Some towns in Pennsylvania are so small that residents must stay on good terms, as the chances of seeing each other are higher several times a day while going about their business. Even a visitor can be called back to one of these cities with streets rich in history, waiting for new faces to explore without the crowds.
A former archaeological dig site turned historic village, Bedford is an open-air museum that transports pioneers back to simpler, slower-paced life. Located at the foot of the Allegheny Mountains, in a magnificent natural and wine-growing environment, the town comprises around forty buildings, including museums, houses, a tavern, a bakery, a village press and an octagonal school. One can participate in a murder mystery party or attend a street re-enactment as part of the living museum experience, as well as various holidays or festive events depending on the season. During a self-guided tour of the timeless downtown, there is the Fort Bedford Museum and the Coverlet Museum to visit, as well as an assortment of shops. A local saloon offers colonial craft activities, while the historic Pitt Theater is ideal for strolling to a movie, billing itself as the oldest operating movie theater in Pennsylvania.
Called on “Beautiful Victorian” from central Pennsylvania, Bellefonte is widely known for its historic district with classic Victorian architecture. For a day visit, a simple stroll through the streets to admire the buildings will transport you centuries back, or, if you stay the night, the many bed and breakfasts offer an authentic experience of living in a Victorian residence. There are many local restaurants, watering holes and shops, as well as the headquarters of the American Philatelic Society and the adjacent museum, which eagerly await curious visitors. Bellefonte’s Victorian Christmas includes an unforgettable holiday experience. The festive streets are starting to look like a scene from Dickens A Christmas Carol and are wandered by more than the usual dozen people at a time. The Victorian mansions on the outskirts are surrounded by plenty of green space for exploratory outings and scenic views.
Home to less than 120 full-time residents, the adorable and quaint village of Eagles Mere offers an experience like no other as the nickname of the “Last preserved seaside resort” and a place where you can feel good doing nothing after the hustle and bustle of city life. Complete with Eagles Mere Lake which is fed by natural underground springs, one can spend the whole day lounging in the lush grasses or enjoying a scenic picnic, overlooking the lake. There are also sailboats for rent, a scenic walkway to create timeless memories, and Laurel Road, which ran through the woods in the 1800s and is perfectly maintained to this day. Downtown features an assortment of shops, restaurants and museums, including one dedicated to the Golden Age of Aviation (1900s-1930s), with 27 aircraft, rare aircraft engines and memorabilia of pilots. The Eagles Mere Friends of the Arts are dedicated to cultivating the city’s residents and visitors through quality musical, artistic, theatrical entertainment and lectures, hosting an average of twelve events each summer.
In the mid-18th century, the area included a Delaware Indian settlement, Murdering Town, which George Washington visited on his 1753 mission. Starting the French and Indian War, it was near the location that the first blow of fire of war was fired at Washington by a “French Indian.” Harmony was found in 1804 by the Harmony Society of German Lutheran separatists seeking religious freedom, eventually known as the Harmonists. Believing Christ’s return was imminent, they became celibate to stay ” pure heart “, leading to their disappearance. Acquired by Mennonites, it eventually became the quaint, melodic-named village known as Western Pennsylvania’s first national district with the old-world architectural character of an old German village. In town, there are shops selling antiques, gifts, flowers, decorative accessories, sweets and ice cream. There are also numerous cafes and the Lagerhaus Bakery with freshly baked pastries, while the former Railway President’s Victorian mansion now includes a restaurant. Twenty minutes away, McConnells Mill State Park features the more than 2,500-acre Rock Creek Slippery Gorge National Natural Landmark, as well as scenic trails along the river.
