I had quite a fun day yesterday! As part of an effort to light a fire under my butt regarding my 16 in ’16 tasks, I spent the entire day in Beaver County, PA. Feel free to insert your own jokes as appropriate; I’m making a conscious effort to leave mine out (it’s too easy). 🙂
The journey started at Buttermilk Falls, as pictured above. It’s a nice little park area, and it’s relatively easy to access. There was some very minor hiking involved, but unless you try to get in the little creek like I did, it’s not difficult at all. Let’s just say getting into the creek and climbing on wet, muddy rocks wasn’t the best idea for someone who injured her foot a couple weeks ago. Especially when said person is clumsy and fell. Again. And hurt her foot. Again. And then had to hobble for the rest of the day. Sigh.
Before I left to go to my next destination, I climbed up to the top (ouch) and peered over the falls. They’re no Niagara or Victoria Falls, but it was nice. And standing over rocky ledges always forces me to think about life a little.
After I made my way back to the car, I headed to another park – Bradys Run. The goal for this day was clearly to make my foot swell up so large that it tore my shoe (it did), and to tire myself out. Bradys Run has this really nice, well-maintained walking loop that’s one mile around and flat. That’s exactly what I want out of a trail – flat and a decent distance. I did a lap and then made my way back to the car. There were some ball fields and a bunch of picnic shelters, but since I’m neither a 7-year-old boy nor the type of person with a reason to frequent picnic shelters, I passed them by.
The first food stop of the day was at an ice cream shop that I’d passed on my way to somewhere else – Punks. I’d originally thought the ice cream was homemade – it looked like that kind of place – but after I tasted it, I don’t think it is. I’m nearly certain it’s Perry’s, which is still good, but not really worth going out of the way for. I chose a small scoop of Movie Time ice cream (popcorn-flavored ice cream with caramel swirls and bits of chocolate) and ate it near the side of the road.
From there, I went to the place on my list I’d been least looking forward to – Old Economy Village.
Now, there’s a bit of a story here. Back when I was in the third grade, we had our class field trip to Old Economy Village. Like the rest of the kids, I’d been looking forward to the trip for weeks – any chance to spend the day outside of school, even for a kid who loved school, was a reason to celebrate. However, a day or two before the trip, I contracted chicken pox and had to skip it. I was TICKED. Not only was I so itchy I felt like I was going insane, and covered in bumps (which then scarred me, because scratching), but I had to miss the trip I’d been so looking forward to. Needless to say, it was not a fun week for anyone. But I vowed that one day I’d take that field trip to Old Economy, even if I didn’t get to take the day off from school. Thus, the Surrounding Counties tour was born in 2015. Really – the entire basis for adding the Surrounding Counties to my 15 in ’15 list was so that I could have a reason to visit Old Economy… and I never even got around to it in 2015. The irony is not lost on me.
I really only wanted to visit Old Economy in order to keep that promise to my 8-year-old self, so I wasn’t really looking forward to this portion of the trip other than checking it off of my 16 in ’16 list. I knew nothing of Old Economy before I arrived there, other than for some reason my third grade teacher thought we should spend the day there. So I drove there and cautiously got out of the car, thinking I’d just look around in the gift shop and see if anything looked interesting. I’d read online that admission was $10, and if I was going to be bored out of my skull, I’d rather spend that $10 on more ice cream.
I walked into the Vistor Center and saw only a man at a desk talking on the phone. I was trying to inconspicuously look around to see if the site would be worth my time when an older woman whose eyes reminded me sooooo much of my great grandma asked me if I was interested in a tour. I explained that I didn’t really know what the site was for; I didn’t know the history, and I had just kind of wandered in. She gestured for me to sit down on a bench, sat down beside me, and recounted the entire story of the village – how the inhabitants of Old Economy came from Germany, where they didn’t want to be Catholic, and they didn’t want to necessarily be Lutheran (which is pretty darn close to Catholic… take it from the girl with a Lutheran upbringing), so they came to America and were dubbed “Separatists.” They started off in Butler (like me!) and founded Harmony, PA, where they lived for 10 years. Then they moved to Indiana for another 10 years, and then came back to PA, this time to Beaver, in what is now known as Old Economy. The woman was a fantastic storyteller; she sucked me right in. One of the things that really drew me in, though, was when she mentioned that a lot of historic sites just include reproductions; Old Economy Village is mostly authentic (with only a few reproductions).
She told the story of how the inhabitants, called the Harmony Society, or Harmonists, expected the second coming of Christ at any moment, so they became celibate and worked as a sort of communistic society (why worry about money and propogating your society when you’re certain the world is going to end soon). Everything they earned, they gave to the society, and at one point the Harmony Society held more money than the US Treasury. Almost all of the houses were the same, and the Harmonists were provided with everything they needed – food, shelter, etc. – and everyone had a job to do, even the women. And while they kept a charter of the Harmony Society members, Harmonists were free to leave at any time… but if they did, they were not allowed to return to the society. Those who left were given enough money to buy land somewhere else, and tools of their chosen trade.
