(Washington, DC) – Washington, DC’s hospitality community is united in its preparation for the inauguration of the 45th president on Friday, January 20, 2017. Hotels, restaurants and attractions in neighborhoods across the nation’s capital are creating thematic packages, menus, balls, exhibits and tours for visitors eager to participate in the 58th presidential inauguration. The District’s official destination marketing organization, Destination DC is showcasing this information for visitors coming to the nation’s capital.
Travelers attending inauguration can access Destination DC’s free resources and experts to:
• Find comprehensive information on washington.org/inauguration. Content includes a calendar of events; suggestions for experiencing free (and almost free) presidential history; lists of award-winning restaurants and signature DC dishes. An inauguration FAQ will be updated as practical details including street closures are announced.
• Book hotel packages designed for family, group and luxury travelers:
o Family-friendly options include Marriott Metro Center downtown; Washington Marriott Wardman Park in Woodley Park; Embassy Suites at the Chevy Chase Pavilion in upper Northwest; The Dupont Circle, Beacon Hotel and Courtyard Washington, DC in Dupont Circle; Liaison Capitol Hill and Phoenix Park Hotel on Capitol Hill; Hamilton Crowne Plaza downtown; Hyatt Place Washington DC, Melrose Georgetown Hotel, Georgetown Suites and Washington Marriott Georgetown; Harborside Hotel at National Harbor, Md.
o Packages created for corporate group travelers including the JW Marriott’s $2.5 million buy-out that bundles 325 guest rooms, four presidential suites, a rooftop party for 300 overlooking the inaugural parade and $400,000 in food and beverage credit.
o Luxury hotels including Four Seasons Washington, DC in Georgetown; The Fairmont Hotel, Ritz-Carlton Washington, DC, Park Hyatt and Watergate Hotel in Foggy Bottom; The Churchill Hotel near Embassy Row; the “Inauguration’s a Ball” package at 10 DC-area Kimpton properties; Sofitel Washington, DC Lafayette Square; Renaissance Washington, DC Downtown Hotel; the Marriott Marquis Washington, DC in Shaw; Willard InterContinental, W Washington, DC and Sofitel Washington, DC Lafayette Square near the White House.
• Speak with visitor services representatives on Destination DC’s toll-free concierge-style information line (800-422-8644), staffed Monday-Friday, 8:30am-5pm EST.
• Engage with experts and user-generated content on Destination DC’s Instagram (@visitwashingtondc) and Facebook (@washingtondc) channels.
Inauguration Day begins with a swearing-in ceremony at noon, continues with a parade down Pennsylvania Avenue, and ends with official inaugural balls that will be confirmed by the Joint Congressional Committee on Inaugural Ceremonies. Throughout the city, special events take place including numerous ticketed unofficial balls that are open to the public. Destination DC will broadcast event details and practical considerations as they are announced.
Washington, DC welcomed a record 21.3 million visitors in 2015, up 5% over 2014. Visitors spent $7.1 billion in 2015. Spending on food and beverage was more than $2 billion (28.8%), second only to lodging (34%). In 2017, DC will host 21 major citywide events and conventions set to generate an estimated $357 million.
In 2017, DC will welcome new hospitality inventory including The Line in Adams Morgan and The Pod Hotel in the Penn Quarter. In October, the first phase of The Wharf, a $2 billion, 24-acre reimaging of the southwest waterfront will debut with new hotels including Canopy by Hilton and Hyatt House and restaurants from the likes of Fabio Trabocchi (Fiola); Nick Stefanelli (Masseria) and Jamie Leeds (Hank’s Oyster Bar). The Smithsonian Institution’s Freer Gallery reopens on the National Mall in October, and the Museum of the Bible is scheduled to open in November.
Destination DC, the official destination marketing organization for the nation’s capital, is a private, non-profit membership organization of 900 businesses committed to marketing the area as a premier global convention, tourism and special events destination with a special emphasis on the arts, cultural and historic communities. www.washington.org. For more travel features, visit:
Washington, DC –Mission Inn Hotel & Spa of Riverside, California, the Palace Hotel and the Inn at the Presidio of of San Francisco and La Fonda on the Plaza of Santa Fe, were among the historic hotels honored with 2016 Awards of Excellence by Historic Hotels of America® and Historic Hotels Worldwide® . The Mayflower Hotel of Washington DC was awarded the best City Center historic hotel, and the Omni Homestead Resort of Hot Springs, Virginia was named best historic resort.
Honors were given in multiple categories ranging from Hotelier of the Year and Hotel Historian of the Year to Best Historic Resort, Historic Hotelier of the Year, Lifetime Achievement, and others, at a ceremony and gala at The Royal Hawaiian, A Luxury Collection Resort (1927) in Honolulu, Hawaii on Thursday, November 3.
Each year, these Historic Hotels Awards of Excellence honor, encourage, and recognize the most exemplary historic hotels, hoteliers, and leadership practices. The Historic Hotels Awards of Excellence are presented to historic hotels and hoteliers demonstrating innovative leadership, stewardship, and contribution to furthering the recognition, preservation, and celebration of these preeminent historic hotels and their histories.
From more than 200 nominees, the following Historic Hotels of America and Historic Hotels Worldwide hotels and hoteliers were honored with these prestigious annual awards for 2016:
Best Small Historic Inn/Hotel (Under 75 Guestrooms)
• Inn at the Presidio (1903) San Francisco, California
Best Historic Hotel (76-200 Guestrooms)
• La Fonda on the Plaza™ (1922) Santa Fe, New Mexico Best Historic Hotel (201-400 Guestrooms)
• Mission Inn Hotel & Spa (1876) Riverside, California
Best Historic Hotel (Over 400 Guestrooms)
• Palace Hotel, A Luxury Collection Hotel (1875) San Francisco, California
Best City Center Historic Hotel
• The Mayflower Hotel, Autograph Collection (1925) Washington, DC
Best Historic Resort
• The Omni Homestead Resort (1766) Hot Springs, Virginia
Historic Hotels of America New Member of the Year
• White Stallion Ranch (1900) Tucson, Arizona
Best Social Media of a Historic Hotel
• The Jefferson, Washington, DC (1923) Washington, DC
Historic Hotels of America Sustainability Champion
• The Boar’s Head (1834) Charlottesville, Virginia 2016 Historic Hotels of America Hotel Historian of the Year Award
• Lora Gallagher at the Hilton Hawaiian Village® Waikiki Beach Resort (1955) Honolulu, Hawaii
2016 Historic Hotelier of the Year
• Doug Browne at The Peabody Memphis (1869) Memphis, Tennessee
Best Historic Restaurant in Conjunction with a Historic Hotel
• Circa 1886 at Wentworth Mansion (1886) Charleston, South Carolina
Legendary Family Historic Hoteliers of the Year
• The Genzlinger Family at The Settlers Inn at Bingham Park (1927) Hawley, Pennsylvania
Historic Hotels of America Ambassador of the Year (Quarter Century Service)
• Ken Price at the Palmer House®, A Hilton Hotel (1871) Chicago, Illinois
2016 Historian of the Year Award
• Jamie Ford, New York Times Best-Selling Author
Best Historic Hotels Worldwide hotel in Europe
• Hotel Schweizerhof Luzern (1845) Lucerne, Switzerland Best Historic Hotels Worldwide hotel in Asia/Pacific
• Hotel New Grand (1927) Yokohama, Japan
Best Historic Hotels Worldwide hotel in the Americas
• Hacienda Xcanatún (1789) Merida, Mexico
2016 Lifetime Achievement Award
• Takamasa Osano and Kyo-ya Hotels & Resorts, LP
“We are proud to congratulate the 2016 Historic Hotels Awards of Excellence winners,” said Lawrence Horwitz, Executive Director of Historic Hotels of America and Historic Hotels Worldwide. “These historic hotels and hoteliers represent the pinnacle in historic hotels and their achievements. Their dedicated stewardship and innovative leadership helps ensure that these legendary historic hotels and their wonderful histories will continued to be enjoyed by future generations of travelers.”
Award recipients are selected from nominees received from historic hotels, historic preservation supporters, prior award recipients, and leadership from Historic Hotels of America and Historic Hotels Worldwide. As official programs of the National Trust for Historic Preservation, Historic Hotels of America and Historic Hotels Worldwide provide the recognition to travelers, civic leaders, and the global cultural, heritage, and historic travel market that member hotels are among the finest historic hotels across America and around the world. The Historic Hotels Annual Awards of Excellence program recognizes the pinnacle of this distinct group of nominees in a range of categories.
