The eastern quarter of Pennsylvania's Route 6 is its most diverse, in terms of geography, geology and people. Along this route, you have the gorgeous lush greenery of the Pocono Mountains and the inspiring and majestic Delaware Water Gap and the necessary despair of coal mines. Route 6 is dotted with pretty little villages and the big city of Scranton. The population is no longer only farmers and small business types, but includes workers of every background and ethnicity in a marvelous mosaic, common to big towns and cities.
The four counties that make up the Poconos region of Pennsylvania share ten skiing areas between them. June and October are the most beautiful times for driving through the Poconos, for the mountain laurel, from about June 10 to 30, and autumn fall foliage, from about October 1 to 15. For great viewing, travel east of Scranton on Route 6 or from Milford, you can continue on US 209 along the Susquehanna River as it makes it way through the Delaware Water Gap. Another fine, but shorter, viewing route is State 590 from Hawley through Lackawaxen to Greeley.
In Scranton, the area's largest juried arts & crafts show, the Moscow Music & Arts Festival, take place in summer, as does La Festa Italiana, with cuisine, entertainment and Italian crafts. Fall is a great time for a Foliage rail excursion from Steamtown, preferably with a real choo-choo engine.
In Scranton, the prime attraction is the Steamtown National Historic Site (tel. 888/693-9391 or 570/340-5200; www.nps.gov/stea; 150 South Washington Avenue, Scranton PA 18503-2018) (1986), where you can see the giants of steam railroading, including the largest engine here, Big Boy, and the Mikado. Most fun, perhaps, is the gigantic turntable (90 feet in diameter), centerpiece of the museum, itself built like an old-time roundhouse. The site is on 40 aces of the old Delaware, Lackawanna and Western Railway Yard. Among other highlights, look for displays in the Truesdale Gallery about Phoebe Snow. She was a fictional character clad in all white hat, gloves and long garments, used in railroad ads to show how clean their hard, anthracite coal left passengers who would be smudged by soot and cinders from soft bituminous coal, in an early, successful advertising campaign (1900-1917), the Lackawanna railroad becoming known as "the Route of Phoebe Snow." Tours include a peep into huge locomotive restoration shops, where work continues unceasingly. Admission $6 (ages 17 and older).
Adjacent to Steamtown is the Electric City (Lackawanna) Trolley Museum (tel. 800/22WELCOME; www.lackawannacounty.org), with vintage trolley rides, interactive exhibits, children's playroom, and theater, as well as a restoration shop.
You can "go down in history" on a 60-minute tour at the Lackawanna County Coal Mine (tel. 570/963-MINE; www.lackawannacounty.org; McDade Park, Scranton PA 18504) just outside Scranton. You descend in a converted miner's car to about 300 feet underground, past three veins of coal. Former mine workers are on hand to answer questions, and there is a nifty gift shop, with many objects (figurines, etc., a black Lab for $40) made from coal. Open April 1 through November 30 except for Thanksgiving Day. Admission $7, seniors $6.50, children 3-12 $5.
Across from the mine is the Anthracite Museum (tel. 570/963-4804; www.anthracitemuseum.org; Bald Mountain, Scranton PA 18504) which chronicles the immigrants who came to work in the coal mining and textile industries. Check out the fascinating depiction of the Great Anthracite Coal Strike of 1902. The results of this strike greatly improved working conditions for men and boy mine workers. A fourth of the miners at this time were boys under 12, some only 9 and 10. Teddy Roosevelt intervened to end the strike, Mother Jones helped too, and JP Morgan persuaded his fellow capitalists to compromise. Clarence Darrow argued for the United Mine Workers too, and there's still a statue of local labor leader John Mitchell at the county courthouse. Admission $4, seniors $3.50, youth (6 to 17) $2.
Grey Towers National Historic Landmark (tel. 570/296-9630; www.fs.fed.us/gt; 151 Grey Towers Drive, Milford PA 18337) is a charming French-chÃ¢teau-style mansion (1886), almost imposing in its bulk, the home of Gifford Pinchot, first chief of the US Forest Service and twice Governor of Pennsylvania. Heir to a wallpaper fortune, he became a confidant of Teddy Roosevelt, and is credited with tripling the size of our national forests. House and garden tours daily from Memorial Day weekend through October 31, otherwise each weekend day at 1 and 3. In addition to the swell reception hall and library, the property offers short hiking trails. Most fun is the "Finger Bowl," designed by Mrs. Pinchot, the term referring to the outdoor eating area itself, and its unique dining table. The oval-shaped stone table, seating 15 to 20 people, has a pool of water in the center where food was floated in wooden bowls or dishes so that diners could pass food across to each other. Admission $5, $4 for seniors, $2 for youth (12-17). Guided tours only daily form Memorial Day through October 31. Grounds open daily.
