Friday, December 31, 2010

Food & Water Watch

Here's another non-political, non-profit organization you might want to work with, especially if you are concerned about issues like safe water and safe food in Pennsylvania and, for that matter, elsewhere. These issues are especially important in our Commonwealth because of complications of natural gas production in the Marcellus Shale. If you are interested in working with this group, you will be offered a chance to be active on the issues that are of special interest to you. Visit their site at

Wishing my readers a happy and prosperous New Year.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Delaware Riverkeepers Need Our Help

Politics as we know it today has been caused by our failure to pay attention to public issues: war, peace, civil rights, land, water, air, schools, and many more. If to a lot of us it seems like a sordid ripoff these days, only we can take it--and our society--back. For ourselves and for our children.
This may not mean directly involving ourselves in political life, although there are some good people in elective office and we should try to cast informed votes that will add to their number.
But we definitely need to be advocating for public issues, for the future of America.
I will be discussing non-profit, non-political organizations that are dealing with such issues, in the hope my readers will find one or more they would like to work with and help. And I will begin with Delaware River Keepers.
Our magnificent Delaware River (okay, so New York and New Jersey share it) is, as far as I know, still the longest free-flowing river in the United States. It has recovered remarkably from both severe pollution and the threat of impoundment of its waters--remember the now rather long ago threat of the Tocks Island Dam?
A healthy Delaware--and as of now it still is relatively healthy--is an astonishing economic, social, and cultural asset. For example, in just one recent years, whitewater enthusiasts contributed almost $10 million to the economy of the Upper Delaware. At the other end of the river, the migratory birds and horseshoe crab spawning provide an estimated $34 million in regional benefits annually. These figures are from a mailing I recently received from Delaware Riverkeepers
Yet in the year just passing, the Upper Delaware has been designated the nation's most endangered river. The chief reason is the search for natural gas in the Marcellus Shale that underlies a large part of the region. Some 200,000 acres have already been leased for exploration--and the environment and the economy are ill protected from the potential effects. There are few state regulations on drilling; and the Federal Energy Policy Act of 2005 provides exemptions for natural gas from many of the provisions of federal clean water laws.
We need energy. We also need restrictions on what else we will sacrifice for it.
To put it bluntly: Can we drink natural gas? Grow food in it? Swim and bathe in it?
The threat of mishandled natural gas development in the Marcellus Shale has been called the environmental issue of our time, and may well be. Certainly it is of vital concern to Pennsylvania and its people. The Delaware Riverkeepers Network is among the organizations leading the fight for environmental restraint and responsibility in this matter.
But its programs extend far beyond this. They aid communities all along the river, and include advocacy, habitat restoration, a River Resources law clinic, and more. In short, The Delaware Riverkeepers Network is an outstanding leader in regional watershed issues.
If you would like to help, or to learn more, visit the DRN web site at Or phone 215-369-1188.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Looking for PA Dutch Food on the Wrong Roads?

