Tuesday, October 11, 2011

East Liverpool, Ohio: Lou Holtz Hall of Fame

When it comes to the area around East Liverpool, Lou Holtz is definitely "the man." He coached Notre Dame to a national championship in college football, had a long coaching career in the sport, and is still working as a commentator on ESPN.

Around 1996, East Liverpool decided that some sort of museum to honor Holtz was a bright idea. Holtz said he'd only go along with it if others were honored as well. Within a few years, the Lou Holtz Upper Ohio Valley Hall of Fame was created.

Here's a view from the balcony. You can guess that it used to be a bank building in downtown East Liverpool; I believe the purchase price was a dollar. It opened in 1999. I'd say more than half of the main room is dedicated to Holtz. There is a display for other local products who have made good over the years. They also honor a national figure once a year now. Recent selections are John Boehner and Jerome Bettis, two people rarely seen in the same sentence. Lou is a little conservative politically -- OK, a lot conservative.

The building also holds the death mask of gangster Pretty Boy Floyd, as he was shot and killed in East Liverpool. Downstairs there is a nifty train set with a replica of the area. We had a very nice visit from a helpful tour guide. It's pretty obvious that East Liverpool is thrilled about Lou's success, and that he didn't forget his roots.

Chester, West Virginia: World's Largest Teapot

It's Chester's top tourist destination!

For those crossing over from the Ohio side on the main bridge on U.S. Route 30 East, take the first exit. Once you reach the main road, go right -- under the highway. On the other side, by the on-ramp to go back over the bridge, is the world's largest teapot.

According to the official history, this started out as a giant root beer barrel (an ad for Hires), became a restaurant, and eventually turned into a tourist attraction when the city bought it. Supposedly Hampton Hotels supplied the money to fix it up in 2007.

After you snap the photo of it, you dodge a little traffic to cross the street and stop at the bait store/mini-mart. That's where you can find a post card of it. Mrs. Road Trips went in to buy one, and the woman in front of her bought a supply of chewing tobacco. You don't see women chewing much in Buffalo.

Newell, West Virginia: Homer Laughlin China Co.

It always fun to watch stuff get made. This factory gives you that opportunity.

It's the Homer Laughlin China Company in Newell, only a few miles from the very top of West Virginia. That's one of the legendary companies in its field in the world. There are several plants operating, and this one features a factory outlet and tours.

The tours are free but require a reservation. About eight people can take a walk through the factory at once, led by a guide. There is some automation involved, but it's surprising just how much manpower goes into the creation of a dish or bowl. At the end of the tour, visitors are guided into a room with some historic pieces and shown a video on the company. As they leave, they get a commemorative dish marking their visit.

Pictures aren't allowed on the tour, and you should know that it is rather noisy. It's like a factory in there! Seriously, though, it was hard to hear the tour guide at times. I'm not sure how to solve that problem. At least the workers were friendly to the tourists.

There are people who love Fiesta dishes, collecting as much of it as possible. Some models are worth quite a bit as a result. There was an article by the front door on a man who proposed to his wife in the factory, such was her love for the stuff. The company even made up a special plate for the happy couple.

By the way, be sure to take a look across the Ohio River from the parking lot when visiting. The cliffs on the Ohio side are quite striking.

East Liverpool, Ohio: Point of Beginning

You can argue that "the West" starts here.

It's a marker on the state line for Ohio and Pennsylvania, located on the north shore of the Ohio River. Back in 1785, the newly born United States didn't know much about what the lands west of Pennsylvania were like. Some surveying needed to be done. Thomas Hutchins got to work and figured out the point where Pennsylvania stopped. The mapping of the rest of the country, then, essentially began from that point. For the relatively complete story, click on this fine article from the East Liverpool Historical Society.

To be accurate, the original marker was down by the shore of the Ohio, and is believed to be underwater at this point. It was moved due north in order to improve access to it. You can find it right on Harvey St. along State Route 39 in Ohio; it changes route identification once the road goes into Pennsylvania. It's a few minutes from downtown East Liverpool.

American history pops up in some odd places.

Moundsville, West Virginia: Marx Toy Museum

Did you ever think you'd see one of your childhood toys in a museum? Me neither.

