Down Life’s Crazy Road: Foxburg
By John Pozza
While exploring some of the more interesting towns in northwest Pennsylvania, I often try to absorb some of their subtle nuances.
Taking a “deeper dive” often makes one better appreciate a place’s beauty, natural landscape, people and culture that could otherwise be missed.
Photo: View from the Foxburg Bridge crossing the Allegheny River entering Foxburg, John Pozza
Take, for instance, the Borough of Foxburg in western Clarion County – a tiny, but quaint and scenic arts and recreation community, rich in history, nestled along the east bank of the Allegheny River, 70 miles north of Pittsburgh.
Many of Foxburg’s avid visitors, including yours truly, access the town easily from its convenient location on Route 58, five miles off Interstate 80 at Exit 45 for Emlenton/St. Petersburg.
As a youth in the late 1960’s and early ‘70’s, the only opportunity I ever took to explore anything near Foxburg were three locales on Route 58 on the hill above town.
I would attend the former Silver Fox Summer Theatre productions held in an old barn in the town of St. Petersburg, one mile up the road from Foxburg. The barn has been beautifully restored and is now The Silver Fox Event Center, still hosting local productions, special events and wedding receptions.
Photo: Wood carving of a fox from a public deck overlooking the Allegheny River in Foxburg, John Pozza
I frequently played golf at the beautifully maintained Foxburg Country Club, developed in 1887 and the oldest public golf course still in continuous use in the U.S. The club hosts the American Golf Hall of Fame, which houses a unique collection of old, but well preserved golf clubs, and the Hickory Stick Pub.
I also participated with my high school football team in an annual pre-season football scrimmage in late summer at Allegheny-Clarion Valley High School near the golf course.
But, back then, I would never have any reason to ever go into the town of Foxburg on the river.
Foxburg was originally founded amidst the oil development days in western Pennsylvania in 1870. At its height during the early 1870s it had a population of over 1,000. It remained a village until its incorporation as a borough in 1930. Foxburg was once served by two railroads. One was the Allegheny Division of the Pennsylvania Railroad, and the other was the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad. The B&O actually ran over the old Foxburg Bridge from 1921 to 1964. Today, both railroads are gone, as is the bridge, which was demolished in 2008 to make way for the newer one at the same location.
Photo: View of the confluence of the Clarion River and the Allegheny River from the Allegheny River Trail between Foxburg and Parker, John Pozza
Foxburg was named after the Fox family from Philadelphia, who purchased most of the land there during the oil boom period. They built the original Fox Estate or mansion on a hillside above the Allegheny and used it as a summer home.
In 1998, the Fox Estate was purchased and preserved by Dr. Arthur Steffee, a retired and successful orthopedic surgeon from Oil City with several surgical patents established through his work at the Cleveland Clinic. Steffee also privately developed the land surrounding the mansion into a beautiful equestrian property called Riverstone Farms, with several barns and outbuildings. The property is managed and maintained by round-the-clock caretakers. Riverstone Farms also hosts outdoor summer concerts, mansion tours and fundraising events to benefit Foxburg’s thriving arts organization, Allegheny Riverstone Center for the Arts.
ARCA is based at Lincoln Hall, an impeccably restored music hall in town. Throughout the year it hosts top-level performers from the Pittsburgh area and beyond. It is situated on the top floor of the Foxburg library and is an acoustical masterpiece, literally and figuratively. It comes replete with a fully restored 1928 Wurlitzer theater organ.
Photo: A concert at Lincoln Hall in Foxburg, John Pozza
ARCA is operated by a non-profit board under the direction of John and Kathy Soroka, two transplanted Pittsburgh musicians that still perform with the Pittsburgh Symphony. Once you meet the Sorokas to purchase tickets for a Lincoln Hall concert performance or to inquire about being a contributing ARCA member, you will be enveloped with their wonderful ambassadorship for Foxburg and keen eye for talent.
