Saturday, May 28, 2011

Wellsboro, PA to Smethport, PA on US Route 6

Today was short in miles, long in connections.  A foggy morning with “severe weather” threatening, I was happy to have only 67 miles to drive today, but I needn’t have worried.  Like all weather these days, forecasts change by the minute.  It turned out to be very pleasant.

PA Grand Canyon
A few miles outside of Wellsboro, I turned left off of Route 6 on a 5 mile detour (10 mile roundtrip) to see Pennsylvania’s version of the Grand Canyon.  Not as vast as its western counterpart, and far greener, it was certainly worth the extra 20 minutes for the viewing experience.

Back on 6, I started to see river outfitters, mom and pop motels, “gem mining” tomahawk-selling gift shops…. vacationland services for families recreating in the PA National Forrest – the “PA Wilds.”  I also started noticing the “Welcome Gas Workers” signs signaling a sea change in those who are coming here.

Brick House Cafe
Galeton, PA
Passing through little towns like Ansonia, Rexford, Gaines I stopped at The Brick House Café in Galeton (the dead Center of PA 6) owned by gregarious Cindy Pflug  and her husband who bought the place 4 years ago.  They were “looking for something on 6.”  Tired of city life and the rat race, Cindy now says that she “lives on vacation. All these people come here to get away from it all, then have to go back.  We get to stay.” I met with Terri Dennison, Director of the PA Route 6 Tourist Association (we’d been emailing for months), and she, like many PA people I’ve been meeting, is full of ideas to promote and improve her home state, particularly this “largely forgotten area North of I80.” For the past day and a half, I’d driven through rolling, emerald hills- very much like those of the Blue Ridge Parkway.  Each turn offered stunning views, and every once in awhile a slice of small town life. In fact, the Route 6 Tourist Bureau impels state residents to stay here rather than spend money elsewhere.  “We’re trying to develop this as PA’s version of the Blue Ridge Parkway.  It’s just as beautiful and historic,” Terri Dennison told me.

This part of PA is rich in natural resources: lumber, coal and gas have made many a man a millionaire here since the 1800’s.

Lumber Museum
Sweden Valley, PA
Nothing tells the local timber story better than the PA Lumber Museum in Sweden Valley.  It’s worth stopping in  to get an overview of the devastation wrought by logging companies that clear-cut their way through the dense forest here in the mid 1800’s until nothing was left.  It was virtually a wasteland.  Enter Roosevelt’s New Deal and the CCC (Civilian Conservation Corps), which replanted and sustainably managed PA forests.  The Museum includes a series of weathered buildings housing lumbering-related steam engines, saw-mill,  mess-hall and all services related to life in a logging/lumber camp.

Olga's Gallery and Bistro,
Coudersport, PA
I had one stop to make in the next town of Coudersport – Olga’s Gallery and Bistro owned by the young John and Olga Snyder. It is one of those business that can change the face of a town and draw a younger, more creative and artsy element.  I was so impressed, I made a video.

Before getting to my final destination of the day, I
stopped at the Kinzua (pronounce kinzoo) Bridge - about 4 miles off of Route 6 outside of Smethport.  It took my breath away.  Octave Chinute (who later went on to work with the Wright Brothers) engineered the bridge in 1882 with no cross-braces.  It was aerodynamically designed and at 300 feet off the Valley Floor was the highest bridge on the profitable New York - Erie Railroad line.  In 2003, a tornado tore it apart.  Later this year, a Skywalk is slated to open that will allow visitors to stare into the valley from what's left of the bridge - at no charge.

When I rolled into Smethport, I knew I wasn’t in Mom and Pop land anymore.  This town once had serious money and the evidence lined Main Street (Route 6).  Mansion after stately mansion stood proudly behind beautiful landscaping.  It’s as if I’d wandered into downtown Greenwich, CT.

Smethport, PA
Home of Wooly Willy

Fortunately for me, I had a chance to stay in one of these grand homes at the Mansion District Inn, owned by Smethport’s Mayor (and all around Renaissance Man), Ross Porter and his lovely wife Jovanna. Ross is leading the charge to incorporate less-expensive and locally sourced Compressed Natural Gas into our county's gas stations to decrease our dependence on foreign oil. When I first entered their B&B I was overwhelmed; statues, taxidermy’d animal heads, overstuffed seating, Tiffany-style lamps, and much much more jam-packed several common parlors.  For a minute, I felt claustrophobic.  But as I sat there, the rooms gelled into an interesting, whimsical and “of a certain time” Queen Anne meets Arts and Crafts tableau. I expected Teddy Roosevelt to stroll through the front door any minute.  In the 1800’s Henry Hamlin was the chief benefactor of Smethport.  He was purported to be the wealthiest private banker in the U.S. at the time – having made his fortune in oil, lumber and gas. This house was a wedding gift to his daughter.  “We want to indulge guests in the Smethport opulence of the Victorian era,” Ross explained. The 6 guest rooms upstairs are phenomenal; put together with gleanings from the couple’s world travels.  There’s a carved “1850 Chinese Wedding Bed” that would spice up a romantic weekend, and the new Freeman Suite ($119 night) has a slate rain shower big enough to dance in. Décor is clever and bedding luxurious, and I didn’t even get to Jovanna’s terrific breakfast; made to order with herbs and vegetables fresh from her garden. She serves her Country-Fair-winning Belgian Chocolate Biscotti (an old Sicilian family recipe) along with a three course gourmet morning meal.  Before you leave, Ross and Jovanna make sure you take home a Woolly Willy – the iconic kid’s toy made right here in Smethport.


West Line Inn
West Line, PA
For a real local experience, head off 6 – and it feels as if it’s WAY off 6 – to West Line Inn.  Once a wood chemical company, it was turned into an Inn and Restaurant, run by Judy and John Pomeroy – a French trained chef.  It is truly in the middle of nowhere; you drive 6 miles up Route 219, then take a left onto West Line Rd. – dark and long – for three miles, but feels like 30.  It is definitely worth it for the cozy warren of dining rooms, a popular bar and, yep, the food.  My “Mint Julep Chicken” sounded like it could go wrong, but was actually very good. I’m told steak and seafood dishes are, too. Definitely a find.



  1. Mal, It is so much fun (virtually) traveling with you on this trip down Rt 6, and visiting all of these unique places! I loved the yarn shop, especially the unique dolls! Not only is Rt 6 off the "beaten path", the people working along on Rt 6 have wonderful, creative talents that are off the beaten path, too. Lynn

  2. Malerie,
    It was a pleasure meeting you & thank you so much for sharing the treasures of our region with the rest of the world. You hit 3 of our favorite towns & met some of our favorite people in just one day.
    We really hope to see you again & will enjoy following your Route 6 travels on your blog.
    Olga & John Snyder
    Proprietors of
    Olga Gallery, Cafe, & Bistro & Yarn at Olga's

    P.S.--we plan on sharing your blog with our friends & fans on Facebook! Take care, travel safely, & once again, thanks!


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