Roadside America.

“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.

2012 Honda Accord parked in a parking lot with two buildings behind it- one of stone, the other of wood.
A beautiful day late last week meant the Accord finally got a thorough wash, wax, and detail. Armed with 3M and Meguiar’s cleaning products, I went to work. Not bad for a car that is 6 years old with almost 111,000 miles.
Interior of 2012 Honda Accord.
I was finally able to fully detail the interior, including treating the leather seats. I spend a lot of time in my vehicle, so I like it to be clean!
Map of Pennsylvania, with a red pin in the location for Roadside America.
The destination for this Sunday’s adventure: Roadside America in Shartlesville, PA.
View of Pennsylvania through windshield of car. Foothills of a mountain are in the distance.
Hills, trees, and mountains: this was the view for much of our ride. Although rain was in the forecast, it held off until our return trip later in the day.
Two lane road. A sign on the left of the road says ROADSIDE AMERICA MINIATURE VILLAGE - DUTCH GIFT HAUS- GIFTS HEX SIGNS - SOUVENIRS
After almost two hours, we arrived in Shartlesville. Roadside America sits on Old Route 22, a two-lane road. I-78, the modern highway, runs parallel to it. If you look closely in the distance, you can see the highway straight ahead, past the grass-covered embankment.
2012 Honda Accord in front of entrance to Roadside America. Building says WELCOME TO FAMOUS ROADSIDE AMERICA WORLD'S GREATEST INDOOR MINIATURE VILLAGE.
The sign above the entrance says it all: “World’s Greatest Indoor Miniature Village.”
Interior of Roadside America, showing an overview of the village.
The Village. To get a sense of the scale of this model, look at the size of the people on the left of the photo.
Miniature fishing pond with two model figures inside a model rowboat. Live fish swim in the water.
Catch anything good today? The fishing hole is stocked with real fish.
Miniature houses in the town section of the diorama.
The town of Fairfield. Each of the houses were hand-crafted by Mr. Gieringer.
Miniature church, surrounded by cars parked on the street.
We could hear a choir singing in the Fairfield church.
Interior of furniture store visible through windows of building, between a restaurant and a movie theater.
Not only is there a miniature furniture store… but Laurence hand-crafted the furniture that went into the building.
Diorama in low-light with buildings lit during the Night Pageant.
Every 30 minutes is the Night Pageant. The lights in the room dim, the buildings light up, and the town prepares to go to sleep, while images of the American Flag, Jesus, and American citizens are projected onto the wall (behind where I took this photo). Several songs, including Kate Smith singing God Bless America, are played during the 5-minute pageant.
Miniature car dealership. Building sign says DEGLER CHEVROLET HAMBURG PA.
This is, after all, a road trip and car blog… so of COURSE I had to photograph the car dealership.
View of railroad tracks surrounding a small circus.
The diorama was made with 17,700 feet of lumber, 4,000 pounds of iron, 2,250 feet of railroad track, 200 railroad cars and engines (all in O gauge), 10,000 miniature trees, 8,000 pounds of sand, 21,500 feet of electrical wire (that’s over four miles!), 600 pounds of rubber roofing, and 4,000 miniature people. 6,000 gallons of water are circulated through the diorama every hour.
Cable car on a wire crossing a canyon. Railroad tracks are lower in the canyon.
Switches are placed around the perimeter of the diorama, allowing you to make various objects move. Pressing a button here made the cable car (top of the photo) cross the canyon.
Oil drilling site, with four derricks in center of photo.
Pressing a button here made the derricks (center) drill for oil.
Church with light coming from inside through the stained glass windows.
This is a model of a church that sits on the Autrian/Italian border. Each stained glass window was hand-painted by Laurence.
Photo in a frame. Text on it says IN MEMORY OF LAURENCE T. GIERINGER.
A very unassuming memorial to the creator of Roadside America. Aside from repairs and maintenance, nothing about the diorama has changed since Laurence Gieringer died in 1963.
Small town made to look like the Old West
The Old West Town made me smile. It was like a tiny version of Deadwood or Dodge City.
Granite Mill, illuminated from inside the building.
The Granite Mill. Over 650 small light bulbs are used to illuminate the buildings in the diorama.
Overview of diorama. A large statue of liberty and American flag are on the far wall.
Despite standing as far away as possible, I could not fit the entire diorama in one image. On the far wall is the Statue of Liberty and the American flag – spotlights are shone on these during the “Night Pageant.”
Statues of Amish man and woman seated on a plinth, waving at the traffic.
This Amish couple waved goodbye to us as we drove off.

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!

Exterior of Blue Mountain restaurant.
We stopped for lunch at the nearby Blue Mountain family restaurant, upon the recommendation of one of the employees at Roadside America. The meal hit the spot- I went with the St. Louis BBQ Chicken sandwich, but my wife got the better meal- her pulled pork sandwich was terrific.
Placemat for Blue Mountain Family Restaurant.
You know you’re in a restaurant in Pennsylvania Dutch country when the placemat has Amish wisdom sayings. Among my favorites are: “May your ahead days be as good as your behind days,” “No woman can be happy with less than seven to cook for,” and “Kissin’ wears out, cookin’ don’t.”
Exterior of Cabela's outdoors store.
Almost every business we saw advertised their distance to Cabela’s outdoor recreation store (“Only five miles from Cabela’s!” “Just one exit from Cabela’s!”). I had never seen one before, so my wife insisted we stop and check it out. Primarily found in the Midwest, Cabela’s is owned by Bass Pro Shops, although this store is far, far larger.
Interior panorama of the Cabela's store.
When I say larger, I mean there is a 30-foot rock and snow diorama of mountain goats, bears, and bison.
View of aquarium in the store.
Does your local sporting good store have a walk-through aquarium?
Rack of BB guns, with the Daisy Red Ryder carbine BB gun.
“No way kid! You’ll shoot your eye out!” Fans of A Christmas Story will know exactly why I took this photo.
View of farmland from behind dashboard of car.
Before beginning our return drive, we scouted a nearby location that will be featured in a future blog post. The route took us through miles and miles of farmland.

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!

‘Til next time.

 

 

7 thoughts on “Roadside America.

  1. That is incredible. Especially since back in the day I was quite the model railroader. In fact, I still have my whole train layout in the garage at the house – getting a little bit worn out with age, but the old locomotives still run. Major props to the creator, but especially also to his family for preserving it since 1963 so other people can continue to enjoy it! Definitely worthy of a visit. Thanks for sharing!

    Like

    1. Thanks! It was a lot of fun, and definitely a unique place to visit. According to the brochure, there are 2250 feet of railroad track- can you imagine?

      I think it’s time to get your old railroad layout set up again and running!

      Like

  2. What a shame that this place is up for sale. Hopefully the new owner will maintain this gem and keep it open to the public. I’m glad to see your interior is being maintained so well, I could sure use a few pointers haha!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. My interior is nice, from a distance. Up close, it’s got its fair share of scratches and dings! In the photos, your TL interior looks quite nice.

      Yes, I agree, I hope Roadside America finds a new owner that can keep it going- it’s a very cool attraction.

      Hope all is well!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. The TL seats definitely need some reconditioning to say the least, when I first got the car it look like someone had painted the rear seatbelt with barbecue sauce or something similar, the car was taken care of for a 13 year old car but it definitely wasn’t immaculate and I still would like to attempt to erase some signs of wear and certainly prevent cracking and ripping in the seats as much as possible. I’m a smaller guy so I’d like to think I don’t do much wear to my seats but I still try to be as careful as I possibly can when getting in and out.

        Liked by 1 person

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