Three Beautiful Peaks above Tree Line in the Northeast

Contributed by Katie Levy of Adventure-Inspired

On a recent trip to Vermont and New Hampshire, I had a chance to hike above tree line, which isn’t something I get to do often, living in Pennsylvania. When you’re out of the woods and above the trees, it’s an incredible feeling. You’ll see different types of (typically very fragile) vegetation, have expansive views of the world around you, and if you walk up, you’ll know you’ve earned every bit of that experience!

Hikers on Mount Lafayette

Photo Credit: Katie Levy

Mount Mansfield, Vermont

Hiker on Mount Mansfield

Photo Credit: Katie Levy

At 4,393 feet above sea level, Mount Mansfield is the highest peak in Vermont. It’s particularly special because it’s one of few places in the state where true alpine tundra can be found. That being said, park officials take great care in protecting the foliage and preventing erosion; some trails up the mountain are closed from mid-April through Memorial Day. On top of the unique flora, if you look at the mountain from the east or west, it looks like a very long human face, complete with a chin, nose, and forehead.

The most popular way to get to the top is via Underhill State Park and one of four trails leading up the mountain. The Sunset Ridge and Laura Cowles trails provide the most direct access to the summit, aka the chin. I used the Sunset Ridge trail on a recent trip and it was steep, but absolutely worth the climb once my hiking partner and I popped out of the trees. Hikers can use the Long Trail to visit all three facial features, and a toll road gives folks not interested in making the tough climb up a chance to park close to the nose. It’s absolutely worth a trip if you’re in the area, but be prepared for crowds in the summer months.

Mount Marcy, New York

Growing up in Upstate New York meant frequent trips to the Adirondacks for outdoor adventure, and one of my favorite peaks to climb there is Mount Marcy. At 5,343 feet above sea level, it’s the highest point in New York and at the heart of the High Peaks Region, one of the most beautiful parts of the state. Most of the mountain and the surrounding areas are covered by thick woods, but the last few hundred feet take hikers out of the trees and above the world below.

The options for accessing Mount Marcy are seemingly endless, depending on whether you’re looking for a day hike or an overnight backpacking trip. The Van Hovenberg trail, which starts at the Adirondack Loj, is the shortest (around seven miles one-way) and most popular way up the mountain. It’s a long day trip, but there’s plenty of backcountry camping in the area, and every time I’ve visited, I’ve stayed at least two nights. I’ve been to Mount Marcy via the Johns Brook trail and Johns Brook Lodge, and from Lake Colden via Four Corners; it’s tough to go wrong in that part of New York State.

Mount Lafayette, New Hampshire

Hikers on Mount Lafayette one of three beautiful peaks in the northeast

Photo Credit: Katie Levy

At the northern end of Franconia Ridge, 5,249-foot Mount Lafayette stands above other nearby peaks, but not by much. It’s home to a variety of small, fragile types of alpine foliage, which is part of what makes it special, but what I loved most about climbing Mount Lafayette is the ridge walking it took to get to the top.

A variety of trails give hikers access to Mount Lafayette and Franconia Ridge, depending on whether you’re interested in visiting just the top of the mountain, or walking along the ridge to neighboring peaks. I did this loop counter-clockwise over Memorial Day weekend this year, covering nearly nine miles and visiting Little Haystack and Mount Lincoln before coming to Mount Lafayette. It’s one of the most beautiful hikes I’ve done in the Northeast, and thought it was packed, it’s well worth the trip. Be sure to add the Greenleaf Trail to your route, stop at the Greenleaf Hut (4,220′), and bring cash; even if you’re not an overnight guest, snacks are available for purchase there and after that hike, you’ll need the energy.

If you choose to do any of these hikes, keep a few key things in mind. First, weather changes very quickly when you’re up that high. Watch the forecast carefully, and stay below tree line if storms are predicted. Second, wear sturdy shoes and consider hiking poles to support you on the way down steep trails; your knees will thank you. Third, stay on the trail. As tempting as it can be to run around on the rocks above tree line, it’s tough enough for alpine vegetation to grow in the first place; stepping on fragile plants certainly won’t help.

Have you been to any of these mountains? Sound off in the comments!

Happy Birthday, NPS!

By now, you are probably aware that the National Park Service is celebrating its 100th birthday today, August 25th! And, it got us a present: free entry to all NPS parks and monuments today and for the whole weekend! Yessiree! The 124 parks that usually charge admission are completely free to enter, which takes a chunk of the cost out of more than 400 ways national park-goers have to explore something wild, imbued with history, AND awe-inspiring all at once.

