The Rust Belt. The Great Lakes. Appalachia. Ask any American what they know about these regions and they'll tell you they've got their share of problems. There's poverty, economic hardship, a sense of desperation, the feeling that time has passed them by.
That's the stereotype, anyway. And there's some truth to it. But there's also a rich and still palpable history around here that the locals are beginning to learn to celebrate. Things weren't always like this, you see. Once upon a time, places like Upstate New York and western Pennsylvania were the hotbed of the American dream. Once upon a time, millions and millions of people, many of whom had started out penniless, toiled and made lives for themselves in places like Buffalo where great shiploads of grain were unloaded onto canal boats and railroad cars and sent onward to market; places like Pittsburgh where the night sky was lit bright by the fiery ovens at countless steel mills whose product was literally the stuff that built this country; places like the coal fields of West Virginia where, braving notoriously perilous working conditions, valiant miners descended deep into the bowels of the Earth to extract the fuel that fed the American industrial machine. Once upon a time, there was almost unthinkable prosperity here. Yes, the factory owners got filthy rich, but the lowly laborers, too, struggled and organized for their rights and, with the victories they earned, saved money and built brighter futures for their children and grandchildren. For an all-too-brief moment in history, everyone had a piece of the pie.
Come along with us as we take a road trip through this once and future wonderland. Come along with us as we retrace the same route followed long ago by pioneering motorists in the early days of long-distance automobile travel, people fortunate enough to have borne witness to America's so-called "Rust Belt" at the zenith of its glory. Come along with us... on the Buffalo-Pittsburgh Highway.
Despite its name, the Buffalo-Pittsburgh Highway doesn't connect its two namesake cities directly. The route does indeed begin in Buffalo, but proceeding from there, travellers would have passed to the east and south of Pittsburgh by a roughly 30-mile (50 km) radius and ended up in Clarksburg, West Virginia. Pittsburgh-bound motorists would have turned off at one of two intersecting auto trails, as you'll read later.
The year was 1926. It was a time when automobiles were a known quantity, but were only beginning to become affordable to the middle class; before the Interstate Highway System had even been dreamt of, and when America as a nation was only just beginning to wrap its collective mind around the concept of long-distance travel by car.
Back then, for the few motorists who dared such long trips, there were no state-funded numbered highways as we know today. Instead, they had to make do with an informal system of what were called auto trails. Basically, if you followed the colored stripes of paint on roadside telephone poles, you could more-or-less be sure that you were on a road that was in more-or-less suitable condition for an automobile to drive on. (Of course, "suitable condition" was a relative term in those days.) There was nothing official or carved in stone about the auto trails — more often than not, they were designated, maintained, and promoted by local chambers of commerce or tourist bureaux; the government had nothing to do with them. In fact, in some cases an auto trail was nothing more than the work of one enterprising individual with a bucket of paint and a lot of time on his hands.
It was in this fateful year that the Buffalo-Pittsburgh Highway opened to motorists. On its back cover, the Pennsylvania Auto Trail Road Guide from the previous year advertised the soon-to-open highway with the slogan, "The Progress & Prosperity of All the World Depends Upon America's One Great Industrial Broadway". That's a pretty apt summation: as mentioned earlier, this was an era when the Rust Belt wasn't so rusty, and the regions through which the Buffalo-Pittsburgh Highway passed were among the world's foremost industrial powerhouses.
The heyday of the auto trails was brief indeed, and that of the Buffalo-Pittsburgh Highway even briefer. 1926 was also the year when Congress approved America's first nationwide highway numbering system (though some states, particularly in New England, had already begun numbering their state highways a few years earlier). Just a few short years after its inauguration, the erstwhile Buffalo-Pittsburgh Highway had been subsumed by the decidedly more prosaically-named U.S. Routes 19, 119, 219, and 62. Still, the era of the auto trails is a colorful chapter in American transportation history that lives on in memory.
Not surprisingly given that it dates to 1926, the original routing of the Buffalo-Pittsburgh Highway shuns modern expressways in favor of country back roads and small-town Main Streets, a somewhat different scenario from what many modern-day road trippers are used to. Notwithstanding that, this itinerary doesn't present any particularly unique challenges to plan ahead for (assuming you're at least familiar with the basics of long-distance auto travel). Generally speaking, the northerly half of the route — roughly from the outer fringe of the Buffalo suburbs through Indiana or so — is relatively more remote and isolated, so if you happen to be passing through a town, you might want to give some serious thought to the question of whether you need a bathroom break or to stop off for a snack, as it might be awhile before your next opportunity. But we're not talking "remote" on the level of needing to keep a spare fuel can in your trunk, or whatnot — this isn't the Dalton Highway!
The itinerary as described in this article is 339.6 miles (546.4 km) in length. That number might be slightly different if you're travelling south-to-north, and doesn't include the return trip or any of the side trips described in this article. The question of how much time to allow for the trip depends on a couple of factors, namely what time of year you're travelling and how many of the points of interest you'd like to explore in the cities and towns along the way. For instance, if it's midsummer and you intend to through-drive the highway without stopping for any reason other than to refuel, one very long day is probably doable. But on the other hand, by rushing through the experience, you'll miss out on much of what makes it special. To allow time for a more leisurely pace and to check out some of those roadside attractions and side trips, "at least three days" is a more realistic answer. In autumn, when the days are shorter and nights are longer, plan for even more time than that.
Speaking of the seasons: yes, summer is a great time of year to travel the Buffalo-Pittsburgh Highway — the days are long, the weather pleasant, outdoor destinations like Ohiopyle and Allegany State Park offer their full retinue of activities, and you're liable to run into one of the region's small-town festivals, where friends and neighbors come together to celebrate and the unique local culture is on full display — but autumn is arguably an even better choice. The sight of a fiery carpet of red, yellow, and orange blanketing the ancient Appalachians is one of the most spectacular displays of foliage you'll see anywhere on the planet. The colors tend to reach their peak later the further south you go, but overall, if you'd like to time your trip to coincide with "leaf peeping" season, mid- to late October is your best bet. Conversely, the month of November tends to see the first measurable snowfall in this part of the country — again, earlier along the northern reaches of the highway, later further south — and once the winter solstice rolls around, you can expect three straight months of reliably gloomy weather, often challenging driving conditions, and generally not much going on in the towns along the way (with the notable exception of the Groundhog Day festivities in Punxsutawney in early February). Spring is not a particularly auspicious time to visit either, with highly changeable weather and unpleasantly muddy conditions for outdoor types to contend with.
The corner of Main and Scott Streets in downtown Buffalo marks the north end of the itinerary. To get there, take Interstate 190 to Exit 6 (Canalside/Elm Street), following the signs for Canalside and Seneca Street as you pass along the offramp. At the end of the ramp, make a right onto Seneca Street and then another right at the first light, which is Michigan Avenue. Continue south, passing over the railroad tracks and under the overpass bridge, then make a right onto Scott Street. Main Street is two blocks away.
Alternatively, if you're heading into downtown from points south, you might be better off taking the Buffalo Skyway (NY 5). Get off at the penultimate exit (I-190 northbound/Seneca Street); bear left and then right, following the signs for Seneca Street and Pearl Street respectively. At this point you're headed south on Pearl Street; you pass under two overpass bridges in succession and then come to a three-way intersection with Marine Drive. Make a left and proceed to Main Street: your first light, and the intersection where Marine Drive changes into Scott Street.
If you're following the itinerary in the opposite direction, arriving at the south end of the route is as simple as getting off the Northwestern Turnpike (U.S. 50) at the West Pike Street exit: the Buffalo-Pittsburgh Highway's terminus is that precise junction.
Today, it's no longer possible to follow the 1926 routing of the Buffalo-Pittsburgh Highway exactly: the continuous expansion and modernization of the American highway network meant the destruction of some of its original segments, and the 1950s and '60s saw the introduction of one-way streets into the downtown business districts of many American cities as a way to tame the traffic snarls that came with widespread automobile ownership. However, with this itinerary, we'll be retracing the original route of the highway as closely as the modern-day road network allows.
This itinerary is oriented for those headed north to south. If you're starting in West Virginia instead, you can follow the list of cities and attractions in the reverse order of how they're presented here, but the actual route may be slightly different (thanks again to those one-way streets). In the italicized directions included in this article, any such discrepancies in routing will be flagged with bold underlining.
Buffalo metro area
If you were plotting out a road in 1926 that aspired to be "America's Great Industrial Broadway", you could scarcely pick a better place to start than 1 Buffalo. Enjoying a privileged location where the Great Lakes met the Erie Canal, Buffalo had long been an inland port of immense importance, where wheat and corn from the vast breadbaskets of the Midwest would arrive by freighter, be stored at port in towering grain elevators, then expedited via canal to New York City and international markets. But the local economy had by now diversified well beyond grain: Buffalo was also the second-biggest railroad hub in the country after Chicago, and the Lackawanna Steel Company took advantage of new rail links to the coal fields of Pennsylvania to set up what was then the world's largest steel mill just south of town. As well, the automobile (see below for more on that) and aviation industries, important ones locally as the 20th century wore on, were beginning to emerge around this time. Of course, within several decades Buffalo's industrial economy would suffer from a series of body blows from which it would never really recover — the Great Depression, the opening of the Saint Lawrence Seaway which enabled ocean-bound freighters to bypass the east end of Lake Erie completely, the genesis of the Interstate highways — but for now, the city was in its glory days.
Before setting out on the road, it's worthwhile to explore Buffalo for a little bit. To a much greater degree than most U.S. cities, Buffalo has preserved quite a lot of its historic architecture and design, so you can still get a decent sense of what the city was like when the Buffalo-Pittsburgh Highway was open to early motorists. Probably the best place to do this is at the free observation deck at 1 City Hall on Niagara Square, which affords you a bird's-eye view over the period architecture and design of downtown from the 28th floor of the building. The observation deck is only open weekdays during business hours, but even if you're here on a weekend, 2 Niagara Square itself makes a fine showcase, including several features that were extant in 1926: the Hotel Statler on the northeast side between Delaware Avenue and Genesee Street, the Buffalo Athletic Club Building and One Niagara Square next door to each other on the southeast between Delaware and Niagara Street, and the McKinley Monument in the center. City Hall itself was not long in the future either, opened in 1931.
While this itinerary starts at the corner of Main and Scott Streets in downtown Buffalo, the original route of the Buffalo-Pittsburgh Highway began two blocks north at the corner of Seneca Street, where it intersected with the Susquehanna Trail, another early auto trail. Today the northernmost blocks of the route are closed to vehicular traffic, as was the entirety of Main Street downtown in the early 1980s when the Metro Rail was built. But the "Cars Sharing Main Street" program is seeing the pedestrian mall gradually redesigned and reopened to cars — the stretch between Scott and Exchange Streets is scheduled to be completed by 2021.
By contrast with Niagara Square, lower Main Street is one part of Buffalo that looks absolutely nothing like it did back in the day. In 1926, it was a swath of somewhat downmarket commercial buildings sandwiched between the former rail yard and depot of the Lehigh Valley Railroad on the northeast, the warehouses and industrial works of what's now called the Cobblestone District on the southeast, and to the west, the notorious Canal District where poor Italian immigrant families lived in tenements interspersed with seedy bars and brothels. Who would have guessed that this area would someday be the tourist epicenter of Buffalo: 3 Canalside, a waterfront playground offering a bevy of activities and attractions including the Explore & More Children's Museum and the Buffalo and Erie County Naval and Military Park, harbor cruises and kayak rental, a lengthy slate of festivals, and in the winter, New York State's largest outdoor ice rink as well as Buffalo Sabres hockey at the KeyBank Center. And if you'd like to grab a bite to eat before setting out on the road, it's almost needless to say that you've got plenty of options in this neck of the woods: a couple of good ones are Pizza Plant at the Courtyard by Marriott hotel (on what was once the site of the old Lehigh Valley terminal), or the Labatt Brew House in the Cobblestone District for some not-half-bad pub grub.
A bit further afield is the...
- 4 Buffalo Transportation Pierce-Arrow Museum, 263 Michigan Ave. (about ½ mile [900 m] off the Buffalo-Pittsburgh Highway via Scott Street and Michigan Avenue), ☏ . Th-Sa 11AM-4PM. The exhibits here run heavily towards antique cars of the type that would have plied the Buffalo-Pittsburgh Highway during the days of the auto trails, including quite a few Pierce-Arrows, the luxury brand that made up the backbone of the Buffalo automobile industry until the company's 1938 bankruptcy. The museum's pièce de résistance, though, is a filling station built according to an original blueprint by Frank Lloyd Wright, which he drew up in 1927 and had originally intended to be built a few blocks away at the corner of Cherry Street. $10, seniors $8, children $5, guided tour $15.
But without further ado, let's hit the road!
From the corner of Scott Street, proceed southward along Main Street for two blocks, whereupon the road veers sharply left behind the KeyBank Center and becomes South Park Avenue. Proceed eastward.
- As you proceed along South Park Avenue, Buffalo's downtown business district quickly gives way to working-class residential neighborhoods in the shadows of Elevator Alley, the world's largest extant collection of grain elevators lined up along the Buffalo River. A short detour southward toward the river through the now-gentrifying "shantytown Irish" stronghold of the Old First Ward will give you a real sense of the industrial muscle that Buffalo once flexed. Mutual Park at the foot of Hamburg Street affords you a nice 180° panorama, which you could never have enjoyed in the 1920s: back then, the river was always chock-a-block with freighters loading and unloading at the elevators, which would have blocked your view! Mutual Park is also the site of:
- 5 Waterfront Memories & More, 41 Hamburg St. (½ mile [750 m] off the Buffalo-Pittsburgh Highway via Hamburg Street), ☏ . Tu & Sa 10AM-2PM. With exhibits of historic photographs, documents, newspaper clippings, school and church records, family histories, and other archival material culled from the combined personal collections of museum co-owners Bert Hyde and Peggy Szczygiel, Waterfront Memories & More is a neighborhood heritage museum dedicated to the history of Buffalo's riverfront, harbor, and industrial district from pre-Columbian times through the construction of the Erie Canal up to the city's industrial heyday during the time of the Buffalo-Pittsburgh Highway. As well, the museum hosts special events on a regular basis. Free.
Continue eastward along South Park Avenue.
- Heading out of the Old First Ward, you pass over the Buffalo River via an enormous lift bridge and enter the newer but still working-class neighborhood called the Triangle. Descending from the bridge, you see the Tesla Gigafactory on your right, where Elon Musk and company manufacture their much-touted solar roofs: a key piece, hopefully, of Buffalo's 21st-century industrial sector. Needless to say, Tesla wasn't here in the 1920s — this was the site of Republic Steel's Buffalo plant, the second-largest in the area until its closure in 1982.
The second traffic light after the Tesla Gigafactory is the corner of South Park Avenue, Bailey Avenue, and Abbott Road....
- You're now entering South Buffalo proper. In the old days, the Old First Ward had almost as bad a reputation for crime, poverty, and social ills as the Canal District did. As the 19th century gave way to the 20th and Buffalo's Irish-American community gained in political and economic clout, many of them became affluent enough to escape the crowded Ward and move to the more spacious districts on the opposite side of the river, which by the 1920s were thriving neighborhoods with a decidedly greener and more suburban look and feel. Today, South Buffalo remains middle-class and proudly Irish: in fact, if you were to proceed straight at this intersection, you'd find yourself on Abbott Road heading into Buffalo's official Irish Heritage District, in which you'd find the Buffalo Irish Center, scruffily friendly pubs like Doc Sullivan's and Molly Maguire's where the Guinness flows freely, and even bilingual street signs (purely decorative; the actual Gaelic-speaking population of South Buffalo is effectively zero). But instead of that, we're going to...
...make a slight right at the light to stay on South Park Avenue, following the signs for U.S. Route 62.
- Compared to Abbott, the old South Park Avenue commercial district has a decidedly down-at-the-heels look to it nowadays. But it does serve an important role as a link to South Park, the lovely setting for one of Buffalo's most enduring cultural institutions:
- 6 Buffalo & Erie County Botanical Gardens, 2655 South Park Ave., ☏ . Daily 10AM-5PM. Finding their roots (so to speak) in landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted's plan for formal plantings of native shrubbery and test gardens in South Park, the Buffalo & Erie County Botanical Gardens took on the full scale of their present identity in 1898, when designers Lord & Burnham built the conservatory that still stands today at the entrance to the park (many years later, the same firm would go on to design the National Botanical Gardens in Washington, D.C.) Today, you'll find several collections of plants — the Panama Cloud Forest & Epiphyte Pavilion, the Palm Dome, the Florida Everglades pavilion, the Victorian Ivy & Herb House, the Orchid House, and the Rose Garden are only a few — arranged carefully in Victorian style. $7, seniors and students $6, 12 and under $4, members and children under 3 free.
- Maybe not surprisingly given its name, South Park lies on Buffalo's southern city line. Beyond it is 2 Lackawanna, the rough-and-tumble company town built around the Lackawanna Steel Mill; as mentioned before, the largest in the world in the days of the Buffalo-Pittsburgh Highway. But steel is only one of Lackawanna's two claims to fame. The other one... well, you probably caught a glimpse of it coming down South Park Avenue toward the Botanical Gardens, but now at the corner of Ridge Road it's staring you right in the face.
- 7 Our Lady of Victory Basilica, 767 Ridge Rd., ☏ . Daily 6AM-9PM; guided tours Su 1PM & 2PM. Father Nelson Baker was a towering figure in early 20th-century Buffalo: as head of St. John's Orphan Asylum and Infant Home, which together looked after tens of thousands of children and babies every year, he's the reason behind Lackawanna's official nickname, the "City of Charity". After a devastating fire, Father Baker had to rebuild, and the end result was his magnum opus: Our Lady of Victory was completed in 1926 (the same year the Buffalo-Pittsburgh Highway opened to traffic) to an exquisitely ornate Baroque Revival design by Emile Ulrich, boasting gleaming white walls of Georgia marble and an 80-foot (24 m) copper-topped dome that was the second-largest in the country at the time of its construction, behind only that of the U.S. Capitol. In terms of describing the basilica's architectural grandeur, the list of superlatives could go on indefinitely — this is the kind of place that can't be done justice in words; you really have to see for it yourself — but to make a long story short, Our Lady of Victory is by far the grandest church in the metro area, which if you've read our article on Buffalo's churches you know is no small potatoes. Free.
