you might encounter a few carolers strolling the streets in period dress. If you can't find time in your schedule to visit during the Christmas season, there are still plenty of things to do throughout the rest of the year and with a little planning, perhaps you'll have the time to return for next year's Christmas season.
A trip to Sharon, Pennsylvania had been on my list of places to visit for quite some time for no other reason than the fact that the Buhl Mansion Guesthouse and Spa is located there. Other than that, I knew little about the small town located approximately 75 miles northwest of Pittsburgh. As I considered visiting the mansion, I embarked upon a bit of research and learned that the imposing, fortress-like structure is not only listed on the National Register of Historic Places, but is also among America's Top 10 Romantic Inns.What's not to love?
Over the years, I'd forget about it, only to be periodically nudged by a Facebook post here and there. Eventually, I decided to drop a few hints to my husband. He demanded to know more about why we should visit the area and I came up lacking. All I know is that I adore old castle-like structures and witnessing its elegance firsthand would be a lovely anniversary present, so, like the sweetheart that he is, he gave in and we set out to explore the area this past October.
It turns out that the little town of Sharon holds many surprises.
History and Hospitality at the Buhl Mansion
Buhl Mansion (front view)
Buhl Mansion (Greenhouse and grounds)
Buhl Mansion (Back entrance)
When we pulled up to the Buhl Mansion, I was stunned to learn that the B&B is situated in a residential neighborhood. And to think that all this time I was envisioning a rural, out-of-the-way area in some remote countryside. It's difficult to conceive of it any other way when viewing the website, but this turned out to be a good thing due to its proximity to the downtown shopping area.
The Buhl mansion was built in 1891 for the Buhl family that ran Sharon Iron Works. Yale-educated Frank H. Buhl left his home in Detroit in 1887 to help his father run the business. It turns out that Frank had a certain business savvy because just one year later, the company became Mercer County's largest employer. Buhl then went on to found the Buhl Steel Company in 1896, which merged into the National Steel Company three years later. He eventually became known as the "Father of the Industrial Shenango Valley" and shortly before his retirement, the National Steel company merged into the United States Steel Corporation.
Buhl and his wife Julia Forker had no children of their own but were happy to use their considerable fortune to help support the children of their community. A list of their philanthropic and business endeavors hangs on the wall near the dining room of the mansion.
The 2.5-storey residence is done in Richardsonian Romanesque style and made of ashlar sandstone, featuring round arches and several turrets with copper-capped spires. Unfortunately, the home fell into disrepair after years of neglect. The property caught the eye of Jim and Donna Winner, a local couple with a passion for saving historic landmarks. In 1996, they decided to restore the structure to its former splendor and embarked upon a multi-million-dollar renovation. Today the beautifully appointed inn touts 10 well-appointed guestrooms and a full-service spa.
The foyer of Buhl Mansion.
A stained-glass window on the second floor.
Bronze statues in the first-floor sitting area.
First floor sitting area.
Renoir's "Spring Bouquet."
Photo taken from the second floor.
First course at breakfast.
Mike relaxes in a comfy, over-sized chair in the breakfast room.
After settling in, we ventured out to explore Sharon. We began by visiting a nearby candy shop, intrigued by its mid-century modern flair.
Daffin's Candies was established in 1903.
I learned that Daffin's candies is a local favorite and that the original family store opened in 1903 in Woodsfield, Ohio. Today's 20,000 square-foot store in Sharon now serves as their flagship location. Daffin's makes more than one million pounds of chocolate annually and sells approximately 600 different candy creations, including their Caramel Pecanettes, which are followed by the Melt-A-Ways and the Cordial Cherries in popularity.
Daffin's in Sharon is also known for its "Chocolate Kingdom," which includes a 400-pound turtle, a 125-pound chocolate reindeer and a 75-pound chocolate frog. The store carries a selection of cards and unique gifts, as well.
Daffin's Chocolate Kingdom
Daffin's is within walking distance of the Buhl Mansion, but if you care to explore downtown, it's but a two-minute drive away. There you'll find a variety of stores selling everything from shoes, to jewelry, home goods, furniture and apparel.
The town of Sharon is known for proudly displaying its patriotism all year round and flags are seemingly everywhere. The one in the above picture welcomes visitors to the area.
A Monument to Iwo Jima.
