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2019 Pennsylvania Calendar and PA Amusement Parks Book Options

4.28.2019

St. Patrick's Log Cabin Church: Oldest Remaining Catholic Church West of the Alleghenies

We were beckoned to visit this place by a historical sign on a country road and found something pretty awesome, St. Patrick's Log Cabin Church. This church dates back to 1806 and was built by Irish Immigrants. Located in Sugarcreek Township, Armstrong County, it is said to be the oldest remaining catholic church building west of the Alleghenies. It is still used sporadically and is open for tours on weekends. The main parish is now located in nearby Brady's Bend, but they have maintained this cabin and even used it a few times when some of the other church buildings of the last few centuries succumbed to disasters. Two churches burned down, and one was even blown down during a windstorm. This cabin has stood steadfast for more than two centuries in the community. 
The church was built thanks to a canvassing effort to get people to contribute 25 cents towards construction of the church. The largest contribution they received was $2.00. Inflation from then to now estimates that would be equivalent to about 36-40 dollars today. This region of Armstrong County was rural then, as it remains today. Land was bountiful, but money was scarce for the construction of a church. Eventually they were able to raise enough to purchase a 200 acre farm, where the Log Church was built and a cemetary was created.
The four men that raised the money also literally raised the roof. Each person was responsible for completing one of the walls. They each assembled teams to get the job done with oak timbers, clay, and straw for the 22 foot wide, by 35 foot tall building.

Initially, services were only held once or twice a month, for the priest was responsible for all of the parishes west of the Allegheny River, up to Erie, and out to the Ohio. Parishioners would walk from distances of up to 10-15 miles to attend services in this remote region.

It is open for tours from May 1 through October 1 each year from 11:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m., on Saturdays and Sundays. More information can be found at this link.

4.14.2019

Starrucca Viaduct: Stunning Railroad Stone-Arch Bridge in PA's Endless Mountains

As someone who loves photography, historic structures and bridges, railroad stuff, scenery, engineering feats, and scenic places, Starrucca Viaduct has long been a place that I have wanted to check out. The opportunity arose to finally go check out this spectacular bridge, and I could not pass it up. Starrucca Viaduct was one of the most ambitious engineering triumphs of its time, and set the tone for the ambitious growth of the railroad industry. Dating all the way back to 1848, it remains as one of the tallest stone-arch masonry bridges in the world, more than 160 years after it was built. It even predates the standardization of railroad gauges, for it was initially built with 6 foot wide track, largely to maintain monopoly status. Later on, there would be a contentious battle to standardize rail gauges at 4 feet and 8.5 inches and the Erie Railroad would eventually comply. This left a significant amount of extra room on the railroad right-of-way. This bridge and rail line was fundamental in helping grow New York City, with it carrying fresh foods from the midwest, in addition to industrial goods, and coal for heating. 
Starrucca Viaduct is in the Endless Mountains region of Pennsylvania, in Susquehanna County, not far from the PA/NY border. This stunning bridge dates back to 1848 and remains one of the world's tallest railroad stone arch bridges, with piers ranging from 90-100 feet. It carries the New York, Susquehanna, and Western Railroad, and was originally built by the Erie Railroad in the midst of its push to make the first railroad connection between New York and Lake Erie, which would eventually connect between New York and Chicago. The bridge was an incredibly ambitious project especially considering that this is purely stone masonry, with no steel reinforcement. The bases are concrete, which may have been the first use of structural concrete in an American bridge. That stone is not a facade, but masterfully crafted stone work that is in pristine shape and still receives regular freight train traffic. Many bridges that are not even a fraction of the age of this span have not stood the test of time that this giant has. 
The stone, ashlar bluestone, was sourced from local quarries within the immediate area of the bridge. 
Old telegraph poles are still extant adjacent to the bridge, and on the perpendicular right-of-way that was once used by the D&H (Delaware and Hudson). That rail line was abandoned decades ago. On private property, just down the road, you can see a neat metal-lattice bridge on the old line. It is clearly visible, but not open to be explored. 
The local newspaper, the Montrose Independent posted this remembrance during a commemoration of the Starrucca Viaduct in 1931 by the daughter of one of the builders of the bridge: (Sourced from the Pennsylvania Center for the Book)

“There was great commotion among the people when the first report came that there was to be a railroad built from New York to Lake Erie, there to connect with boats for the far west. It was in the year 1845. It was some time before the surveyors got up to the Gulf Summit [,] Cascade and to Lanesboro…My father and I visited the scenes and work of the railroad building very often, which was very interesting and exciting to us all…

The stone was cut and numbered and loaded on the stone cars drawn by horses and mules over the piers and were unloaded by derricks down on the piers. They drilled two holes in the large stone, about two feet apart. They had a short chain with ring in center and short plugs on each end. They would stick these plugs in the holes with the derrick, hook in the ring and let them down on the piers where they were fitted to go. The stone was … marked with black paint. The masons on the piers knew where to lay [it].

