It's Not That Far » Great places to see and things to do near Eastern Pennsylvania Great places to see and things to do near Eastern Pennsylvania Thu, 13 Aug 2015 17:44:19 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Hoover-Mason Trestle Lets Visitors “Steel” A Glance At Industrial History Thu, 13 Aug 2015 01:41:41 +0000 For more than a century the blast furnaces of Bethlehem Steel have loomed over the south side of the company’s hometown, towering icons to the Industrial Age and one of the toughest, most dangerous ways to make a living ever conceived by man.

From a distance, they are inspiring.

Up close, they are impressive.

Standing just yards away on a steel-grate walkway 45 feet in the air, they are downright awesome.

The trestle puts visitors just yards away from the towering furnaces.

The trestle puts visitors just yards away from the towering furnaces.

That’s the point of the Hoover-Mason Trestle – a 2,000-foot long walkway that gives visitors a view of these massive artifacts previously seen only by the men and women who risked their lives working on them, day in and day out, 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year, for almost 100 years.

Completed this spring and opened at the end of June, the $15 million trestle – built by the Bethlehem Redevelopment Authority and named for the engineering firm that designed the original railway that delivered iron ore, coke and other materials to the furnaces – stretches a third of a mile across what is now the home to Musikfest’s parent organization, ArtsQuest, and WLVT-39, the Lehigh Valley’s Public Broadcasting System television studios.

Dotted with small gardens reminiscent of New York’s High Line Park and the remnants of the once-mighty Steel, the walkway features plaques that describe both the steel-making process and the context of what it meant to work on the furnaces. Abandoned rail cars still sit on the original rail trestle, silent testament to the magnitude of the tasks, and visitors can peer into long-vacant buildings, such as the Blower House with its enormous generators, and Machine Shop #2, once the longest industrial building in the world.

The five remaining blast furnaces were the heart of the Bethlehem Steel’s home plant that at one point sprawled over almost 1,800 acres along the Lehigh River and employed more than 35,000 people. Bethlehem Steel and its iconic “I-beam” were fundamental components of American construction throughout the 20th Century, contributing to the durability of such notable landmarks as the Chrysler Building, Hoover Dam and Golden Gate Bridge.

But standing on the trestle as the furnaces rise another 15 stories (a total of 200 feet) above you, it is breath-taking to imagine the exploits of the men – and they were mostly men – who had to traverse the network of catwalks, ladders and other obstacles that entwine the furnaces that operated continuously in all weather and had to be kept running, whatever the costs.

Visitors like Donna Hosler and Bud Charlton of Oxford, Chester County, stand in quiet wonder as they look up and up and up.

The five blast furnaces tower 200 feet above the ground.

The five blast furnaces tower 200 feet above the ground.

“As a volunteer firefighter for 25 years, I am astounded by the efforts made by those steelworkers,” said Charlton, who works for Herr’s Foods. “The Trestle is an inspiring memorial to those who made a living, and sometimes died to support an industry that helped to make America a super power. I hope future generations recognize the sacrifices made by those who went before them. “

Hosler, an Oxford native who spent much of her adult life in Bethlehem, praised the visionaries who created the trestle and are breathing new life into the Steel properties.

“They’ve turned an abandoned brown-field into an exciting venue for entertainment,” said Hosler, who now works as the Main Street manager in Oxford. “We were at the Levitt Pavilion to see a show and decided to make the climb to see what was happening above the stage. We were rewarded with an incredible view of the Steel Stacks area and an inspiring look at the remains of Bethlehem Steel. The park-like atmosphere, with small gardens and red lights shining on the stacks will make you want to linger.”

Visitors to the Hoover-Mason Trestle can enjoy Musikfest through Aug. 16.

Visitors to the Hoover-Mason Trestle can enjoy Musikfest through Aug. 16.

If You Go: The Hoover Mason Trestle is located at SteelStacks, 711 First St., Bethlehem. It is open from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Sunday to Wednesday and 8 a.m. to 9 p.m Thursday to Saturday. Admission is free. Click here to learn more.

What To Know: There are three points of entry/exit: Stairs at each end of the walkway and in the middle, and an elevator for accessibility. Parking is available at SteelStacks or the Sands Casino lot at the south end of the trestle. The Trestle may be closed for safety reasons during inclement weather.

Fact: More than 500 workers were killed at Bethlehem Steel between 1900 and 1940 when the company finally accepted organized labor and future contracts provided for safer working conditions and shorter hours. The furnaces, which date to 1903, finally went quiet on Nov. 18, 1995.

Mack Teams With Antique Truck Club For Great Dad’s Weekend Thu, 14 Jun 2012 17:34:13 +0000 Father’s Day weekend will be a great time for motorheads. The Mack Museum is teaming up with the 2012 Antique Truck Show at Macungie Memorial Park and the Mack plant in Macungie to offer a triple play for visitors.

