Category Archives: My Pennsylvania

Hoover-Mason Trestle & National Museum of Industrial History

We visited the latest Smithsonian Museum, the National Museum of Industrial History. It has been years in the making, and we were so excited to check it out. Located on the site of the former Bethlehem Steel, which is a very appropriate location for a museum that deals with industry.museumDSC_0112 (1)

steel windowThe building opens with large machinery and a exhibit that focuses on the machinery that was exhibited at the Philadelphia Centennial Exhibit of 1876.machines 1


There are helpful volunteers everywhere, and they are more than happy to tell you about the machinery in the building and how it functions. It would be an engineer’s dream. I must admit I was more than a little disappointed about the lack of in-depth exhibition about Bethlehem Steel. The baskets in the photo below held steel workers’  belongings in the plant. There was not a lot of discussion about it other than the work pioneered in the Steel research labs (Homer Labs) and photos of the workers.

stell basket

There was an interesting showcase about the development of propane gasses, from an industrial by-product to a fuel source. I loved the “hot air balloon” ride which takes viewers virtually over a propane plant as if you are in a hot air balloon.

I also appreciated the mention of the dangers of child labor that was part of the Silk Mill exhibits. The Lehigh Valley was once home to dozens of silk mills, many of which, employed children. child workers

Included was a map of the locations of silk mills throughout the area and audio recording of former employees talking about their jobs in the factories. They had the actual machine from the Laros Mill that was used to manufacture fabrics for the White House.jacquard machine The exhibit also illustrated different parts of the silk weaving process, from bobbins to the finished bobbins

All in all, it was a fascinating museum. There is room for improvement. I would love to know about the workers’ lives in depth as well as a discussion of the ethnicities of the employees. I would also like to know more about the role of women and children as industrial employees. I think the museum is off to a great start, although it is small, especially by Smithsonian standards.

Since we were at the site of Bethlehem Steel, we spent some time walking among the buildings.building1

As I remember the Steel throughout my child as an operational plant, it is weirdly eerie to see the building empty. That is not to say the site is unused.  Much of the site has ben developed into Steel Stacks, a concert and performance venue. They have everything from the Frank Banko Ale House Cinema, an outside concert event area, to restaurants. The stacks themselves are just stunning. Don’t miss the opportunity to walk on the Hoover-Mason trestle which is an elevated pedestrian walk way above the steel compound. From this vantage point, it is possible to see the remains of a great steel plant in action. The view is fantastic. Make this a must visit for any tour of Bethlehem, PA.

steel building



You can read about the botanical gardens on the trestle walkway here.

Farm Stand Peach Cobbler

I’m lucky enough to live down the road from Scholl Orchards. They’ve been a longtime Bethlehem, PA staple. Their farm stand encompasses both the orchards and their farm out near Hawk Mountain. They are open daily from July on and then drop back hours into the Fall months.  It’s a delight to go and choose my produce knowing that it is locally gown with care by people who are warm and welcoming. You always know what is fresh by keeping an eye on signs out by the road.


fruit stand

I’m a regular shopper here, and I was able to coax Martha (one of the Scholl family members) into sharing a favorite recipe with me (and she gave permission to share it here, too!

peach cobbler

Here is the step by step:

Start with some Scholl’s peaches. They are all delicious but ask Martha or her mother, Faith Scholl to give you some pointers on choosing the best ones for this dish.

peaches and flowers

Preheat your oven and melt your butter. I do this in the microwave using a microwave-safe dish.

butter dish

Slice your peaches. You don’t need to peel them


Mix all your dry ingredients together.


Add the sliced peaches on top of the melted butter

Then add the batter on toppeach batter

Bake for 40-45 minutes

finished peaches

Serve ( I added some vanilla ice cream on the side). My vanilla ice cream came from another Bethlehem institution, Bethlehem Dairy Store (the Cup), over on Linden street

finished peach crisp

I hope you’ve enjoyed this small dollop of Bethlehem, PA food culture. If you’ve eaten at Scholl’s, I’d love your comments about this amazing place.


Sadie (in the truck) is a 5th generation Scholl employee!


Lackawanna Coal Mine Tour

There are still a percentage of Pennsylvanians that heat their homes with anthracite coal.

