My spouse and I have an anniversary tradition of alternating years to arrange a celebratory trip. We’ve been doing this for each of the 16 years we’ve been married. I get the even-numbered years. The locations have ranged from a rock with a lighthouse in San Francisco Bay, Manuel Antonio Park in Costa Rica, and Taos to a primitive Pennsylvania State Park cabin and a dinner out. This year I arranged two nights in Bedford, about half way between Carlisle and Pittsburgh on Forbes Road.
It turned out to be a delightful get-a-way, despite rainy weather that required a change in plans from hiking in the hills to take in the fall color (though it is still a bit too early there for the peak color).
We drove out the old US highways, shunning the PA Turnpike, and adding an element of mystery to our destination, which Judy didn’t know. Route 11 from Carlisle to Chambersburg and Route 30 from there to Bedford pretty much follow the pre-revolutionary route of Forbes Road. General Forbes laid out the route in 1758 to transport munitions and other supplies from the Carlisle Barracks to Pittsburgh in the Seven Years War between the French and British. He established several forts along the route, including Fort Bedford, which were primarily supply sites. Some things don’t change much as these areas have become present day warehouse and logistics centers for distribution of goods with lots of truck traffic, but that’s another story.
It was fun to experience the landscape from the old routes and to go through the towns along the way. For those of you not in Central PA, the landscape is characterized by gently curving mountains (OK, big hills to westerners like me). They curve from southwest to northeast, concave toward the south, and many of these ridges lie rank-by-rank in close formation. Thus travel routes to either the northeast or southwest can follow the valleys while northwesterly or southeasterly travel requires crossing ridge after ridge on steep roads. The Turnpike has three tunnels that go through, rather than over, the biggest of the ridges.
We stayed in The Chancellor’s House B&B, which was one of the best we’ve experienced, partly because we were the only guests, but also because the owners (who were away) have clearly put attention to creating a comfortable home away from home. It was a lucky find with the help of Google. The place has a very cozy library, lots of lovely art (both two and three-dimensional, and quite a bit from the Pacific rim), and a nicely appointed dining room and table. The bed was very comfortable, the room quiet and airy, and the private bathroom ample in size. And it was all very clean. I had kitchen envy. The innkeeper provided a lovely breakfast and good advice on things to do and places to eat. They have WiFi and were accomodating with ice and glassware and a cheese and cracker tray for the cocktail hour as well as offering coffee and the local paper before breakfast.
Our room looked out on an old cemetery, which was also interesting to visit because it has both separate children’s and African American sections. We noted that although both European Americans and African Americans are buried there, they were in different sections. Separate but equal — more or less.
We popped in (and shook off the rain after leaping across big puddles in the street) at the National Museum of the American Coverlet, just across the street from the B&B in a former school building. One of the founders (Laszlo Zonger) gave us a two-hour guided tour and we learned a lot about coverlets, their different styles and designs, and the history of weaving in America. It was fascinating and gave a fresh point of view on American history. I never knew there could be so much engaging information about a woven bed cover. Very highly recommended!
There are plenty of covered bridges in Bedford County, so as the rain let up a bit, we followed a route given in the excellent vistors guidebook (be sure to pick one up if you go) to see a dozen or so of them. Most were of a very similar design, and after a while they sort of blended into one impression of the art of building covered bridges and applying graffiti to them.
Of course we couldn’t resist the side trip to Gravity Hill (which might better be named Anti-Gravity Hill). It was a ways up a narrow, dead end road, but worth the effort to experience a reversal of gravity as the car rolled UP HILL. It’s a optical illusion of sorts due to the changing grade of the road, but it sure as heck seems like you are rolling uphill. It’s quite convincing.
I’d only been to Bedford twice before — once to conduct Jack Shatzer’s funeral — and once when we stopped for lunch at the Golden Eagle Inn on our way home from Pittsburgh to Carlisle (on another wedding anniversary trip). It was on that trip that I first had buttermilk pie. How excellent is that? When we got home I had to make it! So this time we had to experience oatmeal pie at the Jean Bonnet Tavern. Oatmeal pie is essentially pecan pie with oats replacing the pecans. Sweet enough to make your teeth ache. Had a coconut topping and was OK, but doesn’t hold a candle to the buttermilk pie. I don’t think I’ll be making it.
