Susquehanna River Valley
Hello again, Don Milne here, your virtual tourguide for a trip through 1962 and along historic US-6. Today, Roadtrip-'62 ™ is leaving from Scranton, Pennsylvania on our eighth day of the journey. We’ll be traveling all day in Pennsylvania’s Endless Mountain region and along the Susquehanna River. Plenty of scenic travel, so let’s grab some breakfast in Scranton, hop into our 1962 Chevrolet Impala, and hit the road. On the way, if you see anything you like, get yourself out on the road and enjoy it in person. This virtual roadtrip may be fun, but there's nothing like the real thing! At any time, click on an underlined word below to learn more about the places on the trip. Time for me to grab the wheel and go!
1962 Chevrolet commercial
We’ve been fortunate that our Impala hasn’t needed repairs so far, but even the best cars need maintenance. For example, we should get an oil change and have the belts and tires checked. And what better place than a Chevy dealer? Back in 1962, there were Chevrolet dealers in many towns along the way, but most of the small town locations are closed today. So while we’re in Scranton, let’s stop at one. Today, we could stop at Tom Hesser Chevrolet. I don’t know if it was here back in 1962, but there was certainly some Chevy dealer. Enjoy the commercial while we wait for service.
Next thing to do before we leave town is to see the Everhart Museum. This is a combined museum of natural history, science and art. It was founded in 1908, so it was definitely on a tourist’s to-do list back in 1962. It began with a collection of Pennsylvania’s native birds and animals, assembled by Dr. Isaiah Fawkes Everhart. Dr. Everhart was a physician and businessman, and also a skilled taxidermist. He paid for the original museum and also established an endowment to assure its continuance. Over the years, other collections have been added, including Alfred Twining’s botanical specimens, the Sturgis Japanese Art Collection, the Dimmick collection of plaster casts of classical sculpture, American Folk Art, Dorflinger Glass, and anthropologist David Eisler’s African and Oceanic collections.
Finally getting on the road after our late start, we pass the farthest north interchange of the Pennsylvania Turnpike at Clark’s Summit. The Turnpike fascinated me as a kid, with its tunnels and the fact that it was hundreds of miles long. That was a rare distance for a freeway or tollway in the late 1950s, as the Interstate highway system was just barely under construction. I first discovered the Turnpike on a linen postcard folder that my grandmother had. It was postcards of the Pennsylvania Turnpike from its early days, in one of those flip folders. I can still see the distinctive trumpet-shaped interchanges. The road originally opened only the section from near Harrisburg, Pennsylvania to near Pittsburgh on October 1, 1940. An unusual feature for any road in the United States was that when it opened, the turnpike had no enforced speed limit. In 1941, a speed limit of 70 mph was enacted.
No additions were constructed until after World War II, due to the need for war materials. The Clark’s Summit interchange, number 38, was completed in 1957 as part of the final 16-mile-long stretch of the $200 million Northeast Extension. Planning for this extension began in the early 1950s with sections being constructed all during that decade. There would be no more additions to the Turnpike until the construction of the Beaver Valley Expressway during the early 1990s. The Northeast Extension was originally planned to continue north to the New York state line, but that was later incorporated into the I-81 freeway. The Turnpike strangely makes a 180-degree loop at its final interchange at US-6, hinting that this was originally just an interchange, not the intended end of the highway. From here, we won’t hit another turnpike for quite awhile. But when we get to Cleveland, Ohio, we travel near a toll road from Cleveland to Chicago, Illinois. That will be the only section of US-6 that runs through a major traffic corridor, and even there US-6 is mostly through the smaller cities in the farm fields. Freeways bypassed it even where there was a lot of traffic.
Though we’re not on the Turnpike, we are on a divided highway and would have been in 1962 also. Route US-6 travels together with US-11 to Factoryville, Pennsylvania on a divided highway that appears to have been constructed in 1958. This road was built on the original Delaware, Lackawanna, and Western Railroad right of way. After US-11 leaves to head north, our road narrows back to a two-lane. If we were staying in Factoryville, an old place to stop would be at Gin’s Tavern, established in 1955. They currently have live music and shuffleboard, which is an unusual combination for a bar. The most notable spot in town is the Christy Mathewson statue, a memorial to the baseball Hall-of-Famer who was born here in 1880. Mathewson was voted into the Baseball Hall of Fame as one of the famous "First Five" inductees in 1936, along with Babe Ruth, Ty Cobb, Walter Johnson and Honus Wagner.