- Pressing further southward along South Park Avenue, the environs become increasingly suburban. About a mile and a half (2.3 km) past the Basilica, you cross from Lackawanna into the town of 3 Hamburg. There's not much for travellers to see here per se, but if you've worked up an appetite and you're in the mood for anything beyond country-style roadhouse diners or the occasional fast-food joint, this is your last chance for a while. Detour east down Milestrip Road toward the McKinley Plaza and Quaker Crossing for a panoply of mid-range national chains, or head further south into the Village of Hamburg for locally-owned places, many offering surprisingly creative and upscale menus. Hamburg is also known as home of the Erie County Fair, the Buffalo Raceway, and the Hamburg Gaming casino. The first of these two would have been familiar to travellers along the original Buffalo-Pittsburgh Highway, but the latter didn't open until 2004, three years after "racinos" with video slot machines became legal in New York State.
As you proceed southward toward the Village of Hamburg, you'll pass through three roundabouts: the first at the intersection of Clark Street and Legion Drive, the second at Prospect Avenue, and the third at Main Street. It's confusing, but just continue to follow the signs for Route 62. At the last of the three roundabouts, you'll bear right onto Main Street through the charming village center (and a fourth roundabout, at the corner of Center Street). At the corner of Lake Street, the road bends to the left. You'll continue to follow Route 62 southward for the next 24 miles (39 km).
- After Hamburg, suburbia rapidly peters out, the surroundings begin to take on the countrified experience typical of the route; the crests in the road get a little higher, the dips a little lower. You are now entering the first foothills of the Appalachian Mountains. The next town down the line is 4 Eden, which as a destination for visitors has two claims to fame: one, the Eden Corn Festival (if you're making the trip in early August, be prepared to potentially have to reroute around the town center), and two, the...
- 8 Original American Kazoo Company, 8703 S. Main St., ☏ . M-Sa 10AM-5PM, F till 6PM. Founded in 1916, the Original American Kazoo Company was the first, and is today the only remaining, manufacturer of metal kazoos in the United States. The kazoo aficionado in your crowd will revel at the museum, situated in an old Victorian house on South Main Street and chock full of exhibits on this uniquely American musical instrument (and, Tuesday through Thursday, offering a look onto the production floor out back to see kazoos being made); the kitsch aficionado will revel at the collection of antique novelty kazoos (e.g. liquor bottle-shaped ones in celebration of the end of Prohibition); the stuffed animal aficionado will revel at the somewhat incongruous inventory at the gift shop, where Ty and Russ brand plushies abound. And don't forget to stop by the make-your-own-kazoo station before you leave — you won't find a souvenir like this anywhere else. Guided tours $2, self-guided tours free.
- 14 miles (23 km) past Eden, straddling the county line, is the small village of 5 Gowanda. In the 1920s, Gowanda was known as the "glue capital of America" — proximity to the also-thriving local tanning industry made the Eastern Tanners Glue Factory the largest in the country at the time, unfortunately for the waters of Cattaraugus Creek, into which chromium, arsenic, zinc, and other chemical by-products were dumped for many years. The factory closed its doors in 1985 and there's not much to see or do nowadays in this one-horse town, but if you're keen to stretch your legs a little bit (and don't mind a short detour off the highway), Gowanda is the main gateway to the:
- 1 Zoar Valley (about 4 miles [6.5 km] off the Buffalo-Pittsburgh Highway via Gowanda Zoar Road, Unger Road, and Vail Road), ☏ . A stunningly picturesque canyon that Cattaraugus Creek has carved nearly 500 feet (150 m) deep into the soft shale bedrock below, Zoar Valley offers hiking (the two-mile [3.2 km] Holcomb Pond Trail takes you right to the rim of the gorge), fishing (the creek is well-known for brook, brown, and especially steelhead trout), and even white-water rafting when creek levels are high enough. Be careful if you visit, though: Zoar is officially classified a "State Multiple Use Area", not a state park, which means it's not maintained with safety barriers or other infrastructure to the degree you might expect. Consequently, deaths from falling down the cliffs make the local news every couple of years, and the remote and rugged terrain often complicates emergency rescue operations. Free.
In the tiny hamlet of Dayton, New York, turn left off Route 62 onto State Route 353, which you'll stay on for the next 22 miles (36 km).
- 6 Cattaraugus is the first village you pass through along the Route 353 portion of the Buffalo-Pittsburgh Highway, a place with a fairly distinguished industrial history in its own little way. The village got its start in the 1850s when the Erie Railroad built a station in town, which soon became a nexus of trade for the surrounding region: cheese, butter, apples, and maple syrup were foremost among the products that Cattaraugus-area farmers shipped to markets nationwide via railroad. By the 1920s, though, Cattaraugus had become almost a "company town" for Setter Bros., a leading manufacturer of veneered wood products, meat skewers, and lollipop sticks.
- In Cattaraugus' historic village center, you'll find the:
- 9 American Museum of Cutlery, 9 N. Main St., ☏ . Th-Su 1-4PM. Starting in the years after the Civil War and continuing to a certain extent today, the knifemaking industry was another linchpin of the Cattaraugus County economy — and the American Museum of Cutlery's mission is to chronicle its contribution to both the local and the wider American history with displays of antique knives, swords, axes, and other implements from pre-Columbian times through today. At the forefront of the museum's purview, though, is the story of the Cattaraugus Cutlery Company, long headquartered in Little Valley and the first, largest, and most renowned of the area's manufacturers (Admiral Byrd even took along a set of Cattaraugus knives on his expedition to the South Pole!) Free.
- As you break more and more free of Buffalo's orbit, the surroundings become correspondingly more mountainous and isolated-feeling. 7 Little Valley is the next town over from Cattaraugus, but despite its status as county seat, there's not much happening there (unless you've come during the Cattaraugus County Fair in late July or early August). Really, the thing to do on this section of the highway is just kick back and admire the pastoral scenery. Depending on your carrier, cell phone service may be spotty along this stretch, but all the better for you to disconnect from your gadgets and enjoy the simple pleasures of a drive through the country, just like our 1920s forefathers used to.
About five and a half miles (9 km) past Little Valley, North State Street forks off Route 353. Hang a left onto it.
- Before the arrival of white settlers, Cattaraugus County was part of the vast territory of the Seneca Nation of Indians, which covered all of New York State west of Canandaigua Lake as well as adjacent areas of northwestern Pennsylvania. But by 1850, the Seneca had been relegated to three reservations in the southern portion of their traditional homeland. The largest and most populous of these was the Allegany Reservation, a long snake of land straddling both shores of the river of the same name as it meanders through south-central Cattaraugus County, and you're approaching its northern boundary.
- The city of 8 Salamanca, which you're now entering, is on the Allegany Reservation; in fact, it's the only incorporated city in the United States located on a reservation. But despite that, its population is and always has been majority-white. How is that possible? It's all due to a quirk in the wording of the treaty under which the reservation was founded: while the Seneca retained ownership of the underlying land, they were free to lease the land to whomever they chose, and any improvements built on leased land — buildings, streets, railroads — were the property of the lessee. This was the stable if occasionally tense state of affairs in Salamanca in 1926 when the Buffalo-Pittsburgh Highway was first established, but fast-forward to 1991, the end of the city's original 99-year lease, and massive changes were in the offing. The Senecas agreed to continue to lease the land, but at a higher price — $800,000 a year total, plus a lump-sum payment of $60 million to make up for the inequities in the original lease agreement, plus a new municipal tax to be paid by non-Seneca residents to the tribal government — and the Senecas were now asserting ownership of both the land itself and everything on top of it too. The residents balked, but the courts sided with the Senecas, and in 1997, the last fifteen households that were still holding out against the new terms were finally evicted. Today, the money collected in taxes and fees on non-natives gets redistributed equally among the citizens of the Seneca Nation — a form of universal basic income that's been in effect since long before anyone had heard of Andrew Yang.
After about a mile (1.8 km), North State Street veers to the left and becomes West State Street. Then, after its intersection with Erie Street, it changes names again — to East State Street. Continue straight.
- The City of Salamanca was incorporated in 1913 as an amalgamation of what were once two adjacent villages, and nowadays it counts a population of about 5,500. The Buffalo-Pittsburgh Highway runs through its northern outskirts, circumventing downtown entirely. But if you'd like to stop off, there are a couple of worthwhile attractions to check out.
- 10 Seneca Iroquois National Museum (Onöhsagwë:de' Cultural Center), 82 W. Hetzel St. (1½ miles [2.3 km] off the Buffalo-Pittsburgh Highway via West State, Center, and Broad Streets), ☏ . Tu-Sa 9AM-5PM. The Seneca Iroquois National Museum trends more toward the dry/educational end of the spectrum than the engaging/entertaining, but if you have a more-than-passive scholarly interest in Seneca history, ethnology, religion, art, handicrafts, traditional medicine, etc. etc. ad nauseam, this museum's vast collection covers all those topics exhaustively. A special emphasis is placed on the 1965 construction of the Kinzua Dam downriver in Pennsylvania, a tragic chapter in Seneca history whereby 10,000 acres (4,000 ha) of tribal land — a third of the reservation's area, including some of its most fertile farmland and important cultural sites — were condemned and are now under the water of the Allegheny Reservoir. (Jimerson Town, the planned community at the west end of Salamanca where the museum is located, was one of two built by the federal government to house those displaced by the reservoir.) Outdoors there's an amphitheater where traditional cultural performances of various types are hosted. $9.50; seniors, students and military veterans $6; children 7-17 $5.25, children 6 and under free.
- 11 Salamanca Rail Museum, 170 N. Main St. (¼ mile [250 m] off the Buffalo-Pittsburgh Highway via North Main Street), ☏ . Tu, Th & Sa 10AM-4PM. It's no stretch to say that Salamanca would not exist today but for the railroads. The low-lying swampland on which the city was built was useless to the Seneca but vital as a transportation link through the hilly terrain of the local area, and by the 1920s there were no fewer than three lines — the Erie, the Pennsylvania, and the Buffalo, Rochester & Pittsburgh — passing through town, by which tens of thousands of bundles of wood from the thick forests of southern Cattaraugus County were shipped every day to lumber markets nationwide. Today, the handsome old BR&P depot has been fully restored and reopened as a museum detailing Salamanca's railroad history through historic artifacts, old photos, and engaging video presentations. Donation.
- But, above all, Salamanca is the gateway to...
- 2 Allegany State Park (park entrance 2¼ miles [3.6 km] off the Buffalo-Pittsburgh Highway via Wildwood Avenue and Parkway Drive), ☏ . Th-Su 1-4PM. The largest state park in New York with a land area of 101 square miles (262 km²), Allegany traces its history back to c. 1904, when the heirs of wealthy Cleveland railroad magnate Amasa Stone sold off his vast Cattaraugus County hunting retreat to the state government, who went on to formally establish the park in 1921. Motorists along the original Buffalo-Pittsburgh Highway would have found it mostly undeveloped, save for a few campgrounds (built using mostly World War I surplus tents) and a swimming hole, but the next decade would see the Civilian Conservation Corps hard at work blazing hiking trails, building roads and picnic areas, and generally improving the park to more or less its current state. As for modern-day travellers, Allegany is a great detour to take especially if time is not of the essence: hiking, fishing, mountain biking, horseback riding, some of the best cross-country skiing in the Northeast, sandy beaches on the shores of pristine mountain lakes, dramatic scenic overlooks, picturesque rock formations, and practically every other imaginable form of outdoor recreation awaits you amidst the forest-cloaked peaks and valleys of "Western New York's Wilderness Playground". But most of all, Allegany is almost inarguably the best choice for anyone who's keen to use a trip down the Buffalo-Pittsburgh Highway as an opportunity to "rough it" for a night: its numerous camping options encompass everything from standard tent and RV sites to posh vacation cottages to remote backcountry lean-to shelters. Entry fee $6 per vehicle, $7 if swimming, collected daily 9AM-4:30PM during high season (mid-June through Labor Day); weekends and holidays only during shoulder season (Memorial Day through mid-June and Labor Day through Columbus Day); tent campsites $18-30/night and cabin rental $22-65/night plus $5/7 nightly fee for non-residents of New York State respectively; see website for additional info.
Turn right from East State Street onto Central Avenue, and proceed two blocks to the corner of Wildwood Avenue. (You'll see a sign reading "Olean — 18 miles").
- Even if none of these attractions interest you, another good reason to stop off in Salamanca is to fill your gas tank. New York State is constitutionally forbidden from collecting taxes of any kind on Indian reservations, and consequently the Senecas are famous among in-the-know Western New York road-trippers for tax-free gasoline, offering a savings of about 60¢ per gallon compared to off-reservation prices. First Nations Convenience, on the corner of Central and Wildwood Avenues, is the only gas station that's directly on the Buffalo-Pittsburgh Highway; if they're closed or you'd rather go elsewhere, head westward down Route 417 for about two and a half miles (4.4 km) and you'll find a bunch more near the I-86 onramps. If you're so inclined, tobacco products are also sold tax-free on the reservation; in fact, cigarette manufacturing has become one of the Senecas' most profitable industries.
Turn left on Wildwood Avenue and then stay straight for about six and a half miles (10.3 km) through the Town of Great Valley, following the signs for State Route 417 east and U.S. Business Route 219 south. At the split, turn right to stay on Business 219 and continue straight toward and past the onramps to Interstate 86. You're now on the mainline of U.S. Route 219.
- As mentioned before (and as should be obvious given the signage you're seeing on the side of the road), when the auto trails were superseded by numbered highways in the early 1930s or thereabouts, this section of the Buffalo-Pittsburgh Highway was designated U.S. Route 219. Originally, 219 consisted entirely of two-lane country roads like most of what you've been driving on thus far. However, in the early 1960s, the section south of Salamanca was upgraded to a so-called "super-4 expressway": that is, a four-lane divided highway with higher traffic capacity and usually higher speed limits, albeit with at-grade intersections instead of exit ramps.
About two and a half miles (4 km) past the Interstate ramps, you'll turn onto North Main Street. It's not signed very well, so pay attention.
- The highway was also rerouted at that time to deviate around the village of 9 Limestone, which you are approaching. This same thing happened on numerous other stretches of the old Buffalo-Pittsburgh Highway too, and in the driving directions this article provides, you'll notice that following the original 1926 routing of the highway often entails turning off modern-day numbered roads onto small-town Main Streets only to get back on the same numbered road later on down the line.
- There's nothing worth stopping for in Limestone, so...
At the south end of Main Street, merge back onto Route 219 southbound.
- But then... (told you this happens frequently!)
One mile (1.6 km) down the road, on the left, you'll see the Cow Palace Bar & Grill on the corner.
- If you're hungry, the place serves a full menu of pub grub but reviews are wildly mixed, so caveat emptor.
Make a left there, and then an immediate right. You're now on Hillside Drive.
- If you're following the itinerary south-to-north, the merge from Hillside Drive onto the northbound 219 is a half-mile (750 m) past the Cow Palace. This is actually the original routing of the Buffalo-Pittsburgh Highway, but the guardrail in the middle of the modern-day 219 prevents southbound traffic from accessing the north end of Hillside Drive directly.
- From there, the 1 Pennsylvania state line is just a third of a mile (500 m) away.
At the state line, Hillside Drive changes its name to East Main Street. Proceed south for four miles (6.4 km) to the corner of Main Street. Turn right, cross the bridge over Tunungwant Creek, and pass under the Route 219 overpass.
- More than the railroads, more than lumber and wood products, more than cutlery, the historic economic linchpin of the so-called Twin Tiers region was petroleum — and 10 Bradford was one of a handful of boomtowns that sprouted on either side of the state line in the latter half of the 19th century. Certainly oil isn't the first thing that springs to most Americans' minds when they think of this part of the country, but in fact it was only some 60 miles (90 km) southwest of here in Titusville where it was first discovered that the "rock oil" the Seneca had been using medicinally since time immemorial was also useful as a fuel for lamps, leading sequentially to the foundation of the Seneca Oil Company, the drilling of the world's first commercial oil well in 1859, and the birth of the petroleum industry. All you have to do to grasp exactly how much oil meant to the area back in the day is grab a map and look at nearby place names: Oil City, Derrick City, Olean. By the time of the Buffalo-Pittsburgh Highway, the focus of America's oil industry had shifted west to places like Texas, Oklahoma, and California, but Pennsylvania's wells were still productive and indeed renowned for the high quality of their product, with a chemical composition ideal for refining into lubricants. Bradford itself was the home of Kendall brand motor oil, famous for its high performance and popular for use in race cars, and its refinery today is the world's oldest in continuous operation.
At the west end of downtown, in front of the brick Emery Towers building, Main Street ends at the corner of South Avenue. Make a left.