The museum will be open Friday and Saturday this weekend and shuttle buses will run back-and-forth from the park to the museum and the Mack Macungie Assembly Plant where self-guided tours are available on Saturday. Visitors can board the buses on Walnut Street near the park

Buses will run from 10 a.m. to 3:30 p.m.

“The Macungie Assembly Plant tour is a self guided tour; it is a quite long walk,” says museum Curator Don Schumaker.  “To tour the Assembly Plant, you must take the shuttle from the Truck Show. No public parking is available.”

The Mack Museum is located at the Mack Customer Center at 2402 Lehigh Parkway South, Allentown, PA 18103.  Public parking is available at the Customer Center if you choose to drive there.  To get to the Customer Center, take Rt. 100 north from the Show to I-78 East.  Follow I-78 East to Exit 57 (Lehigh St.).  Turn left on Lehigh.  At the fourth traffic light, turn left on Vultee St.  Follow Vultee for several hundred yards to Grammes Rd.  Turn right on Grammes and follow the signs to the Mack Customer Center and Museum.  If you use a GPS to find the Museum, use 11 Grammes Rd., Allentown, PA 18103 as the address; keep following the signs when you get there.

There is no admission charge for the Macungie Assembly Plant or the Mack Customer Center and Museum.

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Motoring In To The Mack Museum Thu, 14 Jun 2012 15:13:45 +0000 You’d think that a building big enough to hold a couple dozen Mack trucks would be easy to find. Uh-uh. The Mack Trucks Museum is hidden away on the back side of Allentown’s Queen City Airport, nestled on a hilltop overlooking the scenic Lehigh Parkway.

There’s a reason for the subterfuge that makes finding this gem a little like participating in a road rally where you have to find and follow clues to reach the prize – it used to be the Test Center and Track where Mack developed their new models and put them through a series of real-life situations to ensure that the customer was getting a product that had been road-tested.

Vintage Mack

This vintage Mack Truck from the early days of the 20th Century greets visitors in the Heritage Center.

Today it also serves as the Customer Center, where potential buyers are awed not only by the massive Macks on display but by the history of a company that is as tied to Allentown as A-Treat soda and the old Hess’s Department Store.

Open only three days a week, the museum saw more than 5,000 visitors last year. It consists of three separate wings, the Heritage Center, the Mack Museum itself, and the Product Showroom.

The Heritage Center highlights the history of the company and explains the origins of the iconic bulldog hood ornament, along with displays that include the 1900 Mack Touring Bus with wooden wheels, solid rubber tires and a chain drive that was used to take tourists around cities such as New Orleans and Chicago at speeds of up to 15 mph. Really.

The timeline along the back wall explains how four of five brothers from Scranton started their motor-vehicle manufacturing in New York City before Joseph told Gus and Jack about a great building in Allentown that would suit their growing needs. In a nod to Mack’s penchant for preservation, the room includes the grandfather clock and safe from Jack Mack’s office.

“It’s kind of amazing for the age of the company, how much was kept and passed along,” said tour guide Don Seifert, a 34-year Mack veteran who was laid off when Volvo moved the corporate headquarters to Greensboro, N.C.

Seifert explains that the bulldog ornament was developed in tribute to British soldiers in World War I, who came to depend on the indomitable nature of their Mack AB trucks – with their unusual pointed hoods created by putting the radiator behind the engine — so much on the front lines that they compared them to the classic British pets. The bulldog became an official ornament in 1942.

The Production Showroom is actually a customer display center, featuring the various modern Mack lines such as the over-the-road Titan tractor and heavy-duty construction Pinnacle dump truck. But it holds a couple of neat surprises, like the original Megatron from the Transformers movies.

Once you get to the actual museum, make sure to visit the enormous, two-story Sound Room, which includes about a dozen classic Macks from decades past, such as a 1958 fire truck and a 1963 delivery truck. All are on-loan from private owners and members of the Antique Truck Club of America.

Sound Room

The Sound Room, or Acoustics Room, is a must-see for visitors.

The sound room was a hit with Alex Lingle, a 15-year-old home school student touring the museum with his family. “It’s really cool,” he said. “I really liked the Showroom. They had some neat trucks in there.”

His brother, Jared, 12, was thrilled by the countless exhibits of toy trucks in showcases in the museum wing but also enjoyed seeing Megatron and learning about how Mack works with the movie industry.

“It was impressive,” said their mother, Michelle Lingle. “As a woman, I recommend going. The history is really impressive and the showroom was something else.”

If You Go: The Mack Museum is only open Monday, Wednesday and Friday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Admission is free, but all tours are guided. Parking is available. For tour information, call 610-351-8999.

What To Know: The Mack Museum and America On Wheels in Allentown make a great double-header for motorheads and families.

Fact: The Mack company began in 1893 when Jack and Gus Mack bought a carriage buildier in Brooklyn. They were later joined by brothers Willie and Joe. By 1912, all four of the Mack brothers had sold their interest in the company, which retains their family name a century later.

