Historic Preservation Feature is a series of articles on the efforts to save and reuse historic buildings, districts and sites in Pennsylvania.

Historic preservation has taken on a new dimension in Bedford County. Old Bedford Village, just off the Pennsylvania Turn­pike at Bedford Exit 11, is a nonprofit venture helping to preserve the history AND economy of this central Pennsyl­vania county.

Bedford County as it exists today, is bounded on the south by the Mason­-Dixon Line, on the west, north and east by Somerset, Cambria, Blair, Huntingdon and Fulton counties. All of these were part of Bedford County in 1771, the year of the county’s crea­tion. It has often been called “The Mother County of Western Pennsyl­vania,” due to the fact that twenty­-eight additional counties, or parts thereof, were established out of the original land grant.

Two worlds intertwine in Bedford County – the past and the present. One can ski on mountains once roamed by Indians, or dine in colonial rooms rich with memories of presidents and their ladies. Bedford County is renowned for Fort Bedford. It made the history books as well for its part in the Whis­key Rebellion of 1794 when President Washington used a house in the town of Bedford as his command post for the 13,000 federal troops that would help reestablish the authority of the new government here at home. While at Bedford Springs, his summer White House, President James Buchanan re­ceived the first message over the Atlan­tic Cable on August 17, 1853. More recently, on July 4, 1976, Bedford County again made headlines as Old Bedford Village opened to the general public.

Six years ago, Bedford County’s economy was in trouble. The county suffered from the highest unemploy­ment rate (22.2%) in the state of Penn­sylvania. The per capita income was $3,367, far below the state average of $4,191. There was little industry and the tourist trade that held the county together in the 1960s had all but van­ished due to the opening of Interstate 70. The roads were better, the cars faster, and it was now possible to travel between Pittsburgh and Philadel­phia in a day’s drive. Stopping over in Bedford County was rapidly becoming a thing of the past. In fact, over the ten-year period from 1965 to 1975, the restaurant and motel industry lost 758 jobs in the region.

One way to restore the economic base of the county would be to rees­tablish the area as a major tourist center, with an attraction that would bolster both the pride and pocket­books of Bedford countians. In 1974, then County Commissioner the Rev. Robert Sweet and the late William Jordan, president of the Bedford Heri­tage Commission, began brainstorming to develop something of historical and educational value which could be en­joyed both by local residents and visitors to the area. Reverend Sweet conceived the notion of assembling a historical village that would preserve many of the abandoned log structures still standing in various parts of the county. With the Bicentennial ap­proaching, Bedford County, like the rest of America, was beginning to take a good look at its past.

Through Reverend Sweet. the coun­ty commissioners were the first to show an interest in reconstructing a pioneer village reflecting the lifestyle between 1750 and 1850 along the frontier. In January 1975. they acti­vated the Bedford County Redevelop­ment Authority to initiate and take charge of the project, with Commis­sioner Sweet as project director and William Wilfong as chairman. The com­missioners then donated $36,000 to the Redevelopment Authority to pur­chase 72.9 acres of landlocked bottom­land which was within easy reach of travelers. The project site was bordered on the west by the new U.S. Route 220 (the four-lane Appalachian Thru­way); on the south by U.S. Route 30 (Forbes Road); on the north by the Pennsylvania Turnpike (Interstate 70 and 76); and on the east by Business Route 220. There was, however, one drawback to this seemingly utopian location – finding an access route to the project site itself!

The Bedford County commissioners then donated a 147-year-old covered bridge to the project. It would span the Raystown Branch of the Juniata River and provide access to the village. This endeavor consisted of moving a single-lane covered bridge from a site near Reynoldsdale, Bedford County, to Old Bedford Village, a distance of approximately nine miles. The clear span of the covered bridge is 120 feet, with an overall length of 126 feet. Once moved, the bridge was situated so that traffic could ingress and egress from Business Route 220. Four ap­proach lanes were constructed and a walkway added to the bridge to insure safe passage for pedestrians.

Local organizations and individuals began to contribute time, antiques and log houses. Reverend Sweet also man­aged to involve several state and feder­al agencies such as the Southern Alle­ghenies Planning and Development Commission, the planning commission for a six-county area. In 1975, the commission, prime sponsors for the Comprehensive Employment Training Act (CETA), was looking for a way to invest taxpayers’ money wisely and secure adequate training for an un­skilled labor force. Old Bedford Vil­lage was the perfect project to fit both criterion. Untrained workers were to become skilled masons, plumbers, car­penters, electricians and heavy equip­ment operators.

In 1975 a grant was received from the Pennsylvania Department of Com­merce for a feasibility study on the covered bridge and access road. In that same year, another grant was acquired from the Pennsylvania Site Develop­ment Program for water and sewerage. In addition, the Pennsylvania Bicen­tennial Commission allocated a grant for the surveying and posting of a sign­board for the village property. Also in 1975, the Economic Development Ad­ministration (EDA) granted funds to relocate the covered bridge, build the approach lanes to it and relocate four log houses and two schools from with­in Bedford County.