Historic Hotels of America is the official program of the National Trust for Historic Preservation for recognizing and celebrating the finest Historic Hotels. Historic Hotels of America was founded in 1989 by the National Trust for Historic Preservation with 32 charter members. Today, Historic Hotels of America has more than 295 historic hotels. These historic hotels have all faithfully maintained their authenticity, sense of place, and architectural integrity in the United States of America, including 46 states, the District of Columbia, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and Puerto Rico. Historic Hotels of America is comprised of mostly independently owned and operated properties. More than 30 of the world’s finest hospitality brands, chains, and collections are represented in Historic Hotels of America. To be nominated and selected for membership into this prestigious program, a hotel must be at least 50 years old; has been designated by the U.S. Secretary of the Interior as a National Historic Landmark or listed in or eligible for listing in the National Register of Historic Places; and recognized as having historic significance. For more information, please visit HistoricHotels.org.
Historic Hotels Worldwide is a prestigious collection of historic treasures, including historic hotels, castles, chateaus, palaces, academies, haciendas, villas, monasteries, and other historic lodging spanning more than ten centuries. Historic Hotels Worldwide recognizes authentic cultural treasures that demonstrate historic preservation and their inspired architecture, cultural traditions, and authentic cuisine. Historic Hotels Worldwide is the official program of the National Trust for Historic Preservation (United States of America). HistoricHotelsWorldwide.com allows travelers to book their next getaway from more than 3,000 historic and cultural experiences, and view special offers at participating historic hotels from 30 countries. To be nominated and selected to be featured on this supplemental marketing program website, a historic hotel must be at least 75 years old; utilize historic accommodations; serve as the former home or be located on the grounds of the former home of famous persons or significant location for an event in history; be located in or within walking distance to a historic district, historically significant landmark, place of historic event, or a historic city center; be recognized by a local preservation organization or national trust; and display historic memorabilia, artwork, photography, and other examples of its historic significance. To be selected in the United States for inclusion in Historic Hotels Worldwide, a hotel must meet the above criteria plus be a member of Historic Hotels of America. For more information, please visit HistoricHotelsWorldwide.com.
For the first time, all of Nassau County Museum of Art’s galleries are devoted to the art of photography, collectively giving a retrospective and perspective on 100 years and some of the most important photographs and photographers in history. The exhibit is on view through March 5, 2017.
On view in the Main Galleries on the first floor are two exhibitions drawn from the collection of the Kalamazoo Institute of the Arts (KIA), Kalamazoo, Michigan: Ansel Adams: Sight and Feeling and Light Works: 100 Years of Photos. On view in the Second Floor Galleries is New Photos: Long Island Collects, important photographic works of the last half century from private Long Island art collections.
Ansel Adams: Sight and Feeling: Ansel Adams’ ability to create photographs with a remarkable range and subtlety of tones is legendary. Yet for all his technical mastery, Adams recognized that what made a compelling photograph was far more elusive. This exhibition of Adams’ photographs from the KIA collection suggests how his intuitive and emotional response to the landscape resulted in powerful and enduring photographs.
Light Works: 100 Years of Photos: From Eadweard Muybridge’s 19th-century photographic studies of animal locomotion to Richard Misrach’s contemporary chromogenic prints, this exhibition spans the history of photography. Alfred Stieglitz, Edward Curtis, Ansel Adams, Dorothea Lange, Diane Arbus, Richard Avedon, Walker Evans, Henri Cartier-Bresson and many other celebrated photographers comprise this survey of photography processes and subjects from 1873 to 2000.
Coincidentally, the opening at NCMA occurred the same day as Time published its “100 Most Influential Photos of All Time,” and notably, several in this exhibit have been included among those deemed the most influential including Eadweard Muybridge’s breakthrough photo, “The Horse in Motion,” from 1878; Edward Steichen’s “The Steerage” (1904), Henri Cartier-Bresson’s “Behind the Gare Saint-Lazare” (1932), Dorothea Lange’s “The Migrant Mother” (1936) among them.
New Photos: Long Island Collects focuses on significant photographic works created from the 1960s through the present day, from private collectors. Among the artists included in New Photos: Long Island Collects are John Baldessari, Matthew Barney, Robert Mapplethorpe, Vic Muniz, Cindy Sherman and William Wegman.
The Museum is offering a variety of public programs to amplify the experience of visiting these three exhibitions. Two films are screening daily: Stryker’s America: Photographing the Great Depression and Cartier-Bresson’s Century. Three Brown Bag Lectures illuminate the art and the artists included in these exhibitions. Other public programs are inspired by the exhibitions: Sketching in the Galleries, and The River, a concert performed by the musical ensemble ETHEL. The Museum’s family programs from November 19 to March 5 similarly draw inspiration from the exhibitions: Neiman Marcus Family Sundays,February Break for Art and two Super Family Sunday offerings, Winter Wonderland and Merrynaking in a Gold Coast Mansion. For further information on these programs, visit the Museum’s website, nassaumuseum.org/events.
Even the museum’s gift shop artfully presents items that evoke the exhibit.
The Nassau County Museum of Art is a destination in itself.
Most of the 145 acres that are now the Nassau County Museum of Art originally belonged to poet, lawyer, conservationist, political activist, patron of the arts and preservationist William Cullen Bryant, who settled in Roslyn in 1843.
The long-time editor of the New York Post built his home, Cedarmore, and founded Roslyn’s public library.
In 1862, he built a cottage for his friend and fellow poet, Miss Jerusha Dewey (you can see the cottage when you explore the hiking trails).
In 1900, Lloyd Stephens Bryce purchased Bryant’s ‘Upland Farm’ and commissioned architect Ogden Codman, Jr. to design Bryce House, the present mansion. Henry Clay Frick, co-founder of U.S. Steel Corporation purchased Bryce House in 1919 as a gift for his son, Childs Frick, a Princeton graduate who became a vertebrate paleontologist and naturalist.
Be sure to make time to explore the grounds of this magnificent estate:
Sculpture Park: Approximately 40 works, many of them monumental in size, by renowned artists including Fernando Botero, Tom Otterness, George Rickey and Mark DiSuvero among others, are situated to interact with nature on the museum’s magnificent 145-acre property.
Walking Trails: The museum’s 145 acres include many marked nature trails through the woods, perfect for family hikes or independent exploration.
Gardens: From restored formal gardens of historic importance to quiet little nooks for dreaming away an afternoon, the museum’s 145 acre property features many lush examples of horticultural arts. Explore expanded gardens and beautiful new path to the museum.
Nassau County Museum of Art is located at One Museum Drive in Roslyn Harbor, just off Northern Boulevard, Route 25A, two traffic lights west of Glen Cove Road. The museum is open Tuesday-Sunday, 11 a.m.-4:45 p.m. Admission is $12 for adults, $8 for seniors (62 and above) and $4 for students and children (4 to12). Members are admitted free. Docent-led tours of the exhibition are offered at 2 p.m. each day; tours of the mansion are offered each Saturday at 1 p.m.; meet in the lobby, no reservations needed. Tours are free with museum admission. Family art activities and family tours are offered Sundays from 1 pm; free with museum admission. Call (516) 484-9338, ext. 12 to inquire about group tours. The Museum Store is open Tuesday through Sunday, 11 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. The Red Maple Market Café is open Saturday and Sunday, noon to 3 p.m. Call (516) 484-9337 for current exhibitions, events, days/times and directions or log onto nassaumuseum.org.
The 43rd Annual Village Halloween Parade, the largest Halloween event in the world, got underway with extraordinary precision, as all the skeletons, ghouls and monsters – some 50,000 in all – got into order for the march up New York’s 6th Avenue to the rhythm of a host of bands.
The theme this year invited participants to “Sink into Reverie —that liminal space in which one creates.”
“One thinks of Halloween as a chance to fantasize, but more than anything Halloween lets us realize, allowing us to play ourselves, leaving the remainder of the year for sleepwalking…. In these moments of reverie, our eyes are fresh, a child’s eyes. Our thoughts unfettered by habit, ideas and inspirations swirl in. So this year we celebrate Reverie, inviting one and all to recreate their waking dreams.”
Indeed, this is one day a year when New Yorkers, en masse, release their inner exhibitionist, their inner Action Hero. It’s Body English, when your entire being is a placard to transmit your message. For some, it is a way of releasing inner rage, anxiety, and confront demons. For others, it is a way to convey spiritual blessings, cheer.
