Buchanan's Birthplace State Park is a small, off-the-beaten-path park dedicated to former President James Buchanan. Buchanan's father owned the land around this site, and the President was born and spent his first six years here before moving off to nearby Mercersburg then later Carlisle.
Before becoming president, Buchanan served as a member of the Pennsylvania state assembly, 10 years in the US house of Representatives, 10 years in the US Senate, 2 years as the foreign minister to Russia, 4 years as the foreign minister to Great Britain, and 4 years as Secretary of State. Many experts consider him to be the most experienced and well-prepared US president ever.
As president, however, his successes were limited. He is blamed for failing to prevent the Civil War as he declared secession illegal, but war to prevent secession was also illegal. He was also president during the financial panic of 1857 and the Utah War (also called "Buchanan's Blunder").
Buchanan is the only American president to never be married. Instead of a first lady, he was helped by his niece Harriet Lane. She not only helped decorate the White House and entertain guests, but she also had many humanitarian causes such as prison reform, fair treatment of native Americans, and she was a nurse in the Civil War. She also opened the first children's hospital in Washington DC. Upon her death Harriet Lane left $100,000 for two monuments to be built for her favorite uncle. The first monument was constructed here from 1907 to 1908, and the second was built in Washington DC and completed in 1930.
The park is between McConnellsburg and Mercersburg on PA Route 16, near the town of Cove Gap.
Jim Thorpe was born on an Indian reservation in Oklahoma, to an Irish Catholic father and a mother who was half Sac and Fox Indian and half French. Jim Thorpe was raised as a Sac and Fox Indian, but also as a Catholic. At the age of 16, Jim Thorpe enrolled in the Carlisle, PA Indian School and he learned to play football from Pop Warner himself. Jim Thorpe loved to play football and was a spectacular star, but he became even more famous by competing in the 1912 Olympics and winning gold in both the pentathlon and the decathlon. It was reveled that Jim Thorpe had violated the Olympic rules against professional athletes competing, so Thorpe's medals were stripped, only to be restored in the 1980s. After the Olympics, Jim Thorpe played professional football and baseball until about 1928.
Jim Thorpe died in 1953, and his wife brokered a deal with Mauch Chunk, Pennsylvania. The town could change its name to Jim Thorpe if they would bury his body in the town and erect a fitting memorial for one of the greatest athletes our county has known. The monument site contains his tomb, two statues of Jim Thorpe, and historical markers describing his life story. It is said that Jim Thorpe's grave rests on soil from his native Oklahoma and from the Olympic stadium in Sweden.
The town we know today as Jim Thorpe was founded in 1818 as Mauch Chunk, possibly a local Indian phrase meaning "bear mountain." In its early days, Mauch Chunk thrived on its coal industry, which hauled the coal from the nearby mountains into town via rail. One of the routes, called the Mauch Chunk Switchback Gravity Railroad, is cited as being the inspiration for early roller coasters, as locals flocked to ride the train down an exciting 9 mile route.
In 1953 famous athlete Jim Thorpe passed away, and his wife maid a deal with the town. If they erected a monument, they could bury Mr. Thorpe here, and rename the town Jim Thorpe. If the body was ever removed, the name of the town would have to change. The town did their part and erected a fitting monument to the great athlete. However, in 2010, Jim Thorpe's son has begun a lawsuit to try to get the Olympian's body moved to Oklahoma.
Kinzua Dam was authorized in the 1930s but not started until 1960. When built along the Allegheny River Valley, Pennsylvania's last Indian reservation, which housed the Seneca Indians, was forced to relocate to Salamanca, New York. 10,000 acres here were granted to the Seneca by a 1794 treaty, and here they remained until the dam was built and water covered their homes.
This was one of my grandfather's favorite places to visit when I was a growing up in Western Pennsylvania. In fact, I took the photos with my grandfather in about 1985 or so.