The nearby town of Milford itself has a central business district designated a National Historic Area and says surrounding Pike County (with over 100,000 acres of forest) is "the jewel of the Delaware Highlands".
Students of history should love the French Azilum Historic Site (tel. 570/265-3376; www.frenchazilum.com) a planned settlement on the Susquehanna intended for refugees fleeing the French Revolution, where even Marie Antoinette was expected to spend her days. Today there are only ruins and the LaPorte House (1836), moved here after 1954 and a came come to live here in 30 rough log houses. The famous French minister Talleyrand and Louis Philippe, later king of France, visited. The place is hard to find (I missed the turning), so at Wysox, on Route 6, turn south on Route 187, then go four miles to Durell, turn left, heading east on State 2014 and go three and a half miles to the site. If you haven't time to visit, pause on Route 6 above the site and look down for a grand view. Admission $5, seniors $4.50, students $3, $2 less for grounds only.
Honesdale, (tel. 570/253-5492; www.honesdale.com) straddling Route 6, is a cute little town. About 20 of its blocks are fine examples of how 19th century Main Streets once looked. Honesdale claims to be the "birthplace of the American railroad," as an imported engine, the Stourbridge Lion, was the first locomotive to run on track in America on August 8, 1829. (The famed Baltimore & Ohio's Tom Thumb didn't get on rails until 1830, though the B&O was chartered in 1827.) You can see a replica in the Wayne County Historical Museum at 810 Main Street today. There's no argument about the boyhood home of Dick Smith, the composer of the song Winter Wonderland, however, it's right here. On Memorial Day Weekend they have an Arts & Antiques Weekend, in late July a Street Festival & Sidewalk Sale, in October Harvest & Heritage Days, and so on.
Just south of Honesdale is Hawley, another pretty town, with many Victorian-era structures, and one in Normanesque Style (1900), said to be the largest bluestone building in the world, now the home of Castle Antiques and Reproductions. In the mid-19th century, this place owed its prosperity to coal and canals, the latter soon to be replaced by railroads. There are arts/craft fairs in June and September, a harvest hoedown in October, and an ice tee golf tournament in February. More dope at the Hawley-Lake Wallenpaupack Chamber of Commerce (tel. 570/226-3191; www.hawleywallenpaupackcc.com).
The Dorflinger Glass Museum (tel. 570/253-1185; www.dorflinger.org) and a related wildlife sanctuary are worth a look in White Mills, in the Pocono Mountains. Mary Todd Lincoln was the first president's wife to buy some of this heavily-cut glassware for the White House, followed by seven other presidential spouses, including Edith Wilson. The firm also sold to Queen Victoria and King Edward VII. In business from 1852 to 1921, they don't make it like this anymore. The Dorflinger-Suydam Wildlife Sanctuary that surrounds the museum is gorgeous. You might attend a concert here if you get lucky on the dates (July 15, 22, 29, 30, August 5, 12, 13, 2006.
Close by is another National Historic Site, the Zane Grey Museum (tel. 570/685-4871; www.nps.gov/upde/zgmuseum.htm; Route 590, Lackawaxen PA 18435), the large but unassuming wooden home of Zane Grey, the prolific Western novel writer. Grey was a dentist and semi-pro baseball player who began writing here in 1905 and continued until he went to Hollywood in 1918 to help produce films based on his books. 20 minute guided tours with first editions of all his books and more.
Weird is the right word for the Houdini Tour & Magic Show (tel. 570/342-5555; www.Houdini.org; 1433 N. Main Avenue, Scranton PA) in Scranton, reportedly the only museum in the world devoted entirely to Houdini. Owner Dorothy Dietrich, a magician herself, is said to have caught a bullet in her teeth from a gun fired on a Discovery Channel show recently. Open daily July and August, weekends in June. Admission $11.95 adults, $9.95 children.
Supposedly to be the largest antique store in northeast Pennsylvania is The Carriage Barn (tel. 570/587-5405; www.carriagebarnantiques.com; 1550 Fairview Road in Clarks Summit) off I-81 (not far from Route 6) in Clarks Summit, open daily and in business for 37 years, with over 6,000 sq. ft. of room-like settings.
