Purchases of our 2024 PA Calendar and PA Amusement Parks Book

2024 PA Calendar and PA Amusement Parks Book Purchase Options


Parkesburg Train Station: A Historic Amtrak Train Station in Western Chester County

Parkesburg's Train Station is historic and beautiful. It serves westbound and Eastbound Amtrak Keystone Service Trains, but the Pennsylvanian, which runs from Pittsburgh to New York City, via Philadelphia, does not stop at the station. Keystone Service trains can connect in Harrisburg to head west to Pittsburgh. With the loss of passenger rail services within most places in the state, the fact that the small borough of Parkesburg has easy rail access, with free parking and quick accessibility to major city areas, is a pretty awesome thing. While I would like to see the station get polished up a little bit, it is great to see that it still functions. Not many of these small town stations remain, let alone remain in use. 
The station was built in 1905 and gives an insight into the operations of the Pennsylvania Railroad in small town settings. While the interior of the station is not open to visitors, the exterior area is just so beautiful, but could use a little sprucing up. The adjacent freight house was demolished and the National Railroad Historical Society did not want to see the same thing happen to the station, so they did a refurbishment to keep it viable for longer. 
The station served as a filming location for the classic Harrison Ford action thriller, Witness, as the station where the Amish family left to go to the city. 
CeCe was so excited about the snow while I was gawking at the beautiful old station.


Elfreth's Alley in Philly: America's Oldest Residential Street

Elfreth's Alley dates back to 1703 and it is the oldest residential street in America, and it is a wonder that it has survived this long. The entire reason that this street exists was for quick and easy cart access for artisans toting their wares from their workshops to the trade based at the city's ports. Elfreth's Alley was named after local blacksmith Jeremiah Elfreth. The houses often had craftsmen do their work on the lower levels of their buildings, and they lived in the upper floors. 

The area surrounding it was built up with factories in the 19th and 20th centuries, and by chance, it made it until the 1930s, when the city began to realize what they had in this spot. The waterfront of the Delaware River was  within short reach of this spot, meaning that in that time period, this was an ideal spot for industry. Over the years, all of the surrounding residential area was scooped up by surrounding industry. Come the Interstate Highway Age of the 1950s, some initial plans for highway construction involved the removal of this street. Historical status was sought and won by local historians to preserve this street as plans for I-95 threatened the block. 

This block not merely represents colonial history, with its origins dating back to 1703, within the life of William Penn himself, but it represents every generation of Philadelphians since, and every period of growth of this nation itself. 

The challenges to preserve this street have been faced by most streets in Philadelphia and every other major city as a whole. Urban "Renewal" projects often leave areas like this in the dust. All of the green areas around Independence Hall that make up Independence Mall, were once residential and commercial streets. People that lived in and around these areas were often working class people that were kicked out to build whatever the next biggest thing was. Whether it be factories, railroad projects such as the old Pennsylvania Railroad's "Chinese Wall" which created the "on the other side of the tracks" or "on the wrong side of the tracks" expression, highway projects, public areas, park areas, shopping malls, or whatever, usually wherever the interests of the city areas had been, destruction of neighborhoods and gentrification has followed and swallowed up neighborhoods within its wake. These projects made refugees out of the residents that called these former neighborhoods home. This story has played out across almost every major city in the nation, but especially in Philadelphia. The fact that this street has been able to survive, almost exclusively because of its colonial origins, is both inspiring and depressing, knowing how many other great neighborhoods now have to be referred to in the past tense. The fact that this street was able to survive the demolish and displace cycle of urban renewal is impressive.

Today Elfreth's Alley stands as a prime example of a working class neighborhood in Philadelphia through every period of the city's history. While the mansions of Society Hill are all neatly preserved (and rightfully so) this street stands as a representation of a working class neighborhood in the 18th century. The houses were built primarily in Georgian and Federal Style. Walking around the old neighborhood is delightful, and the community organization that works for and advocates for the neighborhood, in addition to even running the Elfreth's Alley Museum. museum dedicated to the history of the neighborhood. Their advocacy has facilitated the neighborhood's rise into a tourist attraction that gives a little insight into life from the beginning of Philadelphia's colonial origins through today. They run annual events at Christmas, Halloween, Fourth of July, and Oktoberfest, though you can walk up and down the alley at any time. Remember though that this is also a residential neighborhood, so be sure to be respectful when you visit. 