As soon as the woman started talking, I knew I’d end up going on the tour… but then she told me that Sundays are free. Bonus! So when she was done giving me the overview of the place and confirmed that I wanted to look around, she called ahead to the Feast Hall/Museum Building and led me down the road to meet the guide stationed there.
Since the Feast Hall/Museum Building was (you guessed it!) a museum, there were a lot of different exhibits. I saw a lot of taxidermy. I mean, A LOT. Room after room of dead animals.
I got to check out their classrooms, with German still written on the board (though I assume the writing is recent) and inkwells on the desks:
I also checked out the teacher’s perspective – the desk was way taller than I am, so I assume unless the teacher was super-tall, they’d have to peer around the desk to look at the class… or maybe those old Germans were abnormally tall. What a difference from today’s classrooms, though.
Saw this cool old map of Pittsburgh, spelled without its signature “h” at the end.
The upstairs of the Museum Building is the Feast Hall, where community celebrations were held. When this room was built, it was the largest second floor room in North America. Personally, I loved the colors – it was so bright and airy!
There was even a table set up showing some of the foods the Harmonists ate – rice soup, lamb, bread, ginger cakes, etc.
The Harmonists made their own wine, beer, and hard cider. My kind of people.
After I’d thoroughly toured the Feast Hall/Museum Building, I headed out to the Baker House. I’d originally thought the Baker house was the house for the community’s baker, but that was not the case – just a dude named Baker who was the town’s storekeeper.
Along the way, on the cobblestone main thoroughfare, I was able to see grapevines, replete with grapes, adorning the exterior of the houses. Since they made their own wine, the Harmonists had to have grapes, no?
The Baker House is representative of the other houses in the area – they were all built in the same style, and they all contained the same things. Since the community was celibate, they considered each other brothers and sisters. As such, the houses weren’t necessarily divided into family households; they were mixed. Men (“brothers”) slept in an upstairs bedroom, and women (“sisters”) slept in a separate bedroom. If elderly folks were living in the house, they were given a downstairs bedroom.
As we walked through the Baker House, I was reminded of my time as a Nationality Rooms tour guide in the Cathedral of Learning at Pitt – not only because that’s where I was when the news of 9/11 broke 15 years ago, but also because of the Early American Room. I became an expert in the Early American Room when I was a guide; it was the coolest room and it was rumored to be haunted. I was part of a small group that stayed there overnight one night, in the hopes of conjuring up the spirit of our Director’s grandmother (that’s a story for another day). Anyway, the Early American Room was the only room to have an upstairs, and access was limited. The upstairs loft is a bedroom with a rope bed and a straw mattress… the beds that I saw at Old Economy were the same.
The thing that fascinated me most about the Baker House was the tub. This is the bathtub:
So much for privacy, eh?
After checking out the shed behind the house, I moved on to the Frederick Rapp House and the George Rapp House.
George Rapp was the community’s leader, and as such, he needed to entertain visitors. I suppose that’s why his house was nicer than those of the rest of the townspeople. He shared the house with his wife, daughter, daughter-in-law, and granddaughter, and when anyone would visit the town, they’d stay in this house. Heck, I’d like to stay here. The place was niiiice.
This was one of the sitting rooms. Check out that wallpaper!
Who wouldn’t want to stay overnight here?
Now, check out this bed. I didn’t think much of it, since I’m a little on the shorter side (understatement), but it’s way shorter than a 21st century bed:
The reason why, I learned, is because the Harmonists thought it worthwhile and healthy to sleep sitting up. Doing so was believed to ease congestion and facilitate good breathing. Sleeping. Sitting up. Huh.
I was quite smitten by the idea of a toilet in the bedroom. Just a free-standing toilet, no sink. Genius (if you’re not into proper hygiene). There’s a lid on this chair, and there would be a chamber pot underneath. There’s a little door on the side to open it up to empty the chamber pot. Fascinating.
We saw these trippy floors and walls throughout, decorated with long black benches that visitors can sit on. The guide told us that the floor is not linoleum, but a precursor to it where they took sheets of linen (I believe) and decorated it and then used oils to make it more permanent. And the benches, although not behind ropes like most of the other authentic artifacts in the village, are certified Harmonist-made. The reason why we’re able to sit on them is because they were gifted back to the museum.
My favorite part of the Rapp House was the safe room. The walls to this room were inches thick, as were the windows and the shutters. Plus, there were bars on the windows, so you knew there was something good inside.
First, the wallpaper. Kids, I would totally have the wallpaper in my house. It was this teal pattern and I loved it.
Second, feather pen in the left-hand corner!
