Exploring Bellefonte’s rich heritage: A Q&A with local historian and business owner Matt Maris
Every day, we walk past historic buildings and sites, or drive by them on our daily commutes — and we may not even realize it.
Matt Maris, the founder of Local Historia, is sharing his knowledge and love for local history in his community of Bellefonte — in the I-80 Frontier region of the PA Wilds — through walking tours.
“I think one of the most meaningful ways to connect with a town and with people, past or present, is through local historical walking tours,” Maris, a Bellefonte High School history teacher, said.
So what makes Bellefonte such a special place to show off? Ellen Matis, a PA Wilds Ambassador, talked with Maris to learn more:
Ellen: Why Bellefonte? What makes the Bellefonte community unique in a way that you want to show it off and bring more people to town?
Matt: Let me put it this way, people will travel to wonderfully historic places like Gettysburg, and allow themselves to get into a historical mindset; they will go there with an appetite to learn and understand the important events that took place and their impact. Well, why not look at your hometown or anywhere you visit in such a way? I enjoy looking at Bellefonte like that everyday, with that same wanderlust at a local level. That’s kind of the concept behind Local Historia, being in a constant state of passion for local history.
Bellefonte is such an inspiring place to live because of its rich history. For example, the topics that come up on my tours include the iron industry, governors, the Underground Railroad, the Civil War, Thomas Edison, Victorian architecture, airmail pilots, and connections to Penn State like Evan Pugh’s grave. I love sharing Bellefonte’s story, and there’s plenty of history to show and tell.
Ellen: What can participants expect on your tours?
Matt: Folks can expect to enjoy an authentic historical experience. That is my mission: to help people connect with local history in an engaging way. They can expect to see things in Bellefonte they might have overlooked or driven by many times. On my walking tours, they will also get some fresh air and exercise!
Ellen: What’s a must-see stop on your tours?
Matt: An essential stop on most of my tours is the Soldiers and Sailors Memorial in front of the (Centre County) courthouse. I recommend taking some time there and also getting a sense of the courthouse area near the diamond — it’s beautiful. That being said, Talleyrand Park and the Bellefonte Waterfront on Spring Creek are a must see! Walking from the Match Factory area to the Gamble Mill is one of my favorite things, especially with a cup of coffee or ice cream.
Ellen: What are other stops you recommend to participants coming into Bellefonte for a tour?
Matt: There’s plenty to do and enjoy while in town. I recommend the Bellefonte Art Museum and the Centre County Library’s Historical Museum. Also, downtown Bellefonte has great boutique and antique shops, as well as excellent food and beverage options to fuel your excursion around town.
Ellen: I saw that you recently visited Lock Haven and participated in another walking tour. Tell me about that?
Matt: What does a tour guide do for fun? Well, I go on tours in other places and try to absorb as much as I can. Recently I went on one of my favorite walking tours ever with Lock Haven historian and writer for the PA Wilds, Lou Bernard. Lock Haven has some incredible history.
These communities and their histories are so interconnected regionally that it’s a win-win to experience more of them. As I learn and make more connections with other local historians and heritage sites, my goal is to collaborate with those historians and hosts to feature more content in places like Lock Haven or Philipsburg.
Local Historia’s schedule of upcoming walking tours can be found on the business’s website. All walking tours can be modified and customized to meet the participant’s needs and interests. Private group walking tours are also available.
More PA Wilds Communities to Explore
Across the PA Wilds, there are hundreds of communities that serve the traveling public and offer rich histories worth exploring. Take the time to tour the rural communities of the Pennsylvania Wilds, from the larger cities to the quaint villages. Tours have already been established for many communities, making it easier than ever to find all the hidden gems! Find a full list of tours available here.
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