This is a busy time of year for most of us and if you're like me, you breathe a sigh of relief when all the work is done and you're looking forward to boring January when the schedule is suddenly free and there's virtually nothing to do.
Rather than go from 100 to zero, you may want to plan a post-holiday trip to a place where the pace of life is slow, allowing you plenty of time to tour local museums, visit a few restaurants and curl up with a book near a fireplace at the end of the day.
What I dislike most about Pennsylvania winters is the stress of traveling on treacherous roads, so when I learned that I could take the train from Harrisburg to Huntingdon, I was even more excited to check out the area. I left on a Monday and was delighted to discover that I had two seats to myself. It turned out that the train was only half full. Later on it snowed during my trip! I can't imagine how stressful that would have been if I had been driving. I learned later there were accidents along the way. Not only was I safe, warm and cozy, but I was also able to grab a bite for lunch aboard the dining car.
My experience in Huntingdon had been limited to camping at Raystown Lake many moons ago with friends, so I was glad to have the opportunity to see more of the town during this visit.
First Stop: The Station General Store
The Station General store operates in a colorful and historic former train station located just steps from where Amtrak drops off passengers traveling to Huntingdon. There you'll find 3,500 square feet of antiques, collectibles, furniture and gifts at reasonable prices.
A Visit to the Oldest Automobile Museum in Pennsylvania
The Swigart Museum, located at 10231 William Penn Highway, celebrates its centennial anniversary in 2020. The non-profit is dedicated to preserving the history of the automobile in America.
The story began simply enough when Huntingdon native W. Emmert Swigart began collecting antique cars. Emmert also founded an insurance company called Swigart Associates, which was located across from the post office in the center of town and on that property was a carriage house, which he transformed into a museum. "He had a collection of books, memorabilia, all kinds of things, including four, or five cars," said Marge Cutright, Executive Director. When the insurance company needed the carriage house as the business grew, Emmert purchased the current property where the collection is now housed. When W. Emmert died in 1949, William E. Swigart, Jr. inherited the collection and continued to expand it. William Swigart, Jr. passed in July of 2000, but his museum lives on with Cutright at the helm. "He made it a 501(c) 3 before he passed, so now we rely on public support to keep the doors open," she explains.
The License Plate Collection
The 9,100 square foot museum contains a collection of license plates that William accrued through years of collecting. According to Cutright, he would send his employees to an annual meet in Hershey to buy, sell and trade license plates. The junior Swigart, once again, has his father to thank for starting the collection. According to Cutright, there are hundreds of people who are license plate enthusiasts, many of whom belong to a professional organization called the Automobile License Plate Collector's Association. "During WWII, they were collecting metal for the war effort, but the government would allow collectors to keep the metal plates if they were part of a museum, so some of them would give them to W. Emmert in order to save their collection," said Cutright, offering a bit of license plate trivia: "They didn't start to make license plates until the 1900s, and some of them were made of soybeans, but the animals ate them, so they went to leather, or porcelain and eventually used metal," said Cutright. One of the most notable license plates in the Swigart collection is a license plate from FDR's limo when he was president. "We found a newspaper clipping with a picture of FDR and the license plate is visible in the picture," she said.
The Car Collection
Swigart's collection totals 125 cars which are rotated annually so that customers can see something different if they return the following year. Ryan Kolar, who grew up in Johnstown, was a yearly visitor as a child. "My father was a collector and my grandfather was a car builder and a collector as well. We'd stop every year on our way to the big car show in Carlisle to see not only the car collection, but the collection of license plates and emblems" said Kolar, whose only complaint is that he couldn't see the two Tuckers at the same time. Kolar, like Swigart, inherited a collection, albeit much smaller. "I have 11 cars, six of which I purchased on my own," he said.
Cutright said that the "Tin Goose"prototype of the first Tucker made in 1947 is currently on display off property, so if Kolar visited today he'd only see the 1948 Tucker. "A total of 51 were made. We have number 13," said Cutright.