- Today, in one way or another, most of the prominent visitor attractions in Bradford touch on the oil industry and its impact on local history. South of downtown is where you'll find:
- 12 Zippo/Case Museum & Flagship Store, 1932 Zippo Drive (¼ mile [300 m] off the Buffalo-Pittsburgh Highway via Race and Congress Streets), ☏ . M-Sa 9AM-5PM, Su 11AM-4PM; closed January 1 and 2, Easter Sunday, Thanksgiving, and Christmas Day. Without petroleum, there'd be no butane, and without butane, the world would never have borne witness to the majesty that is the Zippo lighter. While inventor and Bradford native George Blaisdell didn't found the Zippo Manufacturing Company until 1932 — several years after the end of the auto trail era — this is still a worthwhile stop for aficionados of the Cadillac of cigarette lighters, well regarded for its high-quality metal construction and "windproof" flame. The W. R. Case & Sons Cutlery Company, on the other hand, is a brand that would indeed have been familiar to travellers on the original Buffalo-Pittsburgh Highway: this manufacturer of pocket, fixed-blade, sporting, and kitchen knives was founded in 1889 by a trio of former employees of the aforementioned Cattaraugus Cutlery Company and is now a division of Zippo. Each in their own way, Zippo and Case have become icons of American pop culture — and their penchant for introducing limited-edition specialty designs and product lines has made them valuable collectors' items. The museum itself will regale you with the history of both brands, while the onsite store will sell you any of the dozens of models that are in production. Free.
- 13 Penn Brad Oil Museum, 901 South Ave., ☏ . F 9AM-4PM, Sa 9AM-2PM. The Penn Brad Oil Museum offers an informative if slightly kitschy overview of the McKean County oil fields and the community that sprouted up around them — in the words of the UncoveringPA website, the introductory video presentation will be right up the alley of "those who find themselves longing for the days of poorly produced" educational science filmstrips. The museum itself is stocked with genuine historic artifacts and machinery, with guided tours offered mainly by retired oil field workers, all the better to put everything in its proper context and glean firsthand knowledge of the industry. Outside, the grounds are peppered with exhibits such as a 70-foot-tall (21-m-tall) replica derrick as well as a reconstructed "oil lease house" of the type 19th-century workers and their families would have inhabited. $5, seniors $4.50, children, active military and families thereof free.
About a mile and three-quarters (3 km) past Main Street, you'll see a sign directing you to make a left turn to get to Bradford, Salamanca, and Ridgway. You're at the corner of Owens Way. Turn left...
- Originally, instead of turning onto Owens Way, you would have continued straight along South Avenue for another half-mile (750 m) onto the modern-day route. Nowadays, however, it's impossible to follow the original 1926 course of the Buffalo-Pittsburgh Highway through this section: Route 219 was rerouted in the early 1970s to bypass downtown Bradford via a modern four-lane freeway, and while South Avenue does continue past Owens Way today, it ends in a cul-de-sac.
...then make your next right to merge onto the southbound Route 219.
- Hopefully Bradford gave you your fill of urban luxuries, because it's the last you'll be seeing of that kind of thing for awhile. As you press southward, it becomes readily apparent why they call this part of the state the "Pennsylvania Wilds". The land is thickly wooded, traffic along the roads is minimal, and civilization seems to completely drop away. Your cell phone, which likely flickered back to life temporarily around Salamanca or so, is probably dead to the world again. As for scenery, the stretch of road immediately after Bradford doesn't afford you much of it — the tall trees make an opaque roadside curtain — but that will change soon enough.
- About five miles (8 km) past Bradford along Route 219, you enter the vast 11 Allegheny National Forest, and you'll continue skirting its eastern boundary for the next 13 miles (20 km) or so. Functioning in many respects as a southern extension of Allegany State Park in New York, these 802 square miles (2,077 km²) are nowadays carpeted thickly with hardwood trees such as black cherry, black birch, and red and sugar maple, but to motorists on the original Buffalo-Pittsburgh Highway they would have looked totally different. The original old-growth forests had been clear-cut over the second half of the 19th century as the lumbering, tanning (which used hemlock bark), and wood chemical industries made their mark on the local economy, and by the 1920s the landscape was one of denuded hills from horizon to horizon. The National Forest Service took over the land in 1923, but many doubted the forest would ever recover — the local nickname in those early days was the "Allegheny Brush Patch". But thanks in part to the dramatic decrease in the local deer population (victims of overhunting), that's exactly what happened as the 20th century wore on. Today, like the state park to its north, Allegheny is a great stop-off for those travellers who've got time on their hands: the full complement of outdoor pursuits it offers includes mountain biking (check out the exhilarating trails in and around Jake's Rocks, suitable for all skill levels), world-class fishing (pike, walleye, and muskie abound in these pristine mountain streams), hiking, horseback riding, and ATV riding (innumerable miles of trails crisscross the wilderness) in the warmer months, while in winter those same trails accommodate cross-country skiers, snowmobilers, and snowshoers. And if you're in search of a camping experience a touch more rustic and secluded than those you've yet encountered, you'll find an embarrassment of riches here, especially on the shores of the reservoir.
- Further afield, the western portion of Allegheny National Forest is home to...
- 3 Kinzua Dam, 1205 Kinzua Rd., Mead Township (15¼ miles [24.7 km] off the Buffalo-Pittsburgh Highway via State Route 59), ☏ . One of the largest dams in the U.S. east of the Mississippi, Kinzua wasn't built until 1965, long after the Buffalo-Pittsburgh Highway and the other auto trails were decommissioned. But for folks who want to really know this area, an understanding of its role as a shaper of the local geography and history is indispensable. Conceived as a belated response to Pittsburgh's Great St. Patrick's Day Flood of 1936, the Kinzua Dam not only solved the flood control problem but also provided the region with 400 megawatts of hydroelectric power as well as opportunities for water-based recreation in the newly created Allegheny Reservoir and Quaker Lake. But that all came at a high cost to many of the folks upstream: the devastation wrought on the Seneca reservation by the creation of the reservoir was mentioned above, and more than a few non-native towns — Corydon and Kinzua in Pennsylvania; Onoville, Quaker Bridge, and Red House in New York — are now underwater as well. The days of the Army Corps of Engineers leading guided tours of the inside are over, but the scenic overlooks and walking trails around (and across!) the dam give a good sense of the scope of this modern-day engineering marvel, and the Visitors Center contains a small museum too. Plus, the waters nearby are home to some of the best fishing in Allegheny National Forest. Free.
- And to the east is...
- 4 Kinzua Bridge State Park, 296 Viaduct Rd., Hamlin Township (8 miles [12.8 km] off the Buffalo-Pittsburgh Highway via U.S. Route 6, Bridge Street, Lindholm Road, and Viaduct Road), ☏ . Park open daily sunrise to sunset; visitors center open M-Sa 8AM-4PM (Jan-Feb), daily 8AM-4PM (Mar & Nov-Dec), daily 8AM-6PM (Apr-Oct); closed Thanksgiving, Christmas Day, and New Year's Day. It wasn't yet a state park, but the Kinzua Viaduct was extant and a viable side trip for travellers along the original Buffalo-Pittsburgh Highway: not only was it notable as (what was once) the world's highest and longest railroad trestle, carrying the Erie Railroad 301 feet (92 m) over Kinzua Creek, but local lore claimed that a robber had once hidden $40,000 in gold somewhere near its base, attracting occasional treasure hunters. The state park was established in 1963, with hiking trails leading from the rim down to the bottom of the valley, but its pièce de résistance wasn't unveiled until 2011: several years after an F-1 tornado partially destroyed the viaduct (along with nascent plans to return it to active service after over 40 idle years), the remaining stub was repaired and reopened to pedestrians as the Kinzua Sky Bridge, offering dazzling panoramic views over the valley. If you're afraid of heights, this isn't the attraction for you, but if not, the scenery is unparalleled. Free.
The junction of U.S. Routes 219 and 6 marks the point where the Buffalo-Pittsburgh Highway passes out of Allegheny State Forest. Continue south on Route 219.
- With a population of only about 400, 12 Wilcox is a small village by anyone's measure, but after the primeval wilderness you've been passing through for the past 30 miles (45 km) or so, it seems positively urban. Like many settlements of the region, the lifeblood of Wilcox's economy in the 1920s was the thick forests that surrounded it: the Wilcox Tannery, said to be one of the world's largest at the time, used the bark of the once-plentiful eastern hemlock to obtain tannin, used to cure leather. The company closed in 1962 and burned to the ground four years later, but there's still plenty of tannin to be found in Wilcox nowadays: since 1994 it's been home to the Winery at Wilcox, one of the largest in the state, producing 30 varieties trending toward the sweet and fruity (and pricey) all sourced from Pennsylvania grapes. (Needless to say, don't drink and drive.)
At the south end of Wilcox, Route 219 merges with State Route 321. Make a left to stay on the southbound 219, and proceed for another five and a quarter miles (8.6 km) into Johnsonburg. You'll come to the corner of Marvin Street — it's not signed, but there's a traffic light and a sign that reads "Veterans of Johnsonburg Bypass". Turn left.
- In addition to lumber and tanning, the pulp and paper industry was another avenue by which the forests of the region were (and, to a certain extent, still are) exploited economically. Of all the mills splayed out along this stretch of the highway, the borough of 13 Johnsonburg is home to the largest. Founded in 1888 as the Clarion Pulp and Paper Company, at the time of the Buffalo-Pittsburgh Highway's opening it had just been purchased by the Curtis Publishing Company of Philadelphia — best known as publisher of the Saturday Evening Post — and would soon go on to become the largest manufacturer of coated paper in the world. It's still in operation today as the 14 Domtar Corporation Johnsonburg Mill: if you're a Harry Potter fan, your books were most likely printed on paper made there.
After crossing the first of several bridges over the Clarion River, Marvin Street changes its name to Center Street. Continue straight.
- The mill employees of the day (and the local populace of today) were by and large Italian-American, principally of Calabrian stock, whence another characteristic for which Johnsonburg was notorious in the 1920s: organized crime. Although it counted a population of only about 5,000 at the time, its reputation as a nexus for Mafia violence was so outsized that it earned itself the nickname "Little Chicago". Gangland history aficionados might want to make a stop at the old...
- 15 Johnsonburg Hotel, 617 E. Center St. Established in the early 1890s by L.C. Horton, during the Prohibition era the Johnsonburg Hotel was a popular hideaway for big-city Mafiosi when they needed to lay low for whatever reason. Among the underworld luminaries who've slept here was Al Capone, on several different occasions — "Little Chicago", indeed. Out of business for many years, the building now stands vacant.
After a mile and a quarter (2 km) on Marvin and Center Streets, as you approach Route 219 once again, the road forks. Take the left fork and merge back onto the southbound 219.
- After Johnsonburg, the thick canopy of forest begins to clear away somewhat, and scenic vistas begin to become visible.
You'll continue southbound on Route 219 for a little less than nine miles (about 14.2 km) past Johnsonburg, toward...
- ...14 Ridgway, which got its start in much the same way as the other towns you've passed through on this stretch: as a lumber camp. Every year, innumerable logs of high-quality hemlock, cork pine, and other local species were tied up into rafts and floated to Pittsburgh or other downriver destinations, or else cut into planks at local sawmills and shipped to market by railroad. By the turn of the century, local bigwigs had grown fond of repeating the claim that Ridgway was home to more millionaires per capita than any other U.S. city, and while that statistic is somewhat dubious — there were at least a couple dozen other industrial burgs in the Northeast and Great Lakes areas making the same claim — it's no doubt that the economy here was extraordinarily prosperous. And unlike many neighboring towns, which fell on hard times in the 1910s and '20s after the timber supply was exhausted, Ridgway was able to hold onto much of that prosperity by diversifying its economy: tanning, manufacturing, and coal came to claim places of prominence as time wore on. But every year in late April, the good old days of the lumber industry echo into the present with the...
- 1 Chainsaw Carvers Rendezvous, former Motion Control Industries building, Gillis Avenue (about ⅔ mile [1 km] off the Buffalo-Pittsburgh Highway via Main Street and Gillis Avenue), ☏ . Where over a hundred creative artisans converge for a weekend-long sculpture competition, Ridgway-style: starting with an ordinary 8-foot (2.4 m) log, the namesake implement is employed to fashion magnificent wooden sculptures. Even if you're not competing, it's free to watch, and if you're in the market for some chainsaw sculpture of your own, the finished pieces are put up for sale at the end — just make the artist an offer.
Within the borough of Ridgway, the road takes on the name North Broad Street. After you cross over the old Pennsylvania Railroad tracks and the bridge over Elk Creek, you enter downtown. The traffic light in the center of town marks the corner of Main Street.
- Old turn-of-the-century small-town downtowns don't come much more charming than Ridgway's, but take a closer look and you'll notice some really high-quality craftsmanship in the architecture: exquisite features that would be impressive on big-city buildings, but are truly extraordinary to see in an out-of-the-way place like this. Most of the prominent buildings in town were the handiwork of the partnership of Walter P. Murphy and J. S. Hyde. The Hyde-Murphy Company was renowned as one of America's foremost manufacturers of architectural millwork, providing trim, mantels, stairs, paneling, grillwork, art glass, and other materials not only to buildings in north-central Pennsylvania but, thanks to sales offices in Boston, New York City and elsewhere, throughout the Northeast. Today, the National Register of Historic Places-listed 16 Lily of the Valley Historic District comprises much of the downtown commercial district as well as the sumptuous mansions on the side streets to the south and east, once home to wealthy lumber barons. For the architecture buff, it's definitely worthwhile to linger and poke around for a bit.
Turn left at the light, and from there proceed straight for 17½ miles (28 km), following the signs for the southbound 219.
- The next town down from Ridgway is 15 Brockway, which in 1926 had just been rechristened with its shortened name after having been called "Brockwayville" for the past century or so. Brockway had started out as a sawmill town like its neighbors, but just after the turn of the century its economy took a turn in a very different direction: the Brockway Glass Company was founded in 1907 and was the town's dominant employer by the time the Buffalo-Pittsburgh Highway opened. Manufacturers of glass containers, tubing, and later plastic products, the company was bought out in 1987 by Owens-Illinois, who still operates 17 O-I Crenshaw Plant 19 a couple miles (about 3 km) outside of town. If any of this piques your interest, and you happen to be passing through town on a Tuesday or Thursday afternoon, check out the...
- 18 Taylor Memorial Museum, 765 Park St. (½ mile [800 m] off the Buffalo-Pittsburgh Highway via Main Street, 8th Avenue, and Park Street), ☏ . Tu & Th 1-5PM. Operated by the Brockway Historical Society, the museum's collection of locally manufactured glassware is vast, and its collection of artifacts relative to the agriculture, forestry, and mining industries of the region almost as much so. And if you happen to have ancestors from the area (doubly so if you're of Italian heritage), check out their genealogical research area. Donation.
In the center of downtown Brockway, at the traffic light where the Sheetz gas station is, you'll see signs directing you to turn left to stay on the southbound 219. Do so. After about seven and a half miles (11.9 km), you come to the onramps for Interstate 80, nowadays one of the two major east-west highways through Pennsylvania.
- You're now approaching 16 DuBois, Clearfield County's seat and, with a population of around 7,500 (or nearly 20,000 if the surrounding "suburb" of Sandy Township is included), the largest city along the Pennsylvania Wilds portion of the Buffalo-Pittsburgh Highway.
The Interstate highways didn't exist in 1926, so continue southbound on Route 219. About two miles (3.4 km) past the I-80 onramps, you come to the corner of DuBois Street.
- DuBois was incorporated as a city in 1877, but before that it was an odd Frankenstein's Monster of two rival frontier settlements facing each other on opposite sides of Sandy Lick Creek, each with its own identity: DuBois itself, which you're passing through now, sprang up around John DuBois' lumber mill beginning in 1842, while Rumbarger, the land that makes up the modern-day downtown, was a coal mining community of slightly newer vintage. Though the amalgamated city took on the former's name, it was the latter's economic base that came to dominate, especially after the thick forests of the area began to be depleted. Buffalo-Pittsburgh Highway motorists would have witnessed DuBois at its apex, sporting a population of nearly 14,000 and an economy centered around the vast deposits of bituminous coal of which Pennsylvania was then the nation's leading producer.
Make a right on DuBois Street and proceed into downtown. Half a mile (750 m) down the road is the corner of Main Street.
- Though the salad days are long gone, modern-day DuBois still has all the trappings of a proper city, albeit a small one: here you'll find plenty of chain restaurants, hotels, and other services. There's even a shopping mall, the 1 DuBois Mall, where the lineup of national chain department stores includes JCPenney, Old Navy, Ross Dress for Less, Bath & Body Works, Big Lots, Dunham's Sports, and more. And if you're looking to bed down for the night after a long day of driving and aren't interested in roughing it at a campsite, this is the place to seek out lodging with all the modern creature comforts.
Turn left on Main Street.
- Services aside, DuBois doesn't offer a whole lot that's of interest to visitors per se, particularly not those looking to approximate a 1926-authentic trip down the Buffalo-Pittsburgh Highway. Among the options that do exist are:
- 19 Doolittle Station, 1295 Rich Hwy. Opening hours vary by attraction, see website for details. Without any navigable waterway in its vicinity, the railroads were DuBois' economic lifeline back in the day, and Doolittle Station is a kitschy roadside stopover that pays homage to that aspect of local history in a fascinatingly offbeat way. A historically accurate reconstruction of the old B&O Railroad depot from 1880 is surrounded by a cluster of authentic restored railroad cars, each containing a different attraction: a pair of restaurants serving '50s-style diner fare and gourmet farm-to-table cuisine respectively, a craft brewery, a model railroad museum, an animatronic dinosaur exhibit for the kids. And if you're looking for what's undoubtedly the most unique lodging experience along the Buffalo-Pittsburgh Highway, look no further than the Sleeper Car Bed & Breakfast, retrofitted into a historic 1901 Pullman Presidential car.