Our first retail stop was driven by curiosity. Reyer's Shoe Store purports to be "America's largest shoe store." I can't verify that claim, but I can attest to the fact that they have a nice selection of shoes in many different styles and sizes. They also feature clothing, costume jewelry and accessories as well. The real surprise, however, was when I learned that employees are on standby to help not only with selections, but sizes as well. They actually measure customers' feet, just like in the "old days."
The sales floor at Reyer's Shoe Store
That "mid-century" theme was repeated throughout the town as we made our way through the stores and streets of downtown Sharon.
"It's a Wonderful World" sculpture was made possible by a partnership with artist Alexandra Knight, the city of Sharon and the local school district.
I especially enjoyed browsing among the clothing at "The Winner," which reminded me of the department stores of yore where the focus on service was paramount. The 75,000 square foot store features ladies fashions and accessories.I read that Jim and his wife Donna designed it so that it would be an affordable women's wear outlet, but with a more upscale atmosphere like that of a Nordstrom, or Saks. It isn't often that you see a piano and chandeliers in a department store these days. If you visit, be sure to take the elevator to floors two and three to view even more merchandise. Plenty of saleswomen will greet you as you browse. I took advantage of their keen eye for a bit of feedback on my would-be purchases.
The Winner department store.
The elegant interior modeled after Nordstrom and Saks.
Of course I couldn't leave without buying something. I ended up with this snazzy coat and the icing on the cake was that "The Winner" offers veterans a 20 percent discount, so my husband got a break on the price. Jim Winner was a proud veteran, which leads me to another fun fact. He was also the inventor of the anti-theft device known as "The Club," with sales that exceed 30 million units. Winner came up with the idea after his own car was stolen. Like I've said before, Sharon is full of surprises.
A Samuel Dong coat I purchased at "The Winner."
Speaking of surprises, never before have I seen a men's lounge in a department store. Is this another nod to a bygone era? Was this a standard feature in department stores of the past? Maybe someone out there can enlighten me because I really have no idea. Nonetheless, I think every store should have one.
A men's waiting room, complete with television and newspapers so women can get their shop on unimpeded.
A Trip Back in Time to the 1800's
The front of Tara--A Country Inn
Tara--view from the side
Another highlight of our trip to Sharon was a visit to Tara-A Country Inn, in nearby Clark, Pennsylvania. The Winners called it "a deal of a lifetime" when they purchased the 1854 property at auction. After two years of extensive renovations, the inn opened to the public in 1986. Today it features 27 guest rooms and several restaurants, including "Stonewall's Tavern" where we enjoyed a cozy dinner.
Stonewall's Tavern won a "Wine Spectator Award" for having one of the most outstanding restaurant wine lists in the world.
Stonewall's Tavern is located on Tara's lower level.
Stonewall's Tavern bar
Antiques and "Gone with the Wind" memorabilia were tucked into every nook and cranny, which made the Inn a great place to explore and best of all, no one seemed to mind as I snapped picture after picture.
One of the many antiques at Tara.
A long hallways leading to accommodations.
Sitting areas at Tara.
In keeping (Innkeeping?) with the theme of "Tara," rooms are given names reminiscent of the classic movie like "Rhett's Room,""Belle's Boudoir", "General Robert E. Lee's Room" and so forth. I noticed that some were open and unoccupied, so I took the opportunity to snap a few shots.
I have to say that Sharon, Pennsylvania might not be the richest area in terms of money, but it more than makes up for that with its quaint charm. And along the way I learned a little more about the history of the area and a couple by the name of Jim and Donna Winner. Thanks to the invention of the "Club," they were able to save historic landmarks and put their unique spin on them while giving back to their community, not unlike philanthropist and businessman Frank H. Buhl, who would no doubt be proud.
Saturdays are made for exploring and I try to do that as much as I can, schedule and weather permitting. Luckily, I live within a two-hour drive of many interesting destinations, so there are still some "new-to-me" areas I've yet to visit that require relatively little time spent on the road traveling.
Shepherdstown made its way onto my radar when I was flipping through television channels and was intrigued by a show titled, "The Ghosts of Shepherdstown." It occurred to me that I'd never been to that particular area of West Virginia, so my husband and I executed a plan to find out what the buzz was all about.
One thing I especially dislike about winter is that many destinations are closed for the season, so options are somewhat limited. For that reason, we planned a short, overnight stay, with the intention of returning at a later date when more attractions (like the Historic Shepherdstown and Museum) are open.