This year had its Willy Wonkas, the Egyptian Pharoahs (one carried a “10 Commandments for the 21st Century that included “gender equality” and “no more wars”), Action Heroes and Cartoon characters, spirits from myth and folklore, and a good smattering of political characters and commentary, with candidates Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton (more mocking him than her), Anonymous, and against the NRA.
Tens of thousands of people lined the route, which extended a mile from Spring Street up to 16th Street, delighting all as the bigger-than-life skeleton puppets poked into the crowd and stilt walkers and costumed characters engaged.
Creativity is on full view, a mischievous spirit in the air – this is New York City’s Carnival and Mummers wrapped into one.
It is amazingly artful, marvelous to behold – indeed, producer Jeanne Fleming, who took over the planning for the parade after its 8th year when the crowd reached 100,000, saw the Village Halloween Parade as an art installation.
And the scenics! with the lights of the Freedom Tower downtown, the church at Greenwich with its giant spider crawling down the side and the tower lighted, and the Empire State, lit in crackling light show for the occasion uptown, and the buildings lining 6th Avenue like canyon walls – creating a fantastical atmosphere in which the walking creatures and monsters feel most at home.
“New York’s Village Halloween Parade is committed to the cultural and imaginative life of New York City and to the advancement of large-scale participatory events in the belief that such events, when artistically inspired, can play a major role in the resurrection and rejuvenation of the City’s spirit, economy and the life of its people,” is the mission statement. “Fleeting as it may seem, the Annual Village Halloween Parade provides a subconsciously experienced time structure that lends a sense of durability, continuity and community to New York City life.”
Indeed, it is a collective giggle, a communal hug against the forces beyond control, and while you are in the spirit of it, you forget everything beyond.
Walking around Manhattan, with the oddest sights (half the time, you don’t know if people are wearing costumes), just adds to the special thrill of Halloween in New York City.
From humble beginnings in 1974 when Greenwich Village mask maker and puppeteer Ralph Lee started a walk from house to house for his children and friends, the Village Halloween Parade, now headed by Artist and Producer Jeanne Fleming, has become an iconic event of New York City, with some 60,000 participants and tens of thousands of onlookers.
The Village Halloween Parade, the only major night parade in the country, is the largest public Halloween celebration in the world. It has been named as “The Greatest Event on Earth” for October 31 by Festivals International, and has been listed as one of the “100 Things to Do Before You Die.”
The ghouls and ghosts in the parade certainly would agree.
The last day of Rails-to Trails Conservancy’s first spring sojourn, a three-day supported bike tour on the Great Allegheny Passage, is our longest ride, 49 miles from Adelaide to West Homestead, and, unlike our first two days which have been essentially downhill, has a good number of ascents, to boot – mostly as we come into the urban area and have to ride up and over bridges and overpasses.
This ride offers the starkest contrasts between the wholesomeness of a trail reclaimed for nature, and the industrial heritage that both built and destroyed this region’s environment.
We have three support stops. The second, at 21.9 miles, is in West Newton at a replica of the 1910 P&LE train station, now a historical society center and retail shop, with a train car outside. Literally across the “street” are three bed-and-breakfasts, right off the trail.
If you took the time to explore the downtown, you would find some quaint storefronts (some needing new owners), and some tucked away gems like the Victorian home on Vine Street, the historic Plumer House (circa 1814) on South Water Street. I take time to explore the historic West Newton Cemetery, accessible from the trail.
The trail follows the Youghiogheny River with beautiful scenic views.
In the 1890s, this area that we ride through that seems so natural and so pristine today, was the Industrial Heartland of America – steel mills, coke ovens filled the air with suffocating black smoke, blighting the area and making it unhealthy to live.
“They didn’t have the number of trees we see now,” Tom Sexton, the Northeast Regional Director for Rails-to-Trails Conservancy tells us during our nightly presentation. “The skies were so dark, they needed to use lights during the day.”
But these steel mills also were enabled the expansion of the United States– forging the bridges, railroads, skyscrapers – and the booming industrial economy that made the United States a world power. The wealth generated – and the economic policies – produced the Gilded Age, a time of great income inequality, when money and power was concentrated in a handful of Industrial Barons like Andrew Carnegie and Henry Clay Frick, among the richest people in the world, whose steel plants accounted for 30% of all the steel produced in the US.
We associate Carnegie and Frick today as great philanthropists, but they were ruthless industrialists who exploited labor and the environment for their personal benefit.
Sexton cites a book, “Meet You in Hell: Andrew Carnegie, Henry Clay Frick, and the Bitter Partnership That Changed America,”by Les Standiford, who drew his title from Frick’s response to Carnegie’s deathbed invitation to meet: “I’ll meet you in hell,” Frick responds, perhaps a reflection of the penance they would have to pay for the hellfire they forced their workers to endure.
Carnegie and Frick were enthralled by efficiency, developed new processes, new tools to maximize productivity and manpower, Sexton tells us. That helped them add to their fortune, but “wasn’t a good lifestyle for people living and working in the steel and coal plants.
“They cut costs in all ways.” For example, workers lived in company towns and had to shop in company stores where prices were high. People were working 12 hours a day and wanted a shorter day.
“Being efficiency experts, they did study and found that after 8 hours, worker wasn’t so productive, less efficient, so they reduced the work day to 8 hours.”
Still, conditions were abominable and on July 4, 1892, the steel workers went on strike. After a bloody battle, followed by the state militia ultimately quashing the labor action months later, in November, Carnegie Steel reinstated the 12-hour day as retribution.
Sexton relates this story because our ride will take us passed the historic Pump House in West Homestead where the bloody labor battle took place.
Sexton’s story is in my mind as we ride, as I reflect on the glorious landscape. To think this whole area was so blighted – didn’t have the trees, the clear clean air, the clean rushing water that is so intoxicating now.
Indeed, the ride is gorgeous up until Boston where there is a beautiful park and we have our third support stop. Then, just as we ride through some trees, it is like culture shock because the trail becomes very urban – broken and winding, and then plops you out to a street beside the railroad tracks.
We go through a series of streets before getting back on the trail, going up and over several railroad crossings, past shuttered factories.
This is the part of the ride when we get to peer back into the landscape of the Industrial Revolution and get a greater appreciation of the clean pure air and the trees and clean water that we had been seeing along the GAP.
The most interesting part of the ride is when we come to the Pump House at West Homestead, the site of a bloody strike which Sexton has described to us, the site in 1892 of one American Labor’s bloodiest battles. I frankly might not have stopped (though there is also a restroom there for the benefit of the GAP trail riders) and spent as much time inspecting the site were it not for Sexton’s orientation.
Notes from the site tell the story: “In the early morning hours of July 6, 1892, at the Pump House of the Carnegie Steel Company’s Homestead Works, thousands of workers, their families and supporters, armed with sticks, rocks, and guns rushed to meet two barges coming up the Monongahela River. The barges carried 300 Pinkerton guards who had been sent to protect the works during the Homestead Strike and Lockout.
“After bitter fighting throughout the day resulted in the deaths of seven strikers and three Pinkerton men and dozens of others wounded, the guards surrendered. They were then forced to “run a bloody gauntlet” while being lead to a temporary jail at the Homestead Opera House until they were sent out of town by rail the next morning.
“Henry Clay Frick, Andrew Carnegie’s partner, convinced Pennsylvania Governor Pattison that Homestead was under “mob rule”. On July 12, 1892 the governor ordered 8,000 state militiamen into Homestead. The strike and lock out continued until November when unskilled laborers asked to be released from their strike pledge. Two days later, the strike ended – the union had been broken. The Battle of Homestead signaled the end of union activity in the steel industry until the 1930s” (riversofsteel.com).
After learning the history of the strike, a sign that salutes steelworkers seems more ironic than respectful: “In honor of the employees, USS. Homestead.” It also happens to be across the street from the offices of the US Steel Corporation.
As we continue along the riverfront trail, across the way, we see get a sense of how it was – massive factories, small houses built into the hillside, giant churches commanding the highest ground.
The ending of the ride proves the most strenuous – besides the ups and downs as we negotiate the overpasses and bridges, we are fighting against a strong head wind.
We continue on for several more miles until we come to the trickiest part of the ride – the shopping mall that has replaced Carnegie’s steel mill – and back to where we have parked, under the smokestacks.
This ride showcases a Rails-to-Trails Conservancy success story – the gorgeously maintained Great Allegheny Passage trail. It exemplifies the renaissance from industrial blight back to clean air and water and a better quality of life. Besides bringing in visitors who form the underpinning of a new, sustainable economy, the trail directly benefits locals, too – healthy living (the best preventive medicine) while offering families fun activities they can share together.