This is the place to find one of them. The Marx Toy Museum pays tribute to the glory days of one of America's leading toy manufacturers. The company was a leader in the industry, thanks to the good work of Louis Marx. If you grew up in the 1950's and 1960's, you probably remember the television commercials ... closing with "By Marx!"

The company didn't adapt well to changes in the industry, apparently. Also, it sounds like Marx's family wasn't a natural at the business. Marx Toys went through a variety of takeovers, buyouts, etc. and finally went out of business.

However, the spirit lives on at this museum. The Moundsville area was the headquarters for the company, although it also had a plant in Erie, Pa. Some of the toys have been saved and are on display. The place is filled with toy soldiers, service stations, Western gear, etc. A couple of DVDs are available to show visitors the history of the company, samples, prototypes and commercials.

Happily, the Rock 'em - Sock 'em Robots have a place of honor as you walk in. I must have had the toy at age 12 or so, and my friends and I would pound each other. Blocks got knocked off regularly, but sure enough we could pop them right back on again.

Moundsville, West Virginia: Grave Creek Mound State Park

To be silly, the Adenas are the people that put the mounds in Moundsville.

This Native group were around 2,000 to 3,000 years ago or so, and had the habit of cremating their dead and putting them in giant mounds. Now, these people had no wheels or horses, so you'd have to think a lot of work was done by hand.

A mound survived, a couple of miles at most from the Ohio River. It's now a state park, and visitors can walk up the 62 feet of stairs -- you'd better be in shape -- and walk around the top. From there they can see the surrounding area, including a nice view through some trees of the bridge to Ohio.

There is a museum in the complex, which along with a Native history lesson also includes some tributes to a couple of regional industries and local history. It's a one-stop lesson, I guess.

More information can be found here.

Moundsville, West Virginia: State Penitentiary

Let's get something straight right away -- the prison has been closed since 1995. So visitors aren't going to wind up in the Big House for 6 to 10 years by mistake.

The West Virginia State Penitentiary covers 11 acres in downtown Moundsville, a slight odd place for a prison. It was known for its punishing rules and overcrowded conditions. Roadside America said it was like every prison movie you've ever seen, which is perhaps why it was closed.

Then, it had a second life as a tourist attraction. Tours are held throughout the day. The most popular part is probably the electric chair. In fact, post cards of the chair are on sale across the street.

If you want a look at what life was like in the Big House, this is the place to go.

New Vrindaban, West Virginia: Prabhupada's Palace of Gold

Every so often on this site comes a destination that almost defies description. Welcome to another one.

This is said to be the only holy location for Hindus outside of India. It's not exactly where you would be looking either. Prabhupada's Palace of Gold is outside Moundsville, West Virginia, about 15 miles from Wheeling. You follow the sign off of Route 250 for about four miles down a winding road (you might see a Hare Krishna representative along the way), and then ... the palace appears.

Srila Prabhupada came to America from Calcutta in 1965. His followers decided to build him a palace, but he died before it was finished. They finished it anyway, and later added a temple.

The palace is a wide building that comes in layers or tiers and is ornately decorated (pictured). Tours are available, although there is a fee. Immediately surrounding the palace are a rose garden and a fountain. It's all well maintained and peaceful, and there's not a power line in sight.

Go down the hill, and the fun really begins. There's a large elephant statue by the parking lot, a couple of replica bulls a few steps away. Then there's the nice pond with a walking path around it. At a second pond, there are two 30-foot figures, each with an arm raised to the heavens. In the other direction is the temple and what looks like some dorms. Visitors can stay at either the lodge or in cottages, and there is food available.

Just when you think you have seen it all, the Palace of Gold turns up.

Sago, West Virginia: Sago Mine Disaster Monument

Those outside of West Virginia might remember what happened in Sago in January 2006. An explosion in the coal mine there trapped 13 miners for nearly two days. Only one came out alive.

Residents raised money and had this monument constructed just off Sago Road in Sago, WV. It's near the end of a church parking lot. The sculpture is designed to honor all miners, and not just the 12 that died.

The memorial was dedicated in August 2006; read about that here. The mine closed in 2007.

Buckhannon, West Virginia: Randy Brown Memorial Chapel

There is often a reason for roadside attractions. The catch is that you have to get out of the car and find them out.

