Wish You Were Here reflects the value of postcards as tools for learning about the past, with images drawn from Manuscript Group 213, Postcard Collection, Pennsylvania State Archives.
Shankweiler's Hotel

Shankweiler’s Hotel

 

Shankweiler’s Hotel and Restaurant operated on Old U.S. 22 in the village of Fogelsville, Lehigh County, just west of Allentown. As this c. 1940 postcard notes, the restaurant was well known for its delicious chicken and waffles, a meal that reflects the Pennsylvania Dutch heritage of the area. This local landmark opened in June 1934 under the management of Wilson and Daisy Shankweiler, who lived upstairs. It had several dining rooms and a tap room on the first floor and a half-dozen rooms for rent on the second floor. Distinctive with its red-brick exterior and double chimneys, this Colonial Revival-style building had a twin. The first Shankweiler’s Hotel and Restaurant, built by the same owners in 1926, was located just a few miles east in the village of Orefield on PA Route 309.

The two Shankweiler’s roadside restaurants were well designed to take advantage of the growing trend for automobile tourism in the early 20th century. As car ownership increased, highways were improved and the need for travel amenities like gas stations, hotels and motel cottages, diners, and restaurants grew as well. The Lincoln Highway, which had opened in 1913, was the nation’s first coast-to-coast road. Its Pennsylvania section, most of which makes up U.S. Route 30 today, extended across the southern part of the state. The William Penn Highway (U.S. Route 22) was an alternative east-west road across the center of the state, designed to parallel the Pennsylvania Railroad. It was envisioned as an eastern branch of the Pikes Peak Ocean to Ocean Highway, proposed in 1916 to connect New York City and San Francisco. Like many early routes it connected cities by actually running directly through their downtowns. In the early 1930s as auto traffic increased, causing congestion, the highway was rerouted to bypass cities. The portion of the older road that would hold the Shankweiler Hotel and Restaurant in Fogelsville became known as Old U.S. 22.

As a businessman, Wilson Shankweiler was quick to comprehend the importance of the automobile in American life. He built the first drive-in theater in Pennsylvania in 1934 behind his restaurant in Orefield, inspired by the nation’s earliest one that opened the previous year in Camden, New Jersey.

Both Shankweiler’s Hotel and Restaurant buildings remain standing with modern additions, but neither is used for its original purpose. The Fogelsville building now houses the First Commonwealth Federal Credit Union and the Orefield building serves as the Hunsicker Funeral Home. Shankweiler’s Drive-In Theatre, however, continues to show movies and is the oldest drive-in theater in continuous operation in the country. In 2001 it was determined eligible for the National Register of Historic Places by the Pennsylvania State Historic Preservation Office.

 

Pamela W. Reilly is a historic preservation specialist in PHMC’s State Historic Preservation Office.