HOLLIDAYSBURG, Pa. -- The concept of Westsylvania, a region
covering 11,000 square miles in southwestern Pennsylvania, is as
old as our country itself, tracing to an unsuccessful attempt by
settlers in 1776 to have the Continental Congress incorporate the
region as the 14th colony.
It was not to be. The founding fathers had a war to fight, after
all, and the push to create Westsylvania as a political entity
eventually lost its fervor.
Today, the area that lies roughly between the Blue Mountains and
the valley of the Ohio River is experiencing a renaissance under
the direction of the Westsylvania Heritage Corp., which is
marketing the region as a tourism destination rich in attractions
fundamental to the cultural and industrial heritage of the U.S.
Among the historical attractions in Westsylvania are:
• Johnstown Flood Museum. Located in the former Carnegie Library
in Johnstown, the museum features a three-dimensional slide show
that dramatizes the impact of the 1889 flood that killed 2,209
people (one out of 10 Johnstown inhabitants). An hour after a dam
broke 14 miles outside town, a 40-foot-high wall of water and
debris (including four locomotives) roared into town, destroying
1,600 structures. Artifacts and mementos tell the story of one of
the darkest events in U.S. history. Call (888) 222-1889 or visit www.jaha.org.
• Allegheny Portage Railroad (Cresson). To link canal traffic
that carried goods and people between Philadelphia and Pittsburgh
in the early 19th century, a way had to be found to surmount the
Allegheny Mountains. The solution: rail cars were floated on barges
that were hauled out of the water and up the mountain by
locomotives to a series of inclines, where a steam-driven,
continuous cable lugged them up and over in stages. The site, run
by the National Park Service, includes a visitor center; an engine
center; a rest stop and tavern, and hiking trails. Call (814)
• Altoona Railroaders Memorial Museum. Three floors of
memorabilia tell the story of the U.S.'s push west by rail, powered
by steam engines built and maintained in Altoona for the
Pennsylvania Railroad. Call (814) 946-0834, or visit www.railroadcity.com.
• Fallingwater and Kentuck Knob. Frank Lloyd Wright designed
both homes, each considered an architectural gem. Fallingwater,
which was constructed in Mill Run in 1935 for the family of
department store owner Edgar Kauffmann, is the better known of the
two and is undergoing repairs to correct a tilt that threatens to
send it crumbling into the waterfall over which it is built (and
named). Call (724) 329-8501 for the visitation schedule.
Kentuck Knob, in Chalk Hill, is dramatically integrated into the
mountains overlooking the Youghiogheny River Gorge. Constructed
entirely of red cypress and native fieldstone, the home was
designed in 1953. Call (724) 329-1901.
• Heritage Discovery Center (Johnstown). Interactive displays
enable visitors to assume the personas of job-seeking immigrants
who became the coal miners, steel workers and railroaders of 19th
and early 20th century America. Call (888) 222-1889.
• Coal Heritage Center (Windber). Coal and Pennsylvania -- at
least western Pennsylvania -- are all but synonymous, and this
museum tells you why. The Berwind-White complex in Windber not only
was a major coal company but a mining community that traces its
roots to 1897. This center digs deep (excuse the pun) into the life
of the miners, including exhibits of the gear and grit that
characterized lives of the "underground farmers" who harvested the
bituminous coal that powered the Mauritania, the Lusitania and the
Queen Mary. Call (800) 898-3636.
For more on Westsylvania, call (814) 696-9380, or visit www.westsylvania.org.