Monday, September 30, 2013

"The Little Church" Chester County, Pennsylvania

At the turn of the 20th century millions of European immigrants were making there way to America for a better life for themselves and their families. Francisco Cannella, a native of Palermo, Italy had similar aspirations for himself and his family. Though didn't have quite enough resources to accomplish this. Not letting finances get in the way of his dream, Francisco headed off to America alone. He made a vow to God that if he would provide him enough to reunite with his wife he would attend church every day. Upon arriving in America, Francisco began working at a stone quarry and quickly raised enough funds to have his family moved to the United States.

He also vowed to keep his oath to God. Unfortunately this turned out to be more difficult than he had anticipated. The closest church to the Cannella family was located 9 miles away in Downingtown. The trek to the local sanctuary during the harsh Pennsylvania winters made this task quite difficult at times. Being knowledgeable in masonry and working in a quarry, Mr. Cannella did the next best thing. He built a tiny church on the corner of his property. Large enough for one to two people as well as a modest altar. For the next 24 years, until his death Francisco would attend his own church when unable to travel to Downingtown.

The church today is still owned by the Cannella family and is located near the Marsh Creek state park in Chester county. It's quite easy to drive by without even realizing you passed a church. It's windowless and looks like it could just be a storage facility or barn. There is a sign out front of the "Little Church" commemorating it's builder, a man who stood for what he believed in and wasn't afraid to follow his dreams no matter what they were.

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Fredosaurus Rex Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

When most think of children's host Mister Fred Rogers they usually associate kindness, giving, friendly, and full of heart. These attributes are usually not associated with a Tyrannosaurus Rex dinosaur. Yet somehow these two figures became one unique treat for Pittsburgh. A Tyrannosaurus Rex decked out in a red cardigan sweater, holding two puppets, complete with a trolley car rolling up his back.

Fredosaurus Rex, as he became known, had been displayed in front of the WQED studios for many years. The studio was the flagship for Mister Rogers Neighborhood during its broadcast. Sadly after Mister Rogers death the station fell into a slow decline. Unfortunately the station has been recently relocated as well as Fredosaurus Rex. The residents of Pittsburgh are sure hoping he makes a return soon, and so are we. Not to be discouraged here's a video of Mister Rogers breakdancing. If this doesn't make you smile check your pulse!

Monday, September 23, 2013

Decker's Chapel St. Marys, Pennsylvania

One day while tending to his apple orchards, a gentleman named Michael Decker took a horrendous fall from a tree and sustained critical injuries. As a religiously devout man he made a vow to himself. If he returned to health he would construct and maintain a quaint rural chapel. In 1856 his promise came to fruition and has been attracting visitors ever since. It was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1998. The church measures in at 12 feet by 18 feet making it one of the smallest churches in the United States. But if you're in the area of St. Mary's, Pennsylvania, you'll find it's not easy to miss.

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Straub Brewery St. Marys, Pennsylvania

Hidden away in the city of St. Marys, Pennsylvania remains one of America's oldest craft breweries. The Straub brewery traces its roots back to 1872, that's when brewmaster Peter Straub transferred into the town to work at the local brewery, 6 years later he would own the place.

Straub had always been immersed in the beer production field. Born in Germany the young man learned early the craft of hand making barrels and casks. Not long after he also mastered the art of brewing beer. As a young adult Peter moved from Germany to Western Pennsylvania where he honed his skills at several breweries in the area.

At Straub's brewery the beer was always barreled into wooden kegs and would be marked with a red band around them. Straub used this in an effort to let the consumer know which brand they were indulging in. This red band has remained a trademark of the brewery to this day.

After Peter's passing his sons continued their father's beloved process and helped keep the brewery running during the hardship times of alcohol prohibition. Today the brewery hasn't changed much in their process or recipe. They remain a regional macrobrewery specializing in craft brewing. Also one of the few breweries owned and operated by the original family. The brewery offers daily tours as well as tastings from their eternal tap. Straub is considered to be the last remaining users of returnable long neck bottles in the United States. How's that for recycling!

