Kaleidoscope: Visiting several attractions across Pennsylvania border

by KEN LAHMERS | EDITOR Published:

On May 9, I headed east on a road trip to Mercer County, Pa., spending Friday night in Grove City, home of Grove City College. The quaint town is a borough boasting about 8,300 residents.

Grove City College is a private conservative Christian liberal arts institution founded in 1876 as Pine Grove Normal Academy. The name was changed in 1884. Its campus spans the banks of Wolf Creek, and the beautiful Rainbow walking bridge crosses the creek.

Just west of Grove City is Prime Outlets at Grove City, a popular shopping spot which features more than 140 brand-name stores. Nearby, the Slovak Folk Crafts Sore offers the largest selection of Slovak folk crafts in the United States.

As dusk approached, I walked through downtown, checking out the architecture and especially admiring the Guthrie Theater, which opened in 1927 and shows first-run movies. "The Amazing Spiderman 2" was showing during my visit.

Three things caught my eye in town -- parking lot sculptures, panels giving historical information about the town and three brilliant murals on the sides of buildings.

About a half-dozen unique sculptures mark the entrances to municipal parking lots. A handful more are planned. They are made by students at George Junior Republic, an entity which houses, teaches and treats 400 high school-aged boys from troubled backgrounds.

The sculptures are titled "Do You Have Time to Shop and Dine?", "Industrial Sunset," "Tools in a Cart," "Comedy and Tragedy Theater Masks," "Flowers" and "Blue Heron." The largest stands 15 feet high. All are very colorful.

One mural was created in 2007 by three female interns, who sketched it out and then had people from George Junior, nursing homes and schools paint individual canvases, which were later put together like a puzzle.

The second mural was done in 2008 and is on the outside wall of the Guthrie Theater. Male interns interviewed residents to create the design. The long mural shows people in various aspects of everyday life. Again, residents donated their time to paint the canvases which created the finished product.

The third mural is an Italian scene -- a woman in a small village bringing food down some stairs -- and is on the outer wall of Nonni's Trattoria, a restaurant serving Italian food.

I enjoy viewing murals wherever I go on road trips, and the ones in Grove City are quite spectacular.

A famous business in Grove City is Wendell August Forge, America's oldest and largest forge, producing hand-wrought ornamental metalware and elegant giftware in aluminum and other metals since 1923.

Sadly, it's historic building in Grove City was destroyed by fire in 2010, but the business rebuilt near the premium outlets and continues to operate.

Grove City also has a historical society, which has existed since 1998, the town's bicentennial year. Its headquarters building was erected between 1905 and 1910 to serve as the Travelers Hotel.

Although the museum wasn't open when I was there, it includes exhibits such as a 60-inch diameter gear wheel made of white oak used at the Cunningham Mill 200 years ago, old kitchen items, high school yearbooks, historic photos, memorabilia from the area and a genealogy library.

MERCER -- COUNTY SEAT

The population of Mercer has shrunk from a high of 2,800 in 1960 to about 2,000. It's a quaint county seat community, and boasts the beautiful courthouse built in 1910 after a fire destroyed the previous courthouse.

The community was named after physician Brig. Gen. Hugh Mercer, a close friend of George Washington and a rallying point for the Battle of Princeton. Trent Reznor, musician and founder of the band Nine Inch Nails, grew up there. He won an Oscar in 2011 for writing music for the movie "The Social Network."

Across the street from the courthouse on the south side of the square, the old jail dating to 1869 still stands and now serves as the courthouse annex.

Beside the old jail is the boyhood home of John Armor Bingham, an abolitionist who met the Marquis de Lafayette during the latter's nationwide tour. Bingham also was judge advocate general in the conspirators' trial after the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln.

Civil War, World War II and Vietnam War monuments are on the courthouse grounds, as are a brick bandstand platform and series of flagpoles. The grounds slope downhill to the south.

Across South Pitt Street east of the courthouse is the Mercer County Historical Society, and fortunately its museum was open and I checked it out.

The building housing the museum occupies the site of the former Zahniser & Co. Store, which was a "free labor" shop during the Civil War, selling only items grown or produced by free men (no slave labor).

The museum has a local industries room, Indian arrowheads and tools, World War II posters, antique small firefighting equipment, military uniforms, antique dolls and a room devoted to the history of Mercer County's three courthouses, including a bronze eagle which once topped a flagpole on the courthouse grounds, plus a judge's old desk and chair.

The Dr. James Magoffin Jr. house is beside the museum. He was a supporter of the Underground Railroad and a "Copperhead." Three of his sons owned houses down the street.

Behind the house is the Thomas McClain Print Shop. On the other side of the museum is the Helen Black Miller Chapel, originally known as the Church of St. Edmund the Martyr and moved to the site in 1972.

Just north of town, the society operates the Rural Life Museum at the Munnell Run Farm, which explores country life in Mercer County and America. The farm educates the public about modern agricultural and ecological problems and practices.

SOME OTHER PLACES

In West Middlesex, just off Interstate 80 south of Sharon-Farrell, can be found the birthplace of politician and U.S. Sen. Alf Landon, who ran against Franklin Roosevelt in the presidential campaign of 1936. He kicked off his campaign on the No. 1 tee at nearby Tam O'Shanter Golf Course before 10,000 supporters.

In Stoneboro northeast of Mercer, the historical society is located in a caboose beside the former Hotel Kish. The Stoneboro area was a mecca for underground coal mining in the late 1800s, and stripmining continued there until the 1970s. Lakeside Amusement Park also was located there.

Near Fredonia, northwest of Mercer, is the one-room Caldwell schoolhouse, one of about 300 which once operated in the county. It is surrounded by a "teachers garden," which honors the educators of Mercer County.

There is an Amish area between Stoneboro and Fredonia. I've seen hundreds of Amish buggies traveling around Ohio over the years, but never saw a sight I observed in Mercer County -- an Amish carriage with a canoe on top coming from the Shenango Dam reservoir!

Sheakleyville, near Maurice K. Goddard State Park and Lake Wilhelm in the northeast corner of the county, is named after George Sheakley, whose nephew James was born there and was appointed the first governor of Alaska in 1893.

Mercer County offers several nature and recreational opportunities, including the McKeever Environmental Center near Stoneboro, Custologa Town Boy Scout Camp near Milledgeville and the Shenango Trail northeast of the Shenango Dam reservoir.

Email: klahmers@recordpub.com

Phone: 330-541-9400 ext. 4189

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