Leaving Factoryville, we enter the Endless Mountains Region of Pennsylvania. It’s not hard to see how the name came about, as we’ll be traveling through mountains for the next couple of days to reach Ohio. We’ll see both rolling farmland and forested mountains. Several cities along the way have forest related industries, making flooring, wood pellets for heating, wood pallets and crates, and hardwood lumber. Reaching Tunkhannock, Pennsylvania, we would have met US-309 back in 1962. It used to run from Philadelphia to Waverly, New York. The route north of Tunkhannock was shared with either US-6 or US-220, and in fact US-309 ran with us all the way to Towanda. Its route number was removed in 1964. The entire route was decommissioned in 1969, so we no longer see it. We enter Tunkhannock on Tioga Street, which is now Business US-6 but was the main highway back in 1962. The Tunkhannock Bypass opened in October 2000 and now provides a faster way around town on a two-lane highway built on a four-lane right-of-way.
A fun thing to do here if we were stopping for the evening, would be to watch a movie at the Dietrich Theater. The restored theater is now the Wyoming County Cultural Center and hosts many community events, but it still shows movies on occasion. One of their most popular movie nights is in the Christmas season, when they screen “It’s A Wonderful Life.” Opened in 1936, the Dietrich was scheduled for demolition in 1998 when concerned residents banded together to save it. It was in bad shape but the community came together, raising funds to buy and refurbish it, and it reopened in 2001. We’ll see many more examples of these restored and resurrected theaters along our trip, in addition to the ones we’ve already seen in Milford, Pennsylvania and Peekskill, New York.
From here to Towanda, we travel in the Susquehanna River valley. The Susquehanna River cuts through several water gaps in the Endless Mountains, creating a zigzag course to reach Chesapeake Bay, where it provides half the Bay's flow. The Delaware River, which we crossed near the Delaware Water Gap, forms a similar arrangement with Delaware Bay. The Susquehanna River has tributaries throughout Pennsylvania and drains nearly half of the land area of the state. The river is older than the mountain ridges through which it turns, which accounts for the way it has been able to cut valleys through and across the mountains as they were slowly raised up. It is considered to be the oldest or second oldest river in the world.
The Susquehanna River is also the longest river in the continental United States without commercial boat traffic, but it wasn’t always so. Late in colonial times, the river became an important transportation corridor after anthracite coal was discovered its upper reaches. The river had only a short period of commercial activity though, reaching a peak in the years after 1836, when it was connected to the Erie Canal at Utica, New York. The mountain route of the river required over one hundred water locks, which could not be profitably maintained when railroads began to take away business just a decade later. Broader, flatter rivers such as the Mississippi and Ohio systems through the middle of the country and the Holston River in Tennessee continue to have commercial traffic. Today, you can canoe or kayak parts of the Susquehanna River and there is even an outfitter in Laceyville, Pennsylvania. And even though they were not likely open back in 1962, recreational canoeing has long been popular on some stretches of the river.
At Laceyville, we’re going to stop at the Oldest House. The house is believed to have been built in 1786 by Elihu Hall and has served many purposes throughout the years. It’s been a ferry stop, a general store, the Laceyville post office, and a home. Today it is an antique shop and museum. The last family to live here was Gordon Morrison's, who restored the house in the late 1940s pretty as you see it today, or we would have seen it in 1962. Since 1990, The Oldest House Historical Society has done other work. On other historical notes, if you need a few items for your roadtrip, you might stop at Laceyville Hardware, which has been here since 1940 under that name. The Church Street Bridge at Laceyville was named most beautiful bridge in 1975 and I have to agree that the blue deck looks very good. The town previously had a toll bridge which was completed in 1899. I haven’t discovered which bridge was here in 1962. The divided highways that US-6 travels over near Laceyville were built in 1966: before that we would still have traveled a two-lane road.
One more quick stop before lunch, at the Wyalusing Rocks Scenic Overlook, Wyalusing, Pennsylvania. Wyalusing Rocks, which rise about 500 feet above the Susquehanna River, has been a lookout point since the valley was originally settled and was an important signaling point for the Iroquois tribes. If you want a short hike up and down, there is a footpath from the parking area to the rocks. There is also interpretive signage including a Pennsylvania Historical Marker for the Warrior's Path, erected in1929. The Warrior’s Path was a path of the Native Americans’ five nations from central New York to the Carolinas. In fact, if you like historical markers, there are nearly a dozen along US-6 near Wyalusing, and nearly all of them were installed before 1962.
