Thursday, October 16, 2008

Emlenton: Under the Interstate

So tonight I’m in Emlenton, in a bed and breakfast inn right on the Allegheny River. By far the tallest thing in Emlenton is the I80 bridge that crosses the river just downstream from the B&B; I can see it up in the sky when I look out the window. There’s a great deal of truck traffic charging back and forth across it—the new version of the railroad that opened up this part of Pennsylvania in the 1860’s.

I’m going to look at Emlenton more closely tomorrow, but one interesting thing did strike me about it this evening when I was taking a brief walk by the river on my way to look for some dinner. The town has been severely plaqued—that is, there are heritage plaques all over the place, and one of them, next to the river, actually commemorates the four hotels that once lined the riverbank not far from where I’m staying. Emlenton doesn’t have a once-grand downtown like Titusville or Oil City, or the distinction of being the firstest or the mostest at anything, but it does appear to be determinedly marketing its heritage nonetheless, and one of the things it’s marketing is its own former history as a little river resort town and transportation hub.

This reminds me of John Sears’s good discussion in Sacred Places: American Tourist Attractions in the Nineteenth Century (University of Massachusetts Press, 1989) about how Mauck Chunk, Pennsylvania (now renamed Jim Thorpe) developed simultaneously as a coal terminus and a tourist destination, and for many of the same reasons—mountains, river, trains, people’s curiosity about the marvels of a young and flourishing industry. Interesting to see tourism itself being folded into the heritage mix.

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