I come from a steel town just south of the slate belt. I was raised hearing the reverberation of ethnic cadences of the steelworker’s speech, hearing the poetry of foreign dishes and understanding that when your family ate dinner was a clue to what your parents did for work.

Words like halushki, Windish, slag,  pastie and culm have meaning here.

I am the great granddaughter of a mine carpenter. I want my children to know that their family history has deep roots in this land (although we are from Ashland, not Scranton).

So off we went. It was 93 degrees and so under the earth was very comfortable 53 degrees.

We spent an hour waiting for our tour to start and exploring the rail line replicas outside.

cal panarama

steam shovel

franklin shilouette


Then we loaded into the protected car and we went deep into the mine shaft.

train 1

mine shaft

It took a minute for our eyes to adjust to the light. Remember, our tour was artificially illuminated so we could see. Imagine it with the glow of a mine lamp.

Our guide, Scott, is a former coal miner. He explained how the miners dug in grids making pockets that allowed the mine to form a series of boxes for structural support. coal basin

Scott demonstrated how miners used light to look for the presence of methane gasses.

scott tour leader

The wood beams you think are for support are actually an early warning system. Cracking or bowing would indicate to the miners that there were problems with the structure of the mine.

mine supports

Here is what it looks like to work in a high space on a mine

miner tnt

and a low spaceminer belly

When the workers arrive in the morning, they check in with the foreman who has already been hard at work for several hours inspecting the mine for unsafe conditions. Their names are marked on a pegboard and their locations, so to find them in the event of an emergency.

mine boss

The miners fill cars with coal (10 tons of coal per car)

coal cart

coal slab

As there were many children on the tour, Scott spent a lot of time on the role of children in the mines. From the children who open and closed the doors inside mines ( nippers),

mine shaft boy2

to the breaker boys who sorted coal chunks by size,  to the mule boys

mule boy

A fascinating read about the role of children in the mining industry is, Susan Campbell Bartoletti’s,“Growing Up in Coal Country.” It was good for my children to understand that for many children, going to school was a privilege. I don’t think they have ever realized that some children have to go to work. It was a very interesting tour. I would recommend it for children 5 and up.

Now I’m off to research pierogie recipes.

Kutztown Folk Festival

I try to make an annual pilgrimage to the Kutztown Folk Festival where our region’s Pennsylvania Dutch history is celebrated. The festival began in 1950 and it is pretty extensive. It is known for its amazing quilt barn ( this year’s winner posted above), food, crafts, and exhibits on PA Dutch life.

This year, I took my older set of twins with me. They really enjoyed the one room school house which you can still see in use throughout the Pennsylvania countryside, although they are primarily used by the many variations of plain communities (Amish, Mennonite, River Brethren, etc…).

I also enjoyed the historical farmstead exhibits. The boys helped make apple butter, watched men bale hay, saw period tractors in action, watched glass blowing and listened to music.

There was explanation on the symbology behind hex signs, which were originally found on the side of barns. These designs were rich in meaning and often were used for protection ( of the barn, livestock and crops), fertility ( the land, not the farmers), etc…Here is a detailed link all about hex signs:

There was also an extensive exhibit on Pow Wow, the practice of Pennsylvania Dutch Folk Magic. You can learn more about Pow Wow here:

We attended a period church service (Protestant)

We also visited the breathtakingly beautiful quilt barn. All of the quilts are available for sale and most are handmade. There are volunteers there to take any quilt you would like to further inspect. There is also a quilt along that visitors are welcome to join.

There are many animals 

And games without electricity 

The Kutztown Folk Festival is famous for food…a concentration of Pennsylvania Dutch dishes are offered by local groups such as churches or social groups (Granges). There are so many things to try…schnitz und knepp ( ham with dried apples and dumplings),  corn soup, birch beer, potato dumplings, roasted corn. Lebanon Bologna sandwiches, stuffed pretzels, chicken bot boi (chicken with noodles), homemade lemonade, mint tea and of course,funnel cakes.

 A fascinating read about PA Dutch cuisine is William Woys Weaver’s, “As American as Shoofly Pie.”

We really had a wonderful time!