Third, the safe itself. The safe is that big black thing in the corner, if you were wondering. Should you get close, you’d notice there’s no key hole and no opening… so how was it opened? Those raised dots moved around, and you had to slide them around in a certain combination in order to reveal the key hole. HOW COOL IS THAT?
You’d think that the safe held all the money for the community, but you’d be wrong. Instead, the Harmonists hid the community stash in five caches around the compound. This is one – apparently a full-sized human can fit in that hole.
We were also able to view the dining room in the Rapp House, complete with fancy china and a cool-looking china cabinet:
And a typical kitchen area, complete with a state-of-the-art (for its time) sink and a butter churn.
When we went back outside, we were led to the George Rapp Garden, which was insanely gorgeous. Dude had friggin statues in his garden, surrounded by lush shrubbery.
There was also a Grotto in the garden… but personally, I would’ve called it a Smurf House.
It was nice inside, though, and rather well preserved.
Next, I switched gears and headed towards the Community Kitchen.
This is where the Harmonists would prepare meals for their feast days. They would cook in these huge black cauldrons; there were little doors underneath for them to light a fire. There were also these rather innovative vents above the stoves that allowed steam to escape, but prevented rain/snow/leaves from falling into the food.
The Harmonists also used these cauldrons to wash their clothes, which I thought was interesting. Usually Sundays at my house involve both cooking and laundry; I guess if I were a Harmonist, I’d need to spread it out a little more.
I also got to see this cool contraption, which was how they made candles. Since this was before the age of electricity, candles were the go-to commodity for being able to see in the dark.
My last stop at Old Economy Village was the Cabinet Shop, which was later converted into a blacksmith and cooper shop.
It was pretty neat to see all the old tools they’d used. I’m sure the furniture they built is much sturdier than those IKEA bookcases everyone seems to have.
So despite not really having my heart fully invested in visiting Old Economy Village, that was probably my favorite part of the trip. It was absolutely fascinating, and I have the guides to thank for that – they do a truly incredible job. Now that I know what it’s like, I can say with confidence that YES, it’s worth the $10 admission.
My next stop was the one I was most nervous about – Stand Up Paddleboarding.
I’d planned to go to Beaver Boardshop to try my hand at it, and I saw that the hours on their site read “4pm-Dusk” weekends through September. So I went to Kelly’s bar, which is where they’re based out of, and inquired since it was about 4:45. The bartender asked around and determined that the attendant had just left, so she called the owner. There was a lot of back-and-forth, and it sounded like the attendant or the owner would be over in a couple minutes, so I waited. And waited. I waited over a half hour, just standing there like a moron.
Finally, the attendant came back and said that she’d just put everything away and locked everything up. SO. I wasn’t thrilled, but what could I do? She took down my name and number, and gave me the owner’s; apparently if I call him, he’ll give me half off my session if I come back. Considering I’ve been to Beaver County about three times in my life, and only once for any amount of time (yesterday), I doubt I’ll bother with traveling an hour away to get $10 off. To their credit, they did what they could to make it right by offering me the discount next time… but if your website says 4pm-Dusk on weekends through September and you close up shop at 4:45, that’s not cool.
Slightly discouraged, I went to the Rochester Flag Park since it was 9/11 and all. I took some pictures and sat quietly for a little while.
Since I hadn’t eaten any real food since 8 am, and I’d heard from a coworker that the one place you HAVE to go to in Beaver is Jerry’s Curb Service, that’s where I headed next.
Having been born in the early 80s and not being a fast-food lover, I’ve only ever been to one of these types of places once – a Sonic at Myrtle Beach. I knew I stayed in my car and someone would come to me, but I didn’t realize the menu was on the side of the building. Oops! When the server came, she asked what I wanted, and it was deer-in-the-headlights time. She recommended either the breaded chicken or steak with fries – apparently that’s a “thing.” It was basically a Pittsburgh-style steak salad without any vegetables.
I got “Jerry’s Sauce” on the side – that’s code for Thousand Island dressing. The server seemed to think it was the greatest meal on earth, and she looked so earnest and eager that I told her it was good when she stopped back… but meh. I wasn’t impressed. Then again, you get what you pay for, right? It wasn’t bad; for what it was, it was decent. But I’m not a veggie-hater. I should’ve just gone with the steak salad. Still, the service was great, and I liked that I could eat in the comfortable quiet of my car without anyone watching me shovel fries in my face.
Although I’d had ice cream for lunch, I was told that my day in the Beav wouldn’t be complete without stopping at Hank’s.
I got a small S’mores custard in a cone. Ice cream for two meals, son. That’s how you Adult.
I managed to make it back home by about 9pm, after a scenic drive back home. Even though I wasn’t completely on-board with spending an entire day in Beaver County, I have to admit, I had a great time and I learned a ton. Who knows, maybe I will go back for that Stand Up Paddleboarding session after all…