Complete from Pittsburgh in the west to Cumberland, MD in the east, the 150-mile Great Allegheny Passage connects with the 184.5-mile C&O Canal Towpath to create a 335-mile non-motorized route between Pittsburgh and Washington, DC. AMTRAK offers a walk on bicycle service. (https://gaptrail.org/, 888-282-BIKE).
Rails-to-Trails Conservancy, a nonprofit organization headquartered in Washington DC with more than 160,000 members and supporters, is the nation’s largest trails organization dedicated to connecting people and communities by creating a nationwide network of public trails, many from former rail lines. Founded in 1986, Rails-to-Trails Conservancy’s national office is located in Washington, D.C., with regional offices in California, Florida, Ohio and Pennsylvania. For more information, visit www.railstotrails.orgor call 866-202-9788.
These rides are organized by Wilderness Voyageurs which offers many different biking and rafting trips including inn to inn biking trips, across the US and international: 800-272-4141, Wilderness-Voyageurs.com.
Yesterday, our first day on the Rails-to-Trails Conservancy’s Sojourn bike tour on the Great Allegheny Passage was mostly under overcast skies and rainy (fortunately after we finished the ride) but today is crystal clear, glorious spring day. This is Rails-to-Trails Conservancy’s first spring sojourn supported bike tour – these sojourns are designed to showcase rail-trails, transform trail users into advocates and show the value for economic development for trail networks nationwide – and we soon realize the advantages of a spring ride: The leaves are not yet full on the trees so we can see through to the vistas, and have a soft delicacy that makes you think of Chinese painting. The blossoms are out making for gorgeous pastel colors. Butterflies seem to be everywhere, but the pesky insects haven’t yet appeared. There are scores of waterfalls from the spring melt. The weather is cool, sparkling, the air so and pure it is like a narcotic.
Our group is only 85 riders (owing in part to the fact the ride started on a workday/school day and finishes on Mothers Day). Nonetheless, we come from dozens of states. A woman from Colorado observes that the hardwood trees which line the path, some impossibly tall and straight like tent-poles, create a canopy effect which she doesn’t have. Today, the trees seem to glow in yellow sunlight.
Our ride today from Harnedsville, where we camped on the grounds of the Turkey Foot Valley School, is 33.5 miles to Adelaide, almost entirely downhill. We will drop 500 feet in elevation, overall, and we continue to marvel how well maintained the trail is – wide, flat, crushed gravel.
We ride over a bridge over the Casselman River, then another bridge over the Youghiogheny River, then pass under the highway bridge at Confluence where there is a fisherman casting for trout.
The trail is absolutely stunning. On one side, you see wonderful rock formations – signposts that explain the geology and point to a seam of coal (I find pieces of coal along the path).
Much of the ride today is through the utterly gorgeous Ohiopyle State Park, and a highlight comes at the town of Ohiopyle, a hub for visiting the park. A short ride off the trail are the 20’ waterfalls across the width of the Youghiogheny River (no luck spotting the Youghiogheny Monster). This is a rafting and kayaking center and for excellent reason– a class 5 river at the top, a class 3 below the falls.
The people are duly proud of their new Visitors Center – an architectural gem wonderfully positioned to let you look out over the falls, while in the lower level, offering excellent exhibits about the area – how water power was central to its development – with interactive exhibits that will engage children.
Wagons and settlers came through on the National Road in 1818. Ohiopyle, itself, was settled in 1891, when it was known as Falls City, and its economy revolved around these rushing waters. The area has always drawn tourists because of the natural beauty. Among the early visitors: Thomas Edison, Henry Ford and Harvey Firestone came in a camper in 1918. Visiting wasn’t cheap – an exhibit notes that a family spent $20 on accommodations and $11 on tolls, at a time when the average worker took home just $11 a month.
But by 1900, the area was already polluted by coal production and lumbering.
Today, though, the natural beauty has been reclaimed. Ohiopyle is at the hub of the 20,000 acre Ohiopyle State Park which features utterly stunning sites including the Youghiogheny River Gorge, Ohiopyle Falls, Cucumber Falls and Ferncliff Peninsula (724-329-8591, email@example.com.)
The town now has wonderful shops that cater to visitors, outdoor recreation.
Nearby is Fallingwater, a home designed by architect Frank Lloyd Wright in 1937 for the wealthy Pittsburgh department store magnate, Edgar Kaufmann, Sr. (www.fallingwater.org/2/visit), and Kentuck Knob, another Wright work. (www.friendsofohiopyle.info, 224-329-8591).
The trail from Confluence to Ohiopyle was the first completed section of the GAP – in 1986 – and it is gorgeous.
Riding out of Ohiopyle, I see the Great Gorge hiking trail which goes to Cucumber Falls. I am tempted but I am not sure how far the hike is and how long it will take (next time, I will).
Continuing on, there are wonderful hiking trails, and we take a short one just across from where we have our rest stop which is supposed to take us to a view over the Youghiogheny falls. The view isn’t so great, but surrounded by wilderness, it is easy to imagine this landscape when the Indians were the main inhabitants.
We come to a new connector to the Sheepskin Trail, a 34-mile “missing link” between the Great Allegheny Passage, the Potomac Heritage National Scenic Trail and the West Virginia Mon River Trail System.
We ride the new trail from the GAP for 2 miles into the town Dunbar (we had to ride over a rocky half-mile section that is still being finished by the railroad).
Bike-Trail, Trump Sculpture Breathe New Life into Dunbar
Dunbar is the poster child for a town blighted by the loss of industry and epochal changes in technology, but here you also witness the beginning of a revitalization largely because of the rail-trail. But its history has always been that way: new technology and new industry that brings new people, and funds new structures and institutions. The entirety of the Industrial Revolution, supplanting the agrarian economy, was that way.
Settled in the 1790s, Dunbar was originally called Frogtown. It was renamed for Col. Thomas Dunbar who fought in the French & Indian War along with General Braddock, and helped retake Fort DuQuesne (now Fort Pitt) in Pittsburgh, taking from the French and important hub from which it wanted to control its colonial empire (as I have learned from my visit to the Fort Pitt Museum there, www.heinzhistorycenter.org/fort-pitt/).
In 1793, Isaac Meason set into motion an industrial revolution in Dunbar when he opened his Union Furnace #1 (I later see a street named for Meason). This became Dunbar’s lifeblood over the next century. One of the coke ovens now has a place in the town park, alongside a creek, adjacent to the railroad tracks. All around the town are the brick buildings that are testament to the prosperity – at one time, there were five banks. From the time of Meason’s first iron furnace through the 1950s, Dunbar was home to Dunbar Furnace, Pennsylvania Wire Glass Company (it was a leading glass making center), Bluestone quarry, among others, plus several mines and coke oven sites. Today, we see some wonderful historic buildings from the turn of the last century, such as the George H. Swearingen Store (1901) just across from the railroad tracks.
Except for the little league baseball game going on and the activity at the Historical Society, the town is eerily vacant – almost like a movie set.
The rail-trail is breathing new life into towns like Dunbar. Last year, RTC centered its Sojourn ride around Dunbar, a sleepy town of 1900 people, camping overnight in the Coke Oven town park, and all 300 riders, who hailed from 36 states, were personally greeted by the mayor. He appreciated what this event could mean to its economic development (the ride alone injected $245,000 into the local economy.
This year, there is a major new attraction in Dunbar which really will draw people: an 8 x 5 foot, 2,800-pound glass sculpture, “Seated Torso,” by French artist Pascal, who visited Dunbar in 1961 when it was still a major glass-making center, as the Pennsylvania Wire Glass Co. was going bankrupt and closing down, donated to the tiny town by none other than Donald J. Trump.
The Dunbar glass was unusual because it was so tempered, it resisted splintering when struck with a hammer, and Pascal could attempt what no one else had accomplished, sculpt glass. She purchased a 4,000-pound hunk of the glass, according to an account published in Triblive.com.
“Pascal spent 15 to 20 years carving ‘Seated Torso,’ [her daughter Jill] Petty said. It was purchased in 1994 for $3 million by billionaire John Kluge, who at the time was considered one of the richest men in America.
“Kluge, who died in 2010, displayed the sculpture in a domed rotunda at his Charlottesville, Va., estate. When tycoon Donald Trump acquired the estate for a winery, he needed the space for other purposes, and a search was on for a home for the piece, said Kerry Woolard, general manager of Trump Winery.”
