Cover image for The Best Places You've Never Seen: Pennsylvania's Small Museums: A Traveler's Guide By Therese Boyd

The Best Places You've Never Seen

Pennsylvania's Small Museums: A Traveler's Guide

Therese Boyd

BUY

$32.95 | Paperback Edition
ISBN: 978-0-271-02276-5

224 pages
8" × 8"
84 b&w illustrations
2003

Keystone Books®

The Best Places You've Never Seen

Pennsylvania's Small Museums: A Traveler's Guide

Therese Boyd

“Although the Philadelphia Museum of Art, with its famous Rocky staircase and Thomas Eakins masterpieces, is a must-see for most Keystone State visitors, the rest of the state’s museums are largely unknown to outsiders. Writer Boyd has visited small museums throughout Pennsylvania and found 42 she says are worth detouring for; she details these little gems in this handy guide organized by region. In the Poconos, visitors should check out the Houdini Tour and Show, where they can see the padlocks the great escapist used, or Yuengling Brewery, dubbed ‘America’s Oldest Brewery.’ While trucking through the Alleghenies, drivers might make a pit stop at Mr. Ed’s Elephant Museum, a nondescript wooden building that features a range of ‘elephantania,’ from plaster elephants to elephant salt and pepper shakers. And in an around Philly, there’s the Mummers Museum, which pays tribute to the city’s version of Mardi Gras; the Shoe Museum (displaying South African clogs and a size 18 shoe); and more. It’s a quirky travel guide that will undoubtedly be a godsend to anyone faced with a long drive on Route 80.”

 

  • Media
  • Description
  • Reviews
  • Bio
  • Table of Contents
  • Sample Chapters
  • Subjects

To view an interview with this author about this book, click here: http://boyd.soar.psu.edu

You know the Carnegie Institute and the Philadelphia Museum of Art, but have you ever visited the Toy Robot Museum in Adamstown or Bill's Old Bike Barn in Bloomsburg? The Tom Mix Museum in Mix Run? The Houdini Museum in Scranton? Pennsylvania's many small museums are easy to miss in an age of instant information and superhighways. After reading Therese Boyd's guide, however, you'll rush to get off the beaten track to find them. Pennsylvania's little wonders are as entertaining as they are educational.

Unlike large museums, which display masterpieces of art and other "important" items, small museums feature objects that would otherwise be thrown away and forgotten—everything from spittoons to high button shoes and trolley cars. Some small museums, such as the Richard Allen Museum, serve a serious purpose; others are playful, even eccentric. All offer a fresh perspective on how people have lived and worked.

Boyd, who has visited small museums throughout Pennsylvania, concentrates on the forty-two museums she considers most worth a detour. These range from Kready's Museum, where visitors can savor the simple pleasures of a country store, to the Vocal Groups Hall of Fame and Museum, where music fans can listen to "golden oldies" and pore over memorabilia (including sequined dresses once worn by the Supremes). Boyd's personal favorite is the museum in the home of Christian Sanderson, a man who collected literally hundreds of historical relics, not the least of which is the purse found in the apron pocket of Jennie Wade, the only civilian killed at the Battle of Gettysburg. Boyd's book is a comprehensive, illustrated guide to the best small museums in Pennsylvania. It weaves amusing anecdotes about Boyd's own visits to the museums along with descriptions of their histories and collections. Her guide provides travel directions as well as complete information about each museum's visiting hours, website, and contact information.

“Although the Philadelphia Museum of Art, with its famous Rocky staircase and Thomas Eakins masterpieces, is a must-see for most Keystone State visitors, the rest of the state’s museums are largely unknown to outsiders. Writer Boyd has visited small museums throughout Pennsylvania and found 42 she says are worth detouring for; she details these little gems in this handy guide organized by region. In the Poconos, visitors should check out the Houdini Tour and Show, where they can see the padlocks the great escapist used, or Yuengling Brewery, dubbed ‘America’s Oldest Brewery.’ While trucking through the Alleghenies, drivers might make a pit stop at Mr. Ed’s Elephant Museum, a nondescript wooden building that features a range of ‘elephantania,’ from plaster elephants to elephant salt and pepper shakers. And in an around Philly, there’s the Mummers Museum, which pays tribute to the city’s version of Mardi Gras; the Shoe Museum (displaying South African clogs and a size 18 shoe); and more. It’s a quirky travel guide that will undoubtedly be a godsend to anyone faced with a long drive on Route 80.”
“Boyd’s descriptions of the museums (which run no longer than a page or two), combine her conversational writing style and a well-balanced mix of background information, personal observations and anecdotes, and make for a quick and often humorous read.”
“Pennsylvania’s many small museums would otherwise feature objects that would otherwise be thrown away and forgotten—everything from spittoons to high-button shoes and trolley cars. Some small museums, such as the Richard Allen Museum, serve a serious purpose; others are playful, even eccentric. All offer a fresh perspective on how people have lived and worked.