Several of my friends have commented on what they see as the difficulty of finding Pennsylvania Dutch restaurants on the state's roads and byways. When I did a post on Roadside America at Shartlesville recently a friend asked me to find out whether the (to her) lovingly remembered Shartlesville Inn still survived--she had had numerous pleasant meals there.
Well, it's gone; and so--my informant told me--are several other family-style Pennsylvania Dutch restaurants. As if to emphasize the point, another friend told of having a desire for some Pennsylvania Dutch food, and stopping at a restaurant called the Conrad Weiser. Under the current owners, it was a Thai restaurant with a famous old Pennsylvania German name. My friend is flexible where food is concerned, and after the initial surprise I am sure he enjoyed his meal very much. It just wasn't what he had expected.
But is the situation really as Pennsylvania-Dutch-Food-Free as it seems (to some) to be? Or are people just looking in the wrong places? It shouldn't be a surprise that some of the old places are gone. Everything is mortal, after all; and restaurants are more mortal than most things. To keep them alive seems to require both extraordinary skill and miraculous luck.
I decided to use my computer to try to determine where you can get a complete Pennsylvania Dutch sit-down meal while you are traveling in our Commonwealth. I'm going to get off to a slow start, because I am not just going to throw urls at my readers. I'm checking each to make sure it's still in business, and has not gone to internet never-never land. Oh, and by the way, if you know of a good restaurant in the Dutch category, please let me know.
For my early restaurant suggestions, I have picked The Willows at 1935 E. Willow Lane, East Texas (a hamlet in Lower Macungie Twp. west of Allentown). This restaurant suffered serious damage a few years ago, I think from a flood. When you look at a picture of it, it lacks the ambience of, say, a Pennsylvania farm kitchen; but under the circumstances that isn't surprising. It has survived, and as far as I know it's got a fine reputation. For hours and other information, phone The Willows at 610-928-1101.
Next there is Die Deitsch Eck (The Dutch Corner) at 87 Pine St., Lenhartsville. This once was the Washington Hotel, and does seem, from its pictures, to have that old, Dutch country ambience. To learn more, call 610-562-8520.
Finally--at least for this post--there's the one you can't call, because it doesn't have a phone. That's because it is an Amish farmstead, the Stoltzfus Farm Restaurant. Abram Stoltzfus bought the place in 1929, and managed to hold onto it right through the Great Depression. In 1968 his son Amos began offering meals to visitors, and that was the beginning of the restaurant.
The Amish continue to use technology as little as they need to; and no doubt this is the reason for the lack of a phone.
To compensate for that lack, the Stoltzfuses have an amazingly detailed, informative, and interesting web site. You learn the history of the family and the place; the hours, the prices. You are given menus and recipes. You are told the address two ways: Stoltzfus's is 1/4 mile east of Intercourse on Route 772. The GPS address is 3716 E. Newport Rd., Gordonville, PA 17529.
Unfortunately, the website says the restaurant is closed from December through March. I am not sure that means it is closed right now, or will close December 31.
Why not check to see what you think? The url is

Friday, December 17, 2010

Roadside America: A Fabulous Miniature World

If I am correct, which sometimes happens, a Christmas Putz has two characteristics: It centers around a representation of Christ's birth, and it can be viewed only during the Christmas season.
If this is so, Roadside America at Shartlesville definitely is not a Putz. Although it features many houses of worship, it does not--to my knowledge--have a Nativity scene; and though it is open during the Christmas season, it also is open from July through Labor Day. If I am wrong about this I hope the owners, or simple enthusiasts for the site, will set me straight.
I first saw Roadside America, which is located at U.S. Route 22 and I-178, when I was young, probably 11 or 12. I have never forgotten it. This is not an ad, but I would recommend this site to anyone. It was amazing then; I have no doubt it is more amazing now. An outside sign proclaims, in part, "Who Enters Here Will Be Taken By Surprise! Be Prepared To See More Than You Expect!"
Indeed, yes. Roadside America is much more than a miniature village; it is a civilization in miniature, made up of numerous villages, scenes from the countryside, and from small, attractive cities. A ticket to it is a ticket to the nation as we dream of it.
It also is a ticket to history, because the nation we dream of is, by definition, a vision of the past. I doubt that, even today, you would be able to point out one strip mall or highway interchange in this built landscape, let alone some of the other less pleasant constructions of our time.
This is a landscape in which things move, though, although they are not necessarily the most "modern" things. Miniature trains of various gauges whiz by, a tiny grist mill goes about its task of making flour. The Locust Hill breaker processes coal, a reminder of one of the Commonwealth's largest and most problematic industries.
Take it all in, if you can. Take all the pictures you want; the owners encourage it. Then ask yourself the inevitable question: "How did all this come to be?"
A clue can be found on the sign we have already visited, the one at the entrance. One of the things it says is, "Over 60 years in the Making By Our Family."
The patriarch of this family was Laurence Gieringer, a carpenter and painter who had an abiding love for miniatures. He would carve them meticulously, working on a scale of 3/8 of an inch to a foot--houses, stores, churches, a coach and four, anything.
His family's own under-tree Christmas exhibit soon became a thing of amazing beauty. A newspaper, the Reading Eagle, got word of this and ran a feature story about it. Thus was laid the groundwork for the present roadside attraction that has beguiled so many thousands and provided work for so many Gieringer descendants.
Hours for Roadside America during this season are 10-5 Monday through Friday and 10-6 weekends. The site will be closed on Christmas.
For further information, call 610-488-6241, or visit the organization's site at To see a series of spectacular Roadside America photos, go to