So, the Trump people decided to return the sculpture to where the glass had originated. Then it was up to the town to raise the tens of thousands of dollars to build a place to display the piece and get it to Dunbar, including $16,000 to remove the roof from the domed structure in Virginia in order to extricate it, Trib Live’s Liz Zemba reported.
(I have no doubt Donald Trump took a $3.5 million tax deduction for his largesse.)
We visit on the day that the Dunbar Historical Society is unveiling the new space, the Pascal Annex, that houses the Seated Torso and offers quite a fine exhibit of the artist, as well as a framed photo and letter from Donald J. Trump. We are also treated to a bottle of 2008 vintage Trump “red wine.” (Dunbar Historical Society Center, www.dunbarhistoricalsociety.com, 724-277-8800).
It is fascinating to see the contrast between Dunbar and Connellsville, just a few miles away on the trail.
Connellsville is located on the banks of the Youghiogheny River – new, beautiful homes have been built between the bike trail (once the railroad) and the river.
Connellsville was once known as the “coke center of the world” – for the coke ovens that heated the coal to produce steel. In the early 1900s, beehive ovens “lit up the hillsides” (you can see ovens between miles 93 and 94) and there would have been rail lines and streetcars crisscrossing the city.
We pass the Youghiogheny Opalescent Glass Factory, with painted silos (part of the public art program along the rail trail that we have been enjoying).
The trail takes us through the West Side (formerly the town of New Haven). In the renovated Yough River Park, where we have our support stop. We pass by a re-creation of Col. William Crawford’s 1766 Cabin and Spring House, and one of 16 Heritage Trail signs that you can follow on a two-mile walk or ride to explore the city – another indicator of pride people have in their heritage.
We come to the KOA at River’s Edge- a camping resort that borders both the rail-trail and the river, which seems luxurious to us (there are inner tubes available and other water sports equipment, including a pool which is not yet open for the season. We enjoy a BBQ dinner under a pavilion and the other amenities of a camping resort. It is Saturday night and the resort offers a DJ that plays until 10 pm.
I’m the first to arrive at the appointed spot beside the tall brick smokestacks that border the parking field of a shopping mill, where once one of Pittsburgh’s mighty steel mills had been. It’s 6:30 am, but one of the leaders of the Rails to Trails Conservancy’s Great Allegheny Passage Spring Sojourn is already here. Gradually over the next half hour, our group of 85 riders comes together. We bring our bikes, now with our “license plate” to a truck, load our luggage and camping gear, board the two buses, and drive about 1 ½ hours to where the start of our three-day, 120 mile ride begins, in Meyersdale.
Meyersdale is just nine miles down from the Eastern Divide – the equivalent of the Continental Divide, a highpoint in the Allegheny Mountains. The Great Allegheny Passage (GAP), a relatively new, dedicated rail-trail completed in 2013, actually starts in Cumberland, 32 miles from where we begin our sojourn. The GAP links to the 184.5-mile C&O Canal trail that comes out of Washington DC, and extends 150 miles westward to Pittsburgh, creating a 335-mile non-motorized route between Pittsburgh and Washington, DC. (AMTRAK offers a walk on bicycle service; https://gaptrail.org/, 888-282-BIKE).
We are starting our ride below the Divide, so our trip today, 27 miles, will be a gentle decline totaling 600 feet. Had I been cleverer, I would have done what a few others did, and go back the nine miles up to the Divide, which would have added about 1 ½ hours to the ride. (
We are greeted at the Meyersdale train station, now converted into a delightful café and shop, by representatives of the Meyersdale Merchants Association. We are part of the repurposed, renewed, sustainable economy, now that the rail line, steel and coal extraction have shut down. The rail-trail has brought new visitors, and new vitality, to these small villages and towns all along the Great Allegheny Passage.
This is Rails-to-Trails Conservancy’s first spring sojourn, and it takes place over Mothers Day, no less, which accounts for our group being smaller than a typical sojourn – just 85 riders instead of over 200 which is more typical of the annual sojourn. But this year, RTC is for the first time offering a series of four sojourn rides. The first, in Florida, had already taken place. The third one will be in West Virginia (June19-22); and the last is four-days/three nights from Cleveland to Columbus on the Ohio-to-Erie Trail, Ohio in (Sept. 23-26, 4 days/three nights)..
These rides showcase the progress of rail lines that are no longer used converted to biking and multi-use trails, and where there are gaps in the trails that need the support of advocates, communities and government to complete. The Great Allegheny Passage rail trail is on what was the Western Pennsylvania line, which closed in 1975, because it couldn’t compete with the C&O line (that still operates on the other side of the river, and, as it happens, right beside our campsites).
This ride, as it turns out, showcases a success story – the Great Allegheny Passage trail we ride over these three days is exquisite, a testament to the enthusiastic participation and pride of the communities it crosses – wide, with crushed limestone, lovely sitting areas along the way with views to the river, wonderful bridges and tunnels, some bathroom facilities, excellent signage, even “stations” where there are bike repair tools and an air pump. Since its opening, GAP (as it is known) has become one of the most popular trails and was the first inductee in RTC’s Rail-Trail “Hall of Fame.”
Our ride features gorgeous mountain vistas and relaxing river scenes, historic bridges and tunnels that showcase the GAP’s railway heritage. Highlights include Salisbury Viaduct, Casselman River Valley, the Historic Pump House (Homestead) and Great Allegheny Passage Trail towns: Meyersdale, West Newton, Confluence and Ohiopyle.
Offering these supported bike rides is not RTC’s main mission, but the rides are invaluable to raising consciousness and commitment, not just of the riders, but of the communities which are essential. We become ambassadors for the concept of rail-trails,
I love these supported rides. RTC’s sojourns are professionally organized by an Ohiopyle-based tour company, Wilderness Voyageurs, which lays out the route, arranges for our camping sites, the trucks, the meals (breakfast and dinner), the support stops.
This ride takes place over Mothers Day, as well as over a work/school day. Nonetheless, there are a number of us who have come on our own, leaving spouse and/or children at home (one mother left her five kids, age 8 to 16 at home with her husband as her Mothers Day gift). These rides are ideal for couples, for families (the ages on this ride range from 8 years old to 82 and a 10-year old can manage the ride), and particularly for single travelers because we become not just a community, but a tribe – a nomadic tribe in fact that picks up stakes and moves on each day. It’s a supported ride which means that our luggage is ferried by truck to the next designated campground where they have arranged dinner and breakfast, a place to charge our phones, bathrooms and showers, provide support stops (with snacks) along the way, leader/volunteers who ride with us and behind, and support vehicle if anyone can’t complete the day’s ride.
Day 1: Meyersdale to Harnedsville, 27.3 Miles
The first day’s ride starts in Meyersdale in the Casselman River Valley, near Pennsylvania’s highest point, Mount Davis (mile 32 from the start of the Great Allegheny Passage trail).
The area was first occupied by the Monongahela Indians, who harvested the sap from maple trees to make maple syrup – and representatives of the Meyersdale Merchants Association greet us with maple candy samples. Known as “Maple City,” Meyersdale has hosted the Pennsylvania Maple Festival every March for more than 60 years.
The town itself is experiencing a renaissance with rail-trail and the completion of a streetscape project. At the trail access, the Western Maryland Railway Station has been turned into a visitor center, with local history exhibits and a retail store. A mural on Main Street (one of several along the Great Allegheny Passage) pays homage to Meyersdale’s roots as a bustling transportation hub for local agriculture, coal and timber. (www.visitmeyersdale.com).
There is a bit of fan-fare as we set out, going through a blow-up arch.
It is clear, sunny day as we set out, but the weather forecast is for clouds and rain. But we soon come to one of the highlights of the GAP: going over the Salisbury Viaduct,: 1,912’ long, built in 1908, it is our first crossing of the Casselman River (this turns out to be one of the top 10 photo views). At the other end, we see a line of wind turbines on stretched out over the hilltops – a fitting testament to what is old is new again. I also come upon an old cemetery – a stone there memorializes Peter G. Meyers who died in 1891, and I wonder if he is the founder of Meyersdale.
Our cue sheets (very well done) also point us to the Wymps Gap Fossil Quarry, at 9.0 miles into the ride. During the Mississippian Period (330 million years ago), Western Pennsylvania was the hsore of a shallow sea. The exposed limestone layers are a fairly thin band of fossil bearing rock sandwiched between layers of shale. It’s marked with a wooden post, labeled GR5 (unfortunately, I miss it)..
At 11.9 miles, we pass Rockwood, where we are recommended for lunch options.