[Image: www.nps.gov]

One hundred years of juuust enough development so you can explore, really branch out, and find genuine, quiet solitude (especially with a back country permit), but ideally not get completely lost. Cheers! [Image: www.nps.gov]

And not only is the NPS throwing its boom gates wide open, but there are state parks departments across the country also offering free admission today! New Hampshire State Parks are on board in the east, as Washington State Parks open their arms in the west.

Over the weekend, you can have a first-hand encounter with some of the wonder preserved at our national parks, monuments, battlefields and historic sites. Among the many splendors at our national parks, you can take in waterfalls or tour earthwork forts. You can hike up mountains, or maybe see (and stay a safe distance from) bison, bighorn sheep, or elk. Maybe you’ll catch sight of an elusive wolf pack or share the shade of a stately saguaro. Or you could possibly even find yourself exploring caves, swimming in an ocean, lake, or river, engaged in watching a reenactment, or simply taking a stroll somewhere beautiful. The National Parks are the gateway to our heartland!

[Image: www.whitehousehistory.org]

Then-President Teddy Roosevelt undoubtedly squinting against the sun (it was really bright, okay?) as he looks at the future–the preservation of natural wonders that could almost bring tears to a Rough Rider’s eyes. Almost. [Image: www.whitehousehistory.org]

However we take in the splendor of our natural resources, it is important to remember that while the NPS centennial is an achievement that we’ve all had a hand in simply by visiting or voicing our appreciation for the parks, there is still work to be done. These priceless park landscapes have largely been pristine for millions of years, but they increasingly face challenges posed by our ever-changing world. Celebrating the NPS Centennial equally honors our nation’s conservation efforts, and draws attention to the action required to preserve it for another hundred years, and another hundred after that, for ourselves and the generations yet to come. Whatever your views on this journey we’re all on, visiting a national park this weekend is a great way to learn about the resources around you, our effect on them, and how we can work together to make them even better.

Onward!

[Image: www.whitehouse.gov]

President Barack Obama looks out at the Grand Canyon, and beyond taking in the awesome scenery, perhaps considers the next one hundred years of the National Park Service, to which he has added 27 new monuments during his presidency. [Image: www.whitehouse.gov]

If you aren’t able to celebrate in a park on the 25th or this weekend, National Park Service gates are open again for National Public Lands Day on September 24th, and on Veteran’s Day in November. For a full run-down on what all is going on at a national park near you, there’s a full events feed on the Pocket Ranger® National Parks Passport Guide mobile app!

Celebrate 100 Years of the NPS in Western PA

Contributed By Sheena Baker, Somerset County Chamber of Commerce

What comes to mind when you think of national parks?

Most people associate national parks with the sprawling landscapes and geographical wonders of the West – Yosemite, Yellowstone, the Grand Canyon – when in reality there are more than 400 national parks, battlefields, monuments, historic sites, lakeshores, scenic rivers, trails and recreation areas across the U.S. and its territories, each one as unique and diverse as American citizens themselves.

As more and more Americans pushed westward in the 19th century, conservationists began to fear for the loss of the country’s scenic wonders, stunning landscapes and its native species as well as historic sites and natural monuments. This preservation movement slowly gained momentum and on March 1, 1872, President Grant signed a bill creating Yellowstone Park, the world’s first national park, “for the benefit and enjoyment of the people.” Other parks – Yosemite, Sequoia and Crater Lake – followed in the years to come thanks to the efforts of men like John Muir and Theodore Roosevelt, but it was decades before the national parks – what writer and historian Wallace Stegner called “the best idea we ever had” – had their own unified identity.

Finally, on Aug. 25, 1916, Congress and President Wilson created the National Park Service to preserve and protect the country’s growing list of national parks while also leaving the sites “unimpaired for the enjoyment of future generations.”

Since then, the National Park Service has worked with partners and volunteers as stewards to guard and promote these natural and cultural resources for the millions of people who visit these sites each year. In 2015 alone, more than 300 million people visited U.S. national parks.

This year marks the National Park Service’s 100th anniversary and to celebrate, the NPS launched the “Find Your Park” campaign to encourage Americans to discover and reconnect with the vast multitude of national parks across the country and to find a park that speaks to them personally. On Aug. 25, the day the NPS hits the century mark, until Aug. 28 – the National Park Service is offering free admission into all of its 412 sites.

