Roadtrip Highlights of US-15
After a couple of trips west, Roadtrip-'62 ™ is back east today, taking a look at some highlights of a US-15 roadtrip. The highway currently runs 792 miles from Painted Post, New York to Walterboro, South Carolina. Before 1974, US-15 began 101 miles farther north, in Rochester, New York. This route takes US-15 from ALMOST the Great Lakes to ALMOST the Atlantic Ocean, but a bit short on both ends. Beyond Painted Post, US-15 has now been replaced by two freeways that will take you to Rochester: I-86 and I-390. And from Williamsport, Pennsylvania to the northern terminus at Painted Post, the highway has been completely upgraded to a freeway in preparation for re-signing as I-99. This segment may lose its US-15 signing soon. Let’s start at the north end of US-15 and travel south, just because that’s what I always do with these trips. The US numbering system starts with the lowest numbers in the north, so I like to follow that. I’ve noticed that Wikipedia does the opposite.
Someplace we could have seen right near the north end in Rochester, New York in 1962 is the Eastman Museum. The museum was opened in 1949 in George Eastman’s mansion and stayed there until 1989. At the time, it was one of only two American museums with a photography department and one of only two American museums with a film department. It is now the world’s oldest photography museum and one of the largest film archives in the United States. In 1989, the museum moved into a new building on the Eastman site that had climate-controlled vaults for collection storage, larger exhibition galleries, libraries, offices, and photographic conservation and film preservation labs. When the museum moved out of the mansion, a complete restoration of the historic mansion and grounds was undertaken. So we see the mansion in its natural state as a grand residence today, and can view the photographic museum in a proper museum setting. The mansion was built between 1902 and 1905 in Colonial Revival style and George Eastman lived there until his death in 1932. Besides the museum and house, there are landscaped gardens on the property to enjoy. George Eastman made his fortune as the pioneer of popular photography, founding and controlling the Eastman Kodak Company in 1892. Thanks to the company’s innovations, easy-to-use cameras made photography widely accessible, the practice of professional photofinishing became widespread, and flexible film critical to the motion picture industry was created. In 1962, the familiar red and yellow Kodak signs appeared everywhere film was sold.
Farther south in New York we pass through Corning, home of the Corning Glass Works and the Corning Glass Center. The center is located just two miles off US-15. Corning Glass Works was founded in 1851 in Somerville, Massachusetts as the Bay State Glass Co. It later moved to Brooklyn, New York before eventually coming to Corning in 1868. The company is now one of the largest glass manufacturers in the world and has an active laboratory where they constantly find new types of glass and new uses for glass. Corning produced the heat resistant glass for the United States’ space program, as was used on the Mercury flights of John Glenn, Scott Carpenter, and Wally Schirra during 1962. Another type of glass from their labs that has a 1962 connection is the glass used on the touch-screen faces of modern smart phones. The previous year, Corning developed a chemically strengthened glass it began marketing under the Chemcor brand in 1962. Chemcor glass was tried in tableware, ophthalmic products, and applications for the automotive, aviation, and pharmaceutical industries, but never found much of a market. In 2006, the formula was modified further in cooperation with Apple, who then used it in their iPhone. It’s now branded as Gorilla Glass.
Though we can’t take a factory tour, since 1951 we have been able to visit the Corning Museum of Glass. The museum was a gift to the public to celebrate Corning’s 100th anniversary and now cares for and displays the world’s best collection of art and historical glass. There are over than 3,500 years of glass history displayed in the galleries, from the glass portrait of an ancient Egyptian pharaoh to contemporary sculptures made in glass. The museum also features glassmaking demonstrations every day, and hands-on exhibits in the Innovation Center where you can explore the concepts behind optics, containers, and windows.
Continuing south, we find that we cannot drive the old route of US-15 between Tioga, Pennsylvania and Mansfield, Pennsylvania because it dissappears under the waters of the Tioga Reservoir! The dam for the reservoir was built by the United States Army Corps of Engineers between 1973 and 1979. The old road is now part of a boat ramp where, at least a few years ago, you can see the double yellow lines run right into the water. Following the new highway, we cross our US-6 roadtrip route at Mansfield, Pennsylvania. Then, it’s on to Williamsport, Pennsylvania, the birthplace of Little League Baseball. The sport was founded by Carl Stotz in 1939 as a three-team league here. Since then, it has developed worldwide under a system in which local volunteers organize and operate Little League programs chartered through Little League International. The annual Little League World Series is held in Williamsport in late summer, where the first Little League Baseball World Series was played in 1947. In 1962, President Kennedy proclaimed a National Little League week and baseball pro Jackie Robinson attended the Little League World Series. We could not have seen the Little League Hall of Excellence that year, as it was not established until 1988.
Williamsport also has the Millionaire's Row Historic District, a national historic district containing 263 contributing buildings. The town was the lumber capital of the eastern United States during the early to mid-1800s, spawning dozens of millionaires. In fact, at one point it is estimated that the city had more millionaires per-capita than anywhere else in the world. They poured much of their money into grand homes and churches, and these buildings now form the historic district. In their honor, the local high school still uses "Millionaires" as its teams’ nicknames. While in town, we can visit the Peter Herdic Transportation Museum to see their fully restored GMC 1962 bus and other historic transportation exhibits.