Rockwood is described as a tightly knit rural community, with roots in industry and railroading. The town was laid out in 1857 but boomed after the end of the Civil War, with the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad. By 1884, the town had several mils and shops, four general stores, two grocery stores and four hotels.
A locomotive sculpture at the Rockwood trailhead is a link between the town’s rail history and its present-day “investment” in biking and recreation. You cross the Casselman River to get into the town. There is public art, including a mural that honors trail ambassador Maynard Sembower, who died in 2009 at the age of 100 – a reminder that these improvements are the result of sweat and activism of committed individuals.
The most interesting structure is the Rockwood Mill Shops & Opera House, with a performance space. Lumber and feed were processed in the building for nearly a century, while the opera house hosted visiting and local performers above the mill. The building was restored in 2000 and listed on the National Register of Historic Places. (www.somersetcountychamber.com).
The highlight of today’s ride for me comes at 19.9 miles: riding through the 849‘ long Pinkerton Tunnel. The tunnel was originally built in 1911, collapsed and was rebuilt in a kind of a kwansit hut at a cost of $1.8 million and only reopened in 2015. It is very surreal going through it: Inside, a dizzying array of concentric metallic circles – long, dark, with proverbial light at the end of it.
Shortly after, we cross High Bridge over the Casselman River (our third crossing on the GAP today).
At 27.1 miles, we leave the GAP and follow the signs they have placed for us, for a couple of turns that bring us just a 2/10 of a mile beyond to the grounds of the Turkey Foot High School (which has been on the USA Today’s list of top high schools) where we will camp.
It’s Friday and school is in session, so we aren’t able to enter the school until after 3:30 pm – a little disconcerting because rain is threatening.
I opt to continue down the trail another two miles to the town of Confluence, so named because it is set where three rivers converge. It’s the shape of the three peninsulas that looks just like a turkey’s foot.
Indeed, in George Washington’s day, this area was called Turkeyfoot by natives and settlers. George Washington, himself, came to the confluence of the rivers in 1754 during the French & Indian War, as he and his soldiers were on their way to the forks of the Ohio River. As we travel the trail in the woods, revitalized and full now that the steel mills and coal mining have shut down, I can easily imagine the wilderness that he saw and the how the Indians would have used the rivers.
The skies have been threatening rain and I return to the campsite.
If we don’t want to set up our own tents, we can use the Comfy Camper service or stay in nearby bed-and-breakfast accommodations. This trip I treat myself to the Comfy Camper service ($118 for the two nights, comfycampers.info, 315-283-0220) and it adds a measure of luxury to the trip: When I arrive, the tent – roomy, comfortable, wonderfully waterproof, with an air mattress, chair and towel – are all ready for me. Shawn Stewart, owner/director, has just finished blowing up the air mattress and I am cozy inside, just as the rain comes down in earnest.
Our dinner is provided by the Turkey Foot Fire Department – another way the Sojourn supports local communities.
Ambassadors for Rail-Trails
Indeed, this is the theme for the Sojourn rides.
During the evening’s presentation, Tom Sexton, Northeast Regional Director of Rails to Trails Conservancy, tells us about the plans to finish the gaps on the trails, and ultimately connect a network of trails stretching through most of the Mid Atlantic.
RTC, in its 30th year, helps finds money and means to build rail-trails. Since 1991, $1 billion spent. Certain amount of transportation money (from fed) has to be spent on things other than highways, airports, bridges, but “other transit.” RTC helps communities, nonprofits, governments come together on how to build rail trail – negotiate with railroad, what surface to use, how to maintain. RTC also offers its members TrailLink – an online tool that helps you find trails and map your ride.
These Sojourns are a means of engaging interest in the rail trials – spotlighting gaps in trails, showcasing successes, and inspiring communities to get involved. The riders become ambassadors – especially with our “license” plates and shirts that announce who we are.
The sojourn also helps show a community (and funding agencies) the economic benefits of trails, as well as its social benefits, building camaraderie, community, and quality of life benefits.
“Towns (like Dunbar) which have fallen on hard times since the railroad left, find the trails revitalize, become the main street. In 15 years since RTC started sojourn rides, we’ve hosted 3400 riders, brought $2.1 billion in spin off to the corridors we ride through.
“We show that an economy built around the rail-trail is sustainable. The money spent stays here, it has low impact. The trail benefits environment and the local people who benefit from trails.”
Indeed, as we ride over the weekend, you see families out and about – the trails provide a healthy, active outdoor activity that families can share together.
RTC has big plans to create a regional network of interconnected trails.
For example, connecting Parkersburg West Virginia, the access for the North Bend Trail (the start of the third Sojourn of this year’s series) to Pittsburgh and the GAP rail trail, which already connects to the 34-mile long Sheepskin Trail out of Dunbar.
Then the idea is to continue on to Clarksburg-Parkersburg trail, which will be 260 miles when finished. At that point, you could start in DC, go to Pittsburgh (on C&O, 183 miles and GAP 150 miles), altogether about 600 miles.
“This is the epicenter of trails in the US,” Sexton says.
But this is only a piece of what is an even bigger grand plan.
Eric Oberg, Director of Trail Development, Midwest Regional Office, speaks of a “Trails Manifest Destiny”:in describing a sprawling network of 1,450 miles of interconnected multiuse trails that will be called “The Industrial Heartland Trail” which together, would be the largest in the country – from DC to Pittsburgh, to Cleveland –Cleveland-Cincinnati-Dayton, Parkersburg, Indianapolis, up to Erie and Buffalo (where you can then connect to the 400-mile long Erie Canalway). Some 48% of these multi-use trails are done, and the hope is to have it completed by 2035.
“It won’t take 80 years, but it will be more than five years” before the manifest destiny is realized, Eric says.
Sojourn Bike Tours
For the first time in the 14 years of hosting a Sojourn bike tour showcasing a rail-trail, the Rail-Trails Conservancy expanded the series to four rides: the first, in Florida, was held in February; the second on the popular Allegheny Passage in Pennsylvania, was May 6-8. The third was a four-day/three-night North Bend Rail Trail out of Parkersburg, West Virginia (June 19-22; and the last was four-days/three nights from Cleveland to Columbus on the Ohio-to-Erie Trail, Ohio in September.
“The Sojourn Series is much more than just a bike ride. It’s a trail building tool for Rails-to-Trails Conservancy, and allows us to pull advocacy into participants’ trail use experience.”
The Sojourn rides are crafted to weave experiences that go beyond simply riding from point A to point B. Each sojourn aims to transform trail users into advocates and create the economic case for trail networks nationwide.
The West Virginia Sojourn showcases the North Bend Rail Trail out of Parkersburg, West Virginia. “It is an incredible trail but does not yet connect to the two communities on either end, Parkersburg and Clarksburg.” This ride serves to bring attention to those gaps and advocate for their completion. The corridor is also part of a much larger trail development effort being undertaken by the Industrial Heartland Trails Coalition.
“The West Virginia ride will allow you to get on a new trail and take part in some of the advocacy that our organization is known for.”
Since 2001, more than 3,000 riders have joined RTC’s sojourns. These rides not only highlight incredible trails, but they also help empower communities to complete trail networks that will benefit the entire region.
Equally importantly, they highlight the economic benefit to communities, particularly those who have seen older industries shut down, along with the rail lines.
RTC’s 2015 Pennsylvania Rail-Trail Sojourn brought visitors from 35 states and had an economic impact of more than $245,000 – something significant for a town like Dunbar, Pennsylvania, which once depended upon coal and railroads.
The rail-trail could be an engine for a new economy fueled by lodging, restaurants and gear shops. RTC estimates that the GAP would generate more than $40 million in direct spending from trail users annually.
“The Sojourn Series is a real-world example that show how trails can provide an economic boon to local economies,” says Liz Thorstensen, vice president of trail development for RTC. “By providing these rides, we’re creating more opportunities for people to experience and advocate for these trail networks.”
Rails-to-Trails Conservancy, a nonprofit organization with more than 160,000 members and supporters, is the nation’s largest trails organization dedicated to connecting people and communities by creating a nationwide network of public trails, many from former rail lines. Founded in 1986, Rails-to-Trails Conservancy’s national office is located in Washington, D.C., with regional offices in California, Florida, Ohio and Pennsylvania. For more information, visit www.railstotrails.org.
These rides are organized by Wilderness Voyageurs which offers many different biking and rafting trips including inn to inn biking trips, across the US and international: 800-272-4141, Wilderness-Voyageurs.com.