Pennsylvania is home to 19 national parks or NPS-managed sites. No doubt most people think of Gettysburg National Military Park or Independence Hall in Philadelphia when they think of NPS sites in the Keystone State, but did you know there are five national parks in southwestern Pennsylvania?

To celebrate the National Park Service’s centennial this month, we suggest you #findyourpark at one of these five NPS sites in our region.

Allegheny Portage Railroad National Historic Site

NPS site in Western PA

Image: Sheena Baker

When New York’s newly completed Erie Canal began negatively impacting business and trade in Pennsylvania in the mid-1820s, businessmen and legislators sought a solution to keep the state – and their interests – competitive. In 1826, the Pennsylvania legislature approved the Mainline of Public Works for the construction of the Pennsylvania Mainline Canal from Philadelphia to Pittsburgh. However, crossing the Keystone State also meant crossing the formidable Allegheny Mountains, a seemingly impossible task for a canal system. Instead, engineers built the Allegheny Portage Railroad, a system of 10 inclined planes – five ascending and five descending – with large stationary engines to pull and lower boats, rail cars and freight over the mountains from the Hollidaysburg canal basin in the east to the Johnstown basin in the west. With the completion of the 36.69-mile Portage Railroad in 1834, the Pennsylvania Mainline Canal – which came with a $16.5 million price tag – reduced travel time from Philadelphia to Pittsburgh from 23 days to just four. Today the Allegheny Portage Railroad National Historic Site covers 1,249 acres in Blair and Cambria counties and is, as the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette describes it, a “national park for nerds” as the site pays homage to engineering and innovation. At the park’s main unit, visitors can learn about the Portage Railroad at the Summit Level Visitor Center, tour the historic Lemon House, see Engine House #6 and the Skew Arch Bridge, and hike numerous trails. Visitors can also see Staple Bend Tunnel, the first railroad tunnel built in the U.S., at a second, separate until of the Allegheny Portage Railroad National Historic Site near Mineral Point. During the summer, park rangers lead heritage hikes, offer van tours of the railroad’s route from Hollidaysburg to Johnstown and host Evening on the Summit events on select Saturdays.

Flight 93 National Memorial

Image: Sheena Baker

Image: Sheena Baker

On the morning of Sept. 11, 2001, 40 ordinary individuals boarded a plane in Newark, N.J., bound for San Francisco. Little did they know that just over an hour after takeoff, they would band together as “citizen soldiers” in America’s first fight against a new kind of jihadist terrorism. The Flight 93 National Memorial tells the story of the passengers and crew of United Airlines Flight 93 and pays tribute to their heroic actions, which prevented the plane’s four al-Qaida hijackers from reaching their intended target, believed to be the U.S. Capitol, just a short 18 minutes flying time from where the Boeing 757 crashed into an abandoned strip mine near Shanksville, killing all on board. Since the 2001 terror attacks, more than 2 million people from around the world have paid tribute to the Flight 93 story by visiting first the temporary memorial administered by local caretakers – the Flight 93 ambassadors – and later the Flight 93 National Memorial, which opened to the public in 2011. Today the memorial includes a visitor center with interactive displays, a flightpath overlook, a marble wall of names, 40 groves of memorial tress and nearly 3 miles of walking trails. Plans are underway to complete the memorial’s last phase, a 93-ft. tall Tower of Voices featuring 40 wind chimes, one for each passenger and crew member. During the Sept. 10-11 weekend, the National Park Service will lead the Families of Flight 93, Friends of Flight 93 and others in commemorating the 15th anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks with special ceremonies and programming. Be sure to visit the memorial’s website for details. The memorial also hosts the annual Plant a Tree at Flight 93 reforestation project each spring as well as Walk 93, an untimed public walk to raise awareness and support for the memorial.