This small chapel is located on Route 20 a few miles south of downtown Buckhannon. It's on the southeast corner at Sago Road, surrounded by a small park. Those who enter discover that Randy Brown was a child who died around the age of 8. His family decided to honor him in this manner. The surrounding area is called Children's Memorial Park.

By the way, the Sago Mine Disaster Monument is about three miles down Sago Road.

Richwood, West Virginia: Cranberry Glades Botanical Area

I'll get to the story of the picture, which is an unusual one for this blog, in a minute.

Just off Route 219 in West Virginia is a designated highland scenic highway. I don't know who has the job of driving around and picking out such roads, but I guess someone has to do it. Route 150 eventually leads into Route 39, and there are some overlooks along the way.

Along the way, a side road takes you to the Cranberry Glades Botanical Area. This for the most part is a swamp. However, there's a boardwalk that goes into the area to allow close observation of the interesting ecological area. The bogs are high enough to that different types of plant grow there than would be expected in West Virginia.

There is a nature center right at the intersection of 150 and 39. Naturally, it was closed on a Wednesday in October so we were out of luck there.

As for the picture, the white plant shown is called cotton grass. I got down on the boardwalk so that I could take the picture from a low angle, with the fall foliage in the distant background. The result came out pretty well, even if it is not my usual shot of a building. Click on it to see a slightly larger image.

Slaty Fork, West Virginia: Sharp's Kissing Bridge

Here's that bridge to nowhere that Sarah Palin talked about a while back. OK, maybe not, but at least no federal dollars were spent on this covered bridge in 2005.

Ken Gibson's uncle, Dave Sharp, always wanted to own a red covered bridge. I guess Dave thought it was romantic. So Ken built one, right off Route 219. The bridge crosses a very small stream, and leads to a field on the other side. Therefore, driving across is not a great idea.

A better plan is to park the car at the post office just north of the bridge, and walk over to it. Some pictures are hung there, including some wedding shots. Bring a friend along so you can share a quick smooch.

By the way, there's a treat if you keep going down Route 219 south. There's a barn on the west side near the general store, and someone has put up a stuffed farmer handing from the edge of the second-floor door. Plus there is a ladder nearby but too far away to be of much help. You can find a picture of it here. I've never seen takemytrip.com before, but it sounds like I should look around.

Cass, West Virginia: Cass Scenic Railroad State Park

This picture reveals a big secret about the Cass Scenic Railroad. The engine pushes the passenger cars out of the station, and doesn't pull it.

West Virginia has all sorts of rail lines, particularly in the mountains where raw materials were collected. Some of them are collecting dust, so it's a good idea to use them as a tourist attraction in some cases. Cass is located just south of Green Bank in the mountains.

The railroad has two different tours -- one lasts 90 minutes and the other goes 4.5 hours. The season runs from May to the end of October, with the prices going up in September for those who want to see the change in tree colors.

And back at the station, there is a place to eat, a souvenir store, and a couple of historial museums. They will help kill the time until the train arrives. Complete information is at the company website. You really have to love old railroads to want to spend 4.5 hours around one, but if you qualify this is worth your time.

All aboard!

Monday, October 10, 2011

Green Bank, West Virginia: Science Center

You may have heard of the radio telescope here, but it's tough to imagine the area until you visit. The telescope checks in at 17 million pounds, making it the largest object on earth that can move. It is visible from some distance away when driving in from the north.

The complex has a few historical devices used in astronomy elsewhere on the grounds. There are also dorms there as well as a visitors' center. By the way, the federal government has set up a "quiet zone" around the complex, which limits electronic communication in that area (cell phones, television and radio signals, etc.).

A few tips:

1. The best spot to get a picture of the big telescope is from the visitors' center, but the glass will get in the way. Go outside, and trees block the view. Speaking of cameras, digital cameras are not allowed near the main telescope. They might ruin some data.

2. The facility is open daily during the summer and Thursday through Monday in the other seasons. Make sure you try to go when the place is fully open. We arrived on a Wednesday and missed the tour. Darn -- and it's not as if Green Bank is right off the main road. Visitors can walk around the grounds, at least, so it's still worth a stop.

Elkins, West Virginia: Minnehaha statue

If you owned a store called Hiawatha's, your first choice for a statue outside probably would be one of Hiawatha. The second would be one of Minnehaha, his wife.

