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Festivals are a celebration of culture and heritage, of sports and recreation, of talent and uniqueness. Indeed, you could say that they are a celebration of life itself. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the Laurel Highlands of southwestern Pennsylvania whose communities, small and large, present more than fifty special events to choose from during the year. You might think that so many festivals would compete with each other, but the opposite is true in the Laurel Highlands where communities cooperate to make your visit both pleasurable and rewarding. Festivals have been honed to very high standards of professionalism guaranteed to please the most discerning visitor. Each festival compliments the other by reflecting the rich diversity of the Highlands while providing an excellent showcase for talent and crafts, food and frolic, heritage demonstrations and historical reenactment. Throughout the Highlands one can participate in festivals celebrating antiques and quilting, Scottish Heritage and Highland Games, Oktoberfests, Wine and Food weekends, Flax Scutching, Teddy Bears and Pumpkins. Most summer and autumn weekends provide the visitor with the opportunity to attend two - three festivals within driving distance of each other.
As a writer completing a book manuscript on the organization of festivals and events I'm always on the lookout for good material and certainly wasn't disappointed with a visit to the Highlands during the latter part of September last year, just when the leaves were beginning to colour. It is always a pleasure to cruise the byways and highways in southwestern Pennsylvania, where mountains and valleys combine in provide some of the prettiest vistas in the northeast. One can easily forget that the area is only one hour south of Pittsburgh. Hubby and I enjoyed a number of exceptional festivals where we were greeted by friendly folk, unique crafts, well-done reenactment and historical demonstrations, and lots of great food.
Our first stop was at Mountain Craft Days, held on the beautiful grounds of the Somerset Historical Center, a member of the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission. This is one of the largest hands-on heritage festivals in Pennsylvania with more than one hundred and twenty craftspeople demonstrating authentic and traditional crafts. Complimenting the outdoor craft areas were exhibits in the main museum and a tour through the on-site reconstructed Adam Miller house and barn. For those researching family and local history, Somerset Historical Center has a large genealogical library housed in their Visitor Center. Mountain Craft Days are always held on the Friday, Saturday and Sunday after Labour Day. This festival is so large that it is recommended accommodations be arranged well in advance. Rooms are plentiful in the city of Somerset, which has the distinction of being an outlet destination. We stayed at the Holiday Inn, and easy two miles from the festival site.
When you are in the area, it is highly recommended that you enjoy dinner and theatre at The Mountain Playhouse and Green Gables Restaurant. Both are located one mile north of Jennerstown, a small village which is ten miles north of Somerset. Green Gables, named after Lucy Maude Montgomery's home in Prince Edward Island, Canada, serves well-prepared food in a romantic setting by a millpond. Green Gables has been called 'enchanting' with its wooden beams, cosy antique-filled dining rooms and glass-enclosed terraces. From the terraces, you can see Mountain Playhouse, a beautifully restored log gristmill c1805, with seating for more than four hundred. A short walk through gardens and along flower-lined pathways leads to the lake, art exhibits and theatre which is celebrating its sixtieth year in 1998 with nine plays during a season which extends from May through October.
History buffs should thoroughly enjoy the Berlin Whiskey Rebellion Celebration which is held nine miles down the road from Somerset on Rte #219 during the last weekend in September. The village of Berlin, with its striking nineteenth architecture, comes alive with living history encampments, craft shows and historical demonstrations, a parade, square dancing, concerts, home-style dinners and community church services. Its main street is turned into a pedestrian mall for the weekend and visitors can indulge in local specialties, hands-on heritage demonstrations and lively entertainments.