Boyd’s book is a comprehensive, illustrated guide to the best small museums in Pennsylvania. It weaves amusing anecdotes about Boyd’s own visits to the museums along with descriptions of their histories and collections. Her guide provides travel directions as well as complete information about each museum’s visiting hours, web site and contact information.”
“Part travel guide, part tales of the road, Therese Boyd’s The Best Places You’ve Never Seen: Pennsylvania’s Small Museums. . . takes the reader on a journey through some of the state’s more interesting, lesser-known museums.”
“Part diary, part history lesson, part coolest travel brochure you’ll ever come across; this book does what a good travel guide is supposed to do: make you forget that you’re reading a travel guide.

Boyd has succeeded in assembling a volume that could very well make more than a few readers want to cast aside their domestic chores and embark on that road trip they’ve been planning in their minds for years.”
“Think about it. You travel in your air-conditioned car to some of the cooler museums for just a day trip away from home. Who could ask for a better summer vacation than that?”
“Boyd’s writing style is enjoyably breezy, as well, showing surprise and sometimes disappointment. Put down the TV remote, power down your computer, put some gas in the tank and head in any direction. The Best Places You’ve Never Seen call out to be seen. In person.”
“In a friendly style, tinged with wit, she deftly distills the essence of each museum in a short essay and succinctly provides the nuts and bolts things, such as directions, hours and cost.”
“Who knew that one small book could make such big waves?

But Boyd’s book does more than just tell the tale of one woman, and her occasional companions, in search of history, fun and collectibles. The book is complete with directions, phone numbers, web sites and other information to let the reader become their own tour guide, to experience the state’s tiny treasures.”
“Though her book—her first—contains all the details and photographs necessary to be a useful guide, Boyd’s amusing storyteller’s approach to chronicling her visit to each site conveys much more about its subjects, and its author, than a utilitarian tour guide.

Boyd’s stories are a pleasure for the armchair traveler but many may find themselves itching to get on the road for themselves.”
“A good general rule is that only when the guide is Mark Twain or Rose Macauley does the reader welcome learning more about the guide than the place. Ms. Boyd often flouts this rule, but by the end her appreciation of the odd is contagious, and almost all is forgiven. She genuinely likes the strong souls who mind the museums, and she enlists the reader in her cause. Her approach is regional, and the selections are charmingly diverse.”
“This is a very cool book. . . . Take the book, get a road map, pile the kids into the SUV, and do a weekend ramble. Heck, do lots of weekend rambling to all 40 of the Best Places You’ve Never Seen. The book’s fun by itself, and the destinations are all plucky and gritty.”

Therese Boyd is a (nearly) lifelong Pennsylvanian. When she's not driving the back roads looking for somewhere fun or writing about where she's been, she edits books, writes book reviews, and teaches writing at Penn State York.

Contents

Acknowledgments

List of Symbols

Introduction

1. Better in the Poconos

Bill's Old Bike Barn, Bloomsburg

Houdini Tour and Show, Scranton

White Christmas Chalet and Tree Farm, Slatington

Yuengling Brewery, Pottsville

Zane Grey Museum, Lackawaxen

2. Around the City of Brotherly Love

Boyertown Museum of Historical Vehicles, Boyertown

Christian Sanderson Museum, Chadds Ford

The Insectarium, Philadelphia

Lost Highways Museum, Philadelphia

Moravian Pottery and Tile Works, Doylestown

Mummers Museum, Philadelphia

Museum of Mourning Art, Drexel Hill

Richard Allen Museum, Philadelphia

Shoe Museum, Philadelphia

Wharton Esherick Museum, Valley Forge

3. Deep in the Lower Susquehanna Valley

Bob Hoffman Weightlifting Hall of Fame and Museum, York

First National Bank Museum, Columbia

Kready's Country Store Museum, Lititz

Le Petit Museum of Musical Boxes, Marietta

New Holland Band Museum, New Holland

The Toy Robot Museum, Adamstown

4. Heart of the Alleghenies

Gardners Candies, Tyrone

Grice's Clearfield Community Museum, Clearfield

Horseshoe Curve, Altoona

Johnstown Flood Museum, Johnstown

Mr. Ed's Elephant Museum, Ortanna

Pasto Agricultural Museum, State College

Rockhill Trolley Museum, Rockhill Furnace

5. Iron City Environs

Coal and Coke Heritage Center, Uniontown

George Westinghouse Museum, Wilmerding

Jimmy Stewart Museum, Indiana

Mattress Factory, Pittsburgh

Photo Antiquities, Pittsburgh

6. Heading for Lake Erie

John Brown Museum, New Richmond

Vocal Groups Hall of Fame and Museum, Sharon

Wild West Museum, Franklin

7. Top of the World

Eldred World War II Museum, Eldred

Ole Bull Museum, Oleana

Pennsylvania Lumber Museum, Galeton

Piper Aviation Museum, Lock Haven

Tom Mix Birthplace and Museum, Driftwood

Zippo Visitors Center, Bradford

Photo Credits

Appendix: Other Small Museums Mentioned

INTRODUCTION

While digging up the small museums of Pennsylvania, I often found myself saying, "What is a small museum?" "Where is it?" Why is it . . .?"