Update: The Mack Museum and Mack Macungie Assembly Plant will be open for tours on Saturday, June 16. Click here for more information.

Museum Of Indian Culture, Allentown Fish Hatchery Make For a Great Fall Outing Tue, 04 Oct 2011 18:17:52 +0000 The Museum of Indian Culture celebrates authentic Native American crafts.

The Museum of Indian Culture celebrates authentic Native American crafts.

There’s an old joke that holds that when Squanto saw the Mayflower drop anchor off Plymouth Rock, his first reaction was “There goes the neighborhood.” I’ve never believed that Native Americans lived in peace with each other before the white man arrived, and we destroyed a paradise. There is ample evidence that the original tribes had their share of problems and wars. We just brought better weapons.

But there is also ample evidence that they had an extensive civilization that matched anything the Europeans brought to the North American continent. They had their own culture, traditions, histories and a way of looking at the earth than the newcomers almost destroyed, and they were here a very long time  In fact, jasper mines have been unearthed in Lower and Upper Milford townships, Lehigh County, that have been authentically dated back more than 11,000 years.

The Museum of Indian Culture in Allentown is a great place to learn more about the ancient peoples of Eastern Pennsylvania. Opened 32 years ago in Allentown’s Little Lehigh Parkway as a primarily Lenni Lenape cultural center, it changed focus in 2005 to include all American Indians, said director Pat Rivera.

“The Lenni Lenape were actually removed from this area in the mid-1700s to make way for the colonial expansion. They are now primarily in Oklahoma and Canada,” she said. “But we have many Indians here for different reasons and we are open for all Indians to promote the heritage.”

The museum holds several festivals each year, including the popular Roasting Ears of Corn fest in August, which this year attracted more than 3,000 people. “Our festival is the oldest American Indian festival in Pennsylvania and we are proud to say that,” said Rivera.

Guests can enjoy Indian dance and music, purchase crafts and learn from Native Americans at the various booths and exhibits.

Though the Lenni Lenape – part of the Delaware tribes – were known to live in Eastern Pennsylvania, the region was actually home to several different Indian peoples, including the Shawnee, Iroquois and Seneca. The Museum of Indian Culture includes artifacts and exhibits from across the continent.

The Northeast Woodland Room lets visitors imagine making knapping tools from stone, cordage from plant fiber and fire from other primitive tools, and includes examples of items commonly traded among American Indians and settlers.

The Inter-Tribal room features a variety of American Indian artistry such as Lakota Morning Star quilt, beaded moccasins, knife sheath, Cheyenne Sash and Navajo sand art. There are programs for children and adults both at the museum and off-site.

Rivera notes that November is Native American Month and the museum will have an open house and workshops. Check the website for dates, times, costs and details. Saturday, Oct. 22 is “Fright Night At The Museum,” featuring tales of Indian ghosts, shapeshifters and other haunts.

“There are no ghosts in our building, but they have been seen outside,” Rivera said.

Eric Molitoris and his daughter, Avery, feed the trout at the Fish Hatchery.

Eric Molitoris and his daughter, Avery, make the Fish Hatchery a regular monthly stop.

The museum is located on Fish Hatchery Road in Allentown, next door to the very popular Allentown Fish Hatchery. Also known as the Lil Le Hi Fish Hatchery, it is considered the oldest continuously operating trout hatchery in the United States. Patrons can feed the fish in a variety of breeding ponds or watch them swim in the small stream on the property.

“We love it here,” said Eric Molitoris of Alburtis, visiting with his 2-year-old daughter, Avery. “We probably come once a month since she learned how to walk.”

If You Go: The Museum of Indian Culture is located at 2825 Fish Hatchery Rd., Allentown. Admission is $5 for adults, $4 for seniors over 65 and children over 12. Children 11 and under are free. Hours are noon to 4 p.m. Friday through Sunday or by appointment.

What To Know: The annual open house is scheduled for noon to 4 p.m. Nov. 20.

Fact: Pennsylvania officials in 1730 placed a bounty of 30 to 50 British pounds on the head of any Lenape, but the final blow came after the historic Easton Conference in 1758, which led to the end of the French and Indian War but also resulted in the Forced March that removed the Delaware-Lenape Indians from their traditional homes in what is now Pennsylvania and New Jersey.

“Ten Days At Musikfest Refreshes My Soul” Thu, 11 Aug 2011 17:34:40 +0000 My friend Theresa is a Musikfest junkie. Seriously. The woman schedules a week of vacation for the beginning of August each year, books a room at the Hotel Bethlehem and wanders from platz to platz all day long. The scary thing is, she’s not alone. Musikfest has its own groupies just like many of the bands and artists that play there every year and they all swear it is the best thing to hit the Bethlehem since a now-departed steelmaker set up shop on the banks of the Lehigh River.

