Wednesday, January 11, 2012

The Best Unique, Iconic, and Fun Company Towns in America (On US Route 6)

Drive all 3,652 miles of cross-country US Route 6, and you'll discover the ideas and products that made our country great.  From a "Johnny Tremain" like pewter factory in New England, to the aerospace industry in California, Route 6 is a timeline not only of US History, but of US Ingenuity.  The following are the Top 15 Company Towns (moving from east to west) on the Grand Army of the Republic (US Route 6) Highway;

1.  Sandwich, MA - The first town you hit on Cape Cod  was once the center of pressed glassmaking in the country.  In the mid 1800's this new technology enabled the Boston and Sandwich Glass Company to turn out sparkling, uniform table-ware.  Gone now, you can still see how it was once done at the   Sandwich Glass Museum;, 508-888-025, a clever, engaging place where you can watch a glass-blowing demo, holographic depictions of a colonist’s use of glass in her home, and of course glass shelves brimming with the colorful crystal that made this town famous.

Sandwich Glass Museum
Sandwich, MA

2.  Woodbury, CT; Who knew this little fife and drum town could be one of the last bastions of pewter-making in the USA? One of the only surviving pewter factories in the United States, Woodbury Pewter, 860 Main Street South, Woodbury, CT,, open daily 9-5, sits right on Main St. Think Colonial-era kitchen and these irregular matte-grey plates and mugs come to mind. Though mostly a coach-bus-favorite gift shop now, you can watch artisans pour glistening molten pewter into molds. Seeing this might invoke memories of the required Middle-School book, Johnny Tremain. A pewter apprentice, Temain botched a pour, melding his fingers into a web.  Dangerous work.

Woodbury Pewter Co.
Woodbury, CT
3.  Brewster, NY; Brewster was the first headquarters of Borden Dairy in 1863.  Gail Borden patented condensed milk, built a plant at the intersection of what is now Route 6 and 22 and made a fortune supplying Eagle Brand Condensed Milk to troops during the Civil War.  By the early 1900’s many of the local dairy farms had been flooded during the construction of the nearby Croton Dam and Croton Reservoir system (built to supply fresh water to New York City 60 miles south), and Borden had to shut the plant in 1915.  To find out more about Brewster's history, you can't beat the compact Southeast 

Borden Dairy Co.
Brewster, NY
4. Allegheny Forest, PA: This region of PA is rich in natural resources: lumber, coal and gas have made many a man a millionaire here since the 1800’s. Nothing illustrates the vicissitudes of the local timber industry better than the Pennsylvania Lumber Museum, 18 miles west of Galeton in Sweden Valley.  It’s worth stopping in to learn about the logging companies that cut down these dense forests in the mid 1800’s, until the once-lush Alleghenies became a wasteland.  Enter Roosevelt’s New Deal and the CCC (Civilian Conservation Corps), which replanted and laid the groundwork for sustainably managing PA forests.  The Museum includes a series of weathered buildings housing lumber-related steam engines, a sawmill, mess hall and all services related to the sweaty, stinky, rough life in a logging/lumber camp.

PA Lumber Museum
Sweden Valley, PA
5.  Smethport, PA: This former home to gilded age oil tycoons and lumber barons still manufactures a toy that once kept children quiet for hours in the back-seat.  Put all of your electronics away, kids, and do some magnetic doodling on a Wooly Willy.....

Wooly Willy
Manufactured in Smethport, PA
6.  Kane, PAAnyone who has ever stacked rings on the wooden “Rocky Color Cone” has owned or played with a Holgate toy from the Holgate Toy Company.  Though the company no longer operates out of Kane, you will find a selection of it most popular items at The Depot, the local train depot saved from demolition that now serves as a history and art museum for artifacts “made in Kane.”

Rocky Color Cone
Holgate Toys, Inc.
Kane, PA
7.  Warren, PA:  Warren is home to Blair Corporation – one of the largest catalog companies in the world. The legacy of driven, industrious Pennsylvanian, John Blair, who in 1910 started his company by selling trademarked rubberized black raincoats to undertakers, Blair Corp. has grown into multi-million dollar purveyor of elastic-waist leisure-ware. Find out all about it at the  Blair Museum of History,, 9-6 daily, inside Blair’s headquarters in Warren, which chronicles the life and work of John Blair.  