Located less than 100 miles from New York City, the tiny borough of Hawley is named after the Pennsylvania Coal Company’s first president, Irad Hawley, after it was founded in 1827 near the Pocono Mountains at the north end of Lake Wallenpaupack. . Pennsylvania’s largest lake features 83.68 km of shoreline for kayaking, fishing, swimming, boat rides, rentals and numerous trails. The village is steeped in deep history with centuries-old buildings everywhere, and the area’s past is well preserved in nearby museums. The Hawley Silk Mill (1880) is listed on the National Register of Historic Places as a thriving former silk mill and the largest bluestone building in the world. At present, it is a modern center inside, with shops, an art gallery, event space, professional offices and a fitness center. The nearby Cocoon Coffee House and Bakery is a cozy spot for an aromatic coffee and gourmet treat. The Hawley Town Bike Share program rents free bikes to explore the town and surrounding areas, including the quaint Main Street filled with antique and specialty shops and the Costa family amusement park. The city is also an enclave for established and emerging artists who can visit the Looking Glass Art Gallery, the Wayne County Arts Alliance, and an artist studio tour during the summers.
Founded in the 1760s, the small borough with a deep history and home to the scenic Laurel Mountain Ski Resort offers an array of year-round attractions. There’s the beloved Idlewild & SoakZone, featuring one of the country’s oldest amusement parks, while history buffs enjoy visiting the Ligonier Valley Rail Road Museum located in the historic railway station. The Fort Ligonier Museum features a well-restored British fort and captivating war artefacts telling how the enemy never captured it despite several attempts. Memorial Day weekend in October brings the largest and oldest market in western Pennsylvania, the Ligonier Country Market. It is famous in the region for its fresh seasonal produce, mostly organic, as well as its ready meals, meats, bread, preserves, flowers, artisan crafts and many more.
The city is well known for the historic Marklesburg district’s representation of an entire 19th-century community that acted as a trading center and provided services to local agricultural and industrial customers. With around 60 buildings from the second half of the 19th century with many notable architectural styles, one will find Georgian, two-storey, double-stack, three- to eight-bay, and Gothic Revival features. One can spend a day strolling along the street admiring the original architectural details, such as ornate bracketed porches and ornamental puzzle work. Centrally located in Pennsylvania’s Ridge and Valley region, the small borough spans both sides of PA Route 26, with 52 of these historic buildings fronting the main highway, while the cemetery is located east of northwest corner of the historic district.
Land purchased from Native Americans in 1784 was topped with a gristmill in 1806 on Neshannock Creek, just upstream from the present site, and replaced with a new gristmill at the present site in 1812. Purchased by JP Locke in 1868, in addition to 0.40 km2 of land, he established a settlement of 30 lots, known as Lockeville. The railroad helped establish and maintain the continued prosperity of the colony which changed its name to Volant in June 1893 becoming a self-contained unit. The mill remains in the center of town, surrounded by various service and commercial outlets, as well as a college attended by students from the surrounding communities. In the 20th century it was swimming in success, thanks to the New Castle-Franklin Railway which helped make it the bustling commercial center and shopping district of the region. Moving on to larger business ventures including a stone quarry, sawmill and brick business, it was followed by an oil boom north of Volant that lasted until the First World War. A quaint and naturally beautiful town today, Volant spans 70 acres and is home to less than 200 residents. The surrounding Amish farms make for a nice route along town while skirting the horse-drawn buggies. The historic flour mill, Volant Mills, is a must stop to explore, housing a gift shop with souvenirs of the incredibly historic “small engine” of a city.
The small and charming town of Wellsboro makes a great base for easy access to exploring the state-owned Pine Creek Gorge. “Grand Canyon.” Bordered by Colton Point State Park, the 50-mile-long, 1,000-foot-deep natural landmark is wonderful for extended hikes of varying difficulty. For more awe-inspiring nature, there are scenic trails at Hills Creek State Park and Leonard Harrison State Park, while the Tioga Central Railroad offers all the scenery from the comfort of its seat. After all the adventures, one can hop on a city sightseeing trolley to experience the pure charm of timeless Wellsboro or stroll along downtown and Main Street, known for the quaint ambiance of Victorian architecture. There’s a historic movie theater, various shops, and inviting restaurants for a hearty meal, including the old-fashioned Wellsboro Diner, the Dumpling House, and the Timeless Destination.
These towns where locals know each other by name welcome each visitor with an open heart, like a different face with whom they are eager to share their environment. While it may seem like these towns won’t take long to explore, the rich history and surrounding natural landscapes will make you want to stay for days away from the big city vibe.