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Summer Day Getaway: Ride the Lines into American History at Strasburg

by on August 15, 2014 4:27 PM

If you’re in need of a trip to Paradise, then why not pull into the station at Strasburg?

Located in Lancaster County in the heart of Pennsylvania Dutch country – a scenic two and half hour drive away from State College – the town of Strasburg has developed a unique historical character.

“In general, Strasburg has become kind of a train town,” says Victoria Hill, a public relations specialist for the Strasburg Railroad. “There’s even a hotel with train cars that have been converted into hotel rooms.”

The Strasburg Railroad – the oldest shortline railroad in America – has been drawing visitors to Strasburg since the 1960’s, when a group of preservationists realized the historical value of the line and began restoring it.

“Since the early 2000s, it’s really taken off in terms of popularity,” Hill says. “It’s by far one of people’s favorite locations to visit in this area.”

Though the steam engine used to ship freight all over Pennsylvania back in the 1800s, these days it carries passengers along a gorgeous stretch of Amish country.

You can eat in a genuine Victorian dining car as you watch the Pennsylvania landscape roll away beside you on your way to and from Paradise, PA. If you time your trip right, you can even enjoy specialty trips with local craft beers. This Saturday, you can take in the scenic view while enjoying wine and cheese.

Hill says it’s not just the specialty events and beautiful view that draw people to the Strasburg Railroad. It’s also the essence of Pennsylvania’s past that they’ve managed to preserve.

“Andrew Jackson traveled on the Strasburg Railroad when he spoke in Lancaster County,” Hill says. “And when Abraham Lincoln was assassinated, his body was transported on the Strasburg Railroad.”

When you’re done at the railroad (which could take a while with all the behind-the-scenes tours that they offer), you can walk across the street to experience another major tourist attraction: the Railroad Museum of Pennsylvania.

Created in 1975 by an act of the Pennsylvania legislature, the Railroad Museum offers visitors a plethora of hands-on exhibits for all ages, Museum Advancement Director Deborah Reddig says.

“We have over 100 historic American railroad cars that were made or operated in Pennsylvania, and something in excess of 13,000 smaller things: tools, uniforms, signals and half a million photographic images,” Reddig says.

As if that weren’t enough, you can watch volunteers repaint and restore old machinery in their restoration shop and enjoy comprehensive virtual tours you can download to your smartphone.

“Railroading is very much a part of American history on an economic and social level,” Reddig says. “It’s had such a huge impact of on our history.”

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Michael Garrett is a freelance reporter who covers a wide range of assignments for StateCollege.com.
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