- 20 Winkler Gallery of Fine Art, 36 N. Brady St. (about ⅓ mile [650 m] off the Buffalo-Pittsburgh Highway via West Long Avenue and North Brady Street), ☏ . Tu-Th noon-6PM, F-Sa 11AM-8PM. Founded in 2003, the Winkler Gallery was unknown to motorists along the original Buffalo-Pittsburgh Highway — though if they deviated about half a dozen blocks eastward to the other side of downtown, they'd certainly have seen the building, erected in 1920 and then home to Klewan's department store. But travellers of the here and now are in for a treat, in the guise of one of the finest independent galleries in the United States. The Winkler Gallery does DuBois' art scene proud, not only in serving as a showcase for the works of namesake watercolorist Perry Winkler and the rest of the cooperative of local artists and artisans who run the place, but also with a full slate of traveling exhibits, artist workshops, and other educational programming to sink your teeth into. And the kids will love taking a ride on the gallery's fully restored antique carousel, now the world's oldest in working order (built c. 1896). Free.
Continue southward along Main Street for three and a quarter miles (5.2 km) past DuBois Street. As you approach its southern end, the road suddenly veers to the left, and you find yourself at a busy intersection across from a Sheetz gas station. Make a right and proceed southbound, following the signs for U.S. Route 119.
- Though DuBois is the most populous town along this stretch of the Buffalo-Pittsburgh Highway, 17 Punxsutawney is the main tourist draw. You probably know it as the home of Punxsutawney Phil, the groundhog who, according to popular American folklore, emerges from his burrow every year at sunrise on February 2, foretelling either six more weeks of winter (if he sees his shadow due to clear skies) or an early spring (if the opposite happens). Groundhog Day has been celebrated here in an official capacity every year since 1887 — in the era of the Buffalo-Pittsburgh Highway, the celebration ended with a communal feast of barbecued groundhog, which was said to taste like a cross between pork and chicken — and it's definitely still the peak of the tourist season around these parts today. Gobbler's Knob (see below) is the center of the action on the big day: folks start showing up as early as 3AM to this hilltop clearing south of town, with a crackling bonfire and hot soup and coffee courtesy of local food trucks to fend off the bitter winter cold. The sunrise ceremony is emceed by the head of the Punxsutawney Groundhog Club, all decked out in top hat and tails for the occasion, and from there the revelry lasts a good two or three more days with craft fairs, spaghetti dinners, dances, wine tastings, and all manner of other celebrations.
16½ miles (26.7 km) past DuBois, you come to the corner of Mahoning Street. Make a right, following the signs for 119 southbound and State Route 36 northbound.
- The 1993 Bill Murray movie Groundhog Day is what really put Punxsutawney on the tourist map — 40,000 people showed up at the Gobbler's Knob ceremony that year, a twenty-fold increase over the previous typical attendance and about six times the population of the town itself — and unsurprisingly, the local tourism industry takes the whole groundhog business very seriously indeed. Nowadays in Punxsutawney, Groundhog Day is a 365-day-a-year phenomenon: the strip mall at the east edge of downtown is called Groundhog Plaza and is anchored by a Shop 'n Save with a big sign in front advertising "GROUNDHOG SOUVENIRS", local streets are lined with a couple dozen fiberglass statues of Phil himself in various outfits and poses, and groundhog-themed attractions clamor for the attention of visitors all year round. These include:
- 21 Gobbler's Knob, 1548 Woodland Ave. Ext., Young Township (1½ miles [2.5 km] off the Buffalo-Pittsburgh Highway via East Mahoning Street and Woodland Avenue Extension), ☏ . Though it's obviously a good deal quieter offseason, Gobbler's Knob is open to the public all year round, with a pleasant half-mile (800 m) walking trail through the woods, the grand stage and Phil's ceremonial stump left out on display for curious passersby, and as of 2020, the Groundhog Visitor Center, a centralized nexus for groundhog aficionados visiting the Punxsutawney area. Though the latter is brand-new as of this writing, future plans are for it to comprise a groundhog sanctuary, a small historical museum, a souvenir shop, and of course, the headquarters of the venerable Punxsutawney Groundhog Club. Free.
- 22 Phil's Burrow, Punxsutawney Memorial Library, 301 E. Mahoning St., ☏ . M-Th 10AM-7PM, F Sa 10AM-5PM. When he's not attending to his annual duties at Gobbler's Knob, you'll find Punxsutawney Phil relaxing in this glass-enclosed, climate-controlled terrarium built into the walls of the public library on charming Barclay Square. You can step inside to get a look if you like, but if you catch the library itself closed, you can see him from the outside of the building too — just look for the green awning. Free.
- 23 Punxsutawney Area Historical & Genealogical Society, 400 W. Mahoning St. (¼ mile [280 m] off the Buffalo-Pittsburgh Highway via West Mahoning Street), ☏ . Lattimer House Th & Sa 10AM-4PM, F & Su 1-4PM; Bennis House Th-Su 1-4PM; Snyder Hill Schoolhouse by appointment. Groundhogs are all well and good, but if you'd rather delve into Punxsutawney's history as a lumbering, coal mining, and railroad center, check out this sprawling museum complex that comprises the Bennis and Lattimer Houses, a pair of handsome Victorian mansions facing each other across Mahoning Street at the west end of downtown, as well as the old one-room 24 Snyder Hill Schoolhouse south of town. Exhibits of historic artifacts, old photos and postcards, and interactive interpretive materials cover all aspects of local history, from pre-Columbian days through the Buffalo-Pittsburgh Highway era to modern times. And if you have family roots in the area that you'd like to research, here's the place to do it. Free.
- 25 Punxsutawney Weather Discovery Center, 201 N. Findley St. (400 feet [130 m] off the Buffalo-Pittsburgh Highway via North Findley Street), ☏ . M & Th-Sa 10AM-4PM year round, Apr-Dec also same hours on Tu, Jun-Aug also same hours on W. Punxsutawney's self-appointed nickname, the "Weather Capital of the World", is an odd one — doesn't literally every place on the planet have weather? — but this downtown museum does a pretty good job following through on that theme. The Weather Discovery Center focuses equally on the scientific and folkloric aspects of meteorology, with exhibits not only on Punxsutawney Phil and other traditional methods of forecasting but also subjects as diverse as tornadoes and thunderstorms, the water cycle, and emergency preparedness. $7, active-duty military and families thereof $6 with ID card, children 2 and under free.
After passing through downtown for four blocks, you come to the corner of Gilpin Street, where Routes 119 and 36 split off from each other. Turn left here, following the signs for the southbound 119, and continue straight for 23 miles (36.8 km).
- The stretch of road south of Punxsutawney is an especially beautiful one. By now, the forests have mostly given way to rolling meadows and fields of corn and hay, dotted with charming old stone farmhouses. Other than just relaxing and enjoying the passing scenery, there's not much to see or do on this stretch of the route itself, but a worthy detour is 5 Smicksburg, nine miles (15 km) west via State Routes 954 and 210. Its population is tiny — only 46 as of the last census, among the lowest of any incorporated municipality in the state — but Smicksburg is important as the heart of the local Amish country. Though Amish communities have existed in Pennsylvania since the 18th century, they didn't begin arriving in and around Indiana County in significant numbers until some decades after the Buffalo-Pittsburgh Highway era. But thanks to their conservative dress, rejection of technology, and general avoidance of the evils of the outside world, the lifestyle of the Amish of Smicksburg isn't terribly different from what you'd have seen elsewhere in the state, in 1926 or any other time period. And as always, the Amish suspicion of outsiders coexists somewhat paradoxically with an economy based largely on catering to curious tourists, which means there's plenty of opportunity to get your hands on their famous high-quality furniture, quilts and other handicrafts, or to fill your belly with hearty Pennsylvania Dutch cuisine. Remember, though, that the Amish are an observant religious sect who are big on the whole "keeping the Sabbath Day holy" business, so Smicksburg is not a particularly good detour if you're passing through on a Sunday; you'll find virtually all Amish-owned shops and restaurants closed on that day.
Continue southward along Route 119 to the offramp for the westbound State Route 110 (toward Creekside). Exit right and proceed for slightly more than a mile (about 1.8 km). You'll come to a sign for 2 Frye's Antique Mall on your right...
- ...where genuine antiques are offered up for sale by over 25 vendors under one roof, seven days a week: everything from Pennsylvania Dutch primitives to Victorian items to vintage collectibles. If you're looking for a place to pick up a 1920s-era keepsake to remember your trip down the Buffalo-Pittsburgh Highway by, Frye's might be worth a stop.
The sign at the fork in the road directs you to make a sharp right to continue on the westbound 110. Instead of doing that, continue straight. You're now on Old Route 119, headed toward...
- 18 Indiana, a town whose early history closely mirrors that of the others you've passed through along this journey: founded in 1805 and named the seat of the newly minted Indiana County eleven years later, its economy was at first based on timber; then, after the forests had all been clear-cut away, coal mining came to prominence. Such was the state of affairs that would have confronted travellers passing through on the original Buffalo-Pittsburgh Highway, but Indiana's identity would soon take a hard turn in a different direction.
As you enter the Indiana borough limits, Old Route 119 changes its name to North 4th Street. Continue southbound. About two and three-quarters miles (4.4 km) past the turnoff from 110, you come to the corner of Philadelphia Street. Make a right.
- Today, Indiana is best known as home of 26 Indiana University of Pennsylvania (IUP). Founded in 1875 as the Indiana Normal School, a teacher training institute with only a couple hundred students, it was still known as such in 1926 when the Buffalo-Pittsburgh Highway opened to travellers. But, the next year, the school was given the authority to grant degrees, and its name was changed to the Pennsylvania State Teachers College at Indiana. Today, with a full slate of under- and postgraduate programs, a student population of over 11,000, and a sprawling campus just southwest of downtown, it's come to dominate the town both economically and demographically.
- As well, with a climate that's ideal for the growth of a wide variety of popular evergreen species, Indiana is also known as the Christmas Tree Capital of the World. The industry was just beginning to come to prominence at the time of the Buffalo-Pittsburgh Highway; 1918 was the year, and Indiana was the place, where Christmas trees were first farmed as a cash crop. Nowadays, you'll find dozens of tree farms dotting the surrounding countryside.
Continue westward on Philadelphia Street for four blocks.
- Indiana marks the outer edge of the exurbs and satellite communities surrounding Pittsburgh. Modern-day travellers along the Buffalo-Pittsburgh Highway will notice that the landscape, while still often rural, becomes less remote-feeling along this next stretch. The towns you pass through tend to be larger and spaced closer together, and they offer much more in the way of services for the traveller. As for Indiana itself, it's a great stop-off for those whose tastes skew more toward the hip and trendy — if you're looking for funky urban fashion boutiques, hipster record shops, interesting restaurants, craft breweries, and the like, you'll get your first real taste of such things since leaving Buffalo — and if a bed for the night is what you seek, hotel rooms come dirt cheap when IUP is on summer break.
At the corner of South 6th Street, turn left.
- Indiana's got its share of visitor attractions, too:
- 27 Historical & Genealogical Society of Indiana County, 621 Wayne Ave., ☏ . Tu-F 9AM-4PM, Sa 10AM-3PM. As far as the exhibits go, it's pretty much your average run-of-the-mill small-town history museum, with displays of artifacts pertinent to Indiana and vicinity (with special attention paid to local military history) as well as the onsite Frances Strong Helman Library for academic researchers and those looking into their Indiana County family roots. But the real reason to visit is the building itself: the Historical & Genealogical Society is located in the 1870 Silas M. Clark House, the magnificently restored Italian Villa-style residence of a prominent local attorney, political figure, and eventually State Supreme Court justice, and was serving as the local offices of the American Red Cross back in the days of the original Buffalo-Pittsburgh Highway. Even if you've got no interest in the museum, fans of Victorian-era architecture should not miss the chance to gawk at this and the several other handsome old mansions that grace this section of Indiana. Free.
- 28 IUP University Museum, Sutton Hall Room 111, 1011 South Drive (about ¼ mile [450 m] off the Buffalo-Pittsburgh Highway via Grant Street), ☏ . Tu W F 2-6:30PM, Th noon-7:30PM, Sa noon-4PM; closed for university holidays. Sutton Hall, the original building that housed the State Normal School, would have looked oddly out of place to 1926-era motorists on the Buffalo-Pittsburgh Highway: a grand, stately brick Italianate hall set amidst a scattering of farmhouses and fields on the outskirts of town. Nowadays, of course, it's the centerpiece of IUP's sprawling campus, and it's where you'll find this museum that seeks to "bring... the material history and arts of the region together in an environment that encourages exploration, dialogue, and enjoyment". Temporary exhibits tend to focus more on the "arts" half of the equation — if you're keen on getting acquainted with the local and regional scene, especially works by IUP students, check out the events calendar on the website — while the permanent collection deals more with local history and culture, including that of the university itself. If you're passing through in November or December, the annual "Holiday Wheels & Thrills" model train display is always a hit with the younger set. Free.
- Though he was only a teenager at the time of the Buffalo-Pittsburgh Highway's opening and his first role was still several years in the future, Hollywood movie star Jimmy Stewart would go on to become Indiana's most famous native son, with a boatload of major motion-picture credits to his name: Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, The Philadelphia Story, Harvey, and of course the holiday classic It's a Wonderful Life, in which his portrayal of George Bailey is widely regarded as his signature role. Today, Stewart's hometown pays tribute to him at the holidays with the annual It's a Wonderful Life Festival (featuring a Christmas parade, the lighting of the downtown Christmas tree, a free screening of the namesake film, and various presentations and exhibitions), and all year round at...
- 29 The Jimmy Stewart Museum, 835 Philadelphia St. (about ¼ mile [400 m] off the Buffalo-Pittsburgh Highway via Philadelphia Street), ☏ . M-Sa 10AM-4PM, Su noon-4PM; closed July 4, Labor Day, Thanksgiving, Christmas Eve and Day, New Year's Eve and Day. Inside the third floor of the Indiana Borough Community Building is a vast trove of memorabilia that together recounts Jimmy Stewart's "wonderful life" not only as a leading man on stage and screen but also as a military hero, civic leader, husband and father. You'll see original movie posters, clothing and other personal effects, old photographs, artifacts from the hardware store his father owned in town, even the front door of the home where he lived in Hollywood after becoming famous. $10; seniors, students and active military $9, children 7-17 $8, children 6 and under free.
- Even if the museum's not open or you're not interested in a visit, next door in front of the Indiana County Courthouse you'll see the 30 Jimmy Stewart Statue — a life-size bronze one of him as the title character in Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, unveiled on the occasion of his 75th birthday in 1983.
Proceed southward on South 6th Street for three blocks, whereupon you'll come to a fork in the road at the corner of School Street. Make a slight right onto Wayne Avenue and continue for about two and a quarter miles (3.7 km). You'll come to a strange, poorly signed intersection — almost half-highway offramp, half-regular intersection — with a Quality Inn on the left and signs up ahead directing Punxsutawney- and Ebensburg-bound traffic to stay straight via northbound U.S. 119 and U.S. 422. Make a right at this corner — you're now back on Old Route 119 — and continue straight for three miles (5 km). You'll come to a fork in the road at the corner of Mullen Avenue; bear right and then make your next left onto North Main Street.
- 19 Homer City is the town you're now coming into, founded in 1854 and named in honor of the ancient Greek epic poet. Unlike most of the places you've passed through thus far, Homer City was neither a lumbering center nor the company town of a nearby coal mine: rather, it coalesced around the grist mill that early settler John Allison built on the shore of Yellow Creek and, after the Pennsylvania Railroad built a branch line through town, grew into a small but prosperous market and service center for farmers and artisans of the surrounding region. Coal certainly plays a role in its modern-day economy, though: just outside the borough limits in Center Township is where you'll find NRG Energy's 31 Homer City Generating Station, the largest coal-fired power plant in Pennsylvania whose Unit 3 boasts the tallest smokestack in the United States (and third-tallest in the world), at a height of 1,217 feet (371 m). The plant is easily visible from the highway — and, indeed, for miles around — but since there's no real reason to stop off in Homer City, we instead...
Continue south on Main Street, which changes its name back to Old Route 119 upon crossing the borough limits. After about a mile and a half (2.5 km), you come to the junction of (the present-day) U.S. Route 119. Turn right and proceed southward for a little over a mile (about 1.8 km). You'll come to the corner of Graceton Village Road (it's not signed very well; look for Bee Brite Laundromat on your right).
- Remember: we're following the original 1926 routing of the Buffalo-Pittsburgh Highway as closely as possible, which often means turning off main highways onto smaller roads that run in a more-or-less parallel direction.
Turn right to get off 119 and then left onto Graceton Village Road, continuing southwestward parallel to the modern-day highway until you get to the corner of Graceton Road (look for the wooden sign on your left pointing the way to the Graceton Coral Sportsmen's Club). Make a right, then a left onto 1st Street. Note that there's a Jersey barrier that runs down the center of 119 blocking access to the northbound lanes from Graceton Village Road.
- So, if you're following this itinerary south-to-north, you'll have to get on 119 from Graceton Road directly. Follow the signs from the corner of 1st Street; it's easy.
- Here we deviate off the modern-day highway through 20 Graceton and 21 Coral, a pair of tiny little twin hamlets with a population of about 600 between them. Not much to see or do here, obviously, but if you're itching to get out of the car and stretch your legs a bit, it's worth mentioning that this stretch of the route runs alongside the Hoodlebug Trail, which extends ten miles (16 km) from Indiana south to Black Lick on the bed of the now-defunct Indiana Branch of the Pennsylvania Railroad, which still in the auto trail days remained the main avenue of passenger transportation through the region. Nowadays it's open to joggers, bicyclists, and (in the winter) cross-country skiers.
Proceed southwest on 1st Street for about two-thirds of a mile (1 km). Turn left at the stop sign just past Beech Street, then immediately thereafter make a right and get back on the southbound 119. Continue for three-quarters of a mile (1.2 km) to Old Indiana Road (the intersection is not signed well, but it comes just after the power-line corridor leading from the Homer City generating plant). Make a left.
