Tuesday, September 28, 2021

The Best Kept Secrets of Laurel Hill State Park

Like its sister park, Linn Run State Park, one county to the west, Laurel Hill State Park area was a desolate mess a hundred years ago.

The lumber boom that swept through the hills and forests of Pennsylvania missed Laurel Hill Valley until 1886. But the lumber industry came for the old-growth forests of hemlock and white pine, which fed the growth of the United States: lumber to build the growing cities and towns; smaller logs to reinforce the mine shafts of the many coal mines throughout southwestern Pennsylvania and West Virginia; and hemlock tree bark as a source of tannin for the region's tanneries. 

What was left behind -- the slag and the tree tops -- dried to a crisp. Passing steam locomotives on the railroads often ignited this dry brush, causing massive wildfires that swept through the mountains and valleys.

But like Linn Run State Park, Laurel Hill State Park has slowly recovered and second growth forest now fills out the mountain slopes. Today, Laurel Hill State Park consists of 4,062 acres of mountainous terrain in Somerset County PA. Although Laurel Hill Lake is a focal point of the park, we focused on a hike and a scenic overlook, two of the park's best kept secrets.

We decided to hike the Hemlock Trail, 1.6 mile lightly trafficked loop trail which winds through a stand of original hemlock anchored to the steep slopes above the lovely Laurel Hill Creek, apparently inaccessible to the loggers over a century ago.

A fellow hiker had counted almost 200 rings on a downed hemlock tree, which had fallen over the trail, although the trail was now cleared.


Although narrow at times and running along steep banks at places, overall, the trail is well maintained and offers beautiful forest and creek scenery. The trail has some elevation gains, but isn't too strenuous, and makes a delightful hike if you only have an hour or two.


With some time and energy to spare after this hike, we decided to find the park's scenic overlook, which seems to be a local secret -- you see, we only learned about it because I happened to venture upon the porch of the visitors center, which was closed during our visit (although the restrooms were, thankfully, quite open). There was a flier for the overlook amongst the others, and we decided on a whim to go find this overlook. 

We're glad we did. 

Finding it wasn't easy -- it's not attached to the main part of the park -- although in theory the directions will get you there. It's just that not all the roads are marked. But after one backtrack, we found it. We were the only ones there, to our delight.

A short hike from the parking lot -- maybe a third of a mile? -- will bring you to the meadow, at the top of which sits a two-story viewing tower. Had we planned better, we'd have brought a picnic lunch to enjoy, as the tower simply invites you to rest a while and take in the view.

The park acquired the tract of land the scenic view is on -- known as Penn's Scenic View -- in summer 2016. The view from the viewing tower looks over into Laurel Hill State Park land.

Getting there: 1454 Laurel Hill Park Rd, Somerset, PA

Getting to the scenic overlook: From the Laurel Hill Park Office, via Laurel Hill Road: Follow Laurel Hill Park Road three miles through the park to the stop sign. Turn left onto Countryline Road (SR 3029) for 1.5 miles. Turn right onto Ream Road (T-493) for .5 mile. Then turn right onto Lyons Road (this one wasn't marked well) for .5 mile. Turn right and go halfway around the loop, where you'll see the parking lot on the left, before the gate. From there, it's a short hike following the signs to the viewing tower.

Hours: Dawn through dusk

Website: https://www.dcnr.pa.gov/StateParks/FindAPark/LaurelHillStatePark/Pages/default.aspx

Looking for more fun things to do in the Laurel Highlands? Check out the articles below:

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Saturday, September 25, 2021

Doing Time at the Old Fauquier Jail

Over two centuries ago, a four-cell brick jail was constructed in Warrenton VA, in 1808 to house the county's indigent and criminal residents. The four cells were multi-person cells, not an uncommon for that time. Also not uncommon, children often accompanied their mothers into the jail.

The stairs in the kitchen up to the jailer's living quarters.

