“If we are not careful, we shall leave our children a legacy of billion dollar roads, leading nowhere except to other congested places like those they left behind.” -General Omar Bradley.
Authorized in 1956, the Federal Highway Act was one of the signature laws passed during the term of President Dwight D. Eisenhower. The Act created 48,191 miles of roadway in this country, linking it both east to west and north to south via a series of highways. The system would improve the transportation of people and goods throughout the country, but equally as important to President Eisenhower, it would allow swift movement of American military personnel and equipment should the nation face invasion. Indeed, national defense figures large into the design: one out of every five miles of highway must be straight and flat, to allow aircraft to land and take off during war (via Wikipedia).
Beginning in the 1950s, many existing roadways were bypassed by these larger and faster highways. Most famously, Route 66, which connected Chicago to Los Angeles, was bypassed by Interstates 10, 44, 55, and others. Once the highways had made these old roads obsolete, many of the towns on those routes withered, especially those that lacked direct access to the new system of high-speed interstates. Along the way, tourist stops, which had existed for years to support and entertain road-weary travelers, began to close their doors. So when, in 2018, I can find one of these old tourist stops still clinging to life, I enjoy getting behind the wheel to go explore it.
Built in 1953 by Laurence Gieringer, Roadside America in Shartlesville, Pennsylvania is billed as “the world’s greatest indoor miniature village.” This landscape of early 20th century American culture was handmade by Mr. Gieringer, showcasing his unique view of this country through his love of scale models. A project that took him over 60 years of work, Roadside America continued on after his passing in 1963 – his granddaughter now runs it. Several weeks ago, my wife and I saw a segment on the CBS Sunday Morning show, and after checking a map, decided to make a day trip to visit this very cool and quirky museum of Americana.
Before beginning, however, a quick car update is in order.
Photographs can’t tell the story of Roadside America on their own. I made a small video to try to better capture the spirit of this unique tourist stop!
As the last of a dying breed of roadside tourist attractions, Roadside America is well worth the visit. If you are a model train enthusiast, you enjoy scale modeling, or just appreciate something unique, this is definitely worth a stop. Roadside America is $8 for adults, $5 for children, and $7 for seniors and military service personnel. It is open Thursday through Monday from 10:00 am until 6:00 pm. If you are thinking of visiting it, you probably should not wait. As she stated during her interview with CBS Sunday Morning, the current owner, Dolores Heinsohn (Laurence Gieringer’s granddaughter), has put Roadside America up for sale, as it has become to costly for her to keep running. While it is hoped that a buyer will come forward to preserve this landmark, there is no time to visit it like the present.
Thank you for coming along on another journey down the open road ahead!