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Ghost Town of Celestia, Pennsylvania

Traipsing through the endless mountains region of Pennsylvania can be a daunting task. Gas stations are quite rare, and poisonous snakes are quite abundant. But tucked away in these remote mountains a few hidden treasures can be found. Located near the county seat of Laporte in Sullivan county one man believed he found God's treasure.

In 1850, a paper maker from Philadelphia founded a town he believed to be a "City in Heaven." Peter Armstrong was part of a devout group of Adventists called millennialists. Seeking a wilderness exile for his followers, he founded the town of Celestia. Hidden away from the bright lights, and bustle of Philadelphia. The peaceful mountain community seemed to be the tranquil spot the followers needed to attain clarity. Armstrong believed highly in a passage from Isiah stating "And it shall come to pass in the last days that the mountain of the Lord's house shall be established in the top of the mountains." He believed the end of days were coming, and took the passage quite literally. Convincing other members of the church to retreat with him into the woods, where they would be safe from the upcoming rapture. Armstrong got enough believers that they were able to eventually purchase over 3800 acres and create their own town for the apocalypse.

The town was laid out in a 9 block grid with the central spot reserved for a house of worship, as well as a place for Jesus when he returns to save them. The remote town was dotted with homes, a general store, and a sawmill as well. Quickly and quietly a community was forming. Devout members stayed true to their beliefs and prosperous times were happening. But the country was changing and war was on the horizon.

The peaceful town of Celestia got it's first wake up call from the World when a resident was drafted for the Civil War. The townspeople banded together and convinced President Lincoln they were a religious community who should be exempt from Military service. Armstrong also petitioned the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania to consider them exiled from the state. He also transferred the deed of the town's property over to "Almighty God, and to his heirs in Jesus Messiah for their proper use and behoof forever."

Armstrong believed he had now secured his town from any outside intrusions. Sadly others took advantage of the community's kindness. Soon families seeking exemption from the draft, as well as easier living conditions, due to the kindness of the community, began to show up and exploit the neighbors. The issue became such a problem that Peter Armstrong had to establish another locality to weed out those with ulterior motives. But soon enough interest waned all together, and the townsfolk began doubting Peter and began fleeing the sacred grounds.

By 1876 the county authorities began to come after Peter Armstrong also, demanding money for unpaid property taxes. Mr. Armstrong believed he owed no taxes because he didn't own the land, God did. Needless to say the tax authority didn't find amusement in this and claimed him the heir to God's property. Eventually the land was auctioned off at sheriff's sale and was purchased by one of Peter's sons. For years the two kept attempting to rebuild the town and their dreams. When Peter died in 1887 only a few residents remained in God's town, shortly after the last neighbors left. Since then the endless mountains that attracted this commune have been quietly regaining the land. Maybe this is the return of God?

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Good Shepherd Memorial Gardens

Cruising along the rural bypass on a Sunday morning. Feeling the breeze and coolness of a fresh Summer day. The sun beaming in the sky caught a reflection of beauty, hidden in neglect. Swerving into the overgrown driveway, behind towers of weeds and grass. Nestled inside of a dilapidated building, next to freshly manicured graves, was a beautiful hand painted stained glass, nearing it's final days. The roof of the building was quite in shambles and seemed destined for collapse at any time. Vaults lined the wall of the neglected memorial garden, sadly they too seemed forgotten.

The Good Shepherd Memorial Garden is just a small plot of graves that someone still cares for. Sadly the rest of the property has certainly seen better times. Not being familiar with the area I asked several locals if they knew any more about this lost structure. Unfortunately most knew very little. I had heard a few intriguing stories about crimes being committed with in the grounds. Though no evidence to support anything.
Maybe you know more about this mysterious property?  Maybe there's nothing to know?

The Gardens are located off route 315 in Wilkes-Barre, Pa. Do you know any more information?