When the piers were up to the track they built another section of false-work and so continued to raise the track over the piers until the work was done. When the piers were high enough for the arches, they left projecting a row of stone to set the wood arches to [,] to lay the stone on. They were now one hundred feet from the ground and every pier was fastened just the same and stands in a perfect row, just the same as was built…

When the bridge was completed it was a wonderful view to behold, to see that bridge with the false-work of timbers filling the space between the piers from the ground to the arches… The contract [to remove the falsework] was let to a man by the name of Purdy. He built a boarding house, or shanty like, very long on the ground, where the school house now stands, boarding many of his men and paid them $1.00 a day… He soon had a lot of men who were not afraid to work on that dangerous job. A number… went from Jackson. My father was one…” —Hosea M. Benson, November 24, 1931

I can only imagine how incredible it was to see this construction, especially with none of the equipment and safety equipment that we see today. I do not envy the risks that these workers had to take in order to put food on their table for their families. My immigrant ancestors came here around the time that Hosea gave this account, going down into the coal mines and dying young from diseases that would have been preventable with minimal safety equipment. Knowing that the laborers on this bridge did not have basic safety equipment, such as helmets, respirators, and harnesses, these guys put their lives on the line to support their families. This bridge is a testament to those efforts, still functioning in pristine shape, more than 160 years after it was constructed.
The arches are truly a sight to behold. 

Some of these rocks demonstrate Hosea Benson's account of the construction, showing the chiseled holes that were used to lift stones into place.
This is one seriously stunning structure.
The surroundings of the bridge are so idyllic that it has even shown up within a landscape painting by Jasper Francis Crospey from 1865.


Luciana Park offers cool views of the bridge, and these neat informational panels.

The bridge crossing Starrucca Creek. It meets with the Susquehanna River in just a few hundred feet. 
This concrete arch bridge is just down the road from Starucca and is impressive on its own. Though, within a half hour drive of this spot, you can see the incredible Martin's Creek and Tunkhannock Viaducts.
The Susquehanna, PA, Erie Railroad train station is located just down the street. It is in the midst of being revamped. It has sat vacant for a long time, after serving as an eatery. It was built in 1863, and passenger service ceased in 1970. 
The station is in the midst of being redone, which is no small feat. For updates on this project, check out the Reviving the Starrucca House Page.

Overall, the Starrucca Viaduct is well worth going out of your way to see. The countryside surrounding it is very nice, and the bridge is just incredible. 

4.07.2019

Northwestern Bedford County Covered Bridges

Northwestern Bedford County is home to a series of awesome covered bridges. Five of the county's 14 covered bridges are within a 15 minute drive of each other, with four of those crossing Dunning's Creek, with all of them being absolutely gorgeous.
Our first stop is at Cuppett's Covered Bridge in New Paris. This covered bridge is just a short drive from Gravity Hill and the Allegheny Front Hawk Watch, making it a wonderful place to check out.
Cuppett's/New Paris Covered Bridge:
Built in 1882 
Crosses Dunnings Creek
Burr Truss Construction
96 feet long by 12 feet wide
Coordinates:
40.116, -78.64
Through the years as wood has been replaced, they have opted to go with a rustic wood look instead of repainting it the traditional white and red of Bedford County. It is a pedestrian bridge now, located just to the side of the road that bypassed it, Route 96.
Ryot Covered Bridge
Built in 1868 
Crosses Dunnings Creek
Burr Truss Construction
Coordinates:
40.142222, -78.625
This bridge is in pristine shape and open to vehicular traffic, but this is thanks to a community effort to rebuild the bridge in 2002 after some knuckleheads tried to get their jollies through arson. Renovation just a few years prior to reinforce the bridge had remained intact, so they were able to easily repair the bridge. It is a shame that efforts like this have to be undertaken though.
The bridge is surrounded by farmland, forest, and a mountain, on top of its creek setting. It is an absolute beauty.

Dr. Knisley Covered Bridge
Built in 1867
Crosses Dunnings Creek
Burr Truss Construction
Coordinates:
40.16, -78.602222
While this bridge is privately owned, it is impeccably maintained. My first reaction after seeing this was that I am glad that this bridge has retained its original Burr Truss construction style. Even if this means that the bridge cannot handle normal daily traffic, the bridge retains its original integrity. Many bridges are often reinforced, which is a nice thing in keeping the bridges in the community and an eye upon the heritage of the bridges, but it is nice to see bridges that retain their original integrity. The downside to this is that the bridges require more maintenance to preserve them without steel reinforcements, and this is especially difficult if the bridge is privately owned and funding is limited for preservation. A fine case in contrast with this beautiful covered bridge is the Felton Covered Bridge on the other side of the county, which has received zero maintenance and appears to be on the verge of collapse. I am happy to report that the Dr. Knisley Bridge is in excellent shape with authentic structural integrity.
The property that the bridge sits on seems to be the pride and joy of the owner. The area immediately surrounding the bridge is a beautiful grove of trees. There are quaint farm fields just beyond the treeline. 

Snooks Covered Bridge
Built in 1880
Crosses Dunnings Creek
Burr Truss Construction
Coordinates:
40.169167, -78.58
Snooks has a very similar appearance to the nearby Ryot Covered Bridge. It is a beautiful span that is maintained by Bedford County.


Bowser Covered Bridge
Built in 1890 
Crosses Bob's Creek
Burr Truss Construction
Coordinates:
40.176944, -78.541667
We finish at Bowser Covered Bridge. This has always been one of my favorite covered bridges in the state. This is a great place to launch off to Blue Knob State Park, home to the second tallest mountain in Pennsylvania, with tremendous views, hikes, and the ski area with the second highest elevation change in the state. For more information, check out this article from a prior visit.
Overall, Bedford County is a wonderful place to check out covered bridges. Northwestern Bedford County is home to a series of great spans that are located very close to each other. We highly recommend checking them out.
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