Fort Necessity National Battlefield

Image: Sheena Baker

Image: Sheena Baker

Before American colonists fought for freedom from British rule in the Revolutionary War, the British and French struggled for possession of the immense and valuable Ohio River Valley and Ohio Territory west of the Appalachians. That struggle came to a head in 1754-1755 when the British, under the command of Maj. Gen. Edward Braddock and a young Lt. Col. George Washington, made two failed attempts to push the French from Fort Duquesne in modern-day Pittsburgh. At Fort Necessity National Battlefield, site of Washington’s lone military defeat, visitors can learn how precursors to the French and Indian War – and the worldwide Seven Years War – were fought in the Laurel Highlands. In addition to offering a reconstructed version of Washington’s “fort of necessity,” an impressive Interpretive and Education Center with interactive displays and 5 miles of walking trails, Fort Necessity National Battlefield also details the history of the National Road (modern-day U.S. 40). Visitors can travel back through time and learn about the highway’s construction, its decline during the industrial, railroading age and its rebirth as an automobile “motor touring” highway in the 20th century. The Mount Washington Tavern, a former stagecoach stop overlooking the reconstructed fort, is also part of Fort Necessity National Battlefield and serves as a museum depicting life along the National Road during its heyday.

Friendship Hill National Historic Site

NPS site in Western PA

Image: Sheena Baker

Tucked in the westernmost corner of Fayette County on the banks of the Monongahela River, Friendship Hill National Historic Site is the country estate of Albert Gallatin, who served as Secretary of the Treasury for 13 years under the Jefferson and Madison administrations. The Swiss-born gentleman farmer and diplomat was influential in developing the United States in its infancy, planning the financing of the Louisiana Purchase in 1803, funding the Lewis and Clark Expedition in 1804-1806, and advocating for federal funding for roads and canals, which eventually led to the building of the National Road in 1811. Today visitors to Friendship Hill can explore Gallatin’s uniquely constructed home, enjoy more than 9 miles of hiking and cross-country skiing trails on the 675-acre estate, visit the gravesite of Gallatin’s first wife, Sophia, and gain insight into life in early America. On Sept. 24-25, be sure to visit FestiFall, hosted by the National Park Service and the Friendship Hill Association. The free, two-day event celebrates the life and times of Gallatin and includes demonstrations, period music and food, crafts, children’s activities and more.

Johnstown Flood National Memorial

Image: Sheena Baker

Image: Sheena Baker

Sitting on a mountainside 14 miles northeast of the city of Johnstown, Lake Conemaugh once served as a reservoir for the nearby Pennsylvania Mainline Canal before it and the canal system became obsolete in the 1850s. Decades later, it became the home of the South Fork Fishing and Hunting Club, an exclusive and somewhat secretive summer retreat for wealthy Pittsburgh industrialists and businessmen. A series of missteps and poor maintenance over the years made the deteriorating South Fork Dam a “ticking time bomb,” and on the afternoon of May 31, 1889, after a night of torrential rain, the structure gave way, unleashing 20 million tons – an estimated 3.6 billion gallons – of water on the unsuspecting residents of the valley below. The Johnstown Flood of 1889, the sixth worst death toll disaster in U.S. history and the country’s deadliest inland flood, claimed 2,209 lives and caused more than $17 million in property damage. The Johnstown Flood National Memorial, built on the banks of what was once Lake Conemaugh in Saint Michael, preserves the remnants of the South Fork Dam, the former lakebed and several buildings of the South Fork Fishing and Hunting Club. At the site’s visitor center, visitors can watch the powerful “Black Friday” film, hear one survivor’s harrowing account, see interactive maps and displays, and visit the north and south abutments of the South Fork Dam. In the summer, park rangers offer guided tours around the lake as well as van trips and hikes along the flood’s path. Each spring, the National Park Service commemorates the anniversary of the 1889 flood with special programs and events, including a luminaria ceremony remembering the flood’s victims.

2016 Somerset Antique Show

Contributed by Sheena Baker of Somerset County Chamber of Commerce.

Are you looking for a great, old piece of furniture to complement your home? Have you been trying to find a classic, one-of-a-kind gift for a friend or loved one? Do you enjoy stumbling upon unique treasures and hidden gems? You’ll find all of that and more during the 46th Annual Somerset Antique Show Saturday, August 13 on the streets of Uptown Somerset. Open 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. and held annually on the second Saturday of August, the street fair has long been a popular event with both area residents and out-of-town guests.

articles from somerset antique show

Antiques teach us a lot about the histories of utility and taste. Antique shows themselves teach us a lot about the importance of thrift, and a keen eye. [Image: Sheena Baker]

Each year more than 100 antique vendors set up their wares at this long-running show and offer everything from jewelry, glassware, furniture and coins to sports memorabilia, toys, quilts and military relics along with everything in between. Thousands are drawn to the streets of Somerset to peruse the Antique Show, eat at a variety of food booths and visit restaurants, coffee shops and quaint mom-and-pop stores in the historic uptown area.