In 1823, a second jail building was added, and the first building was converted into a home for the jailors who ran the Fauquier Jail. The kitchen of the jailor's home is intact, reminding us how hard it was to cook and provide meals for multiple people without all of today's conveniences. Interesting factoid: the jailors' wives were paid in their own right for their labor providing meals to the inmates housed in the jail.

Today, a county historical society museum inhabits the Old Fauquier Jail, in Warrenton VA; the museum documents not only the history of the old jail itself, but also county and local history, and offers recreated rooms of a barber and a dentist -- the way they were way back when.

Maximum security cells were added in the early 1900s.

I really enjoy local historical society museums -- you almost always learn something cool and fascinating. This is a good destination for history buffs or those interested in America's correctional history.'

Other exhibits in the museum document pre-European invasion artifacts, the Civil War as it swept through Warrenton, with a sizable exhibit dedicated to Confederate Colonel John Singleton Mosby, which is echoed by the obelisk monument in the front of the jail. Mosby was a native of Warrenton and is buried in a local cemetery.

But there also is equal space given to women's suffrage in Fauquier County and the Equal Suffrage League of Virginia, the most successful women's suffrage organization in the south.

And of course, there are the jail cells themselves, with an early 1800s cell recreated in the 1823 building, as well as the more recent early 1900s' maximum security cells. Your final stop should be the execution yard, where a 3-man gallows awaited its next victims.

If you're like me, you're probably wondering whether the place is haunted. In fact, it is, according to Seth, the docent there on the day we visited. Indeed, it is! He regularly hears footsteps above him, especially in the evenings as he's closing up after the last museum visitors have gone home. There are also the usual unexplained door slams and knocks, as well as the sound of something heavy being dragged in the second floor hallway.

The ghosts are pranksters, too. He recounted how he noticed lights on in the newer jail building. Thinking that somehow he had missed turning them off, he returned to the building to switch them off. He got back to the gift store part of the museum and looked through the window, and the lights were on again. This went on for several iterations until finally, in exasperation, he sternly said, "Leave the lights off -- I'm tired and I want to go home!" This time, the lights stayed off. But you can imagine a bored ghost chuckling at his little joke!

In fact, keep an eye on the website below, because periodically the museum holds its own ghost hunts. Or interested groups may rent out the facility for the evening.

Getting there: 10 Ashby St, Warrenton, VA

Hours: Thursday - Monday, 11 a.m. - 4 p.m.; closed Tuesdays and Wednesdays

Website: http://www.fauquierhistory.org/

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Tuesday, September 21, 2021

Could There Be a Qainter Town Than Shepherdstown WV?

Shepherdstown dates back to 1762; Thomas Shepherd founded Mecklenburg, as it was known then, was a bustling little town of 100 by 1775, filled with millers, tanners, potters, smiths and other artisans who appreciated the six natural springs which feed Town Run as it enters the south of town. This small stream meanders through backyards, under houses, across alleys and beneath five streets.

Now a variety of boutiques dot the main thoroughfare: German Street. 

In the town, Shepherdstown University adds energy to this quaint town, and its a great daytrip destination if you're in the mood for a pleasant afternoon spent strolling the historic blocks and dining at one of the inviting restaurants.

Throughout the town are several signs detailing the town's history, including one that recounts the July 1775 Beeline March from Shepherdstown to Cambridge, MA, when the Virginia Volunteer Riflemen responded to then General George Washington's call by walking 600 miles in just 24 days. Local cemeteries and burial grounds hold the remains of 38 Revolutionary War veterans.

Despite its bustling past, today, Shepherdstown is a quaint, college town with restaurants and boutiques, as well as historic homes lining its streets. 

Many of the buildings still retain their historic charm; many of the panes of glass in the windows are wavy, indicating they were hand-blown. 

After walking up and down German Street and browsing the boutiques, we decided to enjoy a late afternoon lunch/dinner at Lilah's, a dog friendly establishment that just seemed inviting. No, we didn't have our dog with us, but we wished we did! It seemed that most of the shops and restaurants welcomed well-behaved tail-wagging friends!

