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Pennsylvania: Blue collar bluebloods

Courtesy Pennsylvania Dutch CVB

A heritage of work makes for great play in the Keystone state.

With breathtaking scenery, charming country towns and glamorous cities, Pennsylvania has long been a favorite group travel destination. However, there is no better way to learn about the heritage of Pennsylvanians and their reputations as hardworking, artistic, philanthropic and even heroic souls than to immerse your group in an authentic, behind-the-scenes visit to their working lives.

For over a century, the world’s steel was produced there. Our furnaces were fueled by the coal mined there. Because of one Pennsylvanian, chocolate became an everyday staple and not just a luxury. And Pennsylvanians have made graffiti into a welcome and highly employable form of art.

Exploring Pennsylvania’s industry is a great way to introduce your travelers to the heart of the Keystone State.


Pittsburgh’s history as the one-time steelmaking capital of the world is showcased on a tour of Carrie Furnaces, the heart and soul of U.S. Steel’s Homestead Works, according to Kristin Mitchell, communications manager with VisitPittsburgh.

“For those of us that grew up with steelworkers as family members, it certainly hits close to home,” she said.

Constructed in 1906, the furnaces produced more than 1,000 tons of iron a day until 1979. Today, these 92-foot-tall structures stand as sentinels to the city’s steel heritage. Tours take groups through the ironmaking process from the Ore Yard where raw materials were stored to the Cast House where red-hot molten once spewed from the furnace.

A highlight on the tour, reflecting the character and lifestyles of many of those steelworkers, is the famous 45-by-34-foot deer head crafted entirely of materials found on the site.

“Deer hunting, along with rooting for the Pittsburgh Steelers, continues to be an important part of life here,” said Mitchell.

A tour of the monumental structure can be combined with a visit to the historic Pump House of the Carnegie Steel Company’s Homestead Works, site of one of American labor’s bloodiest battles in 1892, and the Bost Building, considered the center of American labor history’s most dramatic episodes that followed that battle, the Homestead Lockout and Strike.

Laurel Highlands

The Laurel Highlands, considered some of the most scenic territory in Pennsylvania, is also home to an industry that continues to be an important contributor to the local economy: coal mining.

For five days in 2002, the nation witnessed the perilous efforts to rescue nine miners at Quecreek Mine in Somerset.

“It all happened on a little family farm,” said Linda Mauzy, group sales manager for the Laurel Highlands Visitors Bureau. “While everything went wrong, everything ended up going right. This is a message of survival and human spirit.”

Today, that farm family and many of the family members of the rescued miners greet visitors to the Monument for Life, a five-acre tribute to the rescue workers and coal miners everywhere.

“The community has been so involved in this park that the Amish even volunteered to build the welcome center,” said Mauzy.

Visitors are greeted by a seven-foot cast bronze coal miner and an arbor garden homage to all 18 miners that were in the mine on the day of the accident. Nine black-granite monuments encircle a red-oak tree to honor the first nine miners who narrowly escaped the mine flood, soon to become rescuers themselves. Groups can closely observe the rescue shaft where the miners emerged from the mine 240 feet below after hours of frigid darkness and touch the rescue capsule that later became the prototype for the Chilean mine rescue in 2010.

Mauzy suggested that groups not miss a patriotic dinner show at the Opera House in the tiny mining town of nearby Rockwood and combine this poignant experience with a stop at the Flight 93 National Memorial in Shanksville to pay tribute to the 40 passengers who lost their lives on 9/11.

The football field at Gettysburg College is named Musselman Stadium, a tasty giveaway to the agricultural importance of apples in the area.

“Adams County, also known as Apple Country, ranks fifth in the nation in apple production and is the heart and soul of Pennsylvania’s fruit belt,” said Carl Whitehill, media relations manager for the Gettysburg Convention and Visitors Bureau. “Visitors come in April to see more than 20,000 acres of apple blossoms in bloom and take part in our Apple Blossom Festival, and in the summer and early fall when these gems are harvested. Our biggest event — twice as big as any Civil War event — is our National Apple Harvest Festival that celebrates the harvest and heritage of our region.”

At Hollabaugh Brothers Fruit Farm and Market, groups take a tour that includes a close encounter with bees.

Bees are “an important ingredient in growing fruit,” said Whitehill, and “visitors learn how bees work their way north from Florida, where they assist the oranges, to Georgia, where they work their magic with peaches, and then to Pennsylvania, where they help us with our apples.”

The tour on the third-generation farm is educational, but a wagon ride through the orchards, cider and honey sampling, and shopping in its market is part of the fun.

At the nearby Hauser Estate Winery, groups can tour the 170-acre facility, learn about wine- and cider-making, and then have a little apple indulgence in the winery’s 360-degree tasting room that overlooks forests and orchards.