“To me, it is all about the music. I love the diversity of sounds that you enjoy at Musikfest,” Theresa says. “You find seasoned singers and musicians as well as sparkling, brand new talent. I most enjoy wandering from venue to venue and experiencing a true cross section of different musical genre.

Musikfest directions

Finding your way around Musikfest can seem intimidating to the first-time visitor but there is plenty of help.

“Each year you can hear music from a vast number of cultures, from Hispanic to Indian to Celtic to Russian to American folk to Rock and Roll. I go there to hear music that I would never find on main-stream radio and that perhaps I would never listen to other than at a magical place like Musikfest.”

In all honesty, it can be habit-forming. More than 300 performers over 10 days, 14 concert venues – most are free – and all the food and beverage you can consume without taking out a second mortgage … who could ask for more.

Now in its 28th year, Musikfest is the brainchild of Jeff Parks and its success is due to the courage of former Bethlehem Mayor Ken Smith, who in 1983 overruled all of his advisors and gave the go-ahead to a brash young attorney who thought the city was the perfect place for a European-style music festival.

Musikfest evolved this year to include several venues on Bethlehem’s South Side at the new ArtsQuest SteelStacks center located on the site of the former Bethlehem Steel. The jury is still out on the divide and despite the draw of acts such as Stone Temple Pilots, Alison Krauss and Steely Dan, crowds have been significantly smaller so far this year – attendance was down 25 percent during the first five days, Parks said Wednesday – but that might also be a weather-related phenomenon. It’s been damp and dreary in the Lehigh Valley for the better part of a week.

The nice thing is that there are shuttles to take visitors from the North Side to South Side venues and the smaller crowds actually make it easier to enjoy many of the acts, which range from polka to reggae.

Steel stacks tower over Musikfest

The imposing blast furnace of the former Bethlehem Steel towers over Musikfest's South Side venues.

“The paid concerts are reasonable and offer a wide range of acts. I usually like to attend a mix of paid concerts and free performances,” Theresa says. “But I think that I take the most joy in finding the hidden treasures. If you have limited time, I would consider Cast in Bronze, Runa Pacha and the Buskers along Main Street as the not-to-miss attractions.”

If You Go: Traffic and parking near the actual Musikfest sites can be dicey but there are several remote lots around Bethlehem and shuttle service is provided, so check out the maps as well as performance times before you go.

What To Know: Musikfest runs through Sunday, Aug. 14. Though most of the music is free, you can easily drop a mortgage payment on the concessions and beer stands so bring plenty of money if you plan to spend the day or night. Also remember to drink plenty of water. There is very little shade at most of the venues and the sun can easily dry you out. Remember, beer and alcohol dehydrate you, not the other way around.

Fact: Musikfest lays claim to be the largest outdoor, free music festival in the United States.

Lost River Cavern A Fascinating Look Into Local Geology Sun, 07 Aug 2011 20:36:55 +0000 Ever look at the calendar and say, “Oh, crap, where did the time go?” Happens to me all the time. I think it’s true that time moves faster when you’re getting closer to being over the hill. For instance, I realized last week that it was August and the last time I posted here was April. I’m still trying to figure out what happened to May, June and July. (Heck, I’m still trying to figure out what happened to the 1980s and 90s.) Truth is, the paying side of my business picked up greatly during the past few months – no complaints here – so the blog had to take a back seat for a while.

But I am back and I promise that I will be posting more often – I’m shooting for weekly, at least, from now on –and probably more frequently since the new design gives me some flexibility to hold a feature post at the top and add news and other items on the lower side of the screen.

The Lost River of the Cavern.

The mysterious Lost River that flows silently through the cavern is remarkably clear, deep and actually pure enough to drink because of the natural filtration.

Anyway, for those of you who thought I might have fallen into a hole in the ground over the past 15 weeks, I figured that would be a good place to kick start the old blog – from a hole in the ground.

Lost River Cavern is one of those unique little tourist destinations I had in mind when I started this project about a year ago. Located in Hellertown just off Interstate 78, Lost River isn’t as big as Crystal Cave near Kutztown nor some of the other famous caves made possible through Pennsylvania’s unique limestone-karst geography, but it is a fascinating way to spend an hour or so – especially with the excessive heat and humidity Mother Nature has inflicted on us this summer.

Lost River Cavern is named for the little stream that flows mysteriously through the cave, which goes down about 150 feet below ground level. According to owner Bob Gilman and the tour guide who showed me around, numerous efforts to determine its origin or destination have proven fruitless.

“They’ve made several attempts to see where the water goes,” said Mike, my tour guide. “Some of us believe there is an underground lake filled with all the red dye they have used over the year, because nobody has ever seen it come out anywhere near here and none of the local wells have reported any red coloring.

“We also think that there might be a chamber beyond this that is just filled with ping-pong balls.”

Gilman said the cave was discovered in 1883 when miners were digging for limestone in what is now the cave’s parking lot. His grandparents bought the property in 1929 and opened it for visitors in 1930. While the Gilmans installed lighting, some short steps and a brick floor in one spot to help visitors negotiate the sometimes slippery or steep floor, the cave has otherwise been left in its natural state.

