Road Trip! Destination: Shartlesville, Pa.
By Kate Benz
Published: Saturday, June 15, 2013, 9:00 p.m.
Driving along the interstate can become a mind-numbing experience in about the time it takes to go through your favorite playlist. Luckily, rest for the weary traveler awaits when forgotten sections of Main Street USA appear on the horizon like an oasis in the desert.
Nestled along Interstate 78 in Berks County, about halfway between Harrisburg and Allentown, Shartlesville's timeline boasts a history worthy of a prime-time miniseries. Named after the Shartle family around the late 1700s, the town survived contentious and sometimes bloody relations with local Indians but went on to enjoy a growth spurt in the 1800s. By 1885, the town boasted a post office, handful of inns, blacksmith shops, country stores, church and two one-room schoolhouses.
But the road well-traveled was really paved in gold by the early 1900s, when Main Street — now Old Route 22 — served as the main thoroughfare from New York City to Pittsburgh. For more than 50 years, business grew, tourists poured in and bright lights advertised traveler-friendly businesses with 24/7 hours of operation. The completion of Interstate 78 in 1957, however, threatened to put an end to much of the town's glory days, as getting “there” faster became a priority over leisurely drives.
Luckily, the promise of home-cooked Pennsylvania Dutch meals, a ticket to “The World's Greatest Indoor Miniature Village,” a glass of plum fruit wine, ride in a Cinderella carriage or rustic wagon, simply proves too irresistible. The world around it might be changing at rapid speeds, but Shartlesville is proving that the road less traveled is one worth braking for.
Kate Benz is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-380-8515.
Even from the interstate, it's impossible just to whiz by without taking a second look at the vintage-like structure that harkens to a time when highways were adorned with more than just Golden Arches. But the best part about walking through the doors of Roadside America is having to wait just a little bit longer to see what you came for.
“The way it's set up that people can't see it ahead of time is the way my grandfather wanted it. When they walk in the door for the first time, they have no idea what they're gonna see. You hear gasps, ‘Oh my God!' They just can't believe what it is,” owner Dolores Heinsohn says.
“It” has been touted as “The World's Greatest Indoor Miniature Village,” an 8,000-square-foot wonderland that was born out of humble beginnings as a hobby in the home of her grandfather, Laurence Gieringer. With 18 trains, trollies and cable cars running throughout the display, 10,000 handmade trees, 4,000 miniature people, 300 miniature structures, real rivers, streams and waterways, and a dreamy day-to-night sequence, even the most cynical of souls can pick a scene and get lost in time.
“I won't change anything. My grandmother (Dora) used to do all the flower beds and the trees. She even made the cornstalks out of crepe paper. Everything inside we just clean it and maintain it and preserve it. Every piece in there tells a story,” Heinsohn says.
On Aug. 4, Roadside America celebrates its 60th anniversary.
Details: 610-488-6241; www.roadsideamerica.com
Pennsylvania Dutch Gift Haus
Next door to Roadside America is the Pennsylvania Dutch Gift Haus, where shoppers can enjoy some good, old-fashioned retail therapy. Not surprisingly, hand-painted hex signs are usually the main draw, although other homemade goods and one-of-a-kind finds also have proven too irresistible for customers to leave behind.
“My daughter finds the Pennsylvania Dutch stuff. All around the area here, she's hunting around. One time, she came in with a hand-painted, big rocking chair by some fellow near Pleasantville. It was the last piece he painted before he died. It was sitting there for awhile and a woman comes in from North Carolina and she said ‘If I can get it in the car, I'll take it!' And she took it!” Dolores Heinsohn says.
Originally constructed by her father so that her mother could run her own gift shop, the building was previously located behind Roadside America, but was moved in the mid 1950s to its location next door. By 1961, a kitchen and dining room that once catered to locals and travelers, were removed to make room for the ever-expanding collection of local merchandise.
“We've got giftware, crocheted hand towels, scarves and baby blankets that I made myself, Dutch books, fine gifts, all kinds of things. It's such a mix-up. I put anything out … and if the right person walks in and takes it, then bingo!” Heinsohn adds.
Details: 610-488-6529; www.pennsylvaniadutchgifthaus.com
Good behavior is best left at home in order to fully (and guiltlessly!) enjoy every last morsel of home-cooked food being served up at Haag's Hotel. Looking for some high-octane fuel to get your motor running? Place an order for its “Famous Hearty Country Style Breakfast,” an all-you-can-eat stomach stuffer of 15 or more dishes including bacon, ham, sausage, eggs, pancakes, home fries, toast, tapioca pudding, apple sauce, their famous sugar cookies and Shoo-Fly Pie. More of a mid-to-late-day eater? Savor a “Family Style” dinner that includes three meats of your choice: homemade meatloaf, ham, roast beef, chicken, or country sausage and three sides such as pepper cabbage, red beets, potato filling or pot pie. If you find yourself slipping into a food coma, head on upstairs and sleep it off. Just be sure to let them know what kind of accommodations suit you, as the old country hotel has seven rooms up for grabs — five of which have a private bath.
Details: 610-488-6692; www.haagshotel.com
Bee Tree Trail Carriage & Wagon Tours
When you've spent hours inhaling nothing but exhaust fumes, the idea of getting some fresh, mountain air seems like a dream come true.
“The people love it,” says Dave Rohrbach, who runs the Bee Tree Trail Carriage & Wagon Tours along with his wife, Susie. “We travel into the little town of Shartlesville and, basically, old, country roads that we travel on and along the base of the Blue Mountains. So we've got creeks and ponds and all sorts of things to see. It's quiet and everything moves slower. Traveling in a horse and carriage is so much different than in a car. There's so much more you can see and enjoy. You hear a lot of cameras clicking when people are taking a ride.”
Country rides, dinner rides, sleigh rides, hay rides … a leisurely adventure awaits as you step inside a handcrafted carriage that was “built by myself for the luxury for the people,” Rohrbach says.
Cinderella Carriages, Princess Carriages, even wagons that hold from two to 20 riders are yours for the taking. Just don't rest on your laurels for too long while deciding which hitch to take. “Most Saturdays are booked a year in advance. We're giving out quotes right now as far as 2017,” Rohrbach says.
Details: Prices start at $100 per hour and reservations must be made at least 24 to 48 hours in advance. 484-645-3411; www.beetreetrail.com
Bashore & Stoudt Country Winery
Blackberry, blueberry, strawberry, elderberry, red raspberry, plum, peach, nectarine, apple, pear, concord — no, we're not talking about pies. We're talking about wines.
“Some people love it, and some people think you can't make wine out of anything but grapes, but most people that come to us are looking for fruit wines because you can get grape wine anywhere,” Bashore & Stoudt Country Winery owner Bob Stoudt says.
A third-generation fruit grower, Stoudt started the business back in 1999 after starting to make wine at his house. “I just got hooked on it,” he says.
The most popular grabs are the plum wines (they have four to choose from) and the red raspberry.
Details: Hours: 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Thursdays to Sundays. 610-488-9466; www.bashorestoudtcountrywinery.com
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