- Next up is 22 Black Lick, with a population of about 1,500, a somewhat odd name derived from the creek that flows through town, and an economic raison d'être that's changed repeatedly over the course of its existence: first it was a rough-and-ready frontier settlement gathered around Walter Bell's grist mill, after the Civil War it became the company town for the Black Lick Manufacturing Company's brick and tile works, and by the advent of the Buffalo-Pittsburgh Highway, iron smelting had come to the forefront.
As you come into town, Old Indiana Road changes its name to Main Street. Continue straight.
- Travellers along the original highway would have borne witness to a thriving little community of houses, shops, banks, and even an opera company and one of Indiana County's largest music halls. Today there's little reason to stop in Black Lick itself, but if you're interested in digging deeper into the industry that fueled its 1926-era economy (and you're looking to stretch your legs, and you don't mind a long-ish detour off the highway), mount your bike and take to the Ghost Town Trail, where a few preserved iron furnaces pay homage. The 6 Buena Vista Furnace is the closer of the two to town, about 10 miles (16.3 km) east along Black Lick Creek: it was built in 1847, named for the then-recently fought Mexican War battle, and turned out several hundred tons of pig iron every year until the 1950s. But if you're game for a still longer detour, head nine miles (14.5 km) further down the trail to the 7 Eliza Furnace, which was only in service for three years (1846-49) but is today one of the few remaining in the U.S. with its original heat exchanger piping still intact.
Two miles (3.2 km) after the turnoff, just before Main Street intersects once again with 119, you come to the corner of Blaire Road. (If you see the Exxon station on your right, you've gone too far.) Make a left and continue for three blocks, then bear right at the fork to continue on Blaire Road. Proceed southward for another three-quarters of a mile (1.2 km) to the end of the road, then make a right onto Devinney Hollow Road, which leads you back to 119 again. Make a left when you come to it.
- South-to-north travellers should instead turn right from 119 onto the southern extension of Blaire Road, which comes about a quarter of a mile (500 m) before the corner of Devinney Hollow Road. From there you'll make another right on Devinney Hollow and then an immediate left to rejoin the itinerary as described above. This represents the original 1926 routing of the Buffalo-Pittsburgh Highway, but nowadays this southernmost stretch of Blaire Road is inaccessible from the southbound lanes of 119.
After about three-quarters of a mile (1.3 km) on southbound 119, you'll come to a set of signs that direct you to either exit right toward Blairsville and Pittsburgh or stay straight toward Ebensburg. Choose the latter of those two options but then, a quarter of a mile (500 m) down the road when the signs tell you to turn left onto the eastbound U.S. 22, continue straight instead. You're now on Old William Penn Highway, which will change its name to East Market Street once you enter the borough limits of...
- 23 Blairsville, which is a mere afterthought on America's modern-day transportation network, but was an important crossroads in the region back in the day: not only did the Buffalo-Pittsburgh Highway pass through town, but it was also the site of an important railroad junction, and (earlier in its history) a stop on the stagecoach lines and the old Pennsylvania Canal, a southerly competitor to the Erie Canal linking Philadelphia to Pittsburgh and the Great Lakes via a multimodal network of water- and railways and serving as an important mid-19th century conduit to the west. This ease of access to outside markets nurtured a wide variety of industries in Blairsville: coal mining, iron smelting and casting, plate glass manufacturing, and the lumber industry all had a place in the local economy by the 1920s.
- For modern-day visitors, Blairsville's main claim to fame is the...
- 32 Blairsville Underground Railroad History Center, 214 E. South Ln. (850 feet [250 m] off the Buffalo-Pittsburgh Highway via East South Lane), ☏ . Open May-Oct by appointment. A small town in an out-of-the-way corner of rural Pennsylvania may not be the first place you'd expect to find a thriving African-American Baptist congregation, but that's exactly what travellers along the Buffalo-Pittsburgh Highway would have encountered if they'd detoured a few blocks off the main drag down this leafy side street to what was then the home of Second Baptist Church, and it all starts to make more sense when you remember Blairsville's onetime status as a transport nexus: in the years immediately before the Civil War, Indiana County was a hotbed of activity along the Underground Railroad, the clandestine network of secret routes and safe houses whereby escaped black slaves were spirited to freedom in Canada. The History Center's building post-dates the Underground Railroad itself by more than half a century — it was built in 1917 — but it is the oldest continuously black-owned property in town, and it offers two exhibits related to slavery and emancipation: "Freedom in the Air" tells the story of the abolitionists of Indiana County and their efforts to assist fugitive slaves, while the title of "A Day in the Life of an Enslaved Child" is self-explanatory. If you're interested in digging deeper into local Underground Railroad history, the museum's website includes a printable brochure identifying about two dozen extant buildings across Indiana County that served as stations.
The Diamond is the nickname of the roundabout in the center of downtown Blairsville. When you reach it, continue straight to stay on West Market Street.
- On the western edge of Blairsville, the Conemaugh River marks the boundary between Indiana and Westmoreland Counties. You're now entering the Laurel Highlands, a three-county region on the southeast fringe of Pittsburgh's metro area that's increasingly earning renown as a tourist destination for its winning combination of outdoor recreation and cultural heritage.
About three-quarters of a mile (1.2 km) past the bridge over the Conemaugh, you'll see signs directing you to turn right to get to Routes 22 and 119. Do that, and then turn left, following the signs for westbound 22 and southbound 119.
- For about twelve and a half miles (20 km) beginning in Blairsville, the Buffalo-Pittsburgh Highway ran concurrent with the William Penn Highway (modern-day U.S. Route 22), another early auto trail that ran between Pittsburgh and New York City. Today, this is the fastest and most modernized stretch of the route: more like an Interstate than a country road.
Continue westward for another nine miles (14.5 km) toward New Alexandria.
- If you're following the itinerary south-to-north, turn instead onto West Main Street in New Alexandria, which you'll come to about half a mile (900 m) after the 22 and 119 splitoff. From there, continue for a mile and a quarter (2 km) before rejoining 22/119. Unfortunately, it's no longer possible for southbound traffic to follow the original Buffalo-Pittsburgh Highway routing because the turnoffs to Main Street are inaccessible from the southbound lanes of 22/119 and vice versa.
- As previously mentioned, the Buffalo-Pittsburgh Highway itself doesn't pass through the latter of its two namesake cities. Pittsburgh-bound traffic had two options, the first of which was to continue westward along the William Penn Highway after the split-off at 24 New Alexandria. As for New Alexandria itself, it's an old coal-mining town that was best known in 1926 as hometown of novelist Agnes Sligh Turnbull, and is probably best known today as the place where Anthony Bourdain took a side trip to attend a demolition derby while filming the Pittsburgh-themed episode of his CNN series, Parts Unknown. If you saw that, you'd probably figure there's not a lot for a tourist to do there, and you'd be right.
Just after leaving New Alexandria, where the signs indicate to do so, turn left to stay on southbound 119 and proceed for another eight and three-quarters miles (14.1 km). At the corner of Arch Avenue, you'll come to a traffic light and you'll see a tunnel on your left going under the old Pennsylvania Railroad tracks. Turn left to stay on southbound 119.
- With a modest but imposing skyline of tall office and apartment buildings, churches, and the magnificent Westmoreland County Courthouse at the center of it all, 25 Greensburg gives off the air of a city much larger than it actually is. On evenings and weekends, some 15,000 people call it home, but on weekday mornings and afternoons when downtown workers are in their offices, its population multiplies almost tenfold — if only everyone who worked there lived there, Greensburg would be Pennsylvania's third-largest city after Philadelphia and Pittsburgh.
After passing through the tunnel, you'll climb a low hill and come to a fork in the road. Continue bearing right, following the signs for southbound 119. You'll end up on East Otterman Street.
- Originally the site of a tavern and way station on the wagon trail between Philadelphia and Fort Pitt (present-day Pittsburgh) and named in honor of American Revolutionary general Nathanael Greene, Greensburg became Westmoreland County's seat very shortly after its 1785 founding, yet at first remained a sleepy frontier backwater. Then, around the middle of the 19th century, two more-or-less simultaneous events — the arrival of the Pennsylvania Railroad and the genesis of the American steel industry, of which bituminous coal of the type mined near Greensburg was a key ingredient — combined to kick off a period of uninterrupted growth and prosperity that was still going strong in the 1920s.
Continue for four more blocks after the fork on East Otterman Street, until you get to Main Street. Turn left.
- South-to-north travellers should instead turn right from Main Street onto East Pittsburgh Street, then make a left onto Arch Avenue and proceed northward for a block whereupon the above-described itinerary will be rejoined. In 1926 as well as nowadays, most of the east-west streets in downtown Greensburg were one-way, so both Otterman and Pittsburgh Streets represent the Buffalo-Pittsburgh Highway's original routing in their respective directions.
- Besides New Alexandria, Greensburg was the other turnoff for Pittsburgh-bound traffic on the original highway. West Otterman Street was part of the westbound Lincoln Highway, which ran coast-to-coast from New York to San Francisco along a trajectory that roughly corresponds to today's U.S. Route 30. From Greensburg, downtown Pittsburgh was about 30 miles (50 km) away.
Continue southward on Main Street.
- Greensburg doesn't bustle like it used to — coal mining began to decline in the 1930s and '40s, and the construction of the Greensburg Bypass and the Greengate Mall in the 1960s displaced much of the automobile traffic and the retail and commercial action to the suburban outskirts of town — but other than the absence of the General Greene Hotel, which was demolished in 1988, the downtown of today doesn't actually look all that different than it did when motorists plied the original iteration of the Buffalo-Pittsburgh Highway. In fact, the very same year the highway was inaugurated also saw the opening of the...
- 33 Palace Theatre, 21 W. Otterman St. (200 feet [60 m] off the Buffalo-Pittsburgh Highway via West Otterman Street), ☏ . The Manos Theatre, as it was known originally, quickly made a name for itself as the finest playhouse in Westmoreland County, with an elegant combination French Renaissance and Art Deco design by Rochester, New York architects Leon H. Lempert and Son, exquisite mural paintings on the proscenium walls courtesy of Louis Grell, a full schedule of vaudeville shows and silent movies, and a billiard hall and bowling alleys in the basement. Nowadays, the programming skews more toward live music — check the Palace's website to see what concerts, musicals, or Westmoreland Symphony Orchestra performances may be playing during your visit.
- Outside of downtown, too, remain plenty of handsome period residences that would have been seen by 1926 visitors. Head a half-dozen or so blocks north to the 34 Academy Hill Historic District to see some particularly fine examples of Colonial Revival, Tudor Revival, and (especially) Craftsman style homes that were newly built at the time of the highway's inauguration. It's also in that general direction where you'll find Greensburg's most prominent tourist attraction of the here and now:
- 35 Westmoreland Museum of American Art, 221 N. Main St. (900 feet [300 m] off the Buffalo-Pittsburgh Highway via North Main Street), ☏ . W-F 11AM-7PM, Sa Su 10AM-5PM; closed Easter Sunday, Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year's Day. It's been lauded by Architectural Digest magazine on their list of "The Best-Designed Museums in Every State in America". The excellent museum provides a quintessential sample of authentic American art, surprisingly tucked away in a small town. But for 1926 travellers, the Westmoreland Museum of American Art was still several decades in the future: it was founded in 1959, with the bequest of wealthy local art collector Mary Marchand Woods making up the core of its original collection. Still, it's worth a visit for folks interested in the 1920s-era history of western Pennsylvania: on the walls of the museum are some fine works by artists whose names would have been well-known to motorists on the original Buffalo-Pittsburgh Highway, such as Colin Campbell Cooper, Winslow Homer, John Singer Sargent, and Pittsburgh's own Mary Cassatt. Also not to be missed in the museum's permanent collection are a bevy of old photographs, drawings, and paintings depicting life among the steel mills, coal mines, railroads, and other early-20th century industrial concerns in southwest Pennsylvania. Free.
Continue southward on Main Street through and out of downtown Greensburg. After six blocks, make a slight left onto Mount Pleasant Street. You'll cross under the old Pennsylvania Railroad tracks again. At the oddly angled intersection after the overpass, make a slight left to stay on Mount Pleasant Street. After about three-quarters of a mile (1 km), you'll come to the onramps for Route 30, the Greensburg Bypass.
- You're now passing through Greensburg's Eighth Ward, one of several formerly outlying boroughs that were annexed to the city in 1905. In the 1920s, the neighborhood was known as Paradise and was populated by a vibrant Italian-American immigrant community, vestiges of which still remain today: look to your left just after passing the onramp to eastbound U.S. 30 and you'll see the original 36 Our Lady of Grace Catholic Church, built in 1916 by the skilled hands of old-world masons. The congregation is still an active one today — it now meets in the larger building next door — though parishioners are nowadays just as likely to be of Hispanic origin as Italian.
Continue southward on what's now called Mount Pleasant Road. Another three-quarters of a mile (1.2 km) after the Route 30 onramps, there's a traffic light marking the entrance to the University of Pittsburgh at Greensburg, and shortly after that a stop sign. Make a left at the stop sign to continue on Mount Pleasant Road.
- A GPS might be handy for this next portion of the route. It's confusing.
After six and a quarter miles (10 km) of very curvy road, you come to a fork and a bank of signs directing you to State Route 981. Bear right, following the signs headed southbound.
- Got restless kids in the car? Want to take them somewhere they can run around and tire themselves out so the adults can enjoy a relaxing drive through the country? Here's the perfect detour for you: instead of going south on 981, turn the other way and head north to...
- 8 Mammoth Park, 171 County Park Rd., Mount Pleasant Township (3¼ miles [5.3 km] off the Buffalo-Pittsburgh Highway via State Route 981 north, County Road, and County Park Road), ☏ . Daily 9AM-8PM. Within this 408-acre (165 ha) expanse of hillside greenery you'll find several playgrounds, tennis and basketball courts, and a network of hiking trails in the woods atop the hill complete with a scenic overlook providing panoramic views of the surrounding countryside, while down below is a charming man-made lake with a boat launch and fishing. But what Mammoth Park is best known for is the Giant Slide, which is pretty much exactly what it sounds like: 96 feet (29 m) tall, built into the side of the hill, and sporting crests and dips like a rollercoaster; if your kid's the thrill-seeking type, this is right up her alley. For best results, locals say, bring along a sheet of wax paper to sit on as you go down the slide.
Continue south on Route 981 for five miles (8 km). The road takes on the name North Church Street once you enter the borough limits of...
- ...26 Mount Pleasant, whose early history checks off many of the same boxes as Greensburg's — founded just after the Revolution, situated on top of massive coal fields — but which was bypassed by the mainlines of the railroads that ran through the region and thus never attained the population and prosperity of its neighbor to the north.
When you come to the signs for State Route 31, you're at Main Street. Turn left (east) and proceed for two blocks.
- But there was one thing Mount Pleasant had that Greensburg didn't. The easy availability of coke as a by-product of the area's bituminous coal (more on that in a bit) nurtured a glass industry that went on to become Mount Pleasant's dominant employer: Bryce Brothers got their start here in 1850, with L.E. Smith following suit in 1907. Nowadays, the town pays homage to its unique industrial history — and, somewhat incongruously, also to the diverse patchwork of immigrant communities (above all, Poles) who worked in the local coal mines, factories, and other industrial concerns — at the Mount Pleasant Glass and Ethnic Festival, which takes place each year on the last weekend of September in and around downtown's 37 Veterans Park.
The intersection of Diamond Street is a roundabout with the World War I Doughboy Statue in the center. Make a right, following the signs for southbound State Route 819. Continue on 819 for a mile and three-quarters (2.8 km).
- If you're hungry for a familiar fast-food or casual-dining chain restaurant, you come to a good-sized cluster of them on your way out of Mount Pleasant on 819: Arby's, Wendy's, Dairy Queen, Applebee's, McDonald's, Taco Bell, Long John Silver's, Pizza Hut, or Sheetz; take your pick.
At the traffic light in front of Applebee's, make a left and proceed for two and a half miles (4.2 km) on Mount Pleasant Road and its southern extension, Richey Road. Follow the signs for southbound 119, then turn right at Crossroads Road where the signs indicate to do so.
- If you're headed south-to-north, the turnoff from 119 onto Richey Road is a bit further south. It's not signed well, but it's the first intersection after the Everson offramp. Make a right and an immediate left.
- 1926 traffic would have continued southward on Richey Road and eventually merged onto the modern-day 119. Today, Richey Road ends in a cul-de-sac just north of the exit interchange where 119 meets Everson Valley Road.
At the light, make a left on 119 and proceed south. You'll soon see a sign directing Everson-bound traffic to exit right. Continue straight past the ramp, but then make your next right, just after the used car lot. You're now on Moyer Road, also known as Old U.S. 119. At the fork with North Bellview Road, bear left and continue south for another mile and a quarter (2.1 km) until you get back to 119. Then turn right and proceed south for another three-quarters of a mile (1.4 km) to East Crawford Avenue — you'll see signs pointing toward Highlands Hospital.
- According to the original routing of the Buffalo-Pittsburgh Highway, you'd have turned off 119 a quarter of a mile (550 m) earlier, at Buttermore Boulevard, from which you'd have linked up with East Crawford Avenue. Unfortunately, the historic Meidel's Bridge over Whites Run has been closed since 2014 due to structural instability. PennDOT has announced plans to repair or replace the bridge with a projected reopening date of August 2020, but for now, it's necessary to reroute around it.
Turn left on East Crawford Avenue. You're now entering...
- ...27 Connellsville, the onetime "Coke Capital of the World". Founded in the 1790s by American Revolution veteran Zechariah Connell, the economy of Connellsville (and New Haven, its onetime sister city on the west bank of the Youghiogheny River with which it merged in 1911) sprang to life in the mid-19th century largely due to its location smack-dab in the middle of one of the richest deposits of bituminous coal in the world.
Continue west on Crawford Avenue into downtown.