Cutright said that the museum exists to show how cars have developed and improved over the years. "Steering wheels have changed from a tiller wheel, similar to a joystick, to what we see today. "They evolved from tiller to round," she said, adding that early cars also lacked windshields. "The first cars didn't even have doors," she said.
One of the cars that remains in the museum at all times, according to Cutright, is the 1903 Curved Dash Oldsmobile, which was sold by the pound, weighed 650 pounds and cost $650.
Visitors are often surprised that electric cars existed "back in the day." Currently on display is a 1912 Detroit Electric. The company built 13,000 cars between 1907 and 1939. Notable folks who owned them were Lizzie Borden, Thomas Edison, Mamie Eisenhower and John D. Rockefeller, Jr.
The museum also has several one-of-a-kind cars in its collection. One is a 1920 Carroll made in Lorraine, Ohio. "Charles Carroll manufactured 50 and kept one for himself," said Cutright, adding that there is only one that wasn't destroyed due to being left out in the elements. "The family didn't realize that there was still one left that belonged to Carroll himself and they came out to see it."
Another one-of-a-kind, according to Cutright, is a 1916 Scripps-Booth which belonged to a family in Boston by the name of Sears (not the Sears of retail fame). The family was quite wealthy and their daughter Eleanora was a tennis champion and the great, great granddaughter of Thomas Jefferson. She had cars made to her specifications every few years, with decorative accessories like pearl door handles on the inside, for instance. "She was a tennis pro, wore pantaloons, played polo on horseback and was a real character. She would drive around town at very high speeds until the head of the police department in Boston took her to court. Her attorney told her not to say a word during the hearing to avoid jail. She obeyed his directions and narrowly escaped jail, but it didn't stop her from speeding in the future," said Cutright.
One of the most beautiful cars on display is a 1936 Duesenberg, which was bid on by none other than Jay Leno. The story is that Leno bid against Swigart and eventually gave up. In his frustration, he reported that some "hayseed" from Pennsylvania ended up with the car. Mr. Swigart was said to have invited Leno out to his museum, but Leno declined.
The museum touts another Duesenberg as well--a 1929 model, which is taken on tours. "Every year there is something called the Glidden Tour, which is to test the endurance of early cars dated prior to 1947. Each year we go to a different location. Last year it was Hilton Head and we drive the cars 100 miles a day, then return to the hotel and go in a different direction," said Cutright who has thus far been on 11 tours. "I really enjoy them," she said.
Cutright said that she started out as William Swigart's secretary and didn't care much about cars until she started learning more and now she has the bug. "My husband owns a 1924 Nash and we tour with that sometimes. Once you get involved in it, it's fascinating. It makes people smile and you even get a few 'thumbs up' as you go," she said.
The William E. Swigart Automobile Museum is open daily from Memorial Day weekend through the end of October and for groups throughout the year upon request.
Walk Down Memory Lane at the Isett Heritage Museum
The sprawling Isett Heritage Museum is located about two miles east of Huntingdon Borough on Stone Creek Ridge Road. There you'll find three buildings which house a staggering collection of items collected by Melvin Isett. Isett was born in 1922 and spent his lifetime collecting antiques and memorabilia. In 2001, he opened his collection to the public in a renovated barn. By 2004, he expanded the collection to include a 10,000 square foot building. By 2008, he added another 10,000 square foot building to the mix. If you visit, be prepared to be overwhelmed by the sheer volume of items that the prolific collector has acquired over the years.
The tour begins in the renovated barn with antiques that date back to the 1800s. In the barn, you'll see an impressive collection of radios from tube radios, to vintage floor models, crystal set radios, Victrolas and more contemporary items like cassette, eight track and cd players. A dairy display includes a restaurant booth and ice cream fountain from Fouse's Dairy where Isett was employed as a teen and a printing exhibit contains two 1870 printing presses. A display located next to the printing press includes a variety of tin items created in local tin shops that date back to the 1800s.
