Staycation: Artisans, Amish featured in unique day trip to Mercer County and Volant |
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Deb Erdley

One in an occasional series highlighting “staycation” ideas found in our own backyard:

Take Interstate 79 north from Pittsburgh. Travel 60 miles to the Grove City exit.

Just this once, ignore the college and the outlet mall most people associate with Grove City.

Instead, head west for a day trip through an amazing trail of Americana:

• Tour the Wendell August Forge and flagship store, an artisanal manufacturing operation known worldwide for its array of forged aluminum, bronze and pewter gift ware.

• Browse high-quality mission-style furniture hand made by Amish craftsmen at the Amish Peddler.

• Take a drive along Route 208 west and you might catch one of the many Amish farm families traveling by horse and buggy along roads that wind through rolling farm country.

• Check out handmade quilts and rag rugs at Byler’s Quilt Shop, located on the grounds of the Amish family’s farm.

Cross the covered bridge over Neshannock Creek where anglers stop to try their luck.

• Head back toward Grove City and stop in Volant for a fun tour through the three-story 1812 grist mill.

Down at the Forge

The Wendell August Forge and Flagship Store alone is worth a day trip.

The sprawling facility, located along Route 208 (Leesburg Road) in Springfield Township, about a half-mile from the outlet shops, boasts it is the oldest and largest continuously operating forge in America. Third-generation local craftsmen join with talented artists there to create hand-forged giftware for sale in the adjacent shop.

The 96-year-old company that employs about 100 craftsmen moved to its new facility in 2013 after a devastating fire three years earlier destroyed the original plant, a facility that had been listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Company representatives offer tours of the plant upon request. The tour provides an opportunity to watch artisans working with hammers craft some of the finishing touches on anvils and see the coal-fired forge that is used for a special finish on select pieces. It also includes a stop at a station that showcases the history of the company.

At the conclusion of the tour, visitors are given an opportunity to hammer their own piece at the Make Your Mark Station.

The store features distinctive giftware crafted from aluminum, pewter and bronze, including hand-wrought trays, bowls, mugs, desk sets, picture frames and Christmas tree ornaments among other items.

True to its Pennsylvania roots, the company that has a partnership agreement with the NFL and NHL, crafts gifts bearing Steelers and Penguin logos and images of Pittsburgh’s iconic bridges. It also features memorabilia from a variety of universities, including Penn State, Pitt, Slippery Rock, Robert Morris and Carnegie Mellon universities.

Special commissions come from a variety of sources.

“Last year, were working on keychains for Michelle Obama’s book tour at the same time we were doing a commission for the Trump White House,” flagship store manager Rob Ridgeway said.

The Amish Peddler

Before you leave the Wendell August Forge store, be sure to trek to the rear of the facility.

The Amish Peddler, a furniture store that features high-quality mission-style wood furniture styled by Amish craftsmen in Ohio, is located at the rear of the Forge.

You’ve seen cherry, oak and walnut furniture, but have you ever seen elm? In an age where furniture is routinely imported, it’s worth a stroll through the Peddler to check out their selection.

Store reps said the furniture can be custom ordered in an array of wood choices.

Amish-made goods in Volant

A 15-minute drive west on Route 208 will take you through the borough of Volant.

But don’t stop there just yet. Continue a couple of more miles through the rolling farm country and chances are you might encounter a horse and buggy traveling through this Amish enclave where well-kept farms are tended with great care.

Keep your eyes open for Byler’s Quilt Shop.

Esther Byler and her 5-year-old brother, Harvey, were tending the Amish family shop where the vast majority of goods are produced by members of their family.

They follow traditions long revered in the Amish community.

Esther said she makes soap and candles, while her mother and grandmother sew quilts, assembling the patchwork on treadle sewing machines and quilting them by hand. Her father’s cousin and an aunt make the color rag rugs that take up a section of the store.

There is an array of soft rag dolls dressed in traditional Amish garb, ready to become a little girl’s best friend.

Just west of the quilt shop, make a left and travel two miles through the country to get a look at the neat covered bridge that crosses Neshannock Creek. If you’re lucky, you might find a place nearby to pull over and grab a few photographs. But be forewarned, this is a popular spot with anglers and parking is limited.

From another time

Head back toward Grove City, but be sure to make a stop in Volant and give yourself some time to wander.

The Volant Community Development Corporation has renovated the 1812 three-story gristmill at the center of town. Its massive water wheel on Neshannock Creek speaks to another time. Inside the three-story building, a dozen vendors and artisans compete for attention, offering an eclectic array of goods including hooked rugs; fine art photography; vintage furnishings; local Amish jams, jellies and pickles; hand-crafted jewelry and toys; broken glass art; antiques and all manner of Americana.

Venture up the steep steps to the third story of the mill and take a gander at the collection of historic artifacts, photographs and clothing that document the small town’s past.

Venture to the neat Victorian home next door and take advantage of the tasting table at the Cidery and Winery that the Community Development Corporation launched there.

And then take your time visiting the two dozen or so gift shops and restaurants in this sweet, walkable community.

Eat up

After a hard day of shopping, we were famished.

There’s a broad array of choices here, ranging from fine dining to fast food, but we chose the Timber Creek Tap and Table, a local brew pub in a sprawling timber peg building in Springfield Township.

The pub proved a warm, welcoming respite for weary shoppers. While traffic was light and service was brisk on a weekday, we were told it’s best to call ahead for reservations on weekends.

The menu features an array of tempting offerings — everything from small plates and specialty burgers and salads to wild Alaskan salmon, filet mignon and bourbon scallops.

A side order of belly & brussels ($6) — caramelized pork belly over fried Brussels sprouts with goat cheese and sriracha — proved a great appetizer. A small plate of the same is available for $12. But we’re guessing, given the size of the side order, that a small plate might feed three.

The Sloppy Pig ($12) was indeed sloppy, but well worth the mess that comes with slow-roasted pork barbecue with melted cheese curds and peppers over a spicy slaw on a whole grain roll.

We washed it all down with a Timber Creek Loaded IPA ($5.95) and left the brew pub stuffed and carrying a massive box of leftovers.

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