Monday, August 6, 2012

Greater Tionesta, Pennsylvania

We weren't happy campers, in the truest of terms, when we first arrived at Tionesta. But, since that first impression, we have met some really, really nice people here, especially in the town of Tionesta and our stay here has been enjoyable.  

One of them is librarian Dawn, at the Sarah Stewart Bovard Memorial Library in Tionesta, who goes out of her way to help us resolve a problem with our travel trailer. We have used the WiFi facilities of the Tionesta Library enough to know the librarians on a first name basis. After helping with the WiFi and the library facilities, she brings us the name and telephone number of the Postmaster of the Tionesta Post Office.  We will have a new power converter for the trailer emergency shipped to us and we need a shipping address.  We can't use the campground office, so we need an alternative. 


After talking with Postmaster Christina, we realize we can't use the Tionesta Post Office with simple General Delivery as we will have the power supply expedited by UPS.  The Post Office can only accept Postal System shipments.

Brenda, the Head Librarian at the Sarah Stewart Bovard Memorial Library in Tionesta, graciously allows us to use their shipping address so we can be assured of delivery of the new converter because we have nowhere else to ship it!   They are bending over backwards with kindness, and we certainly appreciate it.

We met John and Becky, a couple who live about an hour south of here. They ride their road bikes past our campsite everyday.  We chat with a fellow kayaker who is also camping here and find out he is from Pittsburgh. Then we meet Mike and Becky from Orchard Park, New York, who are also here for the first time, and compare notes and past experiences. These are the people who make camping fun. 

We drive slowly through the small, and oddly pretty town of Tionesta. The old homes along the Allegheny river are mostly trim and well kept, but we notice the river is covered with a yellow-green flotsam we hadn't noticed the day before. We drive to a local kayak rental shop and chat with them about tours, kayak rental costs, and the state of the river. The owner, a brusque, sun-hardened outdoorsy woman, says she doesn't know what that is on the river. She half-jokingly tells us, “It could be hickory poop.” Maybe, but maybe not. We'll pass on kayaking the river this trip.

 We haven't found a manned visitor center anywhere in the area since we've been at Tionesta Recreation Campground. Well, just one, the Tionesta Area Visitors Center in the heart of town, but the elderly couple manning the counter can only answer but a few questions. They did their best though, and even turned on the wide screen TV to check the weather radar. We pick up a handful of brochures from local venues and again look at a map to figure out where we are.

Pithole City comes up as the number one attraction in the area on my GPS, and when we accidentally stumble across the road signs pointing that direction while driving to Titusville, I immediately turn and head down the narrow, paved road to history. After a twisty, five mile ride, and an encounter with a fawn in the middle of the two-lane road who stares at my wife while she stares back, we stop at the Historic Pithole City Visitors Center. It is dark and locked. Not a soul in sight.

Ilse and I have the place to ourselves. Songbirds and beautiful sunshine are our only companions as we take photographs of what had one time been a booming community. Never mind our GPS has no clue where we are. We squint and look through the locked doors of the museum, take photos of the placards, and finally head toward Titusville and the famous Col. Edwin Drake Oil Well Museum. At least we think we were headed toward Titusville, our GPS wants us to drive through a corn field.

As we pull into Titusville and its divided highway through town, my wife says, “I think I like this little town. It's pretty.” Two hours later she's ready to leave. First impressions can be deceiving. We drive through town several times looking for different stores, using different streets, and while many homes are well kept and attractive, the houses along the main routes are mostly dilapidated and quite rundown. Reconstruction is going on in town, but it will take quite a while before the once attractive city is restored. They have a good start, and if it comes out half as well as Wellsboro, they will have done a good job. The old run-down homes along the highways will be a real test, though, they are mostly in sad shape.

We drive to the Col. Edwin Drake Museum just on the outskirts of Titusville. There is no sign of life. Again, a completely empty parking lot. We drive to the museum/gift shop, all the spaces are empty. Nobody here but us, just like at Pithole. We walk to the dark, closed gift shop, that has a sign that says, “Open,” and through the wide-open doors of the grounds of the historic site that marks the beginning of modern society, and into our own world. Not a soul here but us. We take our time poking into buildings and looking around the museum compound. After taking all the photos we can take of the first oil well, we head back to town. We do some shopping, check out the local Elk's Club, and finally head back to the campground at Tionesta.

But first, another road sign catches my eye. It says, “Oil Creek and Titusville Railroad, Caboose Motel.” OK, I'll bite, and we take yet another side trip to the outer fringes of our solar system and pull into another empty parking lot and yet another closed museum, the third closed museum and visitors center we have visited today. Not a good sign as this is the height of the tourist season.

There are twenty-one cabooses from famous railroads of the past, parked side by side on adjacent railroad sidings. The multicolored old rail cars conjure up memories of railroad greatness of the past. Cabooses from Erie, Lackawanna, New York Central, Delaware and Hudson, along with many others, sit side by side in pairs, with permanently mounted stair cases and handrails. They have been firmly attached to mother earth and they aren't going anywhere. The cabooses have been turned into a motel!

The only person we see the entire time we are at the railroad museum and caboose motel is an elderly maid, slowly carrying a load of clean sheets and towels in her arms from the office toward one of the distant, faded, permanently parked railroad cars turned motel room. We wonder why she doesn't use a cart of some sort to carry everything. But, who knows.

There are no automobiles in the parking lot for the museum or for the motel. Again, except for the time warped dimension of the maid who I believe still may be walking across the parking lot, Ilse and I are as alone as the astronauts who circled the moon. I take several photos of the row of cabooses, but decide we don't need any photos of the huge, dilapidated factory that forms one backdrop vista for the motel customers. We put away our brochures and slowly head for our campsite at Tionesta.

After a short, thirty minute drive, we are sitting in our camper wondering what we are going to do for the next two weeks. Hopefully, the converter will arrive within a day or two, or Brenda and Dawn are going to get very tired of us.

NEXT: Thanks to the good folks at the Tionesta Library, next at:


  1. I've been to Drake Well Museum twice....last summer and again this past week and found it very interesting! The gift shop was open and the visitors center was quite crowded with people and volunteers. the kids made "plastic" both times and loved it...they are the reason we went back this year. We took the railroad ride last year and I enjoyed it. We haven't gone to Pithole because it was closed the day we went to Drake Well both times...I think it is only open on weekend's a shame that your visit turned out badly for you but we enjoyed our time there...found stores to shop at...Wal-Mart, a bakery with delicious baked goods, Dollar General...tried out a few restaurants....Perkins was great....went there two times cause the kids ate free on Sundays and Tuesdays...I know we will go back again.....

  2. I've been to Tionesta twice..last summer and again last week and I would definitely go back! We went to Drake Well Museum and enjoyed it very much. The gift shop was open and the Visitor Center also. The volunteers there were very helpful and informed. The kids loved making "plastic" That is the reason we went back there this year...they remembered how much fun they had last year. We took the train ride last year and enjoyed that also! We haven't stayed at the Caboose Motel yet but when we asked for information about staying there the clerk was very nice. We do plan on spending a weekend there one time possibly this year before they close for the season in October. Is it possible that you visited before the season opened for the railroad? They are only open weekends and some weekdays in July and August. I believe Drake Well is closed on Mondays. It is a shame your visit to these places turned out badly but I must say we really enjoyed visiting there!


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