Philadelphia’s amazing history

Thursday 26 May to Thursday 2 June

We left New York State where the Delaware Water Gap divides this state with Pennsylvania at Hancock.

Our journey along the Delaware Water Gap was pretty. It was spring and the trees had a delightfully soft green hue and the light was soft. In this area most of the land on the river is privately owned so there are few opportunities to get close to the river. Small weatherboard houses sit beside the road, with grassy yards and sometimes a pretty flowerbed. There is a constant hum of mowers, mostly the ride-on variety, mowing, preparing for the first Spring Holiday – Memorial Day, at the end of May. 

We stop to admire the D&H Canal Aqueduct which was built by John A Roebling.  It was opened in 1849 as an aqueduct connecting two parts of the Delaware & Hudson Canal (D&H).  It spans the river between New York State and Pennsylvania and is part of a canal system that was designed to improve the movement of goods between the mineral rich mountains of the west and the coast towards the east. The aqueduct that crosses the Delaware river is now a road and it takes some imagination to understand how this once carried boats from one canal to another.

We made a stop at the Grey Towers, the home of James & Griffith Pinchot who were advocates of forestry reserves. Gifford Pinchot was the first head of the United States Forestry Service, set up by Theodore Roosevelt.  He was encouraged by his father James to study forestry as they were disturbed by the damage done by logging.

The house is styled to reflect the Pinchot’s French heritage.

We spent a night near Milford. We were a little too far out of town at the Scottish Inn to drive back to town, but our host suggested the local Grill House down the road. We ordered a salad with chicken – it was enormous – the plates overtaking the table. Next morning, we sauntered across the driveway to an authentic American Diner for breakfast. I chose pancakes which were freshly made, Bruce was disappointed by the heavily glad wrapped Danish Pastry.

Next stop was Valley Forge, an important part of the American War of Independence in the 1770s. This is where George Washington waited out the winter from December 1777 to May 1778. In cold and wet conditions, he re-formed his army while the British occupied Philadelphia. Disease, cold and starvation took a heavy toll on both soldiers and horses. Typical of war of the time, it stopped over the cold winter months and many of the Continental Army returned home to their farms. Others had their wives and children follow them and assist with cooking, laundry and mending clothes.

In February 1778 Washington finally got the support of Congress, so that food supplies became available and training was unified under Baron Friedrich von Steuben, a skilled Prussian drill master.

We drove around the encampment with guidance on our cell phone – simply call a number and plug in the current post.  We learned a lot about the battle to gain independence from the British.

Then to the King of Prussia shopping mall, the largest in USA, much like Chadstone but bigger.  We found the Bluestone Lane coffee shop in the upmarket end of mall. It had only been opened for three days but the young wait staff already knew what a lamington was. Most shopping malls are individual stores, massive where you almost have to drive from one store to another. Usually Walmart, Michael’s (craft) and Target. King of Prussia was a massive mall with many shop brands represented – a one stop shop.

In Philadelphia we found a nice meal near our hotel in University City called the White Dog, with of course a doggy theme. Lonely Planet says students take their visiting parents there for a decent meal. It was very quiet, a long weekend and uni had just finished. 

The weather in Philadelphia was grey and cool. We walked to the Liberty Bell and found the queue was 45 minutes long. The weather forecast for tomorrow was poor, so we decided to wait out the queue today. We got chatting to a family from New Jersey. The children, Samantha and Evan, were bored so we chatted about school and holidays and kids’ stuff. The long queue seemed shorter.

The Liberty Bell museum had an interesting history of presidents and events that turned USA into a major player in the world today. The Liberty Bell is clearly of great importance and with it’s crack visible presented an amazing symbol to American rights.

We wandered down to the Riverfront but found it uninspiring. There was a nice monument to the Irish immigrants that contributed so much to the founding of the country. We found pubs for drinks and dinner and ordered an Uber back to hotel. 

Monday was a holiday for Memorial Day. And it rained. We waited for the rain to abate and then walked to the museum. There was a great exhibition of American craft & art. Of course Sylvester Stallone’s ‘Rocky’ is a major attraction on the steps of the museum, but his statue has been moved to lower ground.

From there we continued down Benjamin Franklin Avenue to the city hall trying to get pics in the dull light. We wandered back to the old town for a drink and dinner at Han Dynasty, where we were treated to interesting and very spicy Chinese food. 

The next day was also wet. We decided to simply drive through Dutch county rather than stay. The Lancaster visitor centre suggested a route for us that would take in covered bridges and Amish farms. An interesting drive with inclement weather, however we passed small farms and horses and wagons. We saw children in traditional dress but we also saw more mechanisation than we expected. We saw many traditional people driving tractors, and cars parked outside their homes. The gardens were pretty and well defined.

We also found many covered bridges. For us they appear romantic, but of course their usefulness comes in the winter months when they are snow free and easier to pass.

We continued on to Gettysburg. We had taken a suite on Lincoln Square right beside Lincoln’s statue that remembers where he had written the Gettysburg Address . It rained both evenings but our big day for touring the battlegrounds of Gettysburg cleared to mostly blue skies. We bought the auto tour CD pack to describe the the 24 mile (39km) self-guided auto tour. The recommended 2.5 hour tour actually took us nearly 4 hours – such a lot to absorb. 

From Gettysburg we drove further west to visit Fallingwater, perhaps the most famous of Frank Lloyd Wright’s private homes.  It was commissioned by the wealthy Kaufmann family who had a department store in Pittsburgh. It also brought Frank Lloyd Wright out of the depression doldrums. Unfortunately, photos were not permitted inside the house, however the beautifully preserved gardens were worth a photo or two.