Research on the four log houses and two schools was conducted by vil­lage historian Thomas C. Imler of Bed­ford. Their historical authenticity was verified from court records found at the Bedford County Courthouse, copies of which are on file at Old Bedford Village.

The first house to be relocated was the Biddle House, built in 1762 by John Croyle the Elder. It was donated by the Harry Biddle family of “Dutch Corner,” Bedford Township. This is the oldest log home in the village to date. The divided fireplace is unique in that one side was used strictly for heating purposes and the other side for cooking. It is also worth noting that John Croyle, believed to be Bedford County’s first blacksmith, was the fourth great-grandfather of Thomas Hershberger. the current village black­smith.

The second house relocated to the village was the Kegg/Blasko House. This home was reconstructed from two dwellings in the Manns Choice area of Bedford County. The older portion was built in 1769 by Thomas Kinton and donated by Thomas Blas­ko; the other house, built in 1790 by James Heyden. was donated by the Roy F. Kegg family. As all of the structures to be relocated were dis­mantled. their log sections were lagged or numbered to permit easier and accurate assembly. The Kegg/Blasko House provided a real challenge to CETA workers, as they integrated and substituted logs from the two houses to form one.

House number three, the Fungaroli House, was built in 1790 and is the only house at the village site from the town of Bedford. Built by the Mervin family, the house served as part of their cabinet shop for three genera­tions and was also used as an under­taking establishment before settling in its final resting place at the village.

House number four was the only home not donated to the village and is also the only house constructed solely of chestnut logs. The Semanek House, or “Old Log Mansion” as it is also known, was owned by Allen Semanek. It was constructed near Ryot in 1790 and stands as originally built, with a fireplace on the first and second floors. Today, the Semanek House is one of the major attractions at Old Bedford Village.

Early American education would also be well represented. The Knisely Schoolhouse. donated in the memory of a local physician, came to the village complete with chestnut timbers from Pleasantville where it was slowly losing a battle with nature. It was built as a public school in 1869 and remained in use until 1935. Today it still serves as a little red schoolhouse at the village where students learn lessons from the past.

Moving the Eight Square School to U1e village meant moving a building of one-room schooling tradition. Even the original foundation and flooring were brought with the structure. The school, built in 1851 by Ned Hoover, was used for public schooling in the Fishertown area until 1932. Legend has it that the school was constructed with eight sides to keep the devil from cornering the students. Further re­search, however, has found the Quakers who built the school to be remembered for their science. not their supersti­tion. According to Mrs. Evelyn Kirsch, a tour guide assigned to the Eight Square School. “The curious shape gives better lighting. more even heating and a larger seating capacity.” Although the school can seat a maximum of 72 children, the largest class on record had only 50 students.

Preserving buildings is but a part of it. Old Bedford Village also means her­itage and working traditions as well. Each building was to have a tour guide dressed in period costume to answer any questions about the houses, arti­facts and antiques, approximately eighty percent of which were donated to the village.

It was the hope and dream of many early Americans to develop the skills and trades they brought with them from the old world. Colonial workers flourished in this new land, setting up shops as each settlement became per­manent. It seemed appropriate, then, that a crafts program was initiated when the village opened, representing these early forms of American indus­try.

In October 1976, the state of Penn­sylvania awarded the Bedford County Redevelopment Authority a grant from its Appalachian Regional Com­mission (ARC) state allocation, with the approval of ARC, for “the devel­opment and stimulation of indigenous arts in Appalachian Pennsylvania.” The monies were designated to build workshops and living quarters, pur­chase tools and hire craftspeople. This grant was a key step in moving the village closer to financial independence from ARC and other sponsors, for it is planned that the sale of crafts will eventually provide eighty percent of the village’s revenue.

A program of active craft demon­stration was also evolving. Experts such as Bob Gray, director of the Southern Highlands Guild, visited the village to offer suggestions based upon his years of experience. Mary Saylor, specialist in Related Art for the Penn­sylvania State University, and Laura Sollenberger, Extension Home Econo­mist for Bedford County, worked with craftspeople in the village to improve the many items produced. Today, visi­tors to the village will see demonstra­tions in quilt making, furniture making, pottery, toy making, candlemaking, dollmaking, spinning and weaving, blacksmithing, chair caning, tinsmith­ing, broommaking, scrimshaw, pewter, woodcarving, white oak basketry and gunmaking. The craftspeople, just as the tour guides. must know their par­ticular field while at the same time be good conversationalists, for it is these people who have direct contact with the visitor. It is the craftspeople and tour guides who maintain the reputa­tion of the village. In fact, in many respects, they are the village.