It’s believed to have formed over the past 250,000 years and features several large chambers, including the Crystal Chapel and the Breakdown Room. The Chapel was once the site of local square dances and guides will point out the natural stage above the room where the fiddler and band played. It has also been used for more than 80 weddings, though the Gilman family has cut back on that use in more recent years because of the damage caused to the cave walls from candles and guests touching the surfaces.

The Crystal Chapel

The Crystal Chapel is one of the prettiest rooms in the cavern and it has been used for weddings, square dances and even to store booze.

The Breakdown Room (so-named for the overhanging bridge of stone that fell during the early evolution of the cave) features a small, painted star that tour guides say was placed there by fraternity boys from nearby Lehigh University, who used to leave pledges literally in the dark as part of initiation ceremonies. Lost River is also said to have been used by bootleggers during the Prohibition Era of the 1920s. Its constant 52-degree temperatures would have made it a great place to store booze.

Small stalactites and stalagmites hang from the roof and floor and the cavern features a number of fascinating and beautiful geologic features. (How do you remember the difference between a stalactite and stalagmite? Stalactites hang “tight” to the ceiling and stalagmites “might” someday reach them, according to my guide.)

Gilman said the cavern remains very popular with school groups, especially in the late spring months of May and June. Every so often, an article in the local paper will remind locals of its existence and prompt a flurry of visits, which is what happened last month when The Morning Call included Lost River on a list of places to dodge the hear.

“It’s one of those forgotten surprises,” said Gilman. “People say ‘we’ve been here all our lives and never knew it was here.’ It’s almost as if you have to go away before people think something is important or special.”

If You Go: Lost River Cavern is located at 726 Durham St., Hellertown, Pa, just about a mile off Interstate 78. It’s open every day except Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s. Hours from Memorial Day to Labor Day are 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Winter hours are 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Admission (Updated Aug. 3, 2015) $12.50 for adults (13 years and older) and $7.75 for children 3-12. Children 2 and under admitted at no cost.

What To Know: The cave is a constant 52 degrees so you might want to bring a sweater or light jacket if you visit during the summer. Also, Mother Nature has never been politically correct, which means the natural site is not easily handicapped-accessible. Claustrophobics shouldn’t have too much trouble since the caverns are fairly large, but bigger crowds can make them seem worse.

Fact: During a prolonged drought in 1963, spelunkers seeking the source of the Lost River instead found a lost cavern behind the Crystal Chapel, dubbed the “Queen’s Room” because of the elaborate geological features found there. Though it is inaccessible most of the time because of the flowing water, photos are on display in the souvenir shop.

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‘Cinco Deck Mayo’ Party Heads List of Spring Fun-Raisers Thu, 28 Apr 2011 21:43:42 +0000 Pass the Corona and don’t hold the lime. Allentown is celebrating the arrival of spring (Finally!) with the return of the popular Deck parties at a “Cinco Deck Mayo” party from 5 to 7 p.m. May 5 on the roof of the 8th and Linden street parking deck.

Food, drink, music, dance and crafts are "on deck" for Allentown's first Party on the Deck of 2011.

“Cinco Deck Mayo,” will feature live music by Ola Latina or “LATINWAVE,” and salsa dancers from Lehigh Valley Salsa Connexion to entertain and educate for those who want to learn the moves.  Adult refreshments, food samples from local restaurants and a great view of the sunset over western Allentown and Lehigh County have made these events a popular attraction in the Lehigh Valley.

“We’re excited to bring back this unique event.  People love the concept of kicking-off spring and summer festivities with Cinco De Mayo, and our two 2010 rooftop parties drew enthusiastic crowds.  Put them together and you get – “Cinco Deck Mayo” – a social event with festive atmosphere and top-notch entertainment,” said Allentown Special Events Manager Tara Craig.

The city is partnering with the Hamilton District Main Street Program, Greater Lehigh Valley Chamber of Commerce and Old Allentown Preservation Association to produce the event, which includes generous support from Sangria, Cosmopolitan Restaurant, Action Party Rentals and the Holiday Inn Center City.

Tickets are $10 in advance and $15 at the door and the price includes admission, parking, entertainment and two drink vouchers (beer, sangria, margaritas), as well as post-Cinco Deck Mayo specials at Sangria, Cosmopolitan, Made in Brazil, Allentown Brew Works and Burrito Works. Must be 21 or older to attend. Tickets are on sale now and are limited, so it is advisable to get them before it’s too late.

Purchase your tickets online now through Old Allentown’s website: or at Allentown City Hall. For more information on Cinco Deck Mayo and other locations to purchase tickets, visit or contact Tara Craig at 610-437-7530.