Also included in the show is an Antique & Classic Car Show from noon to 2 p.m. in the Somerset Trust Co. parking lot along West Main Street.

While at the show, guests are encouraged to visit the information booth, located near the Civil War statue in front of the Somerset County Courthouse, to pick up information on the show as well as other upcoming festivals and area attractions.

Admission to the Somerset Antique Show is free and free parking is available in the lower levels of the Somerset County Parking Garage on East Catherine Street as well as at any legal metered parking space. The event is held rain or shine and those attending are asked to leave their pets at home. A few antique dealer spaces are still available.

For more information on the Somerset Antique Show, contact the Somerset County Chamber of Commerce at (814) 445-6431 or visit www.somersetpa.net. Information on the Antique & Classic Car Show can be obtained by contacting Somerset Trust Co. at (814) 443-9200.

Somerset is located in the Laurel Highlands of southwestern Pennsylvania, one hour east of Pittsburgh at exit 110 of the Pennsylvania Turnpike. From the Turnpike, make a right onto North Center Avenue (Pa. Route 601) and follow the signs for the Antique Show. From U.S. 219, take the Pittsburgh/Harrisburg exit and make a left onto North Center Avenue (Pa. Route 601) and follow the signs.

A Visit to Milltown State Park

Back in November we talked about Milltown State Park in Missoula, Montana, and how a state park is made. A short while ago, we paid a visit to Milltown to see how it is shaping up.

Good sky!

Seems fair to say that, though still not fully open, the park and its overlook certainly have merit.

During this visit on a resplendent June weekday, there were relatively few others at the park, and most of those were Montana Conservation Corps workers who were focused on a project off the paved overlook walkway. The overlook is the focal point of the park’s facilities, and it’s no small wonder why.

Good day for readin' outside.

The view of some of the mountains visible at the park foregrounded by interpretive materials and the railing that lines the Milltown State Park Overlook.

The park’s interpretive material details the history of the river confluence and the people who depended on its waters. It also elaborates on the building of the Milltown Dam in 1908, as well as the massive flood that buried heavy metals, arsenic, and other mining waste at the base of the dam, months after it was constructed. Some of the best information details the incredible effort it took to remove the dam and poisonous sediments, and restore the confluence to the Place of Big Bull Trout, as it is traditionally known to the Salish, who fished the confluence long before pioneers and businessmen settled and dammed it up.

A gorgeous, sunny day for river viewing.

The main overlook showcases the open, sweeping grandeur of the restored confluence of the Clark Fork River.

In addition to the overlook, there is a two-table picnic area and trails that amble into the wooded hills that frame the confluence. In all, the views from the overlook are expansive; the views from the trail are in touch with the quiet wooded parts of western Montana, shaded by large and often young conifers. The trail extends about two miles down, and deeper into the park toward the river.

Dirt path through pines!

The unpaved trail extends through the trees and down toward the river. It shoots cleanly off the paved pathway to the overlook.

Milltown State Park, though still building toward its total fruition, is a marvel of modern habitat and environmental rehabilitation. Through the hard work and perseverance of park staff, community members and organizations, volunteers, and local tribal leadership in the face of local, state and federal-level hurdles, the confluence has become a wonderful vista, well worth the jot from Interstate 90. Milltown is not just beautiful and improving all the time, but represents wholesomeness achievable to all of us, if we endeavor for the good of future generations, and the health of our natural resources.

Speaking of natural resources, there’s no time like the present to get out and enjoy them! Pocket Ranger® mobile apps make trip planning easy, and app features make exploring the parks you visit a delight.

Thermacell® is for Nature Lovers

Now that summer is in full swing, most of us want and try to be outside as much as possible. The best time to do that is in the morning and in the evening when the sun is least harsh and the heat most bearable. Even though that’s also the time mosquitoes are out in force.

Worst!

Swarms of mosquitoes gather to talk strategy near waterbodies and shallow pools across the country. [Image: pixabay.com]

Thankfully, we have our trusty Thermacell® appliances! We’ve been given back not just a 15’ x 15’ bubble of mosquito-resistant bliss, but the freedom to work in our yards or gardens, enjoy the onset of dusk from our back porches, perch in a tree stand, relax with a rod and reel, and pitch a tent without the constant buzzing and biting we might otherwise encounter.