The Twin Bridges are the only twin covered bridges in the United States. Called the East Paden Bridge and the West Paden Bridge, they were constructed in 1884 by W.C. Pennington for $720.00, and were named after John Paden, who operated a nearby sawmill. The East Paden Bridge is 79 feet (24 meters) long and the West Paden Bridge is 103 feet (31 meters) long.
The Twin Bridges County Park was established in 1963 when a new road bypassed the bridges.
The Twin Bridges are located on Huntington Creek in Fishing Creek Township, just east of Forks, Pennsylvania.
Kinzua Bridge, constructed in 1882, was once known as the Eighth Wonder of the World. It stood 301 feet over the creek below, and it stretched 2,052 feet across the valley, making it the longest and tallest railroad bridge in the world when it was completed. In 1900 the iron bridge was dismantled piece by piece and rebuilt of steel to allow it to carry increasingly heavier loads. The last commercial trains ran the route in 1959, and the State of Pennsylvania took over the site. In 1988 a sightseeing train began operation over the bridge on the Knox and Kane Railroad from Marienville, PA.
When I was a kid, back in the 1980s, my grandpa loved this old bridge. He was amazed by the sheer height of the bridge, and we used to try to drop stones from the center to the stream below. Walking all the way across the bridge and back was a leisurely stroll of almost a mile.
Sadly the bridge was partially destroyed by a tornado in 2003, when winds of at least 94 miles per hour toppled 11 of the 20 steel support towers. This photo on Wikipedia shows the bridge after the destruction: http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/c/c0/Kinzua_Bridge_panorama_2.jpg. The bridge will not be rebuilt due to the huge estimated cost ($45M), but in 2011 the state completed a $4.5M upgrade that will allow visitors to walk 600 feet out on the remaining section of bridge and peer down through a glass observation deck called the"Tracks Across the Sky."
The bridge is located in Kinzua Bridge State Park, which consists of 32 acres of northwest Pennsylvania's finest woodlands. The area offers hiking among the ruins of the old towers, facilities for picnics and other recreation.
Also called Route 44, this is a state byway that is 27 miles long and has views of Sproul State Forest. There are no homes or even power lines along this area but there are deer , elk and even bears. It is a big hunting area and not much traffic. This goes between Snow Shoe and Renovo and make sure you have enough gas, since there is no service between these areas. Some of the dirt roads seem to lead to nowhere or to camprounds miles back. We did stop at 2 overlooks called Two Run Rock Vista and the Fish Dam Run Scenic View. The road is windy and steep in some places so care should be taken.
Bucktail Trail or PA 120 is another scenic byway in Pennsylvania that is 100 miles long. It goes from Ridgway in the west to Lock Haven in the west. Another curvy road, it it scenic with the Sinnemahoning Creek along parts of it. There are some little towns but not many services.
Throughout his life, America's first President, George Washington, spent quite a bit of time in Pennsylvania. In fact many of the most famous moments of his life occurred here such as when his forces started the global conflict known as the Seven Years War, when he was defeated at Fort Necessity in the French and Indian War, when he wintered the Continental Army at Valley Force, and when he cross the Delaware from Pennsylvania to defeat British and German forces at Trenton, NJ.
During the French and Indian War George Washington traveled to Pennsylvania several times. In 1753, as an emissary of the British government, he visited modern day Pittsburgh, Franklin, and most of the way to Erie. In 1754 he returned with a company of Virginia and fired the first shots of the French and Indian War (and the global Seven Years War) when he defeated a small French garrison at Jumonville Glen. Just over a month later Washington's forces surrendered to the French at Fort Necessity near Uniontown, PA. In 1755 he returned again, this time as an aide to General Braddock, to witness the British defeat and death of Braddock in the Battle of Monongahela in the present town of Braddock, PA. In 1758 he returned again with British forces under General John Forbes, and were finally able to capture French Fort Duquesne at what is now downtown Pittsburgh.