Culture of The Corset Uncovered At Mercer Museum

The Mercer Museum in Doylestown is taking another peek under the covers from 7 to 9 p.m. Thursday, May 5, when it explores “The Private Parts of Victorian Sexuality: The Culture of the Corset.” The interactive lecture and final installment of the museum’s daring adult series will look at the corset’s place as a piece of the female wardrobe in the Victorian era.

During the Victorian era, debate raged among feminist activists about dress reform. In “The Private Parts of Victorian Sexuality: The Culture of the Corset,” guests will explore this intimate debate in a fun atmosphere, learn about the ins and outs of Victorian undergarments, view corsets from the Mercer Museum’s collection, and can even try lacing up a corset and more.

“The Private Parts of Victorian Sexuality: The Culture of the Corset” is $16 per person and $14 for members. Reservations are required for the program and can be made by calling, 215-345-0210, ext. 123.

Cyclists Peddle Their Wares

The annual spring Flea Market at the Valley Preferred Cycling Center in Trexlertown, set for Saturday, May 7, is a great opportunity for veteran and newbie cyclists to stock up on tires, gloves, tubes, clothing and even bikes for the 2011 season. The velodrome is expecting about 150 vendors, which typically include both shops and individuals offering great stuff at equally great prices.

This year the track is also offering sangria and mimosas courtesy of Clover Hill Vineyards and Winery. Don’t forget to bring an appetite and check out the all-organic offerings at the Breakaway Café.

The event runs from 8:30 a.m. to 2 p.m., rain or shine. Bring an umbrella. Farmers set their planting schedules based on the Flea Market date but that also means there are some really great deals as vendors and racers try to unload their stuff before they get too soaked.

Call 610-395-7000 or go to for more information and ticket prices.

Civil War Not Forgotten In Pennsylvania Thu, 21 Apr 2011 03:50:29 +0000 I read a story recently bemoaning the fact that the northern states seem to have forgotten the Civil War, aka the “War Between The States,” the “War Between Brothers” or the “Great Tea Party Rebellion.” Ok, I made up that last one.

But seriously, “northern states” in the context of this story must mean “states that are not Pennsylvania.” Because, and we’re not just whistling “Dixie” here, you can’t raise the Stars and Bars at a redneck revival in this state without seeing it flap over a Civil War memorial, graveyard, re-enactment site or battlefield. And you don’t have to pitch a tent at Devils Den in Gettysburg to get a taste of what the war meant to our country.

The realistic exhibits at the National Civil War museum include a surgical tent.

April 12 marked the 150th anniversary of the start of the Civil War – the date that Confederate troops fired on Fort Sumter in South Carolina. Incited by Abraham Lincoln’s election to the presidency, southern states seceded from the union, created their own nation and testing whether “a nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal” could long endure, to quote Lincoln.

Many in the north expected it to be a quick war, three months at most to bring those Johnny Rebs to heel. Instead, it ran almost five years and became the most traumatic event in our history. It put an end to slavery and saw the beginning of true civil rights in the United States. It would take another 100 years before those civil rights were effectively granted and even in the most recent 50 years, there are questions about just how much progress we have really made.But you don’t have to travel to southern battlefields or even Gettysburg to get an idea of what the Civil War meant. There are some interesting and little-known or visited sites much closer to home that provide a great education for all ages.

I recently visited the National Civil War museum in Harrisburg, which offers one of the most complete one-stop educations about the war. Replete with exhibits that explain the roots of the slavery debate and the tragic consequences of slavery to those whose lives were bought and sold like cattle, the true causes and the long-term impacts of the war, the museum covers more than just the war years. It’s exhibits and educational videos range from 1850 to 1876 and include very life-like arrays that include everything from slave auctions to war camps to a medical tent where surgeons prepare to amputate the leg of a wounded soldier.

If you like weapons and battlefield implements, this is your place. The museum has more than 3,400 artifacts with about 850 on permanent display.

The National Civil War museum does a great job at portraying life in both armies. Photo courtesy of National Civil War museum.

Closer to home, you can check out the Liberty Bell Shrine on Hamilton Street in Allentown, home of the First Defenders memorial. The First Defenders were a Lehigh County militia assembled to protect Washington from Confederate troops at the beginning of the war and the exhibits tell the story of the troops who marched through angry crowds in Baltimore to get to their destination.While they made it – not without incident or injury – many never returned home alive from the war.

The Union and West End Cemetery between Chew and Liberty and 10th and 12th streets in downtown Allentown is the final resting place for 714 Civil War soldiers, including Medal of Honor winner Ignatz Gresser. It is the largest Civil War cemetery in Pennsylvania outside of Gettysburg.

“Twenty-one of these soldiers were members of the Allen Infantry, a Militia Unit that answered President Lincoln’s call for troops to protect and defend Washington at the outbreak of the Civil War,” said cemetery association President Everette Carr. “Additionally, there are five Revolutionary Soldiers buried in the cemetery.  Also, there are veterans from the War of 1812, the Spanish American War, World War I, World War II, and the Viet Nam War.”