As we browsed nearby accommodations, we learned about a Bed and Breakfast in nearby Sharpsburg, MD and as luck would have it, we were able to secure a last-minute reservation. The Jacob Rohrbach Inn dates back to the year 1804 and has a rich history. You can read more about the structure and those who once called it home by visiting the website here
Our room at the Jacob Rohrbach Inn.
When speaking with the proprietors, we broached the subject of the town's paranormal reputation, but it was soon obvious that they really weren't all that interested, choosing instead to focus on the history of the area. After all, the Battle of Antietam, also known as the Battle of Sharpsburg, took place only a mile or two away, with some fighting occurring in the town itself. The historic confrontation became known as the bloodiest, single-day battle in American history, with a combined tally of 22,717 dead, wounded, or missing.
History buffs have been known to spend many hours at the nearby battlefield. Grounds are open for touring from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. seven days a week, year round. The National Park Service provides helpful information on planning a visit via their website. Details are available here.
Dining at the Bavarian Inn A light snow began to fall as we made our way to the alpine-style Bavarian Inn's Hunt Room for lunch. The cozy restaurant, which features roaring fireplaces and antlered chandeliers, was an ideal respite from the frigid weather.
Perched on a scenic bluff overlooking the Potomac River, the AAA Four-Diamond property is comprised of 72 rooms situated on 11 acres. Additional options include casual dining in the Rathskeller, or more formal dining in the Potomac Room overlooking the grounds.
The grounds at the Bavarian Inn.
Dining at the Hunt Room at The Bavarian Inn.
The Bavarian Inn's Hunt Room decorated for Christmas
Stepping Back in Time at O'Hurleys General Store After lunch, we decided to drop by the Shepherdstown Visitor's Center on Princess Street to pick up a few brochures. While there, an ambassador recommended a trip to O'Hurley's General Store. When we pulled up to the inauspicious building, we couldn't help but wonder what we had gotten ourselves into, but it turned out to be a very charming experience. A wood-burning stove keeps the place warm and cozy and a big, furry feline oversees operations.
Visitors can choose from a array of merchandise, from books, to tools, to jams, jellies, hats and hardware, some of which I understand dates back to the early 1900s. You can visit their website to see all they offer here, but you may end up scratching your head like I did when you see coffins among the items listed. I'll admit I didn't spot any of those while touring the rooms full of merchandise, but then again maybe I overlooked them since I'm not quite old enough to be in the market for one just yet. Nonetheless, I'll keep the place in mind for later consideration. Maybe I'll get a good deal.
Come and get yer coffins here at O'Hurley's General Store.
The owner of O'Hurley's poses for a photo.
Goods sold at O'Hurley's
O'Hurley's General Store decorated for the Christmas season.
This sign spoke to me--perhaps I was possessed.
The kindly old owner posed for a picture for me and handed me a brochure. "That's me, in the same place, just 30 years earlier," he said, with a chuckle. A Stroll through Downtown Shepherdstown After our visit to the General Store, we headed to the heart of downtown where several blocks of shops offered a variety of merchandise from jewelry, to antiques, wine, crafts and clothing.
Four Seasons Books is a family owned bookstore dating back to 1991.
A helpful employee at Grapes and Grain Gourmet assisted us with a wine purchase.
Creative Procrastinations claims to have "a little of everything."
Some of the downtown structures are listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Of all the buildings located downtown, I believe the one below was my favorite. Built in the Beaux Arts style, it was constructed in 1906 and once served as a bank. I was disappointed to see that the restaurant that operated there recently went out of business; hopefully someone with a vision will fall in love with it and purchase it soon.
The Yellow Brick Bank Building.
This following building is listed as belonging to actress Mary Tyler Moore, who is known for purchasing old structures that once belonged to her family. When we visited Winchester, we learned that she bought Stonewall Jackson's headquarters, because it once served as her ancestral home.
The George Tyler Moore Center for the Study of the Civil War, Shepherd University.
Located on the corner of NE German and King Streets is a Greek Revival structure erected in 1859 by Rezin Davis Shepherd. Its initial purpose was to serve as a town hall. After the Civil War it operated as a county courthouse and by 1872 it became part of a teacher's college known as "Shepherd University."
Another stop on the walking tour is the Entler Hotel and Shepherdstown Museum located at the Northwest corner of German and Princess Streets. The structure operated as a hotel in 1809 and in later years served as a dormitory for students, WWII Navy and Air Force cadets and college faculty. Today it operates as a museum from April through October.
