While driving across north Pennsylvania on beautiful Route 6, signs announced that I was entering God's Country, assuring me it would be "untouched, unspoiled, untamed." In actuality, God's Country is Potter County, but they have reason to brag. For one thing, there are 1,192,713 acres of pristine wilderness. While not a dedicated tree hugger, I have to admit the forest and fields are beyond beautiful.
Reflecting the open, casual nature of the uncrowded area, neighboring Tioga County is home to Wellsboro Academy, a former schoolhouse/church from the 1820s that was selling for $199,900 at press time. The Academy is listed in the National Register of Historic Places.
Also remarkable, in Coudersport, the Lady of Justice (1888), which once crowned the Courthouse roof, now stands in its lobby. It's one of only five justice statues in the country that wears no blindfold, fitting in God's Country, known for its honest folk. In Towanda, farther east on Route 6, another unblindfolded Lady Justice sits on the courthouse roof.
Notable events in God's Country include logrolling at the Woodsmen's Show (August 4 to 6, 2006), stargazing at Cherry Springs State Park on August 19, 25, 26 and 27, 2006, and stargazing again on September 16 and 23, 2006. Several telescopes are provided and operated by park staff and volunteers.
One of the prettiest towns imaginable is Wellsboro, with its lovely tree-shaded Main Street, really a boulevard, gas-lit still by sturdy iron lamps.
A walking tour of Main Street passes several impressive homes and buildings, highlights include the Green Free Library, the Lincoln Door House (because the door was a gift from Abraham Lincoln in 1858), the Art Deco Arcadia Theater and the Penn Wells Hotel.
The town square's centerpiece, rather than a war memorial, is a fountain featuring Wynken, Blynken and Nod in their wooden shoe. The town's 3,500 inhabitants live just ten miles from the Pennsylvania Grand Canyon (Pine Creek Gorge).
Zippo for Free
A highlight for smokers, ex-smokers and the alleged four million collectors of its lighters is the Zippo-Case Visitor Center (tel. 888/442-1932 or 814/368-1932; www.zippo.com; 1932 Zippo Drive, Bradford PA 16701) in Bradford, a few detour miles up Route 219 from Route 6. Exhibited here are Zippo lighters (dating back to 1933, cost $1.95) and Case cutlery, as well as the Zippo Repair Clinic at work. Open daily except Sundays from January to May, and major holidays. Free admission.
Pennsylvania Lumber Museum
Take a self-guided tour at the Pennsylvania Lumber Museum (tel. 814/435-2652; www.lumbermuseum.org; 5660 Route 6, Galeton PA 16922) and come during fall foliage time if possible. This is an outdoor museum depicting the early lumber industry, with a railway engine house, blacksmith shop, bunkhouse, mess hall, kitchen house, horse barn and sawmill. There's a CCC cabin, a reminder of the magnificent work done by President Roosevelt's Civilian Conservation Corps during the depression. Otherwise unemployed men earned $30 a month, $25 of which was sent home to their families, planting some 200 million trees in our national forests, constructing thousands of miles of roads and trails, establishing hiking paths, restoring historic battlefields, and developing hundreds of camp sites and grounds.
At the museum, July's annual Bark Peelers' Convention features contests on the greased pole, frog jumping, birling (log rolling) and tobacco spitting, among other delights. Open daily April through November.
God's Great Outdoors
You can't beat the vastness of the Grand Canyon, even if it's just the Grand Canyon of Pennsylvania, also known as Pine Creek Gorge. Surrounded by 165,000 acres of the Tioga State Forest, it's truly unspoiled. For biking, hiking, canoeing and other sports, contact Pine Creek Outfitters (tel. 570/724-3003; www.pinecrk.com; 5142 Route 6, Wellsboro PA 16901).
Bikes rent for only $35, including a shuttle return at the end of your run. The Pine Creek Rail Trail is 42 miles long and supposedly being expanded into one of the longest in the country. It parallels Pine Creek in the Pennsylvania Grand Canyon, named by USA Today one of the "Ten Great Places" for a bike tour.
Visiting stations along the route, I noticed it is well maintained, with rest stops, toilets, and other amenities. You can also cruise the trail by covered wagon (with rubber tires and padded seats), or a 4 x 4, or take a train excursion nearby. All options are available through the Tioga County Visitors Bureau (tel. 888/TIOGA 28; www.visittiogapa.com).
The Susquehannock Trail System consists of a rolling, 85-mile hiking trail through the Susquehannock State Forest in the Allegheny Mountains, incorporating foot trails, old and new logging roads and abandoned logging railroad grades. The trail, marked by rectangular orange blazes, has no shelters. There's also a God's Country Marathon along Route 6.
Near Warren, the Allegheny National Forest features over 500,000 acres of trees, offering all sorts of recreation. There are over one thousand miles of hiking, biking and horse-back riding trails, just to mention a few options.
The First Official Dark Sky Preserve
Cherry Spring State Park is a 48-acre, amateur astronomer's paradise. It's surrounded by the 262,000-acre Susquehannock State Forest, freeing it of light pollution that obstructs star gazing in more developed areas. This park is the prototype for the National Public Observatory's Stars-n-Parks program, now operating in seven states. Pennsylvania recently made the spot its first Official Dark Sky Preserve. Find it on Route 44
Nearby Towanda has several antique shops including The Country Peddler (tel. 717/265-3933; 403 Main Street), which is closed on Sundays, and Aimey's Antique Co-op (tel. 570/265-4595) a multi-dealer (reportedly 10) shop five miles west on Route 6. Open daily.