I waited too long for lunch, so I’m gong to eat a big one! And, I’m going to sit in comfort in an elegant, Victorian-style dining room at the Wyalusing Hotel. If you’re here during the cold months, the stone fireplace will keep you warm and cozy. The Wyalusing became the town’s first public house as the Brown Hotel and by 1860. Proprietor J. Morgan Brown became known at the “Gingerbread Man” due to his fondness for ornate Victorian architecture featuring wooden cutouts and “Mississippi riverboat” porches. The hotel exterior obtained its full expression in the 1870s, when the third story was added. After several owners, the hotel we would have seen in 1962 was owned and operated by Mary “Ma” Fretz. She and her husband John purchased the business in the 1930s and she lived there until her death. The most recent owners have profited from a boom in the natural gas business, providing much-needed temporary lodgings. The entire menu is available all day, and the Cheese Steak Wrap, featuring grilled steak, fried onions and American cheese, sounds like just what I need for lunch, with some homemade pie for dessert. And they serve Dr. Pepper, my favorite!
About ten miles west of Wyalusing, the Susquehanna River makes a large horseshoe bend, leaving a terrace nearly isolated. The Native Americans knew this as Missicum or the "Meadows". Here, a strange and short-lived piece of American history played out during the French Revolution. Sixteen hundred acres were platted into 413 lots, with streets and a public square, as Azilum. To escape the violence of the French Revolution, in 1793 the first refugees arrived. For a time, it was thought that Queen Marie Antoinette herself and two of her children might arrive. But the enclave was short-lived because in 1800, Napoleon Bonaparte, the new French dictator after the revolution, allowed exiles to return to France. Many did and others moved to other parts of the United States, so the area became depopulated. The land eventually became part of larger farms and the former town disappeared. Of the more than 50 structures erected by the refugees, none remain, though archaeologists have located numerous foundations. One house erected in 1836 by a descendant of the settlers remains and is used as a museum. It’s operated for the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission by French Azilum, Inc., a non-profit corporation founded in 1954.
Just across the bridge in Townada, Pennsylvania, we cross US-220. This Bridge was a horrible bottleneck due to the traffic signal at west end, when I drove through in 2011. Route US-220 currently runs from Waverly, New York to Rockingham, North Carolina and has since 1948. The Red Rose Diner sits on a prominent corner in downtown Towanda and is in tip-top condition. Though it looks like it has been here forever, it was actually somewhere else in 1962. It is a 1927 vintage Tierney diner, moved from Stroudsburg, Pennsylvania by Gordon Tindall when he was unable to find a suitable property for it in Lancatser, Pennsylvania. Gordon restored and operated the Red Rose Diner from 2004 to 2009, before moving to Lanesboro, Minnesota for his next diner. He had previously restored and operated other diners.
Also in town is the Museum in a Jail, opened in 2000. The building had been used as the county jail from 1873 to 1991, so we wouldn’t have stopped for a visit (I hope). It was designed by Susquehanna County architect, Avery Frink. However, we’ll stop today because we could have stopped at the Bradford County Historical Society’s museum at their first location! From 1903 to 1974, the County Commissioners leased a small brick annex next to the old courthouse for the Society to use as a museum. Browse through the exhibits about Bradford County that cover two floors of the former jail.
Sitting kitty-corner to the diner is the Keystone Theater. It seems strange, but when it opened as Hale’s Opera House, it was located on the second floor of the building! In 1913, the theater moved to the first floor and, in addition to live performances, it began showing movies. The theater closed in 1987 and was in need of major repairs. We could have stopped for a movie back in 1962 and we still can, thanks to the Bradford County Regional Arts Council. They acquired the theater in 1988, intending to convert it into a multi-use cultural center. After spending over $1 million on renovation, they now host live theater, music, and educational programs, and screens first-run films when no live shows are scheduled.