The Entler Hotel is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
During our walk, we took a break to indulge in a libation at Bistro 112. The building was originally constructed in the 1830's as a haberdashery and cigar shop with the residence upstairs. Today the charming boite attracts customers from miles around for its outstanding French cuisine.
Bistro 112 is located at 112 W. German Street in Shepherdstown
Inside Bistro 112
Further down the road is another popular restaurant known as "The Press Room." The Press Room was once the base of operations for The Independent, anewspaper which operated from the 1900s to the 1970s. Today it operates as an eatery, offering a selection of soups, salads, grilled seafood, meats and pasta.
The Press Room
Next door to The Press Room is the Opera House. The current structure was built in 1909, replacing a 100-year-old building. Moving pictures were shown here through 1956. Approximately 35 years later, after extensive renovations, it reopened as a movie theater. These days it serves as a venue for film and live music.
Another building of note on the walking tour is the old "poorhouse" which tended to the elderly and poverty stricken. Dating back to 1805, the poorhouse started out as a log cabin before being enlarged and upgraded with wooden siding. Iron rings in the attic rafters cause some to speculate that residents may have been restrained.
"The Poorhouse" where kids of a certain vintage were accused of "putting" their parents.
These are just a few highlights along the Shepherdstown Walking Tour. If you're interested in taking the self-guided tour yourself, you can download a more comprehensive listing of all the historic structures here.
Dinner at an Old Inn
For dinner, we headed to Old South Mountain Inn in nearby Boonsboro. People come from miles around to visit the historic restaurant. On the night we visited, the extremely large parking lot was packed, making finding a spot rather difficult. Thankfully, there were only a few people waiting in line inside and we were seated in just a few minutes.
The exterior of the popular Old South Mountain Inn
Interior of the Old South Mountain Inn
Bar area of the Old South Mountain Inn where patrons can wait for their table while enjoying a libation.
Located atop historic Turner's Gap, the Old South Mountain Inn is said to date back to 1732. Over the years, the Inn was visited by Henry Clay, Daniel Webster and several presidents. Its long history is detailed on the website here.
Antique trunk spotted at Market Place Antiques in Boonsboro.
On the way home, we stopped at Market Place Antiques in Boonsboro where I spotted this cool, old trunk. What made it unique is the hinged lid, with a picture of whom I assume may once have been the owner. Unfortunately, my husband talked me out of spending the $100 they were asking for it. Take note the bonnet and heels were part of the deal--problem was, he wasn't buying. I suppose if I bought all of the old trunks I've been attracted to over the years, we'd have a hoarding problem, so I let it go. (Note: I have yet to buy a trunk.)
Trunk aside, the shop was a great place to browse, with scores of vendors under one roof and was a nice way to end our visit to the historic area.
And just in case your wondering, no, I didn't experience any paranormal activity. Oh well, there's always next time.
I'm a fan of old taverns and, as such, the Jean Bonnet Tavern located in Bedford, Pennsylvania has held a bit of an allure for me, but it just never seemed convenient to make a special trip there until recently when we decided to visit Omni Bedford Springs resort (more to come on that in a future blog post.)
Many insist that the old tavern is haunted. For me that adds to its appeal, but as usual, I can't attest to it firsthand. I can, however, provide this link to an interesting video shot by local paranormal investigators.
A Rich History
The exact age of the Jean Bonnet hasn't been quite pinned down. The earliest record on the property is a title transfer of 690 acres from the William Penn family to a land speculator by the name of Hans Ireland, who then transferred it to Indian trader Robert Callender in 1762. Callender was a commissary for troop supplies and later a scout for George Washington. Many of the features you'll see today like the tavern's stone walls, its impressive fireplaces and the chestnut beams were constructed while Callendar owned the property.
The structure, which served as a respite for settlers who made their way west in wooden wagons, is located along the Lincoln Highway and Route 31. Early on, it served as an French fort and trading post. Old accounts by trappers and traders refer to the building as being on the way to the Old Shawnese Cabins, today known as Shawnee State Park. General John Forbes was said to have stopped at the tavern to await reinforcements before continuing westward in his quest to take Fort Duquesne from the French.
In 1779, Jean (John) Bonnet and his wife purchased the property and shortly thereafter was issued a license to keep a Public House.