From here, US-15 follows the West Branch Susquehanna River south from Williamsport through rock cuts, long mountain vistas, and great fall color to Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, the state capital. The capitol building was dedicated in 1906, with the cost for construction and furnishings at $13 million. It was designed in the American Renaissance style by Philadelphia architect Joseph Huston, who envisioned it as a "Palace of Art." The idea was well-executed, as it features paintings, stained glass, a green glazed terra cotta tile roof, and Moravian mosaic tile floors. Rooms are influenced by Italian, French French, Greek, Roman and Victorian styles, all blended into a uniquely American style. The Capitol's centerpiece is a 272-foot, 52 million-pound dome inspired by Michelangelo's design for St. Peter's Basilica in Rome. The building was the tallest structure between Philadelphia and Pittsburgh for 80 years. The dome is topped by the gilded brass statue of Commonwealth by Roland Hinton Perry. You can take either a guided or self-guiding tour of the Pennsylavania State Capitol.
A special historical site along US-15 is the Gettysburg National Military Park, at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. The park is the site of the Battle of Gettysburg, the most ambitious invasion of the Union states. Gettysburg was also the Civil War's bloodiest battle with 51,000 casualties, which President Abraham Lincoln's "Gettysburg Address" memorialized. A variety of battlefield tours can be arranged at the Museum and Visitor Center. Weekends host the Living History at Gettysburg program featuring volunteer organizations portraying Union and Confederate soldiers and demonstrations at selected sites in the park. And don’t forget the Gettysburg Cyclorama: a 377 foot long, 42 foot high painting that was moved to park visitor center in 1962! The painting was originally done in 1883 by French artist Paul Philippoteaux and underwent a massive restoration project before being displayed here by the National Park Service in the building later known as the Cyclorama Center. It was restored again in 2003-2008. The nearby National Civil War Wax Museum recently auctioned off many of its exhibits and life-sized figures. That museum was opened in 1962 and is now undergoing major renovations on its way to being renamed the Gettysburg Heritage Center. They sold off more than 300 items, as they move the exhibits in a new direction. Apparently wax museums are no longer in vogue.
At Thurmont, Maryland, we find Cunningham Falls State Park, located in the picturesque Catoctin Mountains. Cunningham Falls is the largest cascading waterfall in Maryland, at 78 feet high. The park is divided into two separate but unique areas: the William Houck Area has a lake, the falls, and a camping area, while the Manor Area has the Scales and Tales Aviary, more camping, and the historic Catoctin Iron Furnace Ruins. There is ongoing work to stablize the ruins of the historic Iron Master's House. The park is bordered on the north by Catoctin Mountain Park and on the south by Frederick Municipal Forest, providing plenty of additional recreational opportunities. It came to be a park after the timber was exhausted through a couple hundred years of cutting it to supply charcoal for the Catoctin Iron Furnace. The area was purchased by the Federal government in 1935 and the Works Progress Administration and Civilian Conservation Corps began constructing facilities. The northern portion was transferred to the National Park Service in 1936 to become Catoctin Mountain Park. The Cunningham Falls State Park trail system has something for everyone: short and flat hikes, steep and rocky climbs, waterfalls, rock cliffs, and trail distances from 0.5 mile to 7.5 miles. Another water feature on Big Hunting Creek, west of the main falls, is "Dunkards Trough". This is a natural rock formation like a deep trough in the stream. It was used by an early local religious group of German settlers for baptisms.
Our US-15 route through Virginia finds us passing President James Madison’s home Montpelier, at Orange, Virginia. Madison was the fourth president of the United States, and Montpelier was his home off and on for 76 years. Though the oldest part of Montpelier was probably built by James Madison’s father in the 1760s, the home was privately owned as a residence through 1984. We would not have been able to visit during 1962, but it is a historic house museum today. In 1984, the previous owner William duPont bequeathed it to the National Trust for Historic Preservation. He had owned it since 1901. Montpelier had many additions and changes over the years, some made by President Madison after he and his wife Dolley moved in after 1797. Madison moved to Washington, DC when he became President, but moved back here when retired from office in 1817. It has been restored to the way it looked when James and Dolley Madison lived there in the 1820s, including removing 22 rooms added since then!
Highway US-15 skirts the west side of Fort Bragg in North Carolina, as mentioned in my page about traveling US-13. Highway US-13 is on the other side of the Army Base. I discussed Fort Bragg on that page, so let’s continue south. Santee, South Carolina, is located on the south shore of the state’s largest freshwater lake, Lake Marion. Two things stand out to the tourist here: golf and wildlife. Santee has a trifecta of great golf courses, Lake Marion, Santee National and the Santee Cooper Country Club within 5 miles, and four more courses within about 20 minutes of town. I’m not really a golfer, so I’m closing out my trip at the Santee National Wildlife Refuge. The refuge was created in 1941 and is located on the north shore of Lake Marion. It is a major wintering area for ducks and geese, as well as a nesting and stopover site for other migratory birds and local waterfowl. You may also see alligators. Stop at the visitor center for educational exhibits before heading out to the nearly 40 miles of trails or going hunting or fishing. If you’re into water sports, there are also over 8 miles of canoeing or kayaking trails. Or if you want an easy way to see wildlife, you can take the marked 7.5 mile auto tour route. I’m hoping to see a male Painted Bunting, one of North America's most colorful songbirds with its bright blue, green, and red plumage. If I do, I’ll tell you about it sometime on Roadtrip-'62 ™!
All photos by the author and Copyright © 2018 - Milne Enterprises, Inc., except as noted.
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