Options for dining were rather limited, it being Sunday and Monday nights. But we did have a nice dinner at the above mentioned Jean Bonnet. I would have been happier if the waitress had not dropped a tray and sprayed broken glass on me. Oh well. Things happen. They picked up the mess efficiently and reasonably quietly. Our soups were good (tavern seafood chowder and classic French onion) but both were served lukewarm, prompting a complaint to the manager who thanked us for letting him know.
They have a good selection of draft beers, mostly from Pennsylvania. I tried the tavern’s own Forbes Trail Pale Ale, which was acceptable but “not my favorite,” and an Erie Railbender (Scotch style ale) which I quite liked with my grilled chicken salad. Judy enjoyed a Troegs Hopback with her salmon salad. The chicken and salmon were both very generous portions and nicely done.
Next night we ate at the Original Italian Pizza place on the main drag. I had lasagne and Judy had caneloni. Both with the same sauce and they were rather hard to tell apart.
Each of us had a glass of house “red” wine of a rather nondescript sort. But it was only $2.50 for a full glass. Our waitress couldn’t quite get the name of the wine. “Paisano” she thought, perhaps. The meal was inexpensive, generous, came with plenty of garlic bread and a house salad.
There are some nice shops in town. Founders Crossing, a large multi-vendor place, has mostly “country cottage” stuff (I almost said “junk”) and was of little interest. Enough of the booths had obnoxious stinky candles to make me unhappy there. There were antiques in the basement, but they were not interesting enough to grab our attention for long. The most interesting booth had cast iron garden ornaments.
The Backstage Alpaca Shop specializes in Alpaca yarn and goods and some very nice jewelry, including some with beads and unusual gem stones. The Bird’s Nest shop just across the street and around the corner offered a nice stop for lunch with two daily homemade soups. We were too late for the chicken-rice offering, but enjoyed a hearty chili con carne. The place had just opened a few days before. We wish them well. The clerk at the state Wine & Spirits Shop pegged us as outsiders and engaged us in conversation.
On the morning of our last day we took the long-way home by detouring to Johnstown, nearly an hour to the northwest. We wanted to learn about the Johnstown flood of 1889, in which over 2200 people died. The flood was caused by failure of an earthen dam that had been built by the state to provide water for a cross-state navigation canal system, then sold to a summer recreation camp (the South Fork Fishing and Hunting Club) for wealthy industrial barons of Pittsburgh so their offspring could meet and cavort with “their own kind” in a lovely mountain setting. The barons and their property managers did several things to enhance their experience of the reservoir which compromised the dam, and they didn’t pay attention to engineering warnings about the dam’s condition. A tremendous rain storm caused it to fail catastrophically, wiping out the towns in the path of the resulting flood of water and debris. Since there had been many expressed concerns for the dam, telegraphed warnings that it might break were ignored. (Recall Aesop’s fable, “Boy Who Cried Wolf“?) Of course the wealthy barons were never found culpable and the townsfolk head to rely on world-wide relief efforts.
At that time Johnstown was an important steel producing town, having one of the first Bessemer converters in America and it was a bustling railroad town as well.
The museum includes a model of the river valley with lights and sound effects to show how it all happened. And an excellent documentary film made recently with photos of the flood and the aftermath. There were requisite artifacts and photos. We learned that Clara Barton went there in the days after the flood and set up a Red Cross relief operation. She was 67 years old and stayed on for five months. (We’re proud to claim her as a Unitarian!).
We returned on the Pennsylvania Turnpike, about an 80-mile trip back to Carlisle. It’s unlikely we’ll go back to Bedford, since our plans take us west in our retirement, but it was on my PA bucket list and I’m happy we went. It was an enjoyable couple of days and a nice respite from the fall bustle of the church program year startup.