Blair Catalog Company
Warren, PA
8. Ligonier, INAnnie Oakley Perfumery,, 1-800-922-6643,  is the only perfumery in the United States with all operations (R&D, production, packaging and distribution) under one roof. Owners Renee Gabet and her husband, Charles have carved out a little slice of Provence in the Midwest and imbued it with fragrant panache.

Annie Oakley Perfumery
Ligonier, IN
9. Nappanee, IN; While the more well-known attraction in town, Amish Acres, celebrates Amish past, the RV Manufacturer, NewMar,, represents Amish present. According to some RV enthusiasts, NewMar is the best in the industry, owned and operated almost entirely by Amish employees.  The manufacturing plant runs two terrific public tours daily, Monday through Friday at 10 a.m. and 1 p.m.

Newmar RV Mfg. Co.
Nappanee, IN

10.  Moline, IL: When Mr. John Deere moved from Vermont to Moline in 1847 to establish his self-scouring polished steel plow manufacturing company, he insisted that the railroad line extend to this Mississippi River outpost. Moline has been a Deere Company town ever since.  The John Deere is an indoor wonderland for everyone who's ever been awestruck by big trucks and tractors. Here, you can climb into the cabs of these gleaming, new-leaf-green pieces of equipment and pretend that you're on the job.

John Deere Pavilion
Moline, IL

11. Newton, IA: Hometown of Maytag Appliances, Newton was known as “The Washing Machine Capital of the World,” and indeed before Whirlpool purchased the company in 2006, every Maytag washing machine was manufactured in this small Plains town. Currently, Maytag Dairy Farm,, still churns out famous Maytag Blue Cheese.  Beloved by Emeril Lagasse and Martha Stewart among many other chefs, Maytag ships a million pounds of cheese around the world every year. 

Maytag Dairy
Newton, IA

12.  Council Bluffs, IAThe city of Council Bluffs was integral to the story of the Union Pacific Railroad, one of the oldest publically traded companies still operating under its original name. UP was founded by Abraham Lincoln in 1862 when he signed the Pacific Railway Act and its story is one with the building of America.    Union Pacific Railroad Museum tells this story in a highly engaging way.

Union Pacific Railroad Museum
Council Bluffs, IA

13.  Golden, CO:  OK, let's freely associate.....think "Golden Colorado" and if you've ever watched sports on any network, you'll probably think "Coors."  Yep, Golden is certainly a Coors (and now Coors/Miller) town.  Coors, which merged with Miller in 2008, is the country’s largest brewery under one roof and employs 1,800 in its Golden plant and another 3,000 in The Valley- making this the largest employer in the area.  The Coors Brewery Tour,, is Golden’s premier attraction for a reason.  Not only can you traipse through the inner sanctum of the World’s Largest Single Site Brewery, you are entitled to three complementary 8 oz. glasses of a beverage “that has never left the brewery.”  

Coors Bewery
Golden, CO

14.  Lone Pine, CAWatch the 20 minute documentary at the Beverly and Jim Rogers Museum of Lone Pine Film History, and you’ll realize why every single silent western, singing cowboy movie, and later the movies that made John Wayne and Clint Eastwood household names look the same. They were all filmed in the strange, rounded sandstone formations that comprise the Alabama Hills a few miles away. Though now relatively quiet, every few years, filmmakers get a hankering for this recognizable backdrop; parts of Tremors and Iron Man were filmed here and the Hills are still used quite a bit for TV ads (particularly pickup truck commercials).

Cowboy Movie Central
Alabama Hills
Lone Pine, CA
15. Mojave, CAAir and Space Port,, the "world's premier civilian aerospace test center," is where Sir Richard Branson has been testing his newest creation, “The Feather” for his Virgin Atlantic commercial spaceship spinoff, Virgin Galactic.  If you’re lucky, you may see this catamaran-like rocket alight as you drive by, or time your trip for a 2pm weekday tour (call for RSVP).  

Virgin Galactic @ Air and Space Port
Mojave, CA


  1. What an interesting list of Places. I grew up one block North of US 6 in Butler IN. I wasn't allowed to cross "6" but could go over and wave at all the truck drivers when I was little. This route would make a wonderful retirement trip; a leisurly drive into the heartland of America.

  2. Thanks for your comment, Anonymous! I'm sure, then, that you knew about the Butler Eat N Haus in downtown Butler. I had a terrific "down home" dinner there and recommend it in my upcoming guidebook. And you are correct about Route 6 being a wonderful retirement trip. It provides a terrific overview of the history and current state of life in the states.


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