Another hot spot is Olde Good Things (tel. 888/233-9678 or 570/341-7668; www.oldegoodthings.com; 400 Gilligan Street, Scranton PA 18508) where items from closed, renovated or torn-down buildings are rescued and sold. For example, there are over 50 original marble mantles from New York City's Plaza Hotel on sale. In addition to architectural salvage, they also have custom made products such as tin panels and mirrors, iron works and wooden flooring. There are also branches in New York City and Los Angeles.
The Everhart Museum (tel. 570/346-7186; www.everhart-museum.org; 1901 Mulberry Street, Scranton PA 18510) in Scranton has a big collection of Dorflinger Glass (1852 to 1921), and paintings and prints by Rembrandt, Goya and Durer, to mention only three artists, as well as a large American folk art collection. Admission $5 adults, $3 seniors and students, $2 youth (free tours on Sundays).
Theater, dance and music performances (the latter including the Northeast Pennsylvania Philharmonic) occur year round at places like the Scranton Cultural Center, Nay Aug Park Amphitheater and elsewhere. Consult local papers for times and venues.
If you elect to stay in Scranton, and especially if you plan to spend much time at Steamtown nearby, you must stay at the Radisson Lackawanna Station Hotel (tel. 570/342-8300; www.radisson.com/scrantonpa; 700 Lackawanna Avenue, Scranton PA 18503) Fashioned from the splendid old station building of 1908, the hotel retains the exterior and interior of one of the most beautiful railroad terminals in the East, a place listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The outside is neo-Classical, the inside, especially the Grand Lobby, a marvel of barrel-vaulted Tiffany stained-glass ceiling, Siena marble walls and a unique grouping of 36 faience tile murals surrounding the upper reaches of the vast space (ask the hotel for a printed description). You dine in this area at Carmen's, named for the train workers, but stay in one of 146 traditionally decorated rooms with Sleep Number adjustable beds and all the amenities. There's a fitness center/sauna, gift shop, wine bar (the first in Scranton), etc. The last train left in 1970, hotel life began in 1983. Renovations underway will be finished by September 2006, they say. You can take a trolley two blocks from the hotel to go to the baseball stadium and back, for instance. Rooms range from $119. The location is at one end of the Steamtown Mall.
While in Milford, try to have lunch or dinner at the Dimmick Inn & Steakhouse (tel. 570/296-4021; www.dimmickinn.com; 101 E. Harford Street, Milford PA 18337) ("since 1828"), filled with old-fashioned cheerfulness and offering good food, too. I had chunky tomato soup at $3.50 and spicy seafood pasta (calamari, shrimp, scallops) at $20.95. This is another restaurant on Route 6 whose menu reminds customers the dangers associated with consuming raw or undercooked meats, poultry, seafood, shellfish or eggs, a very thoughtful and too rare a public service.
For ambience, nothing can beat Scranton's Carmen's restaurant, in the Grand Lobby of the Radisson Lackawanna Station Hotel (see description under Lodging, above). With fine food their theme, a seared shrimp and scallop dish runs $25, but special bargains include weekday brunch at $9.95 and Sunday brunch at $19.95 ($11.95 under 12). Less expensive food in the hotel is found at Trax, a publike spot, a Reuben sandwich with onion rings going for $6.95.
In the Scranton area is a neighborhood called Old Forge, which claims to have its own style of square pizza, the same shape as a Chicago pie, but thinner. Locals say it doesn't matter which pizza place you go to on Main Street in Old Forge, they're all good. But I would add, beware of the grease.
More information on Route 6 found at the PA Route 6 Tourist Association (tel. 87 PAROUTE 6; www.paroute6.com; 35 Main Street, Galeton PA 16922).
All you need to know about the Poconos is available from their Vacation Bureau (tel. 800 POCONOS; www.800poconos.com; 1004 Main Street, Stroudsburg PA 18360). There are also nine Information Centers along highways, three of them staffed.
Finally, check out the Lackawanna County Visitors Bureau at (tel. 800/229-3526; www.visitnepa.org; 1300 Old Plank Rd., Mayfield PA 18433).
If you don't drive to this area and want to begin a road trip here, consider Scranton with its airport (shared with Wilkes-Barre) as a possible starting point.
This is the third of three articles about driving across Pennsylvania on Route 6.
Have you taken a trip recently to Pennsylvania or have comments about this article? Tell us about it in our Pennsylvania Message Boards by clicking here.