Riverstone Farms, Foxburg Country Club and AC Valley High School are all located on scenic Route 58 on a hillside above the Allegheny River as you approach the town of Foxburg. You cannot see the town or the river from Route 58 until you descend the hill.
For many years, Foxburg’s spectacular views of the river were masked by dereliction of the half-square mile of the town proper. The entire downtown riverfront was in tatters with nearly everything shutdown. That began changing when Dr. Steffee came seeking to breathe new life into the town, taking advantage of its riverfront views, buying property, and starting local businesses to rebuild its economy by making it a tourist destination.
Photo: Annual outdoor Summer Festival & Concert to benefit ARCA (Allegheny Riverstone Center for the Arts) at Riverstone farm in Foxburg, John Pozza
Being an enthusiastic bicycle rider and rails-to-trails advocate, Foxburg had another major benefit that gave it a leg up in tourist development. The town had a scenic abandoned rail corridor along the river that was quickly converted to a smooth asphalt trail with the aid of state recreational grants leveraged with local contributions.
Foxburg’s trailhead serves as the mid point, with a shop there offering bike, Segway and boat rentals. The trail runs south three miles to the town of Parker. Halfway to Parker, it includes a gorgeous bridge crossing over the mouth of the Clarion River before connecting to a trailhead under the Parker Bridge.
North of Foxburg, the abandoned rail corridor runs three miles connecting to the Allegheny River Trail at Emlenton, with additional trailheads beyond in Rockland, Kennerdell, Brandon, Belmar on the Sandy Creek Trail, Franklin and Oil City. Foxburg will eventually be a key stop along the 270-mile Erie to Pittsburgh bicycle trail, which is nearing completion.
Also in town is the beautiful Allegheny Grille bar and restaurant, and it’s resplendent large outdoor deck. It’s another of my favorites for its breathtaking river view, outdoor ambiance and live outdoor music in the summer months. I especially enjoy stopping there after a day of bike riding, sitting on the deck with my favorite libation, taking in the magnificent view of the river and feeling the gentle breeze.
Photo: John Pozza and his wife, Lisa, at the Allegheny Grille in Foxburg.
My other favorite is Foxburg Wine Cellars and gift shop across the street from the Grille for wine tastings, individual glass and bottle purchases and its shaded outdoor patio. I personally like the winery’s white Seval, the so-called “Prince” of distinctive taste and bouquet, known not only for its medium-dry taste but for its unique collectible blue bottle etched with the figure of… what else… a fox in the wild.
The Red Brick Gallery and Gift Shop is located next to the winery in a charming 150-year-old building that was once owned by the Fox family. The Gallery strives to nurture artistic creativity by providing an inspiring venue for local artisans and other emerging art talent. It features hundreds of artisan-inspired items (on two floors), along with a wide selection of limited edition and collectable signature works.
Photo: John Pozza’s book talk/reading at the Red Brick Gallery, Foxburg
In addition, don’t miss the town’s chocolate shop, pizza and country store, and the 24-room Foxburg Inn, featuring “elopement packages.”
But what I probably enjoy most of all is the friendly, gracious, can-do attitude of all the people that make Foxburg so special. They all play a part in the town’s remarkable resurgence — a town that continues to reinvent itself.
About the author: John Pozza
John Pozza, of Brookville, is an early childhood education advocate and veteran broadcast journalist. He retired from the Region 1 Early Learning Resource Center based at the Northwest Institute of Research (NWIR) in Erie in 2020, but keeps active as a regular columnist for the Brookville, Brockway and Clarion Mirror, and as a contributing writer for Watershed Books in Brookville, which helped publish his memoir, “Was Anybody Really Listening,” available on Amazon, and his soon-to-be-released “Conversations on The Neighborhood” on the legacy of Fred Rogers. He also hosts the NWIR Quality Early Learning Show podcast on Soundcloud. John and his wife Lisa live in Brookville with their two cats, Rusty and Tinker Belle. They have a son Matt, a US Navy veteran, who is a graduate of the Claude Pettit College of Law at Ohio Northern University and practicing attorney in Jacksonville, Florida.
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