Now that we have left the flat farmland of the Midwest, the country roads twist and climb through hills and small towns. Route 6 across northern Allegheny River overlook Pennsylvania has lovely pastoral views galore, from silky green fields and lawns to sun-dappled forest roads. In the towns many of the houses are ornate and fancifully painted, the couthouses just as imposing as those farther west, and the building facades may contain names of their original owners carved in stone.
As we crossed the Allegheny river, a billboard met our eyes: Jim Kelly, the Buffalo Bills quarterback for four straight SuperBowls, had grown up in East Brady, a small riverside town which is enormously proud of him. From a hilltop overlook, the meanders of the Allegheny reminded us of the Danube, on a smaller scale.
Pennsylvania has established a museums and history commission which in turn supports a number of historic sites and museums. We first stopped at the Lumber Museum. Near the end of a post-Labor-Day weekday we were just about the only visitors. The indoor museum has a fairly comprehensive array of photos and tools used by the lumbermen a century ago, when half of of the land was covered Sawmill at the Lumber Museum with forest; lumber is still one of the major Pennsylvania industries. Outdoors a half-dozen buildings contain a sawmill, log loading train cars and additional tools. It looks as though in the summer season demonstrations might be provided. After seeing similar displays from Maine through Canada, we are convinced that cutting down trees is pretty much the same, no matter where those trees are located -- at least on the North American continent!
An additional exhibit covered the Civilian Conservation Corps, a Depression-era project to provide employment to young men while improving the environment. Shelters, paths, roads and dams were built, trees were planted, soil and flora inventories were conducted, while the participants were taught skills and good work habits.
Our second day's drive brought us to a real surprise: Azilum, the location of a colony of French noblemen, fleeing from the revolution, and awaiting the restoration. They constructed a set of buildings in the hope that Marie Antoinette could escape France and find asylum in the new country. She never made it, of course, but the colony lasted ten years, from 1793 to 1803. French Azilum During that time it received several important visitors, among them Talleyrand, the Duke de Noailles, and Louis Phillipe who would later rule France.
Nothing was left of the original settlement, although some modern replicas of log buildings have been erected. It's at the end of a three-mile dead end road. The Commonwealth of Pennsylvania has called it a Historic Site, but the local concessionaire seems very amateurish (it wasn't open when we arrived.) Near the site a descendant of one of the settlers has placed a plaque telling the story. Why has this foreign refugee settlement, located in the territory of the infant United States of America, not made the American history books? Wouldn't this have made the U.S. diplomatic relationships with Napoleonic France more difficult?
We're hoping to find more of these history-mysteries as we move farther into New England, especially on the smaller back roads we favor.