Next: Great Allegheny Passage Rails-to-Trails Conservancy Sojourn Continues
(I have come to Pittsburgh to join the Rails-to-Trails Conservancy’s Sojourn three-day, 120-mile bike tour on the Great Allegheny Passage. I only have two nights and one full day in the city, so I focus on what is uniquely Pittsburgh’s heritage. This is fifth in the series.)
My purpose for this all-too-brief visit to Pittsburgh is to immerse myself in the city’s proud heritage at the epicenter of the nation’s founding, settlement, industrialization and emergence as a world power, but a heritage that came at a terrible cost to its environment. The city has undertaken a fantastic revitalization, emerging from grey to green, and becoming one of America’s most liveable cities.
And so for my two-nights stay, I seek out the historic Omni William Penn Hotel – a member of Historic Hotels of America – which celebrated its centennial in 2016 the same year as the city celebrated its bicentennial, and is so much a part of Pittsburgh’s story.
I love wandering around, immersing myself in the taking in the ambiance, admiring its stunning architectural features and Art Deco-style appointments, and, as if these walls could talk, hearing its stories as if whispered in my ear. There are historic displays, photos, artifacts and artwork in various places that convey the story. Indeed, in its award-winning restaurant, The Terrace Room, that dates from 1916, there is an enormous mural that pays homage to the city’s history depicting “The Taking of Fort Pitt”.
Whenever I travel, I first seek out members of Historic Hotels of America, a collection of properties. Historic hotels are so much more than mere structures. They embody the heritage and history and sense of place, and are also very much creations of their builders. Owners take on the role of steward, with a responsibility of passing it along to the next.
This is true of The William Penn, whose history parallels that of the city and the nation, as I learn from a wonderful pamphlet, “A Grand Dame Named William Penn,” by Marianne Lee.
The William Penn Hotel was the last building venture of Henry Clay Frick, one of Pittsburgh’s wealthiest industrialists. Frick envisioned the William Penn as Pittsburgh’s showplace, and it was designed by renowned architects Benno Janssen, and Franklin Abbott to rival the great hotels of Europe in Old World style but with what was then the state-of-the-art, sophisticated, 20th century technology. Guests were dazzled by such modern amenities including iced drinking water on top, “certified” lighting, electrically operated clocks, a telephone in every room connected to a master switchboard with 30 operators at the ready, and a private bathroom in an age when most Americans still used outdoor privies and most hotels offered only shared facilities.
Built at a cost of $6 million, when it opened, newspapers proclaimed The William Penn as the “Grandest Hotel in the nation.” Its first night featured the annual Pittsburgh Chamber of Commerce Gala, the largest gala in city history up to that time, which was hosted by US Secretary of State Philander Knox.
When the hotel was first built, it had 1,000 guestrooms (interesting to contemplate since it only has 597 today), and an elegant two-tier Grand Ballroom on the 17th floor. In 1928, the hotel was acquired by the Eppley Hotel Company and Eugene Eppley, a Horatio Alger rags-to-riches figure, financed a major expansion, the Grant Street Annex. That added 600 more guestrooms as well as the hotel’s crowning jewel, the Urban Room, designed by Joseph Urban, when it was finished in 1929. With this addition, The William Penn became the largest hotel between Pittsburgh and Chicago, and the major convention facility for Pittsburgh.
But Eppley, who was the vanguard of a new breed of professional hotelier who saw his patrons not as customers but as guests, lost control of the hotel in the Great Depression, and new owners brought in the Statler Hotels company to manage it 1940-1951. Eppley briefly regained control, but over the years, this Grand Dame was held by Sheraton, then a group of local investors, then Alcoa, which invested $20 million in a substantial renovation, and finally Omni Hotels & Resorts, in 2001.
Throughout its storied past and many owners, The Omni William Penn Hotel has hosted many of the 20th century’s movers, shakers and celebrities. A young bandleader named Lawrence Welk, who would later gain fame for his television show, performed in the hotel’s ballrooms; the hotel’s engineers actually devised Welk’s iconic bubble machine – a connection commemorated by naming a ballroom for him, and in large photographic murals.
In 1934, a young vocalist named Dolores DeFina accepted a marriage proposal at The William Penn from the inimitable Bob Hope. The hotel remains celebrated as a wedding venue (including being named to the “Best of Weddings 2009” list by The Knot ).
A popular campaign spot as well as for presidential appearances, The Omni William Penn Hotel has received every president since Theodore Roosevelt (who visited in 1917 to attend a Moose Convention), including John Kennedy and Barack Obama.
Then, as now, The William Penn combines every modern amenity with timeless elegance: 597 beautifully appointed guestrooms including 38 suites, 52,000 square feet of flexible meeting space, and five dining venues including its fine dining room, The Terrace Room, the Palm Court, a pub-style Tap Room, Starbucks Coffee Café, The Speakeasy (in 1920s tradition tucked beneath the hotel lobby), plus 24-hour room service. The hotel boasts two self-contained conference centers, a 24-hour fitness center, beauty salon, gift shop, and a jewelry store.
There is every amenity, nicety and graciousness, beginning with fresh apples at reception and a concierge available to help with every situation. My room is outfitted with plush robe, refrigerator, bottled water, coffee maker, big screen TV, hair dryer, ironing board/iron, safe, WiFi (free if you enroll in Omni Hotels loyalty program).
I take advantage of the opportunity to order two beverages (at no charge) plus other items at modest cost for the morning ($3 for an English muffin; $3 for a toasted bagel with cream cheese, $2.75 for a muffin, $3.75 for Greek yogurt, etc.), especially when I have to leave at 5:15 am to get to the start of my Rails-to-Trails biking trip on the Great Allegheny Passage. You tell them a 15-minute window when you want it to be delivered, and sure enough, it arrives right on time. So does my car, waiting for me when I depart.
The hotel is smack in the middle of the city, walking distance to all the downtown attractions, restaurants, cultural and financial center. Here’s a recap of my Day in Pittsburgh Walking Tour: Omni William Penn Hotel, Monongahela Incline, Duquesne Incline, Point State Park, Fort Pitt Museum, National Aviary, Andy Warhol Museum, Heinz History Center, Strip District. But one full day in Pittsburgh is simply not enough.
Historic Hotels of America is the official program of the National Trust for Historic Preservation for recognizing and celebrating the finest Historic Hotels. Historic Hotels of America was founded in 1989 by the National Trust for Historic Preservation with 32 charter members. Today, Historic Hotels of America has more than 290 historic hotels. These historic hotels have all faithfully maintained their authenticity, sense of place, and architectural integrity in the United States of America, including 46 states, the District of Columbia, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and Puerto Rico. Historic Hotels of America is comprised of mostly independently owned and operated properties. More than 30 of the world’s finest hospitality brands, chains, and collections are represented in Historic Hotels of America. To be nominated and selected for membership into this prestigious program, a hotel must be at least 50 years old; have been designated by the U.S. Secretary of the Interior as a National Historic Landmark or listed in or eligible for listing in the National Register of Historic Places; and recognized as having historic significance. For more information, visit HistoricHotels.org, 800-678-8946.
For all the right reasons, Pittsburgh is a sensational travel destination no matter what season or weather, whether it is business, academia or leisure pursuits that bring you into the city. I can’t wait to come back.
I walk back over the 7th Street Bridge (The Andy Warhol Bridge, as it happens), into Pittsburgh’s Cultural District, where there is a cluster of theaters and galleries, including one named for another native son of Pittsburgh, playwright August Wilson (there is an August Wilson Center / African American Cultural Center, 980 Liberty Avenue, in the Cultural District).
I take it all in, but I am en route to the interestingly named Strip District, where literally in front of your eyes, you can see gentrification unfold – factories converted to apartments and lofts. This has become an amazing restaurant district, capitalizing on the diverse immigrant experience in Pittsburgh. Within a few blocks, there is a United Nations-worth of dining traditions and markets.
The Strip District is described as “authentic Pittsburgh,” where the locals go for great goods at low prices. The streets along the half-mile long district are linked with restaurants, ethnic grocers, produce stands, sidewalk vendors, meat and fish markets – a haven for foodies. It is so colorful, artful, playful.
A sign over a restaurant, Gaucho, an Argentinian Grill, which has a line of people outside waiting their turn, reads Home Improvement, Lifestyle, Dining & Entertainment. I pass Vietnamese, Korean, Thai restaurants, markets like Robert Wholey Co. purveying live Maine lobster, whole farm raised rabbits and whole duckling; a Middle Eastern grocery, Stamoolis Bros. Co, since 1909; the Pennsylvania Macaroni Company (fresh handmade mozzarella, Pennmac.com); a Mexican grocery; Pittsburgh Popcorn, next door to La Prima Espresso Corp, across the street from Chocolat; an Asian supermarket across from the Brooklyn Brewery; the S&D Polish Deli, Grandpa Joe’s Candy Shop, a textile shop selling fabrics, thread and button; and Mike Feinberg & Co’s sports store.