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

The Christmas Putz at Bethlehem's Central Moravian Church

For the 73rd season, Central Moravian Church in Bethlehem is sharing its Christmas Putz with visitors to the city. But the Moravian Putz ("cleaning" or "decorating") tradition goes back centuries. It seems to be an integral part of Germanic culture, and in moving to Saxony and coming under the protection of Count Nicholas von Zinzendorf, the Moravians themselves were pretty much absorbed into Germanic culture.
The Putz in the Moravian Church tradition is preeminently a religious expression. (Better eliminate all qualifiers. It IS a religious expression, and nothing less.) It is a representation in miniature of the world into which the Christ Child was born, and it depicts His Nativity as the center of that world. At Central Moravian the Putz and its stories are narrated, highlighted with music, and lighted. Although I have seen it only once and may not see it again, I am glad I have seen it once.
But Moravians are not the only people found of miniatures. The Pennsylvania Dutch people, being Germanic, seem also to have a special love for them. Many are the Pennsylvania Dutch homes which featured (and perhaps still do) a "miniature village" under the Christmas tree. It might be secular, having no Nativity scene, but instead a layout with electric, or at least wind-up, trains. But it, too, was an expression of a world in little.
The Central Moravian Church is open during most of the winter holiday season. It is closed Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, and will have its final open day on New Year's Eve from 1 to 10:30 p.m.
For information about Putz tours and showings, call the church at (610) 868-5661.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Bethlehem Steel Plant Photo History Now Out

Bethlehem Steel In Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, by Ann Bartholomew and Donald Stuart Young.
Canal History And Technology Press. Easton. 2010.

Perhaps because the work is so recently published, googling has not got me any information on where you can buy it, and at what price. My own experience as a CHTP author suggests it will not be on amazon; but you can go to, the National Canal Museum, and they no doubt will be able to help you-- maybe even process your order through their site.
If you are interested in American industrial history, and specifically in the history of steel making, you will want this book. If you care about Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, rich in heritage and yet seemingly without a sense of direction since steelmaking ended in the city in 1995, this book is for you. Even if you just enjoy looking at good photographs, here are 600 plus excellent examples, most of them having to do with large machinery or large structures, but with a certain number with greater human interest thrown in.
The work is not a corporate history, but a pictorial history of Bethlehem Steel's plant in its home city--this explains the slightly awkward title. The plant is still there, in a way, although large sections of it have been torn down, and it is undergoing modification into something strange, if not rich. However, if the economy rights itself anytime soon, the site will contain a Smithsonian-affiliated National Museum of Industrial History among its other tenants. This has been a long-awaited institution.
In the years since the end of Bethlehem Steel, the corporation has been "dissed" --too much. And it's too bad. For years, "Bessie" had been the center of Bethlehem's life, its secular soul. To date, nothing has come to replace it; and nothing seems even to be waiting in the wings.
Were its managers flawed? Yes. Who isn't? Did it deal harshly with its workers? Was it a polluter? Yes, and yes. Of what corporation of its era could this NOT be said?
And yet...there were times, especially toward the end, when it dealt with its workers with a generosity it could not really afford. When it pursued pollution with a zeal it might better have dedicated to planning a way out of its ever-increasing financial problems. (These flaws, by the way, seem to have been characteristic of the entire American steel industry at the time.)
What did Bethlehem Steel mean, in the end? I see its story as an epic adventure, pursued by imperfect human beings. In itself, it was not perfect; but there was a lot of good in it.
And what did this organization do with its existence? Let authors Ann Bartholomew and Donald Stuart Young sum it up: "...It produced armaments that saved the world from tyranny, beams that took commerce skyward, bridges that spanned some of the great waterways of North America. Its mills provided jobs to thousands."
If you want to know more of the story, consider this book. I highly recommend it.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Christmas In Bethlehem on the Lehigh II