(An artifact from Fouse’s dairy in Marklesburg where Isett worked as a teen)
Building two is comprised of three sections, starting with formal parlors from the 1800s filled with fainting couches and antiques. Section two features a music room with pianos, pump organs, musical instruments, sheet music and jukeboxes.
Section three includes antique cars, pedal cars, soap box derby cars and a large exhibit dedicated to items used for communication, like vintage typewriters, telephones, dictaphones and hand-written journals dating back to the 1800s. In this section, Isett displays cable equipment from the Huntingdon TV Cable Company, which he founded in 1960.
Items in the third building include a collection of cameras from 1800's to the present day, courtesy of curator Vince Brown, who worked at Kodak in New York for many years.
Also on display are military items, uniforms, letters, weapons and maps ranging from the Civil War to the present.
If I had to compare this unique collection to any other places I've visited, I suppose I can say that it is a bit reminiscent of the Mercer Museum in Doylestown and The Great American Treasure Tour in Oakes, Pa.
If you find what you've read here intriguing, you can take a tour yourself. Winter hours are Monday through Friday, 8-5, with weekend tours by appointment.
(Many thanks to the Isett Heritage Museum for the photos they provided for this blog.)
Hunkering Down in Unique Accommodations
There's no better time to hunker down than in the winter and there are plenty of unique accommodations in the area. During my visit, I had the opportunity to view a few independently owned properties, perfect for a peaceful getaway.
Rustic Ridge Retreat
The Rustic Ridge Retreat is a new property built in 2018 high atop a hill, with beautiful vistas. Local residents Chris and Jackie Confer built the cabin as a retreat, hence the name. The house is perfect for one or two families to enjoy a quiet getaway, while at the same time being just minutes away from Huntingdon.
The cabin is equipped with four tvs and children often gather in the lower level, which is is set up for watching movies, gaming and foosball. Wifi is free and covers all areas, including the outside. If weather permits, there is a pavilion outside equipped with a gas grill, along with a fire pit to cook marshmallows over a campfire.
The Edgewater Inn
If you enjoy historic structures, look no farther than the Edgewater Inn. The original farmhouse, which is now the living room of the Edgewater Inn, was built in 1762 and belonged to John Penn, the grandson of William Penn. The building was originally a log homestead, and guests can view some of the original logs, which have been preserved in the Juniata room behind the bar. Today, the Inn offers dining at the Riverside Grill located on the first floor, along with overnight accommodations and a barn onsite that is used for special events and weddings.
Many discover that the Edgewater Inn is an excellent place to recharge, away from ubiquitous computer screens. Wifi is available in public spaces only, so you can be forgiven if you inform everyone that once you retire to your room you're essentially unplugged until the next morning when you awaken refreshed and ready to tackle the day, but first be sure to enjoy the hearty breakfast served in the dining room that overlooks the Juniata river.
Lane's Country Homestead and Pine Lodge
Lane's Country Homestead and Pine Lodge are two fully furnished homes that are great getaways for family and friends. The Country Homestead is a quaint, 18th-century farmhouse with four bedrooms and sleeps approximately 10 people.
The Pine Lodge is well suited for large families, family reunions, or a group of friends who want to get together and enjoy each other's company without many distractions. The house sleeps 20, has a huge dining room and is situated on 146 acres of farmland.
The Huntingdon Visitors' Bureau is featuring "Fireplace Getaways" this year by partnering with various lodges, some of which I've mentioned here. Those who visit as part of a group can take part in various activities, from painting, to cake decorating, morning yoga or coffee cupping. If your group would prefer a venturing experience, the Bureau has several from which to choose, whether it be a visit to the Isett Heritage Museum, the Swigart Automobile Museum, or a trip to the popular Lincoln Caverns.
If this sounds good to you, you're well on your way to making it happen. Just click on this link to begin planning your winter escape.