For more information on visiting Philadelphia's Elfreth's Alley in the city's Old City neighborhood, check out the website for its caretaker organization. It is centrally located within Old City, close to Independence Hall, the Betsy Ross House, Penn's Landing, and more. It is well worth checking out on any visit to Philadelphia. 


Philadelphia and the Cradle of US Democracy: Visiting Independence Hall & Exploring Philly's Role in Freedom

Since 1776, Philadelphia has been at the forefront of the growth of democracy and the American way. From the dawn of our nation's founding, declared at Independence Hall, "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed."

Our nation has continually strived to become a "more perfect union" to achieve the ideals set forth in that all important document and the eventual writing of our Constitution within the city as well. If one needs a reminder of these ideals, they simply need to explore Philadelphia and see examples of every stage of our young democracy so far. 

From the dawn of American history, Philadelphia has played a leading role in the push for the achievement of those ideals that were set out by our founding fathers from Philadelphia. The city has been home to a spirit of radical freedom, laid out right from the beginning of the city itself, with the radical and peaceful ideals of William Penn and his Quaker brethren. Pushback against those radical ideals has also shown itself within the city, but in the end, freedom has always seemed to cut through and find a way. Our nation's first black Christian denomination and church, Mother Bethel AME, was founded in this city, in the same year as the writing of the Constitution, and 78 years before the end of the institution of slavery. The seeds of abolition began in the city upon its creation, with groups of the Quakers being amongst the first to denounce it. The Underground Railroad and the abolition movement within this country is deeply rooted within the city. The Civil Rights movement roots itself within the city as well, with countless Civil Rights advocates based out of the city, and team efforts within the city including critical coordination with Martin Luther King Jr. through all of his efforts. 

Philly's Navy Yard Mothballed Ship Fleet

Citizens of the city have participated in every war the country has ever fought, and the shipyards and ports in Philadelphia helped power the country to victory in World War I and World War II. 

On our most recent visit, we spent the night at the Hotel Monaco, (skyscraper to the left in this shot) with views right out at beautiful Independence Hall. There is something just incredible about walking around Old City late at night, with hardly anyone around. It is a great way to quietly reflect upon the ideals of this nation that were embarked upon from this very spot. 
Our view for the night. You can even hear the hourly chimes from the bell tower of Independence Hall. 

CeCe taking in the sights of Independence Hall

The Declaration of Independence was written specifically with the concept of all people being created equal, and the country has steadily moved towards governing that takes that truth into account. Spending time within the Old City is a tremendous reminder of all of the sacrifice that has gone into creating and preserving a union that is for the people and by the people, through thick and thin, and how the system of a government by the people has prevailed, through all of the tough times throughout this nation's history. We can look to the words of our founding fathers in the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution as the benchmark towards accomplishing the goals of creating a more equitable, just, and inclusive union in which all members of society can flourish.

Today, pretty much every cultural group in the country is represented within Philadelphia, and a wonderful illustration of this can be seen with all of the cultural vendors just up the street from Independence Hall at Reading Terminal Market. Everything that has come together to create this nation is represented in this city, a perfect cross-section of the tapestry of this nation. 

Independence Hall was built to be a state house for Pennsylvania, with construction taking place between 1732 and 1753. Two blocks away, the first Continental Congress assembled at Carpenters' Hall in 1774. Then the Second Continental Congress convened at Independence Hall from 1775-1783. During that time, the Declaration of Independence was written nearby and finalized and signed in the building, and the American Revolution was fought. Then in 1787, the Constitutional Convention convened and wrote the bedrock of which our democratic system was built upon, the United States Constitution. Lincoln's  It would be tough to find a place that has been more historically consequential than this location. Let the freedom and liberty initiated at this site ring forever as we work to fulfill the ideals that were laid out in this location. You can just feel the gravity of what occurred here and reflect on it as you walk around the grounds and tour the buildings at Independence Mall and Independence National Historic Park. 