If You Go: The National Civil War museum is located at Reservoir Park in Harrisburg, just a mile or so from the Capitol complex. It’s open 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Mon-Tues and Thurs-Sat;, 10 a.m. to 8 p.m,. Wednesday and noon to 5 p.m. Sunday. Admission is $9 with discounts for seniors, active military and students. The Liberty Bell Shrine is located at Zion Church, 622 Hamilton St., Allentown. Admission is free but donations are requested.

What To Know: Encampments, commemorations and other activities will no doubt continue for the next four years as America marks the 150th anniversary of this conflagration. Check with your desired destination to find event calendars.

Facts: Abner Doubleday, the man credited with inventing baseball, fired the first shot for the Union at Ft. Sumter. Later promoted to general, he reportedly distinguished himself at the Battle of Gettysburg.

Fonthill A Tribute To Mercer’s Eccentric Genius Fri, 01 Apr 2011 15:43:59 +0000 Approach Fonthill on a gloomy afternoon in late March and you can easily imagine Jane Austen or one of her heroines opening the large, heavy front door, dressed in a gray cloak and headed out to consummate another doomed love affair.

Approach the foreboding Gothic structure in the dark shadows of twilight and your imagination is more likely to picture Barnabas Collins or Vincent Price answering the bell, and all of a sudden your imaginary novel takes on a bit more, um, bite.

Fonthill can appear foreboding in the late-day sun but the interior is surprisingly warm and inviting.

But while there is a room in Fonthill called “the Crypt,” there are no ghosts or things that go bump in the night, except for the occasional tourist trying to negotiate one of the numerous often-narrow, always winding concrete staircases and hallways that connect the various sections of the sprawling home.

Fonthill, a lasting tribute to the fine line between genius and insanity, was the home of the brilliant and eccentric Henry Chapman Mercer, creator and founder of the neighboring Moravian Tile Works and the Mercer Museum, which is located just a mile south of his home. Fonthill staffers prefer “unique” to eccentric, but there is little doubt that Mercer marched to his own drummer.

Mercer graduated from the University of Pennsylvania with a law degree but never practiced law. He was an amateur anthropologist, one of the most-respected artisans of his time and a visionary who recognized the changing face of America and dedicated his life to protecting the legacy of its craftsmen, artists and builders. He spent 10 years touring Europe, courtesy of a rich aunt, and returned home with a passion for castles that was ultimately reflected in his buildings.

Mercer constructed his American castle between 1908 and 1912 and it has 44 rooms, 32 staircases, 18 official fireplaces, 21 chimneys and 200 windows of various shapes and sizes. There is a 19th chimney in the Crypt but it was an experiment and never used, and three of the chimneys are used to dissipate the heat from the home. In keeping with the era, he equipped it with central heat and steam radiators, a call system and intercom phone system so that he and guests could reach the servants at any hour, 10 bathrooms but only five bedrooms.

When Mercer bought the 70-acre property on the edge of Doylestown, it included a farmhouse that dated to the early 1800s. Loath to destroy anything, Mercer simply encased the structure in concrete and made it part of his castle. Visitors who get to the basement can see the original foundation of the farmhouse as well as a fireplace that sits in the middle of a two-story kitchen – evidence of where Mercer had taken out the original first floor and built his own kitchen below that.

“Extraordinary,” said Debra Quinn of Yardley, who participated in the spring version of the semi-annual “Behind the Scenes” tour in late March. “Extraordinary is the only word to describe it. His work, his tiles are just amazing.”

The tour takes in many of the rooms not included in the regular visitations, including Mercer’s Bow Room, Bedroom, Morning Room, Breakfast Room and Smoking Room.

Two young visitors examine the intricate tiles laid into the fireplace in Fonthill's Saloon room. Photo courtesy of Gayle Shupack/Fonthill.

The house was designed to be a showcase for his famous tiles and they are embedded in the concrete walls, floors and vaulted ceilings that give the interior its castle-like feel. Mercer built his castle without blueprints, instead creating scale models that he stacked alongside or on top of others to give his workmen the concept of what he wanted. “That’s why there are so many stairs and hallways going in different directions,” said guide Joe Ciccarelli, who cites the ornate fireplace in the Morning Room as his favorite.

His contracting crew, which consisted of 10 men totally inexperienced in concrete work – he didn’t want someone telling him what couldn’t be done – and a horse named Lucy used to pulley the heavy building material to the upper levels as they were built, created a masterpiece in American architecture.

Mercer began with the Crypt and basement, which is where he experimented with various styles of support pillars and their caps, built the mock fireplace and crafted his own way of building the vaulted arches that symbolize the home, which still houses about 900 prints, 6,000 books and countless tiles Mercer collected from around the world. He lived in the home from its completion until his death in 1930.

Thirteen-year-old Shawn Kelly of Penndel, who joined the Behind the Scenes tour with his father, Steve and family friend Gina Sabella, expressed continuing amazement as the group moved from one room to the next.