During the same weekend, visitors are encouraged to visit two festivals held twenty miles from Berlin, and within three miles of each other. Autumnfest, the largest outdoor festival in the Laurel Highlands, is held over five weekends, beginning the last weekend in September. Autumnfest's permanent home is Seven Springs Mountain Resort, a four-season resort with a spectacular setting, located just outside the small village of Champion. The entire resort is turned over to the celebration. Autumnfest weekends feature more than seventy-five crafters in two buildings, chairlift rides, hayrides, an alpine slide, horseback riding, ice carving demonstrations, an antique car show, petting zoo and children's activities. The Resort's famous German-style outdoor buffet with roasting spit is one of biggest drawing cards for the festival. As the sign says - 'Life is short. Start with dessert.' A number of savvy folk started with the dessert table and worked their way backwards. Although the buffet is served on the balcony of the Ski Lodge, no one need worry about weather or bugs interrupting a great meal. Tables are set up inside and staff is always at hand to clear dishes away, in anticipation of your next round. For the less hearty appetite, the Resort has four other eateries located in their ski lodge, which serve a variety of foods. A stop at the Baker's Pantry is a must for pastas, breads, cookies and delectable desserts. When Seven Springs is not hosting Autumnfest, it offers a full range of year round activities including skiing, hiking, biking and swimming. Visitors should plan to arrive early for the best parking, although shuttle busses run continuously during the day from all area parking lots. Seven Springs Resort has a wide variety of accommodations choices which should be booked well in advance if you wish to stay on-site throughout any one of the five festival weekends.
Two miles east of Seven Springs Resort, Laurel Hill State Park holds its annual Harvest Festival during the last Friday and Saturday of September. This locally supported event, which is advertised as a pioneer community celebration, is a marvelous occasion to immerse oneself in heritage demonstrations such as log hewing, stenciling, tinsmithing, rug weaving and soap making, when enjoying traditional foods and refreshments. Root beer, ham pot pie, apple dumplings, cabbage with noodles and funnel cakes were the favourites of the crowd while we were visiting. Stage entertainment and children's activities are in keeping with the theme. Heritage encampments complete the event which is held in a very pretty location on the ground of Laurel State Park.
There are many types of accommodation throughout the Laurel Highlands, but the area is best known for its award winning four season resorts. Sharing the spotlight with Seven Springs, for quality accommodation and year round activities is the family owned Hidden Valley Resort at Champion on Rte # 31, ten miles west of Somerset. Hidden Valley Resort offers a variety of accommodations choices and packages. The Resort boasts golf, tennis, hiking and biking trails, skiing and four swimming pools. Visitors can choose from two dining rooms and five casual eateries. One of Hidden Valley's bonuses has to be their Friday evening Seafood Buffet, in their Hearthside Dining Room. Reservations are a must. Their golf course and Club are worth mentioning for the beauty of their mountaintop setting. The Golf Club is situated atop a three thousand foot mountain summit. While playing, the golfer can compliment her game with twenty mile vistas of the Highlands.
Hidden Valley Resort is listed as one of the ninety-nine best residential and recreational communities in America and the Best for Family Living. It was chosen as 'Best Resort Community' and its beautifully situated golf course was chosen as one of the best courses in the Mid-Atlantic by readers of Tee Time magazine. It is also known as one of the ten most challenging golf courses in the USA. If you are planning a visit to the Laurel Highlands over Columbus Day weekend, festivals worth seeing at Fort Ligonier Days with over one hundred and fifty crafts booths along their main streets, a huge food court and parade which features some of the best high school bands in the state. During this celebration, reenactment are held at the restored fort.
Bedford Crafts Festival is held for two weekends, ending on Columbus Day. Like Fort Ligonier Days, the Bedford Festival is held throughout their main heritage district and is a must see. Don't forget to visit Old Bedford Village, while in the area. Although Bedford is just outside Laurel Highlands eastern border, it is well worth a visit.
IF YOU GO:
120 East Main Street
Ligonier, Pennsylvania 15658
Somerset, Pennsylvania 15501
Berlin, Pennsylvania 15530
Hidden Valley, Pennsylvania 15502
Ligonier, Pennsylvania 15658
Jennerstown, Pennsylvania 15547
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