Many tour guides at the village are employed through the Pennsylvania Green Thumb program which is spon­sored by the National Farmers Union in Washington, D.C. The Green Thumb program’s primary function is to utilize the older worker (age 55 and above on a limited income), train him in a particular field and then give him assistance in job placement. “Green Thumbers” have proven to be con­scientious, enthusiastic and indispen­sable. When CETA workers began to restore the eighteenth-century bank barn, they could find only one man in all the county who knew how to re­store it. Eighty years old and sharp as a tack, he sat in a chair in the middle of the barn floor while directing less knowledgeable youths to build the barn around him.

Education provides still another reason for preserving the village. To the fifth grader, learning the dates and places of American history sometimes means very little. A practical learning experience is often the difference be­tween remembering and forgetting. The village has made a particular en­deavor to cater to school students and their instructors. Slide shows of the village and log cabin buildings are of­fered to school districts along with per­sonal visits from craftspeople and man­agement personnel. Both the Knisely and Eight Square schools are made available to teachers for classroom in­struction “the way it used to be.” Students also can visit the village’s Egolf Farm where they pet and feed animals many have never before seen.

Special credit courses are offered to teachers from surrounding school districts in early American crafts. These courses, incorporated with a stu­dent visit to the village, serve to rein­force classroom instruction in a most unique and memorable way.

Old Bedford Village is truly a “living village.” Yet another reason for the village’s existence is to offer low cost housing to qualified people-that is, low cost housing with a taste of early America included free of charge. Old Bedford Village is actually a mod­ern city. Phone cables, wires, cable television … everything is buried under­ground. In 1975, 1977 and 1978, grants were received from the Depart­ment of Housing and Urban Develop­ment (HUD) to modernize and adapt many frontier log and frame homes. These grants have helped the village fulfill its purpose. The dwellings are original Bedford County houses, so they fit the village format. The ex­teriors have not been altered in any way and yet the buildings still meet government housing code standards; the first floor levels often serve as craft shops open to the public, while the sec­ond floor levels are modern apartments with all the luxuries of a twentieth­-century home. Currently there are fifteen people living in the village year­-round.

Since 1976, with the help of ARC, the Economic Development Adminis­tration and CETA, the village has grown from a few log houses to nearly forty buildings. Most recently, a grant from EDA has been allocated to com­plete the final phases of construction at the village. Currently under con­struction are a visitors center, a sum­mer theatre and maintenance build­ings. The village church, built entirely from private donations, is scheduled for completion in early summer. The church is non-denominational, present­ly holds regular Sunday services and is now scheduling future weddings.

Old Bed ford Village is accomplish­ing its original objectives. The econ­omy and pride of Bedford County are on the upswing. Restaurants in the vicinity have expanded their opera­tions, motel and campground owners report fewer vacancies, and over fifty CETA workers have found permanent jobs as a result of their training there. Since the village opened in 1976, nearly 200,000 visitors have come to taste a slice of what pioneer life in the Allegheny Mountains was all about. Last year, twenty percent of the vil­lage attendance was school related.

Old Bed ford Village has deepened the meaning of what historic and economic preservation are all about. Perhaps G. Howard Keiper of Sunny­side Road in Bedford provides the best definition:

Old Bedford Village
Is a dream, a search,
A bringing together
From the past.

Old buildings, a covered bridge,
Relics, antiques, artifacts are here
To restore a spirit,
To recapture a life
That has slipped us by.

These bear an atmosphere,
They have a clinging mystique
Like smoke in the hills
When Indian dwellers
Thought this land was there own.

We like these remnants
Of our distant past­ –
These signals and symbols
Of our lost and lingering yesterdays.

They have a tang
That pleases our taste
For the things that have nur­tured us.
We need them still.

So, let us walk in the paths of yore.
Let us relish our fathers’ ways
And carry them into our own lifestyles.
If the old village thus speaks to us now,
Then it plays a constructive part
In enriching and building our lives.

So, Old Bedford Village
We hail thee!
We bid you live on,
Yea. live on, Live on!

 

Old Bedford Village is located just off the Pennsylvania Turnpike at Bed­ford Exit 11. The village is open to the general public the second Sunday in April through the last Sunday in Octo­ber. Hours are from 9 A.M. to 5 P.M. daily. Special rates are available for school. bus tour and car groups. Dis­counts to senior citizens are offered to groups of ten or more, as well as to AAA members. On July 4, 5 and 6 [1980] from 10 A.M. to 5 P.M., Old Bedford Village will sponsor its First Annual Crafts Festival of juried art in the in­terest of giving the public the oppor­tunity to watch craftspeople at work, talk to them about their crafts. and examine and purchase examples of their work.

For more information about the craft festival or the village in general, write: Old Bedford Village, Box 1976, Bedford 15222, or call (814) 623-1156.

 

Wendel J. Liska, Jr., is Public Relations Director at Old Bedford Village. He studied journalism and communica­tions at Point Park College in Pitts­burgh and has worked professionally in communications, promotion and marketing.