PA Wilds: Angling, Oil and Luxury in the Allegheny National Forest
Editor’s Note: This blog originally appeared on Getaway Mavens, a travel website that provides ideas for weekend getaways in Northeast USA and beyond.
by Malerie Yolen-Cohen
WHY GO: A three-hour drive from Pittsburgh, over five from New York, the intriguing Allegheny National Forest region of Pennsylvania – aka PA Wilds – is not easy to get to. But, as they say, “getting there is half the fun,” and “nothing worthwhile is ever easy.”
Rivaling the more famous Adirondacks in New York, the Allegheny National Forest region is a stunning, overlooked area of our country. From the Victorian-age engineering marvel-destroyed-by-nature Kinzua Bridge, to the Zippo Lighter Museum, to what’s left of Bradford’s “Billion Dollar Oil Field,” this region is on few tourist “hot spot” lists.
But those in the know can find extremely swanky lodgings in former mansions and hideaways here. Apparently, tycoons with unlimited funds considered seclusion in this woodland splendor to be a priceless commodity.
TOUR/MT. JEWETT. Kinzua Viaduct/Kinzua Bridge State Park
In the “can do spirit of the Gilded Age,” Octave Chinute (who went on to work with the Wright Brothers) engineered the Kinzua Bridge in 1882 to transport newly discovered coal to southern locales. Three hundred feet off the valley floor, the Kinzua Bridge was the highest point on the profitable New York–Erie Railroad line. As such, it was one of America’s most popular tourist attractions when first opened.
Swarms of long-skirted women and bowler-hatted men made the trek to see “The Eighth Wonder of the World.” Though in later years the bridge no longer supported freight trains, tourists could still make the harrowing crossing via popular and nostalgic steam train excursions.
But astoundingly, in July 2003, a freak tornado barreled through the valley and demolished the bridge within seconds. Now, you can walk 600 feet into the gorge on “Tracks Across the Sky” – the Kinzua Skywalk – and stare into the valley from what’s left of the bridge. The uncanny sight of these deformed and twisted steel bones on the valley floor rivals any Christo art installation. Open daily in winter 8am-4pm. Spring to Fall, Visitors Center daily 8 am to 6 pm, skywalk 8 am to dusk.
VISIT/BRADFORD: Zippo/Case Museum
Feel patriotic while satisfying your fascination with the iconic made-in-America lighter company, Zippo, by visiting the factory/museum and shop in Bradford PA. A terrific nine-minute orientation film recounts the story of the aptly named George Blaisdell, who modified an Austrian lighter design and named it after the zippy sound of the “zipper” in 1932.
The “Windproof Lighter; It works or we fix it free” Zippo gained fame as a fashion accessory and gift item in the mid 1940’s when WWII soldiers returned with their field-tested steel-cased versions. The museum showcases Zippo art, artifacts, dioramas, and of course sells every style of Zippo lighter and Case Knife. Mon-Sat 9-5, Sun 11-4, free.
VISIT/BRADFORD: Penn Brad Oil Museum
And you thought only Texas and Oklahoma had oil. Well, the first US oil well was actually drilled in 1859, about 80 miles from Bradford in Titusville, launching a black-gold-rush out to these mid-PA hills. Between 1871 and the 1920’s, over 90,000 wells were bored in Bradford PA – it was our country’s first “billion dollar oil field” – with 82% of the world’s oil emerging from deep within Pennsylvania earth.
A couple of oil companies still operate in Bradford: Kendall Refining Co, now American Refining Group which makes Brad Penn Racing Oil (established in 1881, it’s the oldest operating in the world), and Emery Oil Co. (now Minard Run Oil Co.) still run by the great-grandson of founder Lewis Emery.
Lewis was a hard-nosed adversary of Standard Oil’s John D. Rockefeller. When Rockefeller refused to transport Emery Oil on his railroad, Emery sledded oil pipes up and over the Allegheny Mountains in snowy winter to build a pipeline from Bradford to Williamsport, obliterating Standard Oil’s monopoly, but garnering an enemy for life.
Oil has been in use since ancient times – Babylonians dipped torches in the crude stuff that seeped out of the ground. But it wasn’t until the growth of the auto-industry at the turn of last century, creating a use for vast amount of oil in the demand for gasoline, that the business became profitable.
Bradford’s Oldest Operating Well
This compact, smart, engaging museum explains the evolution of the oil industry both worldwide and in this little pocket of the country. Guides demonstrate various oil rig machinery – such as the 114 year old “Half Breed Engine,” that, when turned on, creates a barking sound (thus called “The Barker”).
After leaving the museum, be sure to see the oldest operating oil well in Bradford: It’s right by the McDonald’s Drive-Thru. Museum open Mon-Fri 9-4, Sat 9-2, $5 adults, kids free.
See the full article, which includes more information on where to stay, play and eat in Kane and Smethport as well, here.
About the Author
Malerie Yolen-Cohen is a freelance travel writer, and co-publisher/editor/writer of the travel website, GetawayMavens.com – Weekend Getaways in the Northeast USA.
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