During the American Revolution Washington again spent a great deal of time in the Keystone State. In 1775 he arrived in Philadelphia, following the Battles of Lexington and Concord, for the Second Continental Congress, and he was named Major General and commander of the new Continental Army. After several defeats at the hand of the British, Washington achieved success in the Battles of Trenton and Princeton following his famous crossing of the Delaware River in December 1776. The following year, 1777, Washington's forces were defeated at the Battle of Brandywine, PA, the British captured Philadelphia, and Washington wintered his forces at Valley Forge. In 1778 Washington's forces followed the British from Philadelphia to New York, achieving victory at Monmouth, NJ.
Washington also visited Pennsylvania during the creation of the nation following the Revolution. In 1784, Washington again ventured to the site Fort Necessity on Braddock's Road to visit his property and plan future land transportation routes to the expanding United States. In 1787 he attended the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia and was elected president of the gathering. In 1794 Washington personally led a force of 13,000 men into Western Pennsylvania to quash the Whiskey Rebellion, one of only two times a sitting US President has commanded military forces in the field. In 1790 the national capital was temporarily moved form New York to Philadelphia while Washington DC was designed and the capital buildings constructed. Throughout the remainder of his Presidency, George Washington's official home was Robert Morris' house on Market Street, which is now being partially reconstructed by the city of Philadelphia near the Liberty Bell.
Poet James Whitcomb Riley once wrote, "Mongst the hills of Somerset, I wish I were a'roamin' yet."
Somerset was home to many of the leaders of the Whiskey Rebellion of 1794. This rebellion against the new federal government ensued because of a new tax on whiskey intended to pay off the debt from the Revolutionary War. Washington eventually led a force of 12,000 militiamen into Western Pennsylvania to quell the rebellion, but only resulted in 20 arrests. The Whiskey Rebellion was the first major test of federal authority under the newly adopted U.S. Constitution.
Somerset Wind Energy Center is a six-turbine, 9-megawatt (MW) wind farm located just a few miles east of the town of Somerset. This small wind farm was constructed in 2001 on an abandoned and reclaimed strip mine, and is easily visible from the PA Turnpike. The six turbines produce enough energy to power about 3,000 homes. Each tower stands 210 feet tall and the rotors have a diameter of 231 feet.
Burnside is way off the beaten path in rural Clearfield County, PA. When driving through you'll notice a few huge, but run-down old mansions, amazing architecture for this area. This tiny community sits along a railroad line and a branch of the Susquehanna River, so it built its fortune on the logging industry. It also has a few interesting historical tidbits.
George Atcheson, noted abolitionist and operator of the Underground Railroad, had two houses in Burnside. The houses were built side-by-side with a secret passage between them for hiding runaway slaves on their way to Canada.
Nearby Cherry Tree was the birthplace of Army Corporal WARREN J. SHEPHERD who fought with Company D, 17th U.S. Infantry at El Caney, Cuba, 1 July 1898. He received the Medal of Honor on 21 August 1899, after he "Gallantly assisted in the rescue of the wounded from in front of the lines under heavy fire from the enemy."
The area around Burnside has plaques honoring both of these local heroes.
Corsica, PA is a small village of about 300 people and is located along rural Interstate-80 in Western PA. The town was most likely named after the Island of Corsica in France, the birthplace of Napoléon Bonaparte.
Today Corsica is home to Jack's Boot Shop, a huge store with thousands of pairs of boots in stock. Otherwise, there's hardly another business in town.
Corsica does have some US military history. Robert Means Thompson was born in Corsica in 1849 and later attended the US Naval Academy at Annapolis. He served in the Indian Ocean and Mediterranean Sea before getting his law degree. The United States Navy destroyer USS Thompson (DD-627) was named in his honor. This ship took part in the invasion of Normandy during World War II, fought in the Korean War, and served as the Caine in the movie "The Caine Mutiny."
Brookville is a town founded on the lumber and logging industry. Its first settlers arrived around 1790, and the town's first house was built in 1801. The area's loggers used the area streams and rivers to float logs down to Pittsburgh and beyond. The town was established in 1830 on a major transportation route called the Susquehanna and Waterford Turnpike, When Brookville was connected to the railroad, the town's exports grew to include coal as well as locally produced cars for a short period of time. Today, Brookville remains heavily involved in the logging industry, and Interstate-80 runs just north of the small town of 4,000 people, bringing in some additional business.