One of the most notable developments after the Revolutionary War was the imposition of a federal excise tax on whiskey, which enraged farmers. The "whiskey tax" was the first tax imposed on a domestic product in the United States and was part of Hamilton's plan to help pay down the national debt caused by Revolutionary War expenditures. The farmers, who would distill their surplus grain and corn into whiskey and sometimes use it in trade instead of money, met in the Jean Bonnet Tavern and raised a "liberty pole," which was a common form of protest during colonial days.
An example of a "liberty pole" posted on the John Bonnet website from a Wikipedia image. Painting by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe.
George Washington lead a group of militiamen to help quell the rebellion and many of his troops camped at the John Bonnet on their way to Pittsburgh in 1794.
Over the years, the property changed hands many times and was also used as a private residence.
Dining at the Jean Bonnet
I suggest making reservations to dine at the Jean Bonnet Tavern. When we arrived during a weekday, the place was doing a brisk business, but I did manage to snap a few pictures surreptitiously, while trying not to disturb anyone.
The front seating room of the Jean Bonnet Tavern.
One of the few seats that weren't yet taken when we visited.
We found the low-lit atmosphere warm and inviting and if you've ever visited The Dobbin House in Gettysburg, it was reminiscent of the Springhouse Tavern. Menu items included a variety of soups, sandwiches and salads, with more substantial dinner offerings. You can view a menu here.
Mike perusing the lunch menu on Valentine's Day 2018.
One of the tavern's many fireplaces.
Another shot of a fireplace in the dining area.
After we finished our lunch, I ventured upstairs to have a peek and was surprised to see another seating area and a rather large bar. Once again, I tried to be a bit sneaky while snapping a few pics, but this time I didn't quite succeed. As you can tell by the faces of the patrons in the pictures, they weren't very kindly disposed towards me, so the shot could be clearer, but I just found myself wanting to move on. Perhaps they were fugitives, or worse, they may have preferred to protect their identity. One item of note, however, is the impressive fireplace behind their glares.
Large bar upstairs where yet another fireplace is a focal point.
Unfortunately I didn't have the opportunity to see any of the Inn rooms, but you can have a looky look by clicking on this link here.
Stairs behind the bar lead to the rooms upstairs.
On the way out, we stopped inside The Cabin Shop, which sold a selection of crafts made by local artisans, including candles, jewelry, accessories and home decor.
The Cabin Shop on the grounds of the Jean Bonnet Tavern features a variety of merchandise ideal for gift giving.
It might have been a cold, cloudy day when we visited the Jean Bonnet, but the atmosphere was both warm and welcoming and evidently others feel the same. TripAdvisorhas awarded the Tavern a Certificate of Excellence Award for its hospitality. If you'd like to consider visiting, the tavern is open seven days a week from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Sunday through Thursday and from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. on Friday and Saturday.
The older I get, the more I enjoy history, which is not all that uncommon from what I am learning. I have to admit that I am rather late to the party when it comes to visiting the many interesting and unique properties that are listed on the National Register of Historic Places. To date, I haven't made much of a dent in that list since since Pennsylvania alone is home to more than 3,000 such structures. Nevertheless however, I am always excited to set eyes on a property that makes it on the list. Learning the backstory from those who carefully present a case for preservation is intriguing as well.
I visited the Omni Bedford Springs for the first time this Valentine's Day. Until then, I knew little about the property and its rich history, but soon learned more thanks to a knowledgeable guide who conducts group tours throughout the week.
Omni Bedford Springs, view from the bridge.
Located in the Allegheny Mountains of south Pennsylvania, the Omni Bedford Springs is home to eight mineral springs which, for centuries, were used by Native Americans for drinking and bathing. The water, with its rich mineral content, was said to contain curative properties, which eventually caught the attention of a local doctor by the name of John Anderson. In 1796, Anderson purchased the 2,200-acre property on which the resort now stands. Anderson began building bathing facilities for his patients and offered them custom prescriptions based on their individual health issues, while housing them in tents during their stay.
As "taking the waters" grew in popularity, Anderson decided it was time to erect a structure to accommodate visitors. Aaron Burr, with grandson in tow, were among the first notable guests of the Bedford Springs Hotel. Many others would follow.