In the case of a store in Elkins, West Virginia, the second choice won. On the corner of U.S. 33 and 219 is the store selling Indian handmade jewelry and gifts, and Minnehaha stands guard in the parking lot. Since those two routes are at the major intersection of those entering from the east, north, or south, it's a good location ... and many travelers get to see Minnehaha as they pass by.

Davis, West Virginia: Canaan Valley State Park

Canaan Valley State Park is a 6,000-acre area in the Allegheny Mountains, the highest valley of its size east of the Rockies. It seems more like a resort area than a classic sightseers park, although it's easy to look around.

The resort and conference center have access to skiing, golf, hiking, cross-country skiing, etc. Tennis is also an option, although -- by the looks of the picture -- some deer will get to play the next time the courts are open.

In October of 2011, a large renovation program seemed to be taking place to the center. It ought to be quite nice when finished.

Davis, West Virginia: Blackwater Falls State Park

Blackwater Falls is one of the highlights of any trip to the mountain areas of West Virginia. It's surrounded by a state part of the same name. There's a parking area near a "trading post." Visitors can walk down the more than 100 steps to get to the falls themselves.

Once they get there, they'll immediately notice the tea-colored water than drops six stories into the river below. According to the official website, the "black" water is a result of tannic acid from fallen hemlock and red spruce needles.

There is a lodge and restaurant in the park, plus the usual facilities for fishing, boating, camping and hiking.

Silver Lake, West Virginia; Smallest Mailing Office

Here's the first thing you need to know: The smallest church in 48 states is right next to the smallest mailing office, just off Route 219 in West Virginia near the Maryland border.

The second: After plenty of looking around, it's tough to tell what town the structures are in. The church is said to be in Horse Show Run, while the mailing office next door bills itself on the front wall as being in Silver Lake.

Whatever. Let's focus on the mailing office, which is different than a post office. Basically, people leave mail there, and someone sends it on its way in the U.S. Postal Service. There is not anyone working there.

But someone sure has a sense of humor. Check out the sign that greets you when you walk in the door. I was tempted to mail a post card to myself from there, just to see how long it would take to get home.

Horse Shoe Run, West Virginia: Our Lady of the Pines

It's just south of the Maryland border on Route 219 in West Virginia. Blink and you might miss it, although there's a second entrance just down the road.

It, in this case, is Our Lady of the Pines. It is billed as the smallest church in 48 states. Roadside America raises the fair question as to whether the sign went up before 1959, or if there are smaller churches in two other states. The church was finished in 1958.

In any event, the church seats about 12, perhaps a bit uncomfortably. It has all of the usual bells and whistles associated with a church. It seems perfect for a very small wedding; there is even a picnic area close by.

For pictures of what it looks like from the inside, click here.

Shanksville, Pennsylvania: Flight 93 Memorial

This was our second visit to the spot where Flight 93 crashed on Sept. 11, 2001. It might not be the last.

We visited a short time after the tragedy, driving through some back and dirt roads to arrive at a viewing spot that almost seemed homemade and thrown up very quickly. It still carried a great deal of emotion with it for anyone who visited.

Years later, the National Park Service has been working on a permanent tribute. The land between the crash site and U.S. Route 30 has been purchased and bulldozed into shape. A road winds to a parking area, which borders some kiosks and a small pavilion. Phase one formally opened on Sept. 11, 2011. (See the NPS site here.)

From there, visitors take a five-minute walk to the crash site. You see the wall above, with each portion marked with the name of a passenger who died in the incident. It's more reflective than emotional, but that's fine. It works pretty well.

Plans are in the works to add a visitors' center a short distance from the site, and to add trees along a new walkway. They are trying to raise money for the project.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Jennerstown, Pennsylvania: Statues

If you are heading down Route 219 in Pennsylvania while on the way to seeing the Flight 93 Memorial, you are a wrong turn away from seeing a curiosity.

Those who leave Route 219's expressway at Route 30 should go east to the memorial. But if they go west for a few hundred yards at most, they'll see a pair of statues that would seem to have no connection to each other. One is a praying mantis, which is nine feet tall. It's been around since the mid-1960's, although it has taken some hits from vandals along the way.