When people think of Christmas here, they generally think of a Moravian Church Christmas. This represents the heritage and traditions of the small church whose members founded the City of Bethlehem in the 18th century. I don't know how much is old and how much is later, although the great Moravian music that is performed in the Christmas season certainly must be among the oldest elements of the holiday. When I think of a Moravian Christmas, I think of candlelight and choirs, and the famous Moravian trombone choir which--often playing from the belfry of Central Moravian Church--adding a special note of majesty to the occasion. And I think of joining the congregation in song as we all lift our beeswax candles high in the air at the end of the Moravian College Christmas Vespers... I was only there once, but I kept the stub of that candle for years.
But there were other Christmases to celebrate. This was especially true as "the Bethlehems", north and south, became a massive steelmaking center, with other significant industries thrown in. Immigrants poured in by the thousands, from many countries in Central and Eastern Europe and Central and South America. I have attended a beautiful Russian Orthodox service, with music for unaccompanied choir, and listened in on a joint holiday vespers sung by the choirs of the two Slovenian churches, Catholic and Protestant. The Spanish congregation of Holy Infancy annually staged Las Posadas, a Puerto Rican depiction of the Holy Family's search for shelter.
Christmas was an international holiday in Bethlehem in Bethlehem then, as I hope it is now. I do know that there is now an 11-year-old Luminaria night, which gives a bow to the simple outdoor holiday lighting of the American Southwest, and raises a lot of money for good causes. Luminarias are a Spanish-American tradition in the Southwest, but here they are for you to enjoy regardless of your ethnicity. Our Lady of Pompeii/Holy Rosary Catholic Church once staged an annual Christmas pageant in the middle of E. Fourth St. At a certain point--since E. Fourth St. was then a state highway--it was taken over by the City, moved, and --some say--gentrified. I have not heard of it lately, and am not sure it survives.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Christmas In Bethlehem on the Lehigh I

From my apartment window, I notice, I can now see the Star of Bethlehem, built decades ago of Bethlehem Steel girders and placed high atop South Mountain, above the home campus of Lehigh University. It's Advent, and that means the Christmas season in "our Bethlehem " is in full swing.
What does that mean? I'm not sure. Now that I have mobility problems, it's been years since I've been able to get involved in it, or in much of anything outside.
Tonight is the first time I have even been aware of the municipal Star in years. I have heard complaints about it from people I know. They think that, as a long-time activist and the founder of the South Bethlehem Historical Society I ought to be able to do something; but of course I can't. Not even if I had the capacity to sweep into the office of the Mayor of Bethlehem and pound on his desk would I be able to do something; and of course that capacity was never mine. (Much as I might sometimes have wanted it. ..)
The complaints have been that the Star is invisible; and that if you drive up you will find broken bulbs all over the place. I know nothing about the broken bulbs; until tonight I could not have said whether the Star was off or on. I don't know whether it IS on most of the time, although for some years it was on every day. It passed muster with the ACLU by being positioned as a symbol, not of a religion, but of a city.
When I first came here--back in the day, almost 40 years ago--the Star was only on during the Advent/Christmas season, beaming a welcome to the thousands of seasonal tourists the city had been attracting for years. I also know that sometimes, during Holy Week, the lights were turned on to form a Cross. I know, because I saw it while I was walking across the Hill to Hill Bridge. That was before the days of high-tech billboards to block part of the view of South Mountain.
That period-- of the Star at Christmas and the Cross during Holy Week--represent to me a time when Bethlehem was somewhat freer in religious expression than it seems to be now. There were also such things as outdoor Stations of the Cross, participants in costume, often designed to call attention to Jesus's sufferings as they are reflected in the suffering of today's poor.
I liked this feeling of the seriousness of faith in the city. It put me in mind of something the great Anglo-Irish dramatist George Bernard Shaw wrote about Ancient Rome--of a time when Rome was "...young, and knew its own mind, and had a mind to know."
The Star for years was at the center of Christmas lights tours, when buses of visitors were driven through brightly decorated streets and up South Mountain. There they stopped by the great structure to take in the overall view of the city in its holiday finery. With the current cost of electricity, these tours are most likely past their prime. If they are happening. I don't check the local web sites--City of Bethlehem, for instance--because there is next to no chance I will be able to attend anything. Thus, research would be a wasted effort.
Still, I advise readers to check them out, and to attend whatever they can. I am by no means "grinch-ish", and am leading a full and interesting life. And I'm sure there still is much to enjoy in a Bethlehem Christmas. Don't miss it.
In my next post I'll share some more personal Christmas memories and observations of this place.