And trendy restaurants like Luke Wholey’s Wild Alaskan Grill (probably related to the market); Jade 99, Chicken Latino (Peruvian); Casa Rena (Mexican),
Walking back, I see smoke emanating from a factory with the Heinz name on it, and pass a red-brick building with a giant neon Heinz Ketchup display (above the Heinz History Center building), diagonally across from United States Steel Corporation offices (while downtown is the United Steelworkers Union building).
Senator John Heinz History Center
I am too late to visit the Senator John Heinz History Center, but it is on my list to visit when I return.
Devoted to the history and heritage of Western Pennsylvania, the 370,000 sq. ft. Senator John Heinz History Center (more formally known as the Historical Society of Western Pennsylvania) is Pennsylvania’s largest history museum and, since 2000, an affiliate of the Smithsonian Institution.
In addition to the Fort Pitt Museum which I have visited, the Senator John Heinz History Center family of museums and programs includes:
The Senator John Heinz History Center presents compelling stories from American history with a Western Pennsylvania connection in an interactive environment; the museum’s Smallman Street home combines the former Chautauqua Lake Ice Company building with a five-story Smithsonian wing.
The Western Pennsylvania Sports Museum, a museum-within-a-museum located on the History Center’s second and third floors, celebrates the region’s passion for amateur and professional sports, from football to baseball and hockey to golf.
Meadowcroft Rockshelter and Historic Village, the oldest site of human habitation in North America, is located in Avella, Washington County, Pa. Meadowcroft Rockshelter, a National Historic Landmark, showcases 16,000-year-old evidence of the region’s earliest inhabitants under a massive rock overhang. In addition to the Rockshelter, the site is also home to three outdoor historic areas, including a 16th century Indian village, 18th century Frontier Trading Post, and 19th century village that help visitors experience life over the past 500 years.
More than 250 years of Western Pennsylvania’s history is preserved at the Thomas and Katherine Detre Library & Archives. Founded in 1879, the Library & Archives’ collections, located on the History Center’s sixth floor, are accessible to researchers, students, and the general public.
The new Museum Conservation Center provides visitors with professional services and expert advice on how to properly preserve and care for family heirlooms.
Other important Pittsburgh attractions which I have on my list for my next visit:
Soldiers & Sailors Memorial Hall & Museum, the nation’s only military memorial dedicated to honoring all branches of service – exhibits cover all of America’s conflicts and include a face casting done of Abraham Lincoln the month he died; the Frick Art & Historical Center, the Carnegie Museums of Art and Natural History (from fine art to fossils, masterpieces to minerals, CMOA.org; the Carnegie Museum of Natural History offers 5 billion years of Earth’s history, and the world’s third largest dinosaur repository (carnegiemnh.org). Also, the Phipps Conservatory & Botanical Gardens and the Pittsburgh Zoo & PPG Aquarium.
I have come to Pittsburgh for the three-day, 120-mile Rails-to-Trails Conservancy’s Spring Sojourn on the Great Allegheny Passage, and used it as an opportunity to explore Pittsburgh, a city that once was known for steel mills, but which now has won accolades as “America’s most livable city.”
I am fascinated to see how it made such a transition from grey to green.
With only one full day to explore, I specifically seek out attractions that define Pittsburgh, all walkable within the downtown, getting advice from the Omni William Penn Hotel concierge.
I continue my walk from the Fort Pitt Museum, over the Fort Duquesne Bridge toward the National Aviary (it was the “national” that got my attention), fascinated how city planners managed to turn a city designed for industry and machines into one that can be so walkable and bikeable.
The National Aviary, America’s only independent indoor nonprofit zoo dedicated to birds, offers a lovely exhibit of birds, including being able to walk through massive habitat-style exhibits, where the birds – like the Victoria Crowned Pigeon (amazing headdress), Golden Breasted Starling (nesting) fly freely about you, often landing very close by.
There is also a bat exhibit (you can watch bat feeding), poke your head up into the penguin pen, As I walk about, I am surprised to read a marker that states this was the site of the Western Penitentiary (1826-1880) and held confederate prisoners here 1863-64.
The National Aviary (www.aviary.org), which was designated “national” by President Clinton, would certainly be a highlight for family travelers and am having such an amazing time taking pictures, seeing some birds that I had never seen before in such close proximity without cages, I lose all sense of time (which is why I didn’t have enough time to visit the Heinz History Center).
The Warhol Museum
The National Aviary is also just a short walk to my next stop: the Warhol Museum. I had not realized that Andy Warhol was a native son of Pittsburgh (born to a Slovakian family of modest means, he attended Carnegie Mellon which was Carnegie Technical at the time) – this museum is in the tradition of the Dali Museum in St. Petersburg, totally extolling the life of one artist. It basically continues what Andy Warhol did most successfully his whole life: market his art to inflate prices. The best part, for me, was learning more about his biography – what made him “tick”, his creative process and about his techniques.
My own belief is that Warhol was more of a marketing genius than an artistic one (at least Salvador Dali was both a marketing genius and an artistic one), but I am willing to be convinced otherwise as I roam the museum.
Indeed, as a placard notes, since the seven-story museum opened in 1994, there has been a steady increasing level of recognition of Warhol’s “singular contribution to 20th century art and his extraordinary influence on contemporary art internationally. The museum is on the forefront of research into Warhol’s work.”
There is a timeline along the massive walls that document in excruciating detail Warhol’s life and learn such tidbits as: Andrew Warhola was born in 1928 to immigrants from Mikona in Slovakia; he graduated Carnegie Tech (which became Carnegie Mellon); in 1956 he met Edmond Walloaitch who used photography in his own works; most of Warhol’s early endeavors were self-published; he was inspired by popular culture and enlarged images from magazines and photographs with a projector, then painted the projection on canvas; he used a rubber stamp, then the silk screen process; the first silkscreen painting based on a photograph was a baseball, in 1962; he “replicated the look of commercial advertising, giving Warhol faithful duplication of his appropriated source image, while also allowing him to experiment with over-painting, off-register and endless chance combinations”.
After graduating Carnegie Tech, he took a “risk” and came to New York City where he got his big break, illustrating a story “What is Success” for Glamour Magazine. “He became one of the most successful commercial illustrators.” A particularly noteworthy item on the timeline: 1972- after publication of his “Vote McGovern,” the IRS audited Warhol annually until his death.” Warhol died in 1987, at the age of 58.
He created the “blotted line technique” – where he could trace or copy and an image “appropriating images from popular culture” – and reproduce any number of them, factory-style.
Warhol, we learn, made a fortune from portraits, once again, getting a giant commercial boost after an exhibit at the Whitney in 1979, curated by his close friend David Whitney consisting of 56 double portraits of artists, fashion designers, collectors, art dealers, which showcased an aspect of his painting “that he characterized as ‘business art’.”
After the 1979 show, his private portraits business hit heights- early 80s – he produced did 50 a year at $40K for 2-panel, or $2 million in annual profits.
“He was unapologetic in his imposition of lucrative business model as part of his art practice.”
I notice a prominently displayed portrait of Prince from 1984, which is up just after the musician’s death.
Andy Warhol was known for his passion as a collector – very possibly an outgrowth of his impoverished childhood and his expropriation of others’ art and design. Over his lifetime, he collected some 500,000 artifacts. There is an immense room, called the “Vault” that is filled with “time capsules” – 610 flimsy cartons, each with 500 objects.
I found it totally ironic, though, that you are not allowed to take any photos since Warhol’s art was based on expropriating the images and designs created by others (ie. Campbell Soup Can, Marilyn Monroe photo). You can take part in workshops to learn the silkscreening techniques he used. The museum is a must-see for anyone who is a fan.
The Andy Warhol Museum was created by the Andy Warhol Foundation, Dia Center for the Arts, and the Carnegie Foundation which operates the museum. It is one of four Carnegie Museums of Pittsburgh (Carnegie Museum of Art, Carnegie Museum of National History and Carnegie Science Center are the others, www.carnegiemuseums.org).
The Andy Warhol Museum, 117 Sandusky Street, Pittsburgh, PA 15212, 412-237-8300, www.warhol.org ($20/adults, $10/students and children 3-18, half price on Fridays, 5-10 pm; closed Mondays).