Judge Elijah Heath's home, at 66 Pickering Street, was part of the Underground Railroad. Judge Heath's home, built in 1836 and remodeled in 1902, has a basement passageway used to hide runaway slaves on their way into Canada.
Ewingjr98's grandfather grew up near Brookville in a town called Sigel, and Ewingjr98's great grandfather was known to have been in the logging business, floating logs down the Clarion River.
Someone has got to come in last and on many people’s lists of U.S. Presidents regarding their effectiveness, James Buchanan comes in dead last, or nearly so. The man - the only President to come from Pennsylvania - is condemned mainly for his actions - and inactions - which helped lead to the American Civil War - many southern States actually left the Union while Buchanan was still in office - he didn‘t believe that the southern States could legally secede from the nation, as a whole, but he also felt that as President, he was legally powerless to stop them. He had a superb list of credentials preparing him for the Presidency - lawyer, two terms in the Pennsylvania State Assembly, ten years U.S. Congress, ten years U.S. Senate, two years foreign minister to Russia, four years foreign minister to Great Britain and four years as Secretary of State under James Polk. Buchanan never lost an election to which he had been nominated for - he wasn’t always nominated for the positions he sought, however - for example, the 1856 election in which Buchanan became the 15th President was far from the first time “Old Buck” had been aspiring to become President.
Here in the woods of Tuscarora Mountain, a tall pyramidal monument stands where Buchanan’s childhood and birthplace home once did - he was born 23 April, 1791. His father, an immigrant from northern Ireland, established a way station here on the east side of Cove Gap for travelers heading west through the Allegheny Mountains. The family moved to nearby Mercersburg when James was six - partly to give their son a better chance at receiving and education. The house can still be seen on the campus of the Mercersburg Academy to which it was moved in the 1930’s.
Buchanan was the only President to remain a lifelong bachelor - and there are many rumors regarding his sexuality. His niece, Harriet Lane Johnston, helped her uncle out during his term in the White House by serving as the de facto First Lady. She was beset by major tragedies in her family life - both of her sons and her husband dying of illness in the early 1880’s. She went on to help found what is today the pediatric teaching and research center at John Hopkins University in Baltimore - which is where she and her family lived. Her art collection became the core to what would become the Smithsonian National Gallery in 1906. In her will - she died in 1903 - she left monies for two monuments to be erected in memory of her uncle, one in Washington, D.C. - the Buchanan Memorial, located in the south part of Meridian Hill Park - and this memorial here at the site of Old Buck’s birth. The monument was built in 1907-08.
For more on the Keystone State President, see my tips in Lancaster - where Buchanan’s home, Wheatland and his grave are - see also the next tip: Mercersburg, where the original cabin that used to stand here along Buck Run was moved to.
Robert Peary was born in Cresson in 1856 about 80 miles east of Pittsburgh. His family moved to Portland, Maine where he for the most part grew up, graduating from Bowdoin College. Peary is best known for his Arctic expeditions, exploring Greenland several times and controversially becoming the first person to reach the North Pole in 1909. He was intelligent and adaptable, utilizing Inuit survival techniques during his treks - igloos, dogs and practical furs for clothing. Fergus Fleming, in his book “Ninety Degrees North”, described Peary as “the most driven … most successful and probably the most unpleasant man in the annals of polar exploration.” The stories of Peary’s quests are quite remarkable as was his ongoing battle with Frederick Cook - who claimed to have reached the North Pole in 1908 - and his relations with Inuit women resulted in children left behind. He lost eight of his toes as a result of the rigors endured on his journeys. Congress, in return for his successes, awarded him a Rear Admiral’s pension in 1911 and he retired to Eagle Island near Freeport, Maine, where his home is preserved as a historic site. The monument here shows Peary in arctic costume along with a heroic looking husky searching for the elusive North Pole. Just across the street from the small park is the imposing buildings of Mt Aloysius College.
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