Next to it is a statue honoring the bicycle built for two. This is said to be 17 feet high and a tribute to the bike trails in the area. The Lincoln Highway had a "Roadside Giants" project, and this was part of it.

By the way, those who head east from the intersection might see a mural honoring the Highway. There's no warning, so keep an eye out for it.

Somerset, Pennsylvania: Quecreek Mine Rescue Site Memorial

Back in 2002, 18 miners in the Somerset area accidentally broke through into a flooded mine. Nine of them were trapped.

An massive rescue effort immediately followed. Crews on the surface had to figure out where exactly the miners were, and then they had to figure out a way to help them. Once the location was determined, a small hole was drilled down by the trapped miners to pump air into the area and keep the water out. Then a larger hole was drilled, and the men were carried, one by one, to the surface.

The good part is, all nine survived. The entry spot into the mine was 1.5 miles from where the workers were rescued (after 77 or so hours of being trapped), as they were pulled up on a farm off Route 985. Bill and Lori Arnold, the farm's owners, embraced the concept of a tribute to miners who survived and the workers who tirelessly enabled them to be rescued. This nice little park, just off the road, is that tribute. Besides the area pictured here, the tunnels are marked, and trees have been planted nearby. The farm house had added a bit of a museum to mark the event, and fundraising is taking place to make it better and perhaps move it to a public location.

The place is easy to find -- it's north of exit 110 of the Pennsylvania Turnpike. Follow Route 601 North, which turns into Route 985. There are signs along the way.

The area needed a bit of a boost, since Flight 93 crashed a dozen or so miles away from this spot in 2001. It's nice that the event is remembered this way.

Somerset, Pennsylvania: Breeding Ranch Tribute

For those who expect to see a 12-foot replica of an elephant in a restaurant parking lot, they'd love Somerset.

Apparently this was put up as a tribute to the town's elephant breeding ranch a couple of years ago. It got moved to, of all places, an Eat 'N Park right near the entrance to the Pennsylvania Turnpike. Get off at Exit 110, head down the access road, and you can't miss it at Center and Pleasant. There's a little plaque about the history of the site of the restaurant, which has little to do with the display.

Kinzua State Park, Pennsylvania: Kinzua Sky Walk

The Kinzua Bridge used to be quite a tourist attraction. It was a railroad bridge that crossed the Kinzua Gorge. Passengers in the 19th century thought it was the closest thing to flying possible.

Eventually the bridge fell out of use, but the land became a state park. People, like me, visited it just to gawk at the construction involved. People were blocked from walking on it, but they could still marvel at it.

Then came 2003, as a tornado hit the area. The old bridge couldn't handle the winds at that point, so most of it tumbled into the gorge. That put an idea in someone's head. Why not firm up the part of the bridge that survived?

The state did exactly that, and the Kinzua Sky Walk was officially opened in 2011. Visitors can now walk on the top of the bridge shown here. There are even a few windows on the floor so that people can see what's below. The view of the gorge is great; the best part is seeing the destroyed portions of the bridge still on the ground. This picture was taken from the edge of the gorge.

Kinzua State Park is located east of Mount Jewett; look for a sign heading north off of Route 6, and another sign to the Sky Walk.

Here's a view from a drone, taken in 2014:

Mount Jewett, Pennsylvania: Mural

For those headed to Kinzua State Park from the west, driving through Mount Jewett is part of the journey. They might notice on a building just north of Route 6 in the center of town a large mural. The catch is that you'll only notice it from the West. The mural is four stories high and was finished in 2004.

Kong Ho designed the mural, which recreates part of the town's history. You might notice the Swedish influence; Mount Jewett has a Swedish festival in August. Ho is an assistant professor of art at the University of Pittsburgh at Bradford, not too far away.

Great Valley, New York: Little White Church in the Dell

If you need a place of reflection after a day of recreation in nearby Ellicottville, and don't mind tight quarters, the Little White Church in the Dell is the place for you.

This is a mighty small chapel, said to be six feet by 10 feet. It is in someone's front yard, and the owners obviously liked the idea of visitors dropping by for some peace. Yes, there is an altar inside.

Head south on Route 219 from Ellicottville, and head east on State Route 98. It's about half a mile down the road on the south side.