“How?” you might ask. We’ve addressed that here. Thermacell® has made a name for itself providing the best in non-topical mosquito repellents. Through the effectiveness of simple design and allethrin, the devices make the air—the very way mosquitoes sense and alight on you—work to their benefit. The mosquitoes are driven off before they can make a meal of you and others within the device’s “mosquito protection zone.”

"Ah, this is the best!"

“Not being eaten alive by mosquitoes is my favorite!” “Ha ha, me too!!” [Image: www.wideopenspaces.com]

It’s often said that the best defense is a good offense, and there are researchers who are looking at eradicating (certain disease-carrying) mosquito species, while exploring the ethics and deeper consequences of manipulating ecology. But consider for a moment that the best defense against mosquito-borne discomfort and illness is just the best defense. Thermacell®’s “mosquito protection zone” is 98% effective in repelling those pesky flying, biting insects. Oh, and you don’t need an advanced degree in biology to fire it up!

Thermacell® Gets You Outside

If you’re a hunter, angler, camper, hiker or someone who generally likes spending time outdoors, Thermacell® appliances allow you to put your energies into the tasks and leisure activities you stepped outside to enjoy. And nature lovers can enjoy the sweet smell of their surroundings, rather than smelly DEET, oil of lemon eucalyptus lotions or sprays, or ineffective citronella candles or torches. You can obtain one at many sporting goods stores, or directly from www.thermacell.com, where you’ll also find more information about the company’s products and refills, as well as user reviews!

Thermacell logo.

[Image: www.thermacell.com/]

Finally, if you’re looking for new places to use your Thermacell® appliance, head on over to your phone’s app store, download your state’s Pocket Ranger® mobile app, and start exploring!

Exploring American History along the National Road

Contributed by Sheena Baker of Somerset County Chamber of Commerce

Earlier this year, we decided to explore the birth of a nation by traveling along the National Road through the Laurel Highlands of southwestern Pennsylvania.

The National Road—modern day U.S. Route 40—was the first federally funded highway in the U.S. and set a precedent for a national highway system and future public works projects. Beginning in Cumberland, Maryland, the route passes through the Cumberland Narrows (which was once one of only a few navigable routes across the Appalachian Mountain Range) before continuing northwest into Pennsylvania, across the Allegheny Mountains, and into the Ohio River Valley. The route’s earliest forms were buffalo trails and Native American footpaths. In the mid-1700s, Maryland frontiersman Thomas Cresap and Delaware Chief Nemacolin led an expedition to widen the trail for freight and trade into the Ohio Territory. From 1754–1755, Lieutenant Colonel George Washington and Major General Edward Braddock widened Nemacolin’s Trail farther during their failed campaigns to drive the French from Fort Duquesne in what is now Pittsburgh.

Image: Sheena Baker

Image: Sheena Baker

In 1806, the Jefferson Administration approved plans to build a multi-state national highway from Cumberland westward to open settlement into the Ohio River Valley and the Midwest. Following the route set forth by Nemacolin, Washington, and Braddock, construction on the National Road began in 1811 and reached Wheeling, West Virginia (then Virginia) in 1818. From there, the highway continued across Ohio, Indiana, and nearly all of Illinois before funding for the project ran dry in the 1830s.

From the late 1810s to the 1850s, the more-than 600-mile National Road served as a gateway to the west as the main route from the east coast to the U.S. interior. Today, 90 miles of the highway—sometimes referred to as the National Pike or the Cumberland Road—pass through southwestern Pennsylvania, including more than 40 miles in Somerset and Fayette counties in the Laurel Highlands, which was the focus of our exploration on this particular weekend.

Image: Sheena Baker

Image: Sheena Baker

Traveling from east to west as settlers would have in the 19th century, our first stop was at the Petersburg Toll House along Old Route 40 in Addison, Somerset County. When the National Road became too expensive to maintain in the 1830s, the federal government turned maintenance over to each individual state. Maryland, Pennsylvania, and Virginia turned the highway into a toll road and constructed tollhouses every 15 miles to collect money to pay for the upkeep of the heavily traveled route.

Image: Sheena Baker

Image: Sheena Baker

Constructed in 1835, the Petersburg Toll House was known as Gate Number One, the first tollhouse in Pennsylvania across the Mason-Dixon Line. Now one of only three remaining tollhouses along U.S. 40, the structure serves as a museum that is open by appointment and is owned by the Great Crossings Chapter of the National Society Daughters of the American Revolution.