In 1816, Attorney James Buchanan visited the Springs for the first time, followed by Thomas Jefferson, who suffered from acute rheumatism. By 1842, the resort had earned luxury status. Frequent guests included Presidents Andrew Jackson, William Henry Harrison, James K. Polk and Zachary Taylor. Other dignitaries included Daniel Webster, Henry Clay and John C. Calhoun. As the hotel gained a reputation as a retreat for the elite, it attracted top businessmen and industrialists, including such luminaries as Henry Ford and John Wanamaker, who maintained a suite on the first floor. Buchanan famously used the resort as his "Summer White House" from 1857-1861 and received the first transatlantic cable from England's Queen Victoria while staying at the Bedford Springs Hotel in the summer of 1858.
The Bedford Springs Hotel also laid claim to other "firsts," including one of the first golf courses. Designed by Spencer Oldham in 1895, the course at Bedford Springs is one of the oldest in the United States. In 1905, the resort also installed the first spring-fed, Olympic-sized indoor pool in the nation.
The hotel's heyday lasted approximately two decades--from 1900 through 1920. During the 1920s, its popularity began to wane as the country suffered the economic impact of The Great Depression, followed by World War II. In the mid-1940s, the hotel experienced an uptick in business thanks to the construction of the Pennsylvania Turnpike and the subsequent popularity of hotel tourism, which was fortuitously followed by a post-war economic stimulus.
In 1984, the hotel was added to the National Register of Historic Places as one of the best remaining examples of "Springs Resort Architecture." Two years later the property ended what was a good run in the hospitality industry. This, of course, dismayed the citizens of Bedford, who held out little hope that their crown jewel would ever return. It wasn't until 2004 that the property would undergo a rebirth due to the efforts of a development company that specialized in historic renovation. The three-year, $120 million project was completed in 2007 and was purchased by Omni Hotels and Resorts in 2009. Today it stands as a mixture of old and new. To wit, a rare, 39-star United States flag dates back to 1865 and hangs behind the modern front desk. Historians may question the date so it's important to note that although only 36 states were in existence at the time, the creator, in a spate of optimism, added an additional three, making the acquisition a rare, one-of-a-kind specimen.
The lobby of the Omni Bedford Springs.
Plenty of Activities
Packing a bathing suit for a dip in the heated indoor pool is a must and guests who gaze upwards will see an elevated opera box where musicians once serenaded swimmers back in the days of yore.
Those hankering for a little pampering will find plenty of opportunities at the 30,000 square foot "Springs Eternal Spa." The spa at the Omni is just one of just a few in the country to use natural spring water for treatments. The "menu" includes an array of services ranging from body scrubs, manicures, pedicures, massages, facials and even reiki. The popular destination is usually booked for weeks on end, so visitors are encouraged to call ahead. Staff recommends six-to-eight-week's advance notification.
Products solds at the "Hope Springs Eternal" spa.
For guests who enjoy the great outdoors, Omni offers a variety of activities like fly fishing, trap shooting, off-road vehicle tours, hiking trails, lawn games, horseback riding, tennis and segway tours beginning on April 1.
A Focus on Dining The Omni Bedford Springs is known for its quality culinary program and many take advantage of the opportunity to watch chef demonstrations held at 11 a.m. and 3 p.m. on Friday and Saturday.
During our stay, we enjoyed a delicious dinner of sea bass and steak in the formal Crystal Room where chandeliers are a focal point and pictures of guests from a bygone era adorn the walls.
The Crystal Room
Sea bass over wild rice served in the Crystal Room.
Steak with carrots over polenta and pesto served in the Crystal Room.
A lovely Valentine's Day dessert served with a rum "injection."
One afternoon we made it a point to grab a drink at the Frontier Tavern and settle into the oversized comfy chairs to enjoy the view overlooking the front of the property. Directly outside is a fire pit that is pulled into commission during warm summer evenings for toasting s'mores.
Additional dining is available in the 1796 room named for the year when Dr. John Anderson purchased the property. Known for its USDA 21-day-aged prime beef and world-class wine list, the 1796 Room is a less formal alternative to the Crystal Room known for its historic atmosphere in an older part of the building.
An antique stove is on display at the front of the Frontier Tavern.
An antique tapestry hangs on the walls of the 1796 room.
Our tour guide describing the 1796 room as one of the oldest rooms on the property.
Shops line the hall of the first floor.
An array of merchandise ranging from gifts, to books, logo items, clothing and accessories can be found in the shops that line the first floor. And since the Omni Bedford Springs is home to one of the top 100 golf courses in the nation, it stands to reason that they'd offer golfers the opportunity to choose from a variety of accessories and attire at the onsite pro shop. According to the tour guide, panes of glass were salvaged from the original property, so be sure to linger a bit in the "Duke of Bedford" library, where, if you look closely, you'll see names etched into the windows by various guests over the years. Called "the truing of the ring," newly married visitors would etch their names into the glass to test the authenticity of their diamond rings.