“It was all neat! I really liked the Morning Room, that was really neat,” he said. “I want to see the real tour soon.”

If You Go: Fonthill, E. Court Street and Route 313, Doylestown, is open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday to Saturday and noon to 5 p.m. Sundays. The last tour starts at 4 p.m. Admission is $7 for adults; $6 for seniors age 62 or older and $4 for children 5-12. Children under 5 are free.

What To Know: Fonthill has many steep, narrow and often uneven stairways and hallways so if you have trouble negotiating these obstacles, you may want to take a pass on the full tour.

Facts: Henry Mercer’s will left Fonthill to the Bucks County Historical Society with the caveat that his housekeeper, Laura Swain, could live there until her death, which occurred in 1970. Swain was said to give impromptu tours to unexpected visitors willing to offer a nice tip.

Circle Of Life On Display At Cabela’s In Berks County Sun, 13 Mar 2011 20:30:52 +0000 The first time I visited Cabela’s in Hamburg, Berks County, I felt like I had walked into a Jeff Foxworthy skit. I saw more plaid shirts than Larry the Cable Guy’s closet and more severed heads than Stephen King’s nightmares. Ok, so they were critters mounted on trophy boards, but still, there were a LOT of them coming out of the store.

I was pretty convinced, too, that Larry the Cable Guy lived in the back of the store. Really. There was a pick-up truck in the Bargain Cave with a camper-cover over the back and the scene was made to look like someone was camping there. I figured it had to be Larry. Rednecks? Yeah. I felt right at home. These were my people.

The African diorama is frightenly realistic as it portrays animals in their true natural settings.

I was there on assignment for the newspaper, waiting for emergency responders to return from volunteer duty in New Orleans, where they had been helping people recover from Hurricane Katrina. I got there early to check out the place and get the lay of the land before I had to get to work and I’m glad I did. Cabela’s is more than just a store for outdoorsmen (and women). This place is a day trip destination all on its own.

“When my wife and I make the trip out to Cabela’s we always make sure to bring the kids. Our kids are 4, 8, and 17,” said Anthony Skorochod of Nazareth, a professional photographer when he is not working as an emergency responder. “We have never gone there to specifically go shopping; we consider it a family destination. It’s almost like a museum, aquarium, and place for shopping all rolled into one.”

Sure, you can buy guns and fishing rods and hunting gear and camp supplies – heck, everything from bullets to boots – but the store itself is geared to impress visitors. The first thing you see when you enter is the two-story high “Conservation Mountain” that dominates the back of the store. Each of the four sides displays wildlife from mountain regions around the world, from the Arctic to the Rockies to the Himalayas. Stuffed ears, moose, deer, fox, wolves, lions, cougars all populate the display in settings designed to emulate their native habitats.

The 55,000-gallon aquarium to the right of the entrance features game fish from across North America and both fishing fans and kids will be excited to walk through and see the (often very large) fish swimming from section to section.

The African Diorama features some startling real-life scenes, such as a crocodile tearing apart a wildebeest and lions chasing down their prey but the scene also features a full-size African elephant, zebras and other wildlife in a tableau that has earned Cabela’s the moniker of “High Temple of Taxidermy” from, a travel website dedicated to weird and unusual stops across America.

The four-season, globe-hopping Conservation Mountain is the centerpiece of Cabela's Hamburg store.

Deer Country is a separate room dedicated to trophies from throughout North America and provides an educational experience that helps visitors learn about different types of deer, which ones have what antlers and where they live, etc.

Skorochod said his family can easily spend the day at Cabela’s just checking out the scenes.

“The 4-year-old loves the fish. The walk-through aquarium is simply amazing and keeps my toddler occupied for usually the first hour we are there. It’s always our first stop when arriving at Cabela’s,” he said. “The 8-year-old loves all the stuffed game throughout the store. He learns all about the animals they have on display and it’s nice that he’s able to see that in person. My 17-year-old loves all the hunting apparel and accessories. They have everything he loves, from work-wear to skiwear to camo.

“Even my wife loves the bargain room they have in the back of the store. She’s always able to find a good deal on something. Also, she loves shoes. They have one of the biggest selections of shoes I’ve ever seen. As for me, I like to keep up with what’s new in firearms and ammunition.”

Cabela’s also has regularly scheduled events and educational seminars for outdoors enthusiasts, featuring everything from turkey-calling contests to boating safety to National Rifle Association certified instruction courses.

If You Go: Cabela’s is located on Route 61 north, just off Interstate 78 about 45 minutes from Allentown. It’s open from 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday to Saturday and 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. Sundays. For more, go to

Facts: While Cabela’s is a year-round destination, it can also make a great side-trip if you are headed to Hershey Park or Yuengling Breweries in nearby Pottsville. And it’s not just for hunting and fishing enthusiasts. Hikers, boaters, campers and anyone who enjoys the outdoors will find something worthwhile.