Monday, January 27, 2014

A Town that Time Forgot (11/29/13)

As you probably know, “Black Friday” is now followed directly by “Small Business Saturday.” My wife, also always on the lookout for new and interesting things to do, suggested we take the latter concept a step further. She suggested we spend this special Saturday in the town of Smicksburg, PA. Like most anyone reading this, I had never heard of Smicksburg. My wife had, but she wasn’t even sure of where it was. She only knew it was somewhere in western Pennsylvania, so I was commissioned by her to find out more about it and determine whether it was a viable destination.

I was surprised to find that the town not only had its own web site, but that the site included local business descriptions, maps, and a calendar of events that even many cities’ Chambers of Commerce don’t bother with. After cataloguing the number and variety of local commerce conveyors, I recommend that we take trek off in the Mini, leaving space around a small cooler, in case we found any treasures worth bring home. Off we went, promises of gift stores, pottery shops, quilt makers, wineries, and local foods lying an hour and fifteen minutes or so toward the middle of nowhere.

Marking the way to Smicksburg
Winding our way through various small towns, a partially frozen lake, and one isolated power plant, we came nearer our destination—marked by a curious feature we called the “cow on a stick.” As you enter the Smicksburg from the south, you pass several Amish families in quintessential horse-drawn buggies. They politely greet you, whether coming alongside or passing in the opposite direction. Although they are a subculture that prefers to keep to themselves, all of the people we saw seemed friendly in passing. Perhaps it is the dependence on outsiders for the many handcrafted furniture businesses that dominate the town and its environs. The Amish who live in this area seem comfortable doing without most of the technologies we take for granted, but they seem just as comfortable with exposure to it. I did respect the assumed wish of abstaining from photographing them, however.

After an initial stop in a general gifts and furniture market—candles, preserves, Christmas ornaments, some of that handcrafted furniture, and more—we decided to have lunch in the middle of town. I had a rather odd combination: Reuben with a side of sweet potato fries, complete with syrup. After a warm lunch we ventured back out into the cold to check out the other shops in town.  Standard fare, with one notable exception.

Meet Donn Hedman
A pottery store baring the town’s moniker and owned by a retired clay professor and his wife, really caught our attention. The pieces were both beautiful and unique. The face pots, egg cookers, salt shakers filled the former site of the town’s First National Bank, and the Donn Hedman was a wealth of knowledge about pottery techniques, the building, the town, and even something about road tripping (he turned me on to Blue Highways, by William Least Heat Moon, an excellent book that I wish I had written).

"Golden Gate" and Fort Point
As for the rest of the shopping, it was everything I expected, but more. Antique shops specialized more in “primitives” from earlier centuries than what I tend to seek out. Even so, I scored a Sinatra 78, stereoscope card of the Panama Canal, and master glass photo of the “Golden Gate” (pre-bridge but with Fort Point and its lighthouse in the foreground). This antique shop was part and parcel to Windgate Winery, a good ways out of town and off the hardly-beaten path. I was glad we had the small car, as we found ourselves sharing narrow, snow-covered dirt roads with more than one buggy. Wingate’s offerings were worth the mud on the Mini, especially their drier whites. The winery was much busier than I would have expected, a probable tribute to the quality of the product.

Delinquent beauty
On the way home we stopped at a few more places—a spice shop, quilt and Christmas store, and small general store. At the last stop of the day, we fed our cooler with a two-pound roll of rich Amish butter and a pound each of butter cheese and garlic ring bologna. I feared I would soon look like the cow that now seemed an omen, but I couldn’t resist the culinary step back in time. An old, rusting gas pump to the side of the store caught my eye. It seemed to epitomize the feel of Smicksburg to me. It was old and worn, but still somehow alive and beautiful as a photographic study.

Wingate Winery
And that really sums up the day. It was a complete escape from life and work, even compared to other road trips I’ve shared. It was fascinating to see the artisans and Amish families coexisting in a truly bucolic setting. It was a nice vacation from the norm, if only for a day, and I look forward to a return visit.

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