After leaving Addison, we continued westward, crossing the Youghiogheny River Lake and passing centuries-old inns, houses, and other structures on our way to our next destination: Fort Necessity National Battlefield.

Image: Sheena Baker

Image: Sheena Baker

Inside the site’s impressive Interpretive and Education Center, we learned how precursors to the French and Indian War and the worldwide Seven Years War were fought in the Laurel Highlands. In the spring of 1754, a young 22-year-old Washington led a failed attempt to push the French from Fort Duquesne at the forks of the Ohio River in what is now Pittsburgh. Following a controversial skirmish at nearby Jumonville Glen, Washington suffered defeat at his “Fort of Necessity” and was forced to retreat. He returned the following year under the command of the somewhat inexperienced Braddock in another attempt to force the French from Fort Duquesne. Again the British were defeated, suffering more than 900 casualties, including Braddock whose grave is marked by a large monument along the highway one mile west of Fort Necessity. (Incidentally, the British finally forced the French from Fort Duquesne in 1758 under the leadership of General Edward Forbes, whose march westward helped shape the Laurel Highlands’ other historic highway: U.S. Route 30, aka the Lincoln Highway.)

In addition to offering a reconstructed version of Fort Necessity, interactive displays, and five miles of walking trails, Fort Necessity National Battlefield also details the history of the National Road. During our visit, we traveled back through time and learned about the highway’s construction, its decline during the industrial railroading age, and its rebirth as an automobile “motor touring” highway in the 20th century. The Mount Washington Tavern, a former stagecoach stop overlooking the reconstructed fort, is part of the Fort Necessity National Battlefield and serves as a museum depicting life along the National Road during its heyday.

Having known very little about the French and Indian War or the National Road before my visit to Fort Necessity, I left quite impressed and eager for more information on how both affected the history of the U.S. I would recommend anyone with an interest in history to visit the National Park Service site.

Image: Sheena Baker

Image: Sheena Baker

With a better understanding of what British troops and early settlers faced traversing southwestern Pennsylvania in the days before automobiles and other modern conveniences made travel so easy, we continued westward, keeping our eyes peeled for the white obelisk mile markers denoting the byway. Stone markers were initially placed at five-mile intervals on the south side of the National Road between Cumberland and Wheeling during the highway’s construction, but were later replaced by cast iron markers at one-mile intervals on the north side of the route in 1835.

At the top of Chestnut Ridge, we were treated to a stunning view of Uniontown and the surrounding countryside before descending into the valley below. Following Business Route 40, we navigated the streets of Uniontown, once a major center of business along the National Road.

Near the center of town, we stumbled upon the George C. Marshall Memorial Plaza, a tree-lined spot at the intersection of West Main and West Fayette Streets near Marshall’s boyhood home. Several statues and the Flags of Nations celebrate his life and narrative plaques tell Marshall’s story. The history and significance of the National Road, which passed through his hometown, was not lost on Marshall as a child and can be linked to his pursuit of a military career. Marshall rose to become a preeminent World War II General, U.S. Army Chief of Staff, Secretary of State, and Secretary of Defense, among his other notable achievements and positions. In 1953, he earned the Nobel Peace Prize for his role in developing the post-World War II European Recovery Program (better known as the Marshall Plan). According to History.com, Marshall is one of the most respected soldiers in U.S. history, second only to Washington, another famous George with ties to the region.

From Uniontown we continued our journey westward, stopping briefly to see the Searight Toll House. The structure is similar in design to the Petersburg Toll House and was also constructed in 1835. Searight Toll House is home to the “Off to Market” sculpture, one of five full-size, bronze outdoor sculptures constructed at specific locations for a National Road Sculpture Tour designed to augment visitors’ educational experiences in learning about the historic highway.

Image: Sheena Baker

Image: Sheena Baker

A few miles from the Searight Toll House, we reached our final destination: historic Brownsville on the banks of the Monongahela River. Like Uniontown and other hamlets along the National Road, Brownsville was once a major industrial hub as well as a center for steamboat construction and river freight hauling, eclipsing nearby Pittsburgh in size until the mid-1800s.

From Brownsville, the National Road continues onward through Washington County, into West Virginia, and beyond. Though the National Road officially ends in Vandalia, Illinois, today U.S. 40 stretches 2,285.74 miles across 12 states from New Jersey to Utah.