- Initially, Pennsylvania's coal mining industry was focused on the anthracite fields in the northeast of the state, with the softer, more impurity-laden bituminous coal of southwest Pennsylvania considered to be of comparatively little value. About the only thing for which the latter was superior to the former was the production of coke, which back in the day was mainly used as a heating fuel in areas where wood was hard to come by — the problem, of course, being that southwest Pennsylvania was thickly forested at the time. Coke production in Connellsville began on a limited basis in the 1830s, but for the first couple decades it was merely an afterthought in an economy mostly dominated by forestry and boatbuilding. That would change in a big way in the 1850s, when British inventor Henry Bessemer developed the first economical method of mass-producing steel. It just so happened that the Bessemer process required large and continuous quantities of coke to fuel the ovens, and it also just so happened that the coal in the Connellsville field was among the best in the world for processing into coke. Soon enough, beehive ovens were lighting up the night sky for 20 miles (32 km) in all directions, no fewer than five railroad lines were extended into town to ship the product to market, and the formerly sleepy local economy was now growing explosively.
Cross the Youghiogheny River and keep going straight for another couple blocks. The road veers sharply left. At the traffic light next to the Wendy's, make a left onto South 9th Street, which after four blocks veers left and becomes Blackstone Road. Continue following the signs for southbound 119.
- If you're headed south-to-north, bear right at the fork coming into town onto Morrell Avenue, which becomes South 8th Street, then bear right again and rejoin the above-described itinerary. This represents the original 1926 routing of the Buffalo-Pittsburgh Highway. Blackstone Road was constructed in the 1960s, whereupon it and Morrell were converted into one-way streets.
- As you've likely inferred from looking around you, Connellsville's glory days are behind it. Starting in the 1930s or so, further advances in the steelmaking process made coke obsolete as a furnace fuel, and in the ensuing decades the steel industry largely moved overseas anyway. Today, the city's population hovers at about 7,000, down from about 14,000 at its Buffalo-Pittsburgh Highway-era peak, and by and large it's still a place in search of an economic raison d'être. There's not much reason for a traveller to stop in Connellsville itself, but it's the closest point on the highway to...
- 9 Fallingwater, 1491 Mill Run Rd., Stewart Township (16 miles [25.6 km] off the Buffalo-Pittsburgh Highway via State Routes 711 and 381), ☏ . Guided tours offered daily except W 10AM-4PM, Mar-Dec; exact schedule varies throughout the season; consult website for details. At the time of the original Buffalo-Pittsburgh Highway, the house at Fallingwater did not yet exist. Its architect, Frank Lloyd Wright, was in 1926 regarded as something of a has-been, his once-brilliant career derailed by a series of personal scandals that served as steady fodder for tabloid headlines, and his first encounter with wealthy merchant and philanthropist Edgar Kaufmann — owner of Kaufmann's department store, Pittsburgh's largest — was still a decade in the future. But Fallingwater today is almost inarguably the best-known visitor attraction in the Laurel Highlands, not to mention Wright's best-known work, and represents the point at which his career was relaunched from ignominy back to renown. And it would be unthinkable for a visitor to the region to pass up the opportunity to see this masterwork. With its groundbreaking design, its unique site plan perched above a small waterfall on Bear Run, and Wright's trademark blurring of the lines between the artificial and the natural, Fallingwater served as the Kaufmann family's weekend retreat from the smoke and bustle of the city from the time of its completion in 1937 well into the '60s, and has been open to the public for guided tours since that time. Standard tour $30, children 6-12 $18, children under 6 not admitted; in-depth tour $80, children under 9 not admitted; $10 for grounds pass only.
- Fallingwater is only one of four Frank Lloyd Wright-designed houses in the Laurel Highlands that are open to the public. If you're an architecture buff — and you don't mind stepping outside the 1926 anachronism for a bit longer — why not also check out...
- 10 Kentuck Knob, 723 Kentuck Rd., Stewart Township (11¾ miles [19 km] off the Buffalo-Pittsburgh Highway via Woodvale Street, Connellsville Street, Furnace Hill Road, Tucker Run Road, Dunbar Ohiopyle Road, Dunbar Road, and Kentuck Road), ☏ . Guided tours offered daily Mar-Dec with reduced availability on Wednesdays; exact schedule varies throughout the season; consult website for details. Closed Thanksgiving, Christmas Eve and Day, and New Year's Eve and Day. Isaac Hagan, head honcho of Uniontown's Hagan Ice Cream Company, struck up a friendship with Edgar Kaufmann after buying an 80-acre (32 ha) plot of land in the countryside not far from Fallingwater, and like millions of others over the years, he became an admirer of Kaufmann's house. So much so that, in 1953, he too commissioned Wright to design a residence for him. Kentuck Knob is one of the largest of Wright's so-called Usonian houses — intended as smaller, simpler designs that would be affordable to the middle class — and is renowned for its hilltop location with sweeping views over the Youghiogheny Gorge and for the garden of modernist sculpture to its rear, part of the collection of its current owner, Baron Peter Palumbo of Great Britain. Standard tour $25, veterans and active military $18.50, children 6-17 and students with ID $18; in-depth tour $65; children under 6 not admitted in either case. Grounds and sculpture garden only $9, students with ID $6, children under 6 free.
- 11 Polymath Park, 187 Evergreen Ln., Mount Pleasant Township (5½ miles [8.8 km] off the Buffalo-Pittsburgh Highway via Kecksburg Road, Claypike Road, and Evergreen Lane), toll-free: . Tours offered daily except W, Mar-Dec; exact schedule varies throughout the season; consult website for details. Polymath Park is home to two of what are among the last buildings ever designed by Wright, both originally erected elsewhere only to be dismantled and moved to this 125-acre (51 ha) site in Mount Pleasant Township later on. The Donald C. Duncan House was the first to come to Polymath; one of about a dozen extant examples of the prefab modular houses Wright designed in conjunction with Marshall Erdman, it was built in Lisle, Illinois in 1957 and moved here in 2002, and is today one of, if not the only Frank Lloyd Wright house that accommodates overnight guests (up to four at a time). The R. W. Lindholm House, a 1952 Usonian originally located in Cloquet, Minnesota (where it was also known as Mäntylä, Finnish for "house among the pines"), followed fifteen years later. In addition to the foregoing, Polymath is also home to the Balter and Blum Houses, built in the 1960s by architect Peter Berndtson, a former apprentice to Wright; these were the original two houses on the property. One-hour, three-house tours $26; children under 9 not admitted. (The Blum House now contains the onsite Treetops Restaurant and is thus not open for tours as such.) Overnight lodging at the Duncan House $399/night M-F, $425/night Sa Su; children under 10 not admitted; see website for further details.
- And if you're game for a further-flung detour off the road, another major point of tourist interest in these parts is...
- 12 Ohiopyle State Park, 124 Main St., Ohiopyle (14 miles [22.7 km] off the Buffalo-Pittsburgh Highway via Woodvale Street, Connellsville Street, Furnace Hill Road, Tucker Run Road, Dunbar Ohiopyle Road, Dunbar Road, Kentuck Road, Ohiopyle Road, and State Route 381), ☏ . Park open daily dawn to dusk; visitor center daily 8AM-6PM during high season (Apr 16-Oct 31) and M-Sa 8AM-4PM other times; closed on all state holidays. Unlike the Frank Lloyd Wright houses you've just read about, Ohiopyle was indeed a known quantity to 1920s-era travellers — but back then it was a very different kind of place than it is today. In the Lenape language, the name means "it turns very white", referring to the frothiness of the waters of the Youghiogheny River as it meanders and tumbles over a picturesque series of small waterfalls, and in the railroad era Ohiopyle became a popular weekend getaway for Pittsburghers: for only a dollar in train fare, city folk could not only see the falls but spend the night in a resort hotel, let loose at a dance hall, stroll the boardwalk, play a round of tennis or bowling, and all kinds of other diversions. Buffalo-Pittsburgh Highway travellers would have seen the last days of this era of Ohiopyle history: the rise of the automobile gave folks a lot more flexibility in where they could vacation, and by midcentury the resorts had all been abandoned and torn down, the land reverted to the primeval forest from whence it came. But the falls of Ohiopyle were rediscovered in the 1960s and '70s as one of the best venues for whitewater rafting in eastern North America, and it's that pursuit — along with mountain biking, horseback riding, hiking, and in the winter snowmobiling and cross-country skiing — that draws thousands of visitors annually to what's nowdays been rechristened a state park. If you're looking for a place to camp out for the night, Ohiopyle's got you covered in that department too, with 226 sites ranging from semiserviced to backcountry-style. Park entry free; campsites $19/night Su-Th or $23/night F-Sa.
Continue south on 119 for five and a half miles (9.1 km).
- After Connellsville, your flirtation with the outer edge of Pittsburgh's suburban sprawl ends, and you once again find yourself in a relatively isolated rural milieu.
Exit right, following the signs for Connellsville Street, then make your first right after the end of the offramp. You're now on North Gallatin Avenue Extension, headed toward...
- ...28 Uniontown, Fayette County's seat of government and largest city. Founded on July 4, 1776 — the same day the American Declaration of Independence was signed, hence its name — Uniontown's growth happened earlier and was more rapid than neighboring places due to its location on the National Road, built in the 1810s and '20s as America's first federally funded highway and a major link between the Midwest and the East Coast in the days before the railroads. Long before the economy of the larger region was kickstarted by coal in the mid-19th century, Uniontown was already a buzzing milling center and market town.
About three miles (5 km) down the road from the offramp, hang a right at the stop sign in front of the Sensus water meter factory to stay on North Gallatin Avenue. Continue for another mile and a quarter (1.9 km).
- But that's not to say coal and coke never played any role in the city's economy. In fact, during the boom years of the late 19th century, enough local coal barons struck it rich to make Uniontown another one of those cities (like Ridgway, which you've already read about) claiming the title of home of the most millionaires per capita in America, and Uniontown was also the scene of some of the worst violence of the United Mine Workers' nationwide general strike in 1894. What's more, Uniontown even briefly had its own steelworks: the Columbia Rolling Mill was the city's chief employer for eight years before being purchased and immediately shut down by Andrew Carnegie, fearful of competition for his Pittsburgh operations. Buffalo-Pittsburgh Highway motorists would have seen Uniontown near the peak of its glory, with a population of about 18,000, twice that of today.
Turn right on Main Street, proceed for two blocks, then turn left onto Morgantown Street.
- If you're doing the itinerary from south to north, you should instead turn right off Morgantown Street onto West Fayette Street, proceed for three blocks, then turn left onto Gallatin Avenue and rejoin the above-described itinerary. This represents the original 1926 routing of the Buffalo-Pittsburgh Highway, which is impossible for southbound traffic to follow now that Fayette Street has been made one-way going in the other direction.
- For those who'd like to get a better sense of what 1920s-era Uniontown was like, there's a couple of attractions around town where various facets of life back in the glory days are on display.
- 38 Coal & Coke Heritage Center, Fayette Campus Library, 1 University Drive, North Union Township (¼ mile [550 m] off the Buffalo-Pittsburgh Highway via University Drive), ☏ . M-F 10AM-3PM. If you're an industrial history buff who just passed through Connellsville and were bummed out by the lack of any visitor attractions highlighting the importance of King Coal (and his cousin, Prince Coke) to the economic history of southwest Pennsylvania, leave it to Penn State Fayette to fill in the gap: the lower level of the library on their campus just north of Uniontown is given over to a multifaceted collection of historic photographs, books, maps, artifacts, and other materials focusing on the local mines and furnaces and the lives of those who worked there. And if you're a serious researcher on the subject, the Coal & Coke Heritage Center also plays host to vast archives of historical records; if you're interested, contact the archivist to set up an appointment. Free.
- 39 State Theatre Center for the Arts, 27 E. Main St., ☏ . The State Theatre shares a lot of commonalities with the Palace Theatre, which you saw a few miles back in Greensburg: both are of a similar age (the Palace was brand-new at the time of the Buffalo-Pittsburgh Highway's inauguration in 1926; the State only four years old), both were renowned as the finest venues in their respective counties, both started out showcasing vaudeville revues and silent movies (the State boasted a magnificent Pleubet Master organ to provide musical accompaniment to early films) before transitioning to movies-only after "talkies" revolutionized showbiz in the 1930s; both closed down in the '70s, unable to compete with newfangled suburban multiplexes, only to be revived due to grassroots community efforts. And like the Palace, today the State puts on a wider variety of shows than ever: Broadway-style musicals, concerts in genres from classical to big-band jazz to rock and roll, and yes, even movies (the State's Classic Film Series spotlights a different cinematic masterpiece every month for the bargain price of $5 a ticket). Architecture buffs, too, will gape in awe at both the resplendent Beaux-Arts detailing on the exterior and the ornate Adamesque interior. Check their website for the full slate of upcoming programming.
After two and three-quarters miles (4.3 km) on Morgantown Street, you'll come to the corner of Georges Fairchance Road, with a traffic light, an Arby's and a Sunoco gas station on the corner, and a bank of directional signs indicating, among other things, that you should stay straight to access southbound 119. Do so, and proceed southward for 13½ miles (21.7 km).
- South of Uniontown, you pass through some of the loveliest scenery on the Buffalo-Pittsburgh Highway, as the road crests, dips and meanders through picturesque farmland.
Cross the bridge over the Cheat River.
- 29 Point Marion, population about 1,000, is the last town in Pennsylvania along the Buffalo-Pittsburgh Highway. Point Marion was home of the Houze Glass Company — producer of a diverse variety of glass products such as windowpanes, lenses for sunglasses, lamps, vases, ashtrays, electric lighters, gear shift and window knobs for cars, and decorative glass — from 1902 until its closure in 2004. There's nothing for travellers to do in Point Marion today, but there's one pretty impressive thing to see: the view from the Gallatin Memorial Bridge as you come into town on 119, where the Cheat River meets the Monongahela. Like most of what you've seen over the past few miles, it's a beautiful sight.
Your second left after the bridge is Penn Street. Turn there and, after two blocks, the road veers sharply to the right after you pass out of downtown. Continue south.
- The 2 West Virginia state line is a mile and a half (2.7 km) past downtown Point Marion.
- The stretch between Point Marion and Fairmont presents the most challenging driving conditions on the Buffalo-Pittsburgh Highway, passing frequently through isolated backwoods terrain. If you're not used to driving on country roads, keep your wits about you: steep grades, narrow lanes, and sharp curves predominate. Posted speed limits are noticeably lower than in previous and subsequent sections — commonly 35-40 mph (56-64 km/h) — and strict obedience to them is even more important than otherwise. Curiously, though, mobile phone service is much stronger here than along many other stretches of the route, e.g. the Pennsylvania Wilds.
As you continue southward on 119, you'll quickly find yourself entering the suburban outskirts of the next city along the highway. About five and a quarter miles (8.3 km) past the state line, you'll come to the oddly configured intersection with Cheat Road, with signs directing you variously toward Interstate 68, State Route 857, and the southward continuation of 119. Make a sharp right, following the signs for the latter.
- ...or, if you prefer, make a left at that intersection and detour about four miles (6.5 km) east via State Route 857 to get to 13 Cheat Lake. Better known as Lake Lynn during its earliest years of existence, this 13-mile-long, 1,750-acre (21-km-long, 700-ha) reservoir along the Cheat River just south of the state line would have been a brand-new sight for auto trail-era motorists: it was in December 1925 when the first water finally flowed over Lake Lynn Dam after a decade and a half of construction, and the lake took most of the following winter and spring to fill. Unlike the Kinzua Dam which you passed by earlier, Lake Lynn Dam was conceived as a hydroelectricity project, not a flood-control measure, and to this day it provides 52 megawatts of power to the surrounding region. But the secondary recreational potential of the lake was evident from the start: in the early 1920s, even before the dam was complete, the West Penn Power Company had already built a series of cabins and cottages on what would soon become its shore, ready to be rented out as a perk for its workers. At first, Cheat Lake did indeed prove a popular destination for camping, hiking, boating, and (especially) fishing, but soon enough the dark side of the region's industrial economy reared its ugly head: the pollution dumped into the river by area coal mines, iron works, and tanneries that used to get washed downstream instead pooled in the lake, and by the 1970s it had been reduced to a foul-smelling, murky orange soup, with most of the wildlife in the surrounding woods long extirpated and only the hardiest species of fish left in the acidic waters of the lake itself. Cheat Lake has come a long way since then, though: a series of mine blowouts in the '90s finally spurred local conservationists into action, and today the water has been cleaned up enough to allow fish populations (especially yellow perch and smallmouth bass) and recreational opportunities to teem once again. If you'd like to try your luck, the Cheat Lake Anglers' Bass Club generally hosts a handful of open-to-the-public tournaments a year; check out their website for more information. And if Cheat Lake sounds like a place you'd like to linger for more than just the day, you can camp only a few minutes' drive away at 14 Coopers Rock State Forest (which also boasts majestic scenic views over the Cheat River canyon): primitive sites at the Rhododendron Campground go for $22/night during the high season, while the ones at McCollum Campground offer electric hookups for $10 more.
Continue for a mile and a quarter (2.1 km). You're now entering...
- 30 Morgantown, which — with a population of about 30,000 and growing, a young and well-educated citizenry, a robust and diverse economy, and frequent appearances on the listings of "most livable cities in America" that you read in magazines from time to time — is pretty much the reverse of every negative stereotype of West Virginia. This state of affairs is almost entirely due to the presence of West Virginia University, the enormous tent pole around which the entire city, it seems, is set up: other than Buffalo, this college town par excellence presents the richest opportunities for quote-unquote "culture" of any locale along the Buffalo-Pittsburgh Highway.
You come to a large traffic circle where U.S. 119, State Route 705, and the entrance to Eastwood Elementary School meet. Take the third exit, following the signs for southbound 119, and proceed a mile (1.6 km) further.
