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Final Miles: Pennsylvania’s Interesting Route 6

Tunkhannock Creek Viaduct was the world's largest concrete bridge when it was completed in 1916. Photos by Beverly Kehe-Rowland

The best part of traveling an uncharted course is you never make a wrong turn and you are never lost. This is the way my husband and I traveled across New York and through much of New England. This is the last installment of our three week trip.

After an uneventful crossing of the state of Connecticut, we drove a few miles in New York and then entered Pennsylvania at the point where New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania meet. We spent the night in Dunmore.

We had planned to travel the entire length of Pennsylvania’s Route 6 for many years, because we knew there were some interesting things to see. That is, interesting by our standards. Here was our chance. We began by backtracking a few miles to Archbald PotHole State Park, where we stood looking at a hole in the ground.

While looking at the sign where the history and a few pictures were posted, we learned the early residents of Archbald County were very proud and very protective of the 38-foot deep pothole. It was discovered when coal miners were extending a shaft in 1884. After the blast, water and stones rushed into the mine shaft causing the miners to flee, believing the earth was caving in on them. After 800-1,000 tons of smooth round and oval stones were removed, the mining company’s manager determined the vertical tunnel was a pothole. According to geologists, a mixture of frigid glacial water, sand and stones wore away solid rock forming the pothole roughly 20,000 years ago.

The owner of the land spent $500 to build a wall and fence around the hole. Lackawanna County acquired the site and the surrounding 150 acres in 1940. The Commonwealth of Pennsylvania took ownership in 1961 and Archbald State Park was opened in 1964.

The designers, volunteers and those who had input in the Bradford County Veterans Memorial Park in Towanda, Pa., should feel proud of the outcome.

We left Route 6 in search of what was once the world’s largest concrete bridge in Nicholson, the Tunkhannock Creek Viaduct. We took pictures of this impressive structure from every vantage point we could find. One hundred sixty-seven thousand cubic yards of concrete and 1,140 tons of steel were used in the engineering marvel. Ten of the 12 arches are 180-feet across. The two remaining arches are 100-feet across and stand totally buried at either end of the bridge. Only half or less of the 500 laborers were skilled. Work was done around the clock with steam shovels, dynamite and a cement mixer, which was built at the site. Dynamite was shipped by another railroad company to Springville, PA and then on to Nicholson by horse and wagon because the builder, Delaware, Lackawanna and Western Railroad Company, did not allow it to be transported on its rails.

When the Nicholson Bridge, which it is commonly referred to, was completed in 1915 the DLW finished its Summit Cut-Off. This shortened the main line 3.6 miles, reduced the gradient from 1.23 to .68 percent and the curvature from 3970 to 1570 degrees and eliminated 22 grade crossings. It spans 2,375 feet, is 34-feet wide and is 300-feet from the creek bottom. It has been called the 9th Wonder of the World and has been registered as a National Historic Civil Engineering Landmark.

While in Nicholson, Fred spotted a sign that read “road closed,” which meant we had to investigate. Within a minute or two of arriving at a barricaded bridge, a pick-up truck showed up, proving we weren’t the only people who were curious. After a brief conversation when the two men in the truck, the youngest set out to hike the short distance to the Viaduct. In a text message to the older man, he told of the difficulty he had reaching his goal.

After we returned to our original course, we went in and out of small towns along the Susquehanna River. Near Wyalusing we pulled off at a scenic overlook. As we were exploring, we discovered someone had mowed a path into the trees, along the rocky ledges above the river. We found three benches at the end of the path which served as memorials to three young men. This was obviously private property and not maintained by the state.

After driving a short distance, we came to the Marie Antoinette Lookout which overlooks the Susquehanna and a French refugee settlement that was built between 1793 and 1803. It is believed that French aristocracy built a house across the river from the lookout for Queen Marie Antoinette who is said to have had plans to settle in the area.

We spent our final night in Towanda, the county seat of Bradford County. We were able to see the dome of the Bradford County Courthouse above the other buildings in the town. The Lady of Justice statue, which stands on the dome, is one of few that does not wear a blindfold. Coincidentally, a few miles away in Potter County in the Borough of Coudersport, another Lady Justice does not wear a blindfold either. This statue has been removed from the courthouse roof and is displayed in the lobby.

Impressed would not begin to describe our feelings when we saw the Bradford County Veterans Memorial Park, also in Towanda. The large park was constructed by volunteers. The designers and those who had input did a wonderful job. It appeared there was nothing left out. A stainless steel pergola-style structure with a large statue of a soldier carrying a wounded brother on his shoulders is the focal point. Surrounding the statue are five smaller stone angels perched on granite cubes. Each cube lists members of the military from Bradford County who were lost in wars, Prisoners of War and recipients of Purple Hearts. Brass plaques with the Preamble to the Constitution and Abraham Lincoln’s second inaugural address and emblem are displayed. The Seal of the United States surrounded by seals representing every branch of the military, as well POW-MIA, is mounted on a black square of granite which is embedded in one of the low walls near the statue.

Fifteen or twenty black granite benches provide seating to allow visitors a place to sit while reflecting. Each bench is engraved with a line or two memorializing fallen heroes or to commemorate. One such bench honors “the bravest women in America, the women of our armed forces.” Tall pillars of gray granite, each one dedicated to a branch of the Armed Forces, give information, such as the date it was formed, the creed, the hymn, each battle encountered, dating back to 1775, a tribute and other information.

Also found in Towanda is an historic marker that tells about writer of ballads and folk songs Stephen Foster who resided in Towanda in 1840-41 and attended Towanda Academy.

Continuing westward we entered the town of Wellsboro which still boasts authentic gas street lamps interspersed among historic buildings. A row of these lamps on a grass-covered median divides seven blocks of Main Street. A wreath is hung on each lamp post during the Christmas season.

We exited Route 6 not far from Wellsboro in order to go to Pine Creek Gorge, which is often referred to as The Grand Canyon of Pennsylvania. The 1,000 foot tree-lined gorge is only about one-sixth of the depth of Arizona’s Wonder of the World. The Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) played a big part in the development of this park, as is the case with many state parks. The CCC was begun 37 days after Franklin D. Roosevelt’s inauguration to bring work to unemployed men, in the midst of The Great Depression. The men were given uniforms, three meals per day and a $30 per month pay check.

We followed our course to Coudersport, where the Eliot Ness Museum is located. Ness wrote The Untouchables in a rented room in an office building which is now Hotel Crittenden. The book was about his work as a law enforcement agent and his leadership of a team of agents who were focused on bringing down Al Capone while enforcing Prohibition. It was released shortly after his death in 1957 and was the inspiration for the TV series “The Untouchables” which ran from 1959 to 1963.

We left Route 6 in Port Allegany to stop by my husband’s sister’s house, where two of her children and 5 grandchildren were visiting from out of state. After reconnecting a bit with family, we headed home.

Many people would have completed this trip in 7-10 days. Had we done that we would have missed the special little gifts God tucked here and there, the conversations with people we met along the way and some of the many photos we were able to take. There was a time when we had time constraints and had to keep moving in order to get back to our jobs.

If you have the time, the means and good health, get out and see America. If you are limited on time and funds, travel the local side roads and the dead-end roads. Be sure to look under bridges, over cliffs and behind buildings because there is much to see there.

The End!

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