"Small museum." The Metropolitan in miniature? What exactly does a small museum encompass? These words mean different things to different people, but in my travels I have come to believe that pretty much anyone can slap up a "Museum" sign on a building (and even, sometimes, get along with no sign at all) and some unsuspecting traveler will wander in off the road.

But that doesn't make it a museum.

"Museum" conjures up an image of a large building. The Carnegie in Pittsburgh, the Franklin Institute in Philadelphia, the State Museum in Harrisburg. These places are well advertised and heavily visited. But who has heard of—or seen—the Wharton Esherick Museum in Valley Forge? Bill's Old Bike Barn in Bloomsburg? The Toy Robot Museum in Adamstown? We also have a Wild West museum, a number of music museums, even a museum dedicated to the shoe. Pennsylvania is full of these little wonders.

Large museums are often created with corporate money or substantial private endowments, have curators, executive boards, and swanky fundraisers. Buildings may be designed with a particular genre in mind. Small museums are not always planned—they happen, maybe in the corner of someone's house, or a storefront, or an old building no longer serving a useful purpose. If they have a "board," it often means a husband and wife are in it together. "Fundraising" can mean an admission charge or merely a jar by the door labeled "Donations."

Large museums house "important" items, great works of art, some famous person's belongings. Little museums contain someone's heart and soul. Most often they start out as a collection that just got out of hand. A couple in Hanover had (until not long ago) an ice cream museum. They still own the materials but for some reason wanted to reclaim their house. Sorry I missed it.

Other small museums are attached to companies—a room or two or an entire building—to commemorate an industrial history. The Marx Toy Museum in Erie was put together by former employees to showcase their dedication to the Marx Toy Company. I had the pleasure of visiting it, and fully intended to include it here, but later found it had closed up shop. Too bad.

Large museums take life and art very seriously, in hushed surroundings, with dim lighting and a closely monitored thermostat. But how seriously can one take a collection of carnival glass and spittoons that fills one small room in Breezewood with lit glass cases of multicolored wonder? Given a choice, I'll take spittoons over fruit-bowl still lifes any day, but that's the kind of hairpin I am.

Some small museums do feature a more serious side of life. The final stop on a tour of the Afro-American Museum in Reading is the closet trap door beneath which runaway slaves hid from their pursuers. A tour of any coal mine in the state will bring mention of a cave-in, how many miners died, what "black lung" is. Museums can feature a life, either a person's-like the George Westinghouse or the Wharton Esherick-or a company's-such as Piper Aviation or the Yuengling Brewery.

How did I come to choose these forty-two places out of the hundreds of small museums in Pennsylvania? I tried to find the unusual and the unknown, those places with little or no budget for advertising, yet worth a stop. I tried my best to represent the entire state. Small museums are best found through word of mouth (how we found the Toy Robot Museum) or stopping on a whim at the sight of a rotating, pasty-white weightlifter, destined to hoist his barbell forever in front of the Bob Hoffman Weightlifting Museum and Hall of Fame.

Locating the museum itself sometimes was an adventure. I often drove around a while, sometimes even clutching a brief set of directions. When a friend and I looked for one museum in a small central Pennsylvania town, it didn't seem to be at the address we had. We stopped a man on the side of the road to ask for directions, but he said he hadn't heard of it. He then called his wife over to help. When I said the name, she turned and pointed next door: "There it is."

What makes a "good" museum? I've found that to be totally in the eye of the beholder. Someone who had been there told me not to bother with the Mushroom Museum in Kennett Square; I found it interesting (but smaller than its own gift shop). My husband would have been bored stiff in the New Holland Band Museum, but the musician in me loved it.

Digging up these museums wasn't always easy. Knowing that some once existed but are no more was disappointing. Like the ice cream museum, both the Streitwieser Foundation Trumpet Museum and the Norman Rockwell Museum closed before I ever had a chance to visit. A lot of places are open only by appointment or have unpredictable hours. Sometimes phone aren't answered regularly. But, just as often, someone is nearby who will be glad to open the door, to invite the traveler in for a look.

It seems as I continue this exploration, I find more and more museums that no one has heard of and yet, as soon as I describe what I've seen, my friends want to see them as well. The Best Places You've Never Seen are some I've visited. If you know of a little museum not mentioned here, one that you think I need to see, send me an email at smallmuseumsofpa@aol.com. More are yet to be discovered, I'm sure.

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