Back in town, Pure Pennsylvania Gallery & General Store (tel. 570/268-5055) is right on the river on Washington Street in the former railroad station. Owner Jill says she represents more than 150 artists, with folk art, fine art, pottery, soap, candles, food, books, quilts, glass, jewelry, gourds and carved wood, all produced by local artists and farmers. They try, they say, to carry only items made in the USA.
Grab some picnic grub at the Towanda Farmers Market (tel. 570/268-4093; e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org) located next to the Washington Street Station on River Street, from mid May through early October, on Fridays from 10 to 2 and Tuesdays from 3 to 6. Other popular Farmers Markets in the Northern Tier include one in Coudersport (tel. 814/274-7827) on Fridays and Saturdays and Wellsboro (tel. 570/724-7839) on Fridays 3 to 7 on Route 6 next to the post office.
At the Arcadia Theater (tel. 800/769-8999) in Wellsboro, you can watch current movies in a building that's shown films since 1921. It's one of five historic theaters in north central Pennsylvania, an area self-dubbed "the Northern Tier." Just west of Towanda along Route 6, you'll find the Methodist Episcopal Church -- now a National Historic Site located in tiny Burlington.
For a beautiful vista and a splendid breakfast, head for elegantly modern B&B, The Arvgarden (tel. 570/724-4337; www.arvgarden.com; e-mail: email@example.com; 5159 Arnot Road, Wellsboro PA 16901-8318), near Wellsboro. The recently completed Swedish style building sits on 118 sheep-covered acres and features four en suite guest rooms. Hosts Keith and Hilma Cooper make a charming, intelligent couple. They enjoy weaving and practice ultra-refined ecological living. The Coopers began their B&B so they could farm and house their visiting children and grandchildren.
Each room costs $95 plus tax, for single or double occupancy, including a full cooked breakfast. All jams and jellies are made from fruit grown on the farm. The Coopers obtained their Pennsylvania Dept. of Agriculture license and ServSafe certification, which practically no other small kitchen has bothered to do. Corriedale sheep raised on the farm produce a rare, fine fleece -- custom spun yarn and hand-woven woolen items are sold on site.
In the middle of Wellsboro is the old Penn Wells Lodge and Hotel (tel. 800/545-2446; www.pennwells.com; e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org; Main Street, Wellsboro PA 16901). The main hotel has around 70 modernized rooms. The original structure dates to 1816 and the present building was erected in 1869. It was heavily renovated in 1926, and again in 1931. The Lodge is their associated motel down the street (55 rooms), opened in 1960, renovated in 1963 and 1987. The rooms in the Hotel start at $60, in the Lodge at $70. They have a Golf Package including meals, room and cart from $91 per person, double occupancy.
For lunch in Coudersport, try the historic Hotel Crittenden where Eliot Ness wrote his famous book, The Untouchables. Ness and his collaborator worked in a rented room above the hotel, which was then an office building. Enjoy a chicken salad croissant for $5, a Philly Sandwich for $6.95 (mine was tough), or a nice tomato soup at $2.75.
A few doors down Main Street from the Crittenden is Maple Tree (tel. 814/274-0700; 127 North Main St) offering breakfast, lunch and dinner at moderate prices and undoubtedly friendlier service than the Crittenden. Pancakes go for $2.69, omelets from $3.29; a meatloaf dinner costs $7.99, a sundae $2.99. Clearly a responsible establishment, the menu reminds diners that "consuming raw or undercooked meat or eggs may increase your chance of food borne illness," something rarely noted by restaurants.
On Wellsboro's lovely Main Street, try Timeless Destination (tel. 570/723-5050) at Number 77 for its Italian cuisine, seafood lasagna $16.99, regular pizza pie $1.99 small to $9.99 large. Phone 570/724-8499. Across the street is their deli, named Clementi's, offering hot dogs for $1.50, pastrami sandwiches at $5.99, and so on.
At the Penn Wells Hotel, a typical entrée like pan-roasted rainbow trout costs $12.95, a classic meatloaf only $8.95. Wednesday and Friday nights feature all-you-can-eat chicken fry or fish fry (haddock) at $8.95 or $10.95, respectively. See hotel listing for contact information.
Don't miss the Weigh Station Café, located in Towanda's old Washington Street Rail Station, and their outside dining area alongside the racing waters of the Susquehanna River. Sandwiches, melts and hot panini are on the menu. I heartily recommend the Hot Ham Panini, with baby spinach and Dijon mustard, for $6.75, but a hamburger is just $3.50, a cheeseburger $3.95. The affable owners, Barbara Keeney and Karen Parkhurst, also serve breakfast from $2.50 up, and have a kid's menu (mac n cheese at $2.95) and salads from $2.95. Phone them at 570/265-CAFÉ, open daily for breakfast and lunch, for dinner Tuesday through Saturday.
For more information on God's Country, contact the Potter County Visitors Association (tel. 888/POTTER 2; www.visitpottercounty.com; e-mail: email@example.com). Information on Tioga County (around Wellsboro) can be found at Tioga County Visitors Bureau (tel. 888/TIOGA 28; www.visittiogapa.com).
All the facts for the Endless Mountains area (around Towanda) can be found at the Endless Mountains Visitors Bureau (tel. 800/769-8999 or 570/836-5431; www.endlessmountains.org; e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org).
This is the second of three articles covering the entire 400 miles of Route 6 in northern Pennsylvania.
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