No matter how difficult things may seem right now, all we have to do is sit and reflect on the ideals that this country was founded upon, and the struggles of the past to look forward to how we can come together once again, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all. We need to move to a point of unity and look to the concepts of the visionaries that set us off on the voyage of democracy and engage in healthy debate when there are disagreements. The roadmap to unity is there and set out by our founding fathers whose ideas created a challenge for our nation to tackle over centuries. Their immortal words of liberty and freedom need to guide us along this journey. Petty differences and arguments should not divide us in achieving the democratic ideals that were so eloquently laid out in 1776 and 1789 in Philadelphia. 


Appreciating the Cultural Mosaic of Philadelphia

Philadelphia has been the birthplace of American freedom and democracy, and the epitome of striving for this ideal throughout all of American history. One of the fundamental ways in which the city has carried on pursuing this ideal and tradition is through its rich and diverse cultural background. This is most visible in one place with the diversity of food and gift vendors, with shops representing a view into the culture of every cultural group in the mosaic of Philadelphia at Reading Terminal Market.
Other points of interest exploring the city's rich cultural history are shown with black history from the start of the nation. The Underground Railroad, which was founded and flourished in the city, provided homes to to many freed people that escaped enslavement and providing help to those who continued to the border in Canada. A collective effort and a courageous legacy was created between people of all racial and demographic groups in the city at the time, from the working class up to the highest levels of business and government, including Richard Peters Jr, a former Pennsylvania Speaker of the Pennsylvania Assembly, Pennsylvania State Senator and Judge of the United States District Court. He lived at the Belmont Mansion, which is located at the top of Fairmount Park's Belmont Plateau, overlooking Center City Philadelphia. He had provided shelter for formerly enslaved people within his mansion, which now serves as a museum dedicated to the Underground Railroad. A list of 23 specific sites that were critical in the fight and struggles for Civil Rights can be found at The Constitutional
It is pretty incredible to think that this view from Belmont Plateau at the Belmont Mansion, over Philadelphia is the first sight of true American freedom that many formerly enslaved people saw. It is a humbling and incredible thought.

The slow, but steady growth of both self determination and cooperation in fighting for civil rights for all within this nation has been a steady drumbeat throughout the city's history. The city was home to the largest neighborhood of free Africans before slavery was abolished. The 226 year old Mother Bethel AME Church, dating back to 1794, is the first American Methodist Episcopal Church, the first black American Christian Denomination, and it is on the oldest continuously black owned parcel of land in the city.  Harriet Tubman found her freedom in Philadelphia and the Underground Railroad thrived in helping enslaved people escape before slavery was finally outlawed.
Friendship Arch in Chinatown
Cultural sites abound across Philadelphia, one of my favorites of which is the Shofuso Japanese House and Garden in Fairmount Park. The following are some of the many traditional cultural neighborhoods throughout the city. 
  • Italian neighborhoods in South Philadelphia, as seen in in Rocky
  • Koreatown
  • Little Saigon
  • Italian Market
  • Chinatown: Home to a number of different Asian cultures. Some restaurants in the neighborhood to check out include: Banana Leaf Malaysian Cuisine, Dim Sum Garden, and Terakawa Ramen. One of the coolest landmarks in the city, the Friendship Arch, welcomes visitors to the neighborhood. 
  • El Centro de Oro: A Spanish section of the Fairhill neighborhood. Some cultural restaurants in the neighborhood to check out include: El Bohio, Freddy and Tony's Restaurant, and Taco Riendo Restaurant.  
The "Flags of the World" alongside beautiful Benjamin Franklin Parkway. They were added during the nation's bicentennial as a celebration of international cultures. 

The most enduring legacy of the great American city of Philadelphia is found within it being a a diverse hub that is reflective of the many cultures that are found across the country. It is impossible to miss all of it as you explore the city and it should be a draw for anyone to visit. 

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