As we leave town, we pass the Knapp covered bridge about 1.5 miles away. It’s just off US-6 on Covered Bridge Road and was built in 1873. It’s the first covered bridge we’ve seen on this trip, but I doubt it will be the last, as there should be some in the Midwest states. Continuing west, we turn north and go two miles off US-6 to Mount Pisgah State Park at West Burlington, Pennsylvania. This park is along Mill Creek, at the base of Mt. Pisgah (elevation 2,260 feet). A dam on Mill Creek forms Stephen Foster Lake, named after the famous composer of early American songs including "Beautiful Dreamer", "Camptown Races", "My Old Kentucky Home", and "Oh! Susanna”. Stephen Foster lived in the area as a boy in 1839 while studying at a private academy. The lake provides fishing for perch, bass, bluegill and crappie, including ice fishing. There is hunting in the park and on adjacent state game lands, and 10 miles of hiking trails. That’s where I’m heading for some exercise.
At Mansfield, Pennsylvania we cross US-15, which was almost a cross continent route. Its farthest north extent was Rochester, New York, where it would have ended in 1962. In 1974 it was shortened to end at Painted Post, New York. The south end has been at Walterboro, South Carolina since 1935. The photo above of the wait staff at Ernie’s Restaurant in Mansfield, with Joyce Tice on the right, was taken in 1964. Joyce graduated from high school in our favorite year of 1962! She has graciously contributed information and photos for our journey from her research and collection. Ernie’s was the place to stop back then and she notes that the students of nearby Mansfield State College, now Mansfield University, “always wanted a menu and they ALWAYS ordered a hamburger, french fries, and a Coke.” We can’t join in the tradition anymore though, as the restaurant was demolished and replaced by new borough building in 2010.
Mansfield was also home to the Mansfield Novelty Company, which closed in September of 1971. Like the project that demolished half of downtown Fenton, Michigan, the company was a casualty of urban renewal. The local Urban Renewal Agency tore down all Novelty Company buildings and instead of relocating, the company just closed. The company had been in business since 1892 and at one point in its history, they were the largest manufacturer of old-fashioned toy spinning tops. The business also made rulers and yardsticks for schools, and wooden plant hangers. The tops are not mentioned in a 1956 add for the company, but shortly thereafter, a fad for tops enveloped the whole country. I remember Duncan, a yo-yo manufacturer based in Middlefield, Ohio (just 10 miles south of US-6), selling tops in the early 1960s. Perhaps the fad came in 1962, the year that TV advertising drove Duncan’s sales from $2 million the previous year to $7 million! Duncan’s tops were either wood or plastic, with removable plastic tips so that when they wore down from use on concrete, you could just replace the tips. We used to buy the tops and tips at a corner grocery story across from our house. The corner stores are gone but Duncan still sells the classic plastic Imperial Top, and at just $2.99 from Amazon, it’s still a very inexpensive toy.
Well, it’s finally then end of the road for today, at Wellsboro, Pennsylvania. First, a stop for dinner at the Wellsboro Diner. This is a real diner car that someone described as, “...like stepping back into time straight out of the 1930s diner era.” It’s located right on the main corner downtown so you can’t miss it. Inside, they seem to be well known for the roast beef sandwiches so I’ll give that a try. It even has a little gift shop for postcards, t-shirts and other diner related items. After eating, I’m staying at the Sherwood Motel. The office is decorated with a nice country inn feel and located in a big 1890s house in front of the main motel buildings. I stayed in the older one-story motel building and was not disappointed. The owner said it was built in 1951-52 and I found the rooms have been well cared for, and even nicely updated. The doors even have electronic keys! The two-story buildings out back were built in the late 1960s, which is why I didn’t stay in that part.
An independently-owned, full line department store is a rare find today. But Dunham’s has been here in Wellsboro since 1905, so we could shop in either 1962 or today. The store reminds me of a JC Penney, with mostly clothes, housewares, and toys. Hmmm...maybe I could use a new shirt or two for the rest of the Roadtrip-'62 ™ journey? Dunham’s is located right at the main corner in downtown, which is beautifully lighted in the evening, making for a great place to stroll around. I took a stroll before retiring for the night, making my way down to the fountain in the town square, with it's 1938 statue of Wynken, Blynken and Nod. If you want to see a movie tonight, the Arcadia Theater has been here since 1921, so it fits our 1962 time frame. Back then, you only had one choice, but the interior has been updated to four screens today. Enjoy!
All photos by the author and Copyright © 2012 - Milne Enterprises, Inc., except as noted.
All other content Copyright © 2012 - Milne Enterprises, Inc.