Visiting the Springs
Crossing the bridge to the springs.
View from the Bridge.
The Iron Springs and Wedding Grotto.
Of the eight springs on the property, three are capped: the Sweet Spring, the Sulphur Spring and the Crystal Spring. The Sweet Spring was used by the early hotel for cooking and washing and is marked by a lion's head sculpture. The Sulphur Spring, formerly known as the Yellow Spring, was used to treat moderate bleeding, constipation and chronic diseases. The Crystal Spring, located south of the resort, was once compared to the "Carlsbad of Europe." Part of a mammoth was discovered nearby during an excavation.
Non-capped springs include the Magnesia Spring, the Limestone Spring, the Black Spring, the Iron Spring and the Eternal Spring.
The Magnesia Spring, located behind the wedding grotto, was demonstrated to have many curative properties and was used to treat liver disease, malaria and stomach and kidney disease.
The Black Spring is said to contain the most potable water and is responsible for the irrigation of the golf course.
The effervescent Iron Spring contains iron and common salts and was used for blood and bone disorders.
The Eternal Spring was discovered beneath the hotel during the most recent renovation. It feeds the indoor pool and the on-site spa. Consult your concierge for directions to these natural wonders.
One courtesy that the Omni generously offers non-guests is the opportunity to explore the springs on the property. Guests are also encouraged to take advantage of any scheduled tours and are welcome to visit the restaurants on site as well.
After our stay at the Omni, we decided to explore Bedford's quaint downtown. One of our stops was at Bedford Candies. The small business located at 132 East Pitt Street has been making handmade, hand-dipped chocolates since 1929. The bright and cheery store was operated by the Sotirokos family for three generations before employee Tammy Wiley assumed ownership. She continues the daily tradition of making products onsite using old family recipes.
Bedford Candies was founded in 1929.
Bedford Candies sales floor.
Another Bedford shop worthy of a visit is Founder's Crossing Artisan and Antique Merchant located on the corner of Juliana Street. The historic building was built in the 1890s in the Italianate style, originally serving as Oppenheimer's Clothing Store. Later it became home to a G. C. Murphy's--as evidenced by the stoop leading to the front entrance. Inside, you'll find an array of merchandise, from gifts, to home decor, crafts, antiques and collectibles. If you have some time to spare, you can easily wile away an hour inspecting all the unique items for sale.
Founder's Crossing Artisan and Antique Merchant--look closely at the steps and you'll see evidence of the old G.C. Murphy's.
Founder's Crossing offers two floors of crafts, antiques and sundries.
This shotgun shell flag gave me a chuckle.
G.C. Murphy's Lunch Counter.
I would have loved to have taken the free guided walking tour of Bedford, but it was too early in the year when we visited. Tours last 90 minutes and are conducted every Friday at 3:30 p.m.. starting in June.
A mural of a young George Washington
As we poked around the town, I snapped a picture of this attractive house and later learned that it was owned by Dr. John Anderson--the individual mentioned earlier who was responsible for founding the resort in Bedford Springs. Built in 1815, it is characteristic of the Federalist style. Federalist homes often featured American symbols and Dr. Anderson's house was no exception. If you look closely at the front door, you'll get a glimpse of American eagle partially obscured by the wrought iron railing.
The Anderson House
Before we left the area, we ducked into another Anderson building. The Golden Eagle Inn was built in 1794 and was known as The Anderson Mansion. It is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and is known as one of the oldest buildings downtown.We enjoyed a wonderful lunch at the downstairs pub before proceeding home. In retrospect, I wish I had ventured upstairs to take a few shots of the interior of the old hotel. Unfortunately all I can share here is a not-so-stellar picture of the outside and the downstairs pub, but if you follow the link, you can get a little better idea of what lies beyond.
The front of the Golden Eagle Inn, once known as the Anderson Mansion.
We enjoyed a delicious lunch of Korean chicken and a Reuben at the pub downstairs.
When we wrapped up our short visit, I was fairly confident that we had seen much of what Bedford had to offer, although I wouldn't mind returning to the interior of the Golden Eagle Inn and taking the walking tour I mentioned. If you're looking for a unique way to spend a long weekend, Bedford offers much to explore.