Not only is it inviting, but with a menu offering sandwiches and entrees from hamburgers and wraps to pizzas to vegan entrees, it's also worth visiting.

Then we continued our exploration, darting into an ice-cream shop for a cone.

After we explored the town, we kept driving, finding ourselves along River Road. Then we stumbled across some mysterious ruins by the Potomac River. What were they? Who lived, or worked, here? Why were they abandoned?

The mystery was solved with a little armchair sleuthing, thanks to the Jefferson County Historical Society. The ruins turned out to be the remains of a cement mill and furnace operation that helped build the C&O Canal. C&O Canal lock 38 is right around the corner.

For more info about these ruins, check out the historical society's website at http://jeffersoncountyhlc.org/index.php/landmarks/botelers-cement-mill/

If you're interested in making a full day of it, then pair a visit to Shepherdstown with a visit to nearby Antietam National Battlefield Park.

Getting there: Load German Street, Shepherdstown WV into your GPS

Website: www.discoveritallwv.com

Looking for more to explore in West Virginia? Check out West Virginia Daytrip Destinations

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Saturday, September 18, 2021

Yuengling Brewery Pilgrimage to Pottsville PA

As a home brewer for more than 30 years, my husband Michael’s bucket list includes some unique 
destinations. This one is in Pottsville, a town in Pennsylvania coal country, along the banks of the Schuylkill River. 
Carol Palla is guest blogging this week about a recent visit to America's oldest brewery: Yuengling.

The brewery offers free tours that last about an hour. Our guide was knowledgeable and shared information about the beer production process with anecdotes about the brewery’s history.

The first two beers that founder David G. Yuengling produced in 1829—the Lord Chesterfield Ale and the Yuengling Porter—are still produced today, along with eight other year-round brews and two seasonal offerings. At the final stage of production at this location, the beer goes into cans or bottles. Another facility handles kegs.

The history of the brewery is a central theme of the tour. This electric switch was used to start up the 
production line.

Yuengling collects spent grain, a byproduct of the brewing process, in this tank. It is sold to local farmers as feed. Our guide noted that the spent grain was why the most “hoppy” cows are in Schuykill County.

The tour includes a visit through the hand-dug caves that were used for cold storage, fermentation, and 
aging for almost eight decades in the early history of the brewery.

The Yuengling Brewery had been producing beer for 90 years when the 18th Amendment took effect.  Federal enforcement agents discarded all beer on site and built brick walls to seal off the hand-dug caves. When preparing for the brewery’s 190th anniversary, the caves were reopened with some of the brick walls left behind as a reminder of the brewery’s history.

During prohibition, the company moved to production of near-beer and constructed a dairy across the 
street as alternative revenue sources. The dairy now houses the gift shop and is the starting point for 

At the end of the tour, our guide became our bartender and offered visitors two free sample pours and 
additional brews for purchase. Raging Eagle, a Pilsner style with mango flavoring, was our favorite.

To make this bucket list visit even more memorable, we unexpectedly came across owner Richard “Dick” Yuengling (on the left). The company has remained privately owned within the Yuengling family for five generations. Dick Yuengling will sell the company to his four daughters when he retires. They already play key roles in running the operation.

Know before you go: This is a walking tour that goes through a historic building with an active manufacturing environment. Closed-toed shoes are required. Participants go up and down several steps of narrow stairs. Some of the walkways are uneven and the cave floor can be wet. Our tour guide gave us plenty of time to get from one area to the next.

Getting there: 420 Mahantongo St, Pottsville, PA

Hours: Monday – Saturday 10:30 a.m.- 3 p.m.; Closed Sundays, New Year’s Day, Memorial Day, Independence Day, Labor Day, Thanksgiving Day, and Christmas Day.

Website: https://www.yuengling.com/visit-us/pottsville-faqs/

Carol Palla and her husband Mike enjoy brewing their own craft beer and visiting breweries.

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