- Founded in 1785 and named after early settler Zackquill Morgan, Morgantown's early importance was as an inland port and boatbuilding center: it was in 1826 when the first steamboat plied the Monongahela this far upstream, and the river traffic that soon became the lifeline of the local economy was boosted greatly in the years after the Civil War when the state government erected a series of locks and dams that made the river navigable for its entire length, opening up a transport route to market from the coal fields to the south. Much unlike its neighbors, though, coal itself never played much of a role in the local economy: large-scale mining of the nearby Scott's Run field didn't begin till the early 20th century, by which point the glass industry had already established itself as the prominent player in Morgantown's manufacturing sector.
You curve right, right again, and then left over the mile (1.6 km) of road that comes after the traffic circle. As the road prepares to curve sharply right once again, you come to the corner of Monongalia Street, marked with a "DO NOT ENTER" sign. However, it is possible (and legal) to access Monongalia Street via the parking lot of the Town Hill Tavern: go around the building to the right, and as you come out the other side, look to your right and you'll see a fork in the road. Take the right fork — that's Snider Street.
- South-to-north traffic can indeed access 119 directly from Snider and Monongalia Streets.
- It bears emphasizing that Snider Street is a very narrow and curvy street that descends the side of a steep hill as it approaches downtown, along which there are no guard rails. Attentive and prudent driving is the rule, especially in wintertime.
Snider Street ends at a sharp bend in Richwood Avenue. Bear right. You soon merge with Willey Street (and rejoin the modern-day routing of 119). Bear right around the curve as you continue to approach downtown.
- But, as we've already gone over, the real dominant presence in Morgantown's economy is 40 West Virginia University (WVU), whose history traces back to 1867, five years after the passage of the Morrill Act, which provided federal funding for the establishment of state universities for the teaching of agricultural and technical skills. By the Buffalo-Pittsburgh Highway era, WVU's purview had expanded into a diversity of other disciplines, such as biology, journalism, law, medicine, and (of course) mining, but it didn't become the massive behemoth it is today until the 1960s, when the Baby Boom generation began to reach college age. Today, WVU counts a student population of about 27,000 — almost as many people as the city itself — and boasts nationally recognized programs in forensics and investigative science, robotics, rural medicine, and above all, bioinformatics (the Interstate 79 corridor between here and Clarksburg, replete with tech startups, has taken on the nickname Silicon Holler).
Three blocks past the curve, you come to the corner of High Street and finally enter downtown Morgantown. Make a left, continue three blocks, then turn right on Walnut Street and proceed to University Avenue.
- If you're doing the itinerary south-to-north, take Pleasant Street from University Avenue to Spruce Street, then turn left, proceed four blocks, and rejoin the above-described route at Willey Street. Both of these sets of directions represent the original routing of the Buffalo-Pittsburgh Highway: that most of downtown Morgantown's streets are one-way was as true in 1926 as it is today.
- In a way that few of the other cities you've passed through can boast, the Morgantown of today has a real brio to it: the downtown streets teem with passersby, the restaurant scene is creative and diverse, the nightlife is vibrant, and somehow all this growth and activity has been accommodated without sacrificing any of the place's small-town charm. About the only time life in Morgantown presents anything smacking of big-city headaches is when the West Virginia Mountaineers are playing football at 41 Milan Puskar Stadium or basketball at the 42 WVU Coliseum, and the streets are crowded with game-day traffic. If your trip down the Buffalo-Pittsburgh Highway coincides with one of these events, be prepared and time your arrival in town accordingly — or else "lean in" and grab yourself some tickets; the experience is up there with the best that American college sports have to offer.
- If you're looking for something to do in Morgantown, WVU has plenty that's of interest, albeit not much that dates back to the Buffalo-Pittsburgh Highway era. But if your appetite for exploring Appalachian coal-mining history hasn't been slaked by what you've seen thus far, you can head to campus to check out the...
Morgantown wasn't just a river port: as time went on, the railroads came to even greater prominence on the local transportation scene, and by the time of the Buffalo-Pittsburgh Highway, it was a significant node in the vast Baltimore & Ohio network that stretched from New York to St. Louis. Intercity passenger service ended in 1958, but you can still "ride the rails" in Morgantown today courtesy of one of WVU's more oddball claims to fame. The Morgantown Personal Rapid Transit (PRT) system opened in 1975, a time when the rapid expansion of the student population was choking the local streets with traffic. Nowadays 16,000 riders a day commute along an 8.7-mile (14 km), five-stop dedicated guideway between the WVU campus and downtown Morgantown in small pod-like vehicles that only hold a few people at a time: after entering the station and paying your fare (50¢ per trip), you press a button corresponding to your destination station, and the completely computerized and automated system whisks you there directly without needing to stop at any of the intervening stations along the way. Transit wonks of today generally see it as a retro novelty, but in its day, the PRT was state-of-the-art and widely considered prototypical of the future of public transportation.
- 43 Royce J. and Caroline B. Watts Museum, Mineral Resources Building Room 125, 401 Evansdale Drive (2¼ miles [3.5 km] off the Buffalo-Pittsburgh Highway via University Avenue, Beechurst Avenue, Monongahela Boulevard, and Evansdale Drive), ☏ . M W F Sa 1-4PM; closed on WVU holidays and throughout the month of August. Coal may not have had much to do with the historical importance of Morgantown per se, but as many people know, it was and to a certain extent still is a giant in the overall West Virginia economy. Since the 1930s, WVU's College of Mineral and Energy Resources has been maintaining a collection of artifacts and archival materials chronicling the history of West Virginia mining — everything from safety lamps to canary cages to rescue equipment — and it's on display four days a week at this small and somewhat hard-to-find yet comprehensive museum.
- Or, if you'd rather delve deeper into Morgantown's history as a glassmaking center, off campus you'll find the...
- 44 Morgantown Glass Museum, 1628 Mileground Rd., ☏ . A labor of love performed by local collector Kurt Ly, the Morgantown Glass Museum displays his trove of over 5,000 pieces of locally produced glassware from the Morgantown, Seneca, and Gentile Glass Companies (the latter is especially well represented, including many one-of-a-kind items donated by the Gentile family themselves), dating roughly from the turn of the century through the 1980s. The museum is a bit hard to find and open by appointment only, but the upside of that is that curious glassware aficionados have the encyclopedic knowledge of the museum docent himself at their disposal. Free.
- And if a bit of retail therapy is in order, Morgantown is a place where you can scratch that itch in a setting imbued with the same ambience of history that you've been reading about. Head to the...
- 45 Seneca Center, 709 Beechurst Ave. (1 mile [1.5 km] off the Buffalo-Pittsburgh Highway via University and Beechurst Avenues), ☏ . Home to the Seneca Glass Company until its closure in 1983, the Seneca Center is best described today as a hybrid historic museum and shopping center: the reverberatory gas furnace first installed in 1896 is still in place, as is most of the historic machinery and the iconic fire engine-red water tower that's long been a Morgantown landmark, and mural paintings and museum-style exhibits elucidate the glassmaking process. But most of the building has been converted to retail, with some two dozen shops, restaurants, and services sharing this magnificently restored, National Register of Historic Places-listed space.
Make a left on University Avenue, passing under the elevated tracks of the PRT. You'll soon see signs directing Westover-bound traffic on southbound U.S. Route 19 into the right-hand lane. Follow those signs and, two blocks past Walnut Street, make a right onto the Westover Bridge.
- Once you cross the Monongahela River, you're in 31 Westover, a decidedly more downmarket community founded in 1911 and functioning essentially as a suburb of Morgantown.
Bear right as you come off the bridge, climb up the hill, then veer sharply left once you see the onion-domed steeple of St. Mary's Orthodox Church. Continue along what's now called Holland Avenue, bearing left at the fork in front of the Family Dollar and continuing to follow the signs for southbound 19. After passing the onramps to Interstate 79, you wind and meander along 19 for another twelve and a half miles (20 km). When the road ends at a three-way junction next to the shore of the Monongahela River, you've arrived in...
- ...32 Rivesville, which was founded in 1837 and named for local politico William Cabell Rives, but didn't really take off until 1908, when the Parker Run Coal & Coke Company opened their mine half a mile (800 m) east of town. By the 1920s, Rivesville had become a railroad junction of some regional importance, too, where the Paw Paw Branch of the aforementioned B&O crossed paths with the Monongahela Railway. Of course, in Rivesville as elsewhere in West Virginia, coal production petered out as the 20th century wore on, and nowadays there's nothing much happening in this town of roughly 900 citizens — unless you're passing through in late June or early July, that is, when the town plays host in short succession to the Paw Paw District Fair and the Riverfront Festival, respectively — so instead, we'll...
Turn right, following the signs for southbound 19, and continue for three and three-quarters miles (6 km).
- 33 Fairmont is the next city down the line, a place where glass and coal share the role of traditional economic engine. A slight bit younger than its immediate neighbors, Fairmont's history begins in 1820, when it was founded on the homestead of local farmer Boaz Fleming for the explicit purpose of serving as the seat of government for a proposed new county that Fleming hoped to split off from the south end of Monongalia County. Owing to its location at the halfway point of the newly blazed wagon trail from Morgantown to Clarksburg, the village originally sported the name Middletown, but in 1843 — one year after the establishment of Marion County, fulfilling the aspiration of its founding father — it was renamed Fairmont by a local resident who admired its beautiful location on a bluff overlooking the Monongahela River. In 1899, the city took its modern shape by annexing the neighboring villages of Palatine and West Fairmont, by which time its growth in importance as an industrial center was well underway.
As you descend the hill toward downtown, bear left onto Quincy Street.
- One of the main factors that attracted prosperity to Fairmont was the aforementioned fact that it was a two-industry town. As in Morgantown, glassmakers were attracted to Fairmont because of easy and cheap access not only to the coal that was necessary to fuel furnaces, but also to the deposits of silica sand that were plentiful just east of here. By the Buffalo-Pittsburgh Highway era, two of the major employers in town were the Monongah Glass Company and the Owens Bottle Works: the former specializing in high-end decorative crystalware; the latter churning out millions of glass bottles for commercial customers using what was then state-of-the-art production technology. Meanwhile, the Fairmont Coal Company went down in infamy thanks to the Monongah Mining Disaster of 1907 — more on that later.
After rounding the bend, make your first right onto Jackson Street and continue for four blocks. At the corner of Cleveland Avenue, the street forks. Bear right, following the signs for the southbound 19, and continue onto Locust Avenue.
- South-to-north traffic must turn right from Locust Avenue onto Cleveland Avenue, then make your first left onto Adams Street. Quincy Street is four blocks ahead; turn left onto it to rejoin the above-described route. The current schema of one-way streets in downtown Fairmont dates to the late 1950s or early '60s; the Jackson-to-Locust routing is the original one of the Buffalo-Pittsburgh Highway.
- Fairmont's population and prosperity reached its apex during and just after the Second World War, but over the second half of the 20th century, as with much of the American Rust Belt, its traditional economic base quickly dissipated. Nowadays Fairmont struggles with the aftereffects of deindustrialization, though not quite to the extent of other West Virginia cities: being in WVU's sphere of influence, tech plays a considerable role in the city's modern-day economy, with the Fairmont Technology Park on the southern outskirts of town attracting a growing cluster of firms. And, not to be outdone by its neighbor to the north, Fairmont is also a college town in its own right: Fairmont State University may be no comparison with WVU in terms of size, but it still offers more than 80 baccalaureate degrees in a wide variety of fields. It's also where you'll find the...
- 46 Frank & Jane Gabor West Virginia Folklife Center, Squibb Wilson Blvd., Fairmont State University (¼ mile [250 m] off the Buffalo-Pittsburgh Highway via Squibb Wilson Boulevard), ☏ . M-Th 9AM-4PM and by appointment. As you've penetrated from Morgantown deeper into West Virginia, one thing you've probably noticed is how different the rest of the state is from the bubble that WVU exists in: while the latter is progressive, urbane, and academic, the former is decidedly blue-collar and old-school. Though the coal mines and factories have largely gone the way of the dodo, the unique culture they created endures still, and there's no better place to get to know that culture — to go beyond one-dimensional studies of industrial history and get a feel for what really makes West Virginia tick — than this cultural museum, located appropriately enough in a restored dairy barn. The West Virginia Folklife Center offers its share of museum-style exhibits of old photographs, crafts, historic artifacts, and archival materials covering all aspects of Appalachian folk culture, but it's an events venue first and foremost: you're best off heading to their website and checking out their full calendar of stirring musical performances, film screenings, square dances, book readings, quilting demonstrations, and other happenings to see what your visit to town might coincide with. Free.
- Speaking of local culture, Fairmont is also the birthplace of arguably the most well-known specialty of West Virginia cuisine, the pepperoni roll. It's a deceptively simple yet tantalizing recipe that owes a great deal to the Italian-American ethnicity of many of the state's coal miners, for whom it made a handy lunchtime snack: essentially, it's a long loaf of soft Italian bread stuffed before baking with a spicy pepperoni stick split lengthwise, cut into chunks, and optionally brushed with a bit of olive oil. As it heats, the fat from the sausage melts into the dough and infuses the bread with the flavor of its seasonings. For the best example of this tasty treat, head to 3 Country Club Bakery, just a couple blocks off the Buffalo-Pittsburgh Highway on the west end of town, where it was invented by owner Giuseppe Argiro in 1927.
Continue following the signs for southbound 19 through an increasingly densely forested landscape as you pass out of town. About five and a quarter miles (8.4 km) past the corner of Locust and Cleveland, you come to...
- ...34 Monongah, population about 1,000, which is pretty much the prototypical example of a West Virginia coal-mining company town. First settled in 1886, optimistic locals described it at the time as "a new mining and coking town which promises to be a place of some importance in a few years", a prediction that came to pass in the most calamitous way possible: as mentioned before, it's most famous today as the site of the worst mining disaster in U.S. history, in which, at 10:28 on the morning of December 6, 1907, a subterranean explosion of unknown origin ripped through the Fairmont Coal Company's No. 6 and No. 8 mines. The official death toll was 362 miners — all but five of those who were underground at the time — but that figure doesn't take into account the dozens and dozens of would-be rescuers who succumbed to suffocation from carbon monoxide and other poison gases while trying to reach those who were trapped. A silver lining came in the ensuing weeks in the form of a harsh light shined on the laxity of West Virginia's mine regulations, which led directly to the creation of the United States Bureau of Mines, but shellshocked locals understandably shunned mine work in the years after the disaster: by 1926, when the Buffalo-Pittsburgh Highway opened to motorists, the principal employer was the Ward Cement Block Factory, which remained in business until 2002. Today, Monongah remembers its somber role in history with the...
- 47 Monongah Mine Disaster Memorial, southeast corner of Bridge Street and Main Avenue (½ mile [750 m] off the Buffalo-Pittsburgh Highway via Old Monongah Road and Bridge Street). Right across from the town hall, you'll find a cluster of memorials that pay tribute to Monongah's fallen miners: a statue of a young woman holding a baby, dubbed Monongah Heroine and meant to represent the widows and orphans left in the wake of the explosion; an engraved metal bell donated by the government of the Italian region of Molise, from which many of the victims hailed; a historical marker recounting the events.
Continue along the southbound 19.
- The final stretch of highway, between Fairmont and Clarksburg, is more open and a bit less hilly, passing alongside the West Fork River through farmland dotted with small towns.
About seven and a half miles (12.3 km) past Monongah, you come to a fork in the road where U.S. Route 19 intersects with County Route 3. Bear left, after which you'll soon cross the bridge over the West Fork River. You're entering...
- ...35 Shinnston, a place where coal wasn't the only hydrocarbon that fueled the traditional economy: this city of about 2,000, along with most of the northeastern quadrant of Harrison County, sits on top of the eponymous Shinnston Oil Pool, and natural gas reserves are abundant in the area as well.
After crossing the bridge, bear right onto Pike Street.
- The area was first settled in 1778 by the Shinn family, a clan of Quakers who moved west from New Jersey and whose patriarch, Levi, established a grist mill on the shore of the West Fork River. (The mill is gone, but the 48 Levi Shinn Log Cabin still exists, and is in fact the oldest extant building in Harrison County. Buffalo-Pittsburgh Highway motorists would have passed right by it on their way through town.)
Continue down Pike Street for twelve blocks. Then bear right at the corner of Charles Street and Saltwell Road, following the signs for southbound 19.
- Shinnston remained a small backwoods village for several decades, but fast-forward to the end of the 19th century and several events would occur in succession to kickstart the local economy: first the beginning of the West Virginia coal boom, then the arrival of the railroad in 1890, and most momentously, in 1908, prospectors drilling for gas at a site next to Mudlick Run instead struck oil. Motorists along the Buffalo-Pittsburgh Highway would have borne witness to a buzzing community — there was even a streetcar running down Pike Street. Today the oil boom is over and the local mining industry is just a shell of its former self, but coal is still a fundament of the local economy thanks to the presence of the 49 Harrison Power Station in the neighboring village of Haywood, which yields a whopping 1.9 gigawatts of electricity from its three operational generators.
Continue along 19 for another eight and three-quarters miles (14.1 km), whereafter you'll curve sharply to the left and come to a set of highway ramps at the junction of U.S. Route 50.
- 36 Clarksburg marks the south end of the Buffalo-Pittsburgh Highway. Technically speaking, the route ends at the junction of U.S. Highways 19 and 50 on the northwest edge of town, but there's a great deal to explore if you plunge deeper into this city of 15,000.
To get to downtown Clarksburg, where most of the attractions described in this article are found, continue along the southbound 19 for another mile and a half (2.3 km), then stay straight on West Pike Street after crossing the bridge over the West Fork River. About a quarter mile (300 m) later comes a fork in the road at which all traffic in your direction must bear right. That's West Main Street. Continue eastward for a couple of blocks.
- One of the oldest settlements in West Virginia, Clarksburg's history dates to 1773, when Daniel Davisson purchased the 400-acre (161 ha) plot that encompasses the modern-day city limits. In the early days, Clarksburg wasn't much different from other settlements in the region, deriving its importance from grist milling, tanning, and also as the seat of the county government. However, much the same as happened in Uniontown to its north, Clarksburg's location on a major east-west overland thoroughfare gave it a leg up on its neighbors in terms of growth: the Northwestern Turnpike was financed and constructed in the 1820s and '30s by the Virginia state government to spur settlement of its thinly populated western hinterlands (i.e. modern-day West Virginia, which didn't secede from the state until 1863). As a result, Clarksburg garnered a measure of size and importance that neighboring cities would not attain for several decades, and over time, also benefited from a more diverse and therefore more resilient economy than the nearby coal towns, which were notoriously vulnerable to boom and bust cycles. By the turn of the century, when the reign of King Coal had only just begun to bring prosperity to other parts of West Virginia, Clarksburg was already a bustling little city where brickmaking, pottery, wood products, glass, steel, and iron casting all played a role in a multifaceted economy. Fast forward to the Buffalo-Pittsburgh Highway era a couple decades later and not only had Clarksburg's population of 35,000 made it one of the largest cities in the state, but also — thanks in great part to the largesse of local political figure, businessman and philanthropist Nathan Goff — one of the state's most impressive downtown skylines had begun to sprout.
- Nowadays, as elsewhere in West Virginia, Clarksburg has fallen off considerably from the peak of its prosperity. But the story is not all doom and gloom: since its opening in 1995, one of the main engines driving Clarksburg's economy has been the enormous, high-tech FBI Criminal Justice Information Services Center off Interstate 79, where over 40,000 sets of fingerprints are electronically analyzed every day on behalf of law enforcement agencies nationwide, and cutting-edge biometric technology is used to help investigate crimes and identify perpetrators. And, most consequentially for you the visitor, Clarksburg is also at the forefront of the state's historic preservation movement: the Preservation Alliance of West Virginia was founded here in 1981, and you have it to thank for the fact that the Clarksburg Downtown Historic District remains such a wonderland for the architecture buff. Today, much like Buffalo, the other bookend of the Buffalo-Pittsburgh Highway is a place where well-preserved period surroundings make it easy to imagine what the scene must have been like for travellers in the 1920s.
- Some of the impressive architectural landmarks of downtown Clarksburg include:
- 50 Goff Building, 321 W. Main St. (2 miles [3.4 km] off the Buffalo-Pittsburgh Highway via West Main and West Pike Streets). Standing nine stories in height and boasting an extraordinarily exquisite French Renaissance Revival design, the Goff Building is the last (and, many say, the grandest) of the five downtown Clarksburg buildings commissioned by Nathan Goff: it was erected in 1911, at which time its namesake was serving as a judge on the U.S. Circuit Court. Architect Frank Pierce Milburn patterned the design of this H-shaped early skyscraper after a pair of Classical columns, with a "base" comprising a row of storefront windows separated by engaged Tuscan pilasters, vertical rows of windows framed by Gibbs surrounds making up the "shafts", and an ornate mansard-style roof as the "capital". The Goff Building originally housed shops and a bank on its ground floor and offices above; it's now vacant and has spent the past few years passing through the hands of a number of owners with diverse plans for redevelopment.
- 51 Harrison County Courthouse, 301 W. Main St. (2 miles [3.4 km] off the Buffalo-Pittsburgh Highway via West Main and West Pike Streets). It post-dates the Buffalo-Pittsburgh Highway era by a few years — the cornerstone reads 1931 — but the Harrison County Courthouse is the kind of sight that will leave Art Deco aficionados with mouths agape. The stylized chrome eagles and projecting cylindrical lighting sconces flanking the black granite-faced entrance, the pair of circular reliefs just below the roofline depicting the scales of justice, and the exquisite lettering on the sign all combine to exemplify the style to tremendous effect. Clarksburg-based architect Carlton C. Wood supervised the design. Also still standing, somewhat controversially, in front of the courthouse is Charles Keck's bronze equestrian statue of Confederate general Thomas "Stonewall" Jackson, a local native.
- 52 Waldo Hotel, 18 N. 4th St. (1¾ miles [2.8 km] off the Buffalo-Pittsburgh Highway via U.S. Route 50, North 3rd Street, Hewes Avenue, and North 4th Street). Once the grandest hotel in all of Clarksburg, and more recently the subject of more than its share of failed redevelopment proposals, the seven-floor Waldo Hotel is nowadays a major flashpoint in the seemingly neverending battle between city boosters keen to tear down what they see as an abandoned eyesore and historic preservationists fighting to give it a new lease on life. One thing that's beyond debate, though, is its architectural splendor: the Moorish Revival-style Waldo was the work of Charleston-based architect Harrison Albright, who imbued its lobby with a resplendent mosaic-tiled floor and its exterior with a handsome façade in ruddy terra cotta punctuated by arcaded balconies. Built in 1904 for the aforementioned Nathan Goff, who named it for his father, the Waldo operated as a hotel until 1964, then for five years thereafter as the no-longer-extant Clarksburg campus of Salem College, and finally as apartments until the late 1990s.
- 53 Waldomore, 400 W. Pike St. (1¾ miles [2.8 km] off the Buffalo-Pittsburgh Highway via U.S. Route 50, North 3rd Street, and West Pike Street), ☏ . Tu-F noon-5PM, Sa 10AM-2PM and by appointment. One of the oldest extant buildings in Clarksburg, dating to 1839, Waldomore is the mansion where lived Waldo P. Goff; his wife, Harriet Goff née Moore (the two of whom combined their names to serve as the moniker of their home), and their children, including the aforementioned Nathan Goff. With its tetrastyle Doric portico, the austere yet handsome pediment crowning the façade, and an overall layout hearkening back to Classical temple design, Waldomore is a good example of the Greek Revival style of architecture that was popular at the time of its construction. Later additions to the second floor and rear of the building dating to around the turn of the century added a Colonial Revival element to the design, and were executed so skillfully that the brickwork in the newer sections is totally indistinguishable from the original. Unique among the historic buildings listed in this section, Waldomore is a place that welcomes visitors to explore its interior spaces as well as admiring it from the exterior: after the Goff family's departure, it served for many years as home to the Clarksburg Public Library, which still uses the second floor to house its repository of materials on local history and culture — as well as the books and papers of noted UFOlogist Gray Barker, a native of nearby Braxton County.
- Outside of downtown, there's the...
- 54 Quality Hill Historic District (2 miles [3.4 km] off the Buffalo-Pittsburgh Highway via U.S. Route 50, North 3rd Street, Hewes Avenue, 2nd Street, and Main Street). The stretch of East Main Street just over the Elk Creek bridge from downtown owes its nickname to the fact that, in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, it served as the luxurious domain of Clarksburg's commercial, industrial, and political bigwigs. And in the Quality Hill Historic District you'll still today see the remarkably well-preserved homes where they once lived, representing a wide sampling of the various schools of architecture popular at the time: Victorian Romanesque, Colonial Revival, late Italianate, Gothic Revival, Beaux-Arts Neoclassical, and more. The Greater Clarksburg Convention & Visitors Bureau can provide you with the information you need for your own self-guided walking tour of the district, or better yet, check out the section of their website dedicated to the same topic.
- Generally, Clarksburg is a place of decidedly less interest to those who are not architecture buffs. The exception is the month of September, when the festival calendar takes a turn for the lively: if you're planning a visit for that time, you might want to check out the...
- West Virginia Italian Heritage Festival, ☏ . As we've touched on a couple times already, the Italian-American presence in northern West Virginia is formidable. Large-scale immigration began around the turn of the century, fueled by the promise of readily available work in coal mines and factories, and by 1910 Italians made up by far the largest foreign-born population in the state. Today, from tasty pepperoni rolls to the politically prominent Manchin family to the famous high-quality crystalware produced in places like Morgantown and Fairmont, the Italian influence continues to be a prominent thread in the West Virginia tapestry — and, since 1979, that influence has been celebrated every Labor Day weekend on the streets of downtown Clarksburg at the West Virginia Italian Heritage Festival. The three-day event kicks off with a grand parade and the crowning of "Regina Maria" and her royal court, ends with a gala festival ball, and in between there's a profusion of live music, carnival rides and games, souvenirs, food (including an annual pasta cook-off), and general merriment. The National Sons of Italy calls this one of the top four Italian-American heritage festivals in the U.S., so don't miss out.
- West Virginia Black Heritage Festival, ☏ . Not to be outdone by the Italian community, late September — roughly coinciding with the anniversary of Lincoln's signing of the Emancipation Proclamation — is when West Virginia's rich yet relatively lesser-known African-American heritage is feted on the streets of downtown Clarksburg. In broad strokes, the programming has much in common with its counterpart earlier in the month — live music, food and drink, vendors, and the crowning of a festival king and queen all make up part of the fun — but organizers of the West Virginia Black Heritage Festival tend to focus comparatively more on a positive and inspirational message of community empowerment, which explains the presence of everything from college recruiters to educational exhibits concerning local African-American history to free eye exams offered courtesy of the local Lions Club.
The United States has developed a reputation as a somewhat risky travel destination, especially when it comes to gun violence and urban crime. However, with the exception of its northernmost segment through Buffalo and its suburbs, the milieu of the Buffalo-Pittsburgh Highway is resolutely that of small-town America. While it would be a disservice to pretend that crime in the U.S. is strictly an urban problem, it bears emphasizing that rural crime generally takes a different form, and that your chances of being mugged, shot, or a victim of whatever lurid fate you might imagine befalling visitors to the inner city are effectively zero. Generally, the only time travellers run into trouble with the locals around these parts is when they venture onto private property without permission, an offense that is taken with the utmost seriousness in America's rural hinterlands. "NO TRESPASSING" signs should be heeded scrupulously at all times.
As for Buffalo itself, while the neighborhoods traversed by the Buffalo-Pittsburgh Highway are visibly working-class, the crime rates there are not especially high by local standards. Anyone who follows the usual procedure for urban areas — keep your doors locked, your valuables hidden, and your wits about you — should be fine. Downtown has its share of panhandlers and derelicts, but as long as you give them a wide berth and avoid responding to their entreaties or engaging them in conversation, they're usually harmless. In the odd case where they (or anyone else) do indeed pose a genuine threat, the police are never far away.
By far the greatest danger is the highway itself. City slickers and so-called "flatlanders" often underestimate the challenges posed by driving in rural and mountainous areas. Narrow and/or curvy roadways, deer and other wildlife venturing into traffic lanes, and low visibility at night in areas without street lighting or urban light pollution are all things to be taken seriously. During winter, the issue is compounded by treacherous road conditions created by snow and ice; it might be a good idea to consult our article on winter driving if you plan on tackling the Buffalo-Pittsburgh Highway during the cold months. Thankfully, you'll find generally strong mobile phone reception along the majority of the route — the exception is the segment roughly between Cattaraugus County and DuBois, where service may be spotty depending on your carrier.
Hunting, which is popular all over the region and explicitly legal in the Allegheny National Forest and many of the state parks that the highway passes through or near, presents another danger. If you plan to enjoy the great outdoors during your trip down the Buffalo-Pittsburgh Highway, it's a good idea to find out when hunting season falls (generally in autumn, though the exact timing and duration vary from state to state), keep to marked trails when hiking through the woods, and wear bright colors so that you're as visible as possible to any hunters you might come across.
Where to head next? For starters, Pittsburgh's strange absence from the route of the auto trail to which it gave its name makes it a natural side trip for travellers along the Buffalo-Pittsburgh Highway. It wasn't too long ago that the Steel City was held up as an example of urban miasma, a place of shuttered storefronts, ramshackle slums, and gloomy desperation whose economic lifeblood had been drained by America's late 20th-century deindustrialization. But nowadays, Pittsburgh is the poster child for an altogether different phenomenon: the incipient rebound of the so-called "legacy cities" of the Rust Belt into trendy, desirable, and above all, affordable havens for folks priced out of the big coastal megacities. And it has much to offer the tourist, too: fine dining, picturesque historic architecture, big-league sports, worthwhile cultural attractions. 1920s-era travellers would have accessed Pittsburgh via the William Penn Highway or the Lincoln Highway as described above, but if you want to cheat and take the modern-day shortcut, hop on westbound Route 30 at Mount Pleasant Road in Greensburg, drive nine miles (14.7 km) into Irwin, then take the Pennsylvania Turnpike (I-76) west to the Penn Lincoln Parkway (I-376), altogether a 45- to 60-minute drive depending on traffic.
Beyond that, there's lots more to explore in this part of the country for those who want to extend their travels further. Depending on what direction you drove along the Buffalo-Pittsburgh Highway, your options include:
- If you're visiting the Buffalo area, it's almost unthinkable to pass up the chance to see Niagara Falls in all their glory — not for nothing is it known as one of the Seven Wonders of the World. Here at the world's largest waterfall by flow rate, the churning waters of the Niagara River thunder and roar over a 167-foot (50 m) precipice on the border between the United States and Canada, to the delight of nearly 30 million tourists every year. As well, the twin cities on either shore each have their own unique identities and points of interest: the Canadian side is a Las Vegas-like neon jungle of high-rise hotels, casinos, restaurants, nightclubs, and gimmicky tourist traps like the Ripley's Believe It Or Not Museum and the Movieland Wax Museum, while the more industrialized and gritty American side is decidedly a creature of the Rust Belt, but does boast certain low-key charms, such as the Aquarium of Niagara and a revitalized Little Italy north of downtown. From Buffalo, Niagara Falls is a quick 30-minute drive up Interstate 190, but motorists of the auto trail era would have taken the Susquehanna Trail instead: if you want to retrace the 1926-authentic route, take Main Street north to Niagara Falls Boulevard, then keep following the signs for northbound U.S. Route 62. (Follow the Susquehanna Trail in the other direction and, a few hundred miles [km] later, you'd have ended up in Washington, DC.)
- In the 1920s, Toronto was regarded basically as Buffalo's little brother, a sleepy provincial burg hobbled by a reputation for stodgy Puritanism whose residents were fond of crossing the border to enjoy a taste of the glitz and glamour of big-city life that Buffalo offered. Nowadays, to say the script has been flipped would be an understatement: Toronto is not only the largest city in Canada but one of the most dynamic and forward-thinking metropolises on the American continent, home to five and a half million citizens of practically every nationality and culture on the planet and with a seemingly endless array of attractions, shopping, dining, and entertainment to indulge in. Assuming average traffic conditions, Toronto is roughly a two-hour drive from Buffalo along the Queen Elizabeth Way. The Peace Bridge is the most convenient border crossing from Buffalo today, but it didn't exist until 1927; before that, motorists could cross one of two bridges at Niagara Falls or else take the ferry to Fort Erie from what's now called Broderick Park.
- The Erie Canal represents an earlier chapter in the same epic tale of America's journey from agrarian Arcadia to mighty industrial giant: stretching 363 miles (584 km) from Lake Erie at Buffalo to the Hudson River at Albany, the canal was the largest infrastructure project in the United States to date, and in one fell swoop upon its 1825 opening, made large-scale settlement of the lands west of the Appalachians economically feasible — and made boomtowns out of the erstwhile frontier villages along its route. Though the canal was rendered obsolete for commercial purposes in the space of only a half-century or so by the advent of the railroads, its legacy still casts a long shadow in Upstate New York, and best of all for you as a tourist, the canal itself still exists too, serving mostly pleasure boaters nowadays. But you don't need a boat to enjoy it: cycling enthusiasts have the Canalway Trail at their disposal, which runs alongside it for its entire length. The west end of the modern-day Erie Canal is found in the northern suburb of Tonawanda; cyclists should take the Shoreline Trail to get there, which runs from downtown Buffalo along the canal's former route.
- Unlike in Buffalo with the Susquehanna Trail, the Buffalo-Pittsburgh Highway didn't intersect with any other auto trails at its southern end. But that's not to say there were no beaten paths to follow outward from there. As mentioned before, the Northwestern Turnpike was one of the first roads to be built between the East Coast and what was then America's western frontier: it was first proposed in 1784 by George Washington, finally financed and built in the 1830s by the Virginia state government as a homegrown competitor to more northerly trans-Appalachian routes such as the Erie Canal and the National Road, and in the auto trail era still remained a principal east-west transportation artery through the region. Nowadays, making this once-arduous trek is as simple as following U.S. Route 50 west to Parkersburg or east to Winchester, Virginia — and if east is the direction you're headed, you'll also come within easy striking distance of two of West Virginia's premier tourist attractions, namely the charming spa town of Berkeley Springs and historic Harpers Ferry, where abolitionist John Brown's 1859 raid on the federal arsenal was a major precursor to the American Civil War.
- Or, you could instead head further south along U.S. 19, and in about two hours come to the beginning of the Mountaineer Expressway. The Mountaineer is best known among hardcore road-trip aficionados as a handy shortcut for north-south traffic through the area, by which you shave about a half hour off your trip (and save $8.00 in highway tolls) compared to taking I-79 and I-64 through Charleston. But it also happens to be a showcase for some of the most jaw-dropping mountain scenery that West Virginia has to offer: if you were impressed by what you saw on the southerly reaches of the Buffalo-Pittsburgh Highway, rest assured that was just a prelude. Along the way, you'll pass by the New River Gorge, where some of the best rock climbing and whitewater rafting in the eastern U.S. await. However, a word of warning: the Mountaineer Expressway is truly a road that lives up to its name, with steep grades, blind curves, and sharp drop-offs aplenty. If you're not accustomed to the challenging driving conditions that mountain roads can pose, you might seriously consider passing it up. Also, it's got a reputation as a speed trap, so those with lead feet should beware.
On the other hand, if you simply want to go from Clarksburg back to Buffalo the fast way, take U.S. 50 east to I-79 north to I-90 east (and, naturally, do the reverse to get from Buffalo to Clarksburg). It's roughly a five-hour drive, excluding stops.