I was looking for attractions in the Harrisburg area for our upcoming trip when I stumbled upon the Fort Hunter Mansion and Park. I was immediately intrigued. A 100 (some sections are more than 200 years old) year old mansion that we could tour? That sounded like something right up my alley as I adore history! Even better, this mansion sits within a park that contains numerous historic buildings. Are you still not convinced? The property borders the Susquehanna River and also touches the remnants of the Pennsylvania Canal. This was going to be a grand place to visit, I could feel it in my bones!
Touring Fort Hunter Mansion
After parking, we made our way up the walkway. I could see a large house sitting before me, splendid with its impressive size. I stopped for a quick picture and then followed the signs to the gift shop. I had read online that tours begin at the top each hour throughout the day. As we were on a relaxing weekend get-a-way, I didn’t want to be tied down to a specific time for a tour, so I had not purchased tickets online, so I was on a mission to purchase tickets for the next tour! The gift shop is situated around the side of the house and I could just make out the beauty of gardens and outbuildings as I rang the bell to gain access to the gift shop. The shop is small, but had a nice selection of books and local trinkets. The cashier was friendly and we quickly had our tickets in hand. We had about 15 minutes before our tour started, so we decided to explore the gardens and grounds by the house. The gardens open up on the right side of the house, with flowers and some vegetables. An Ice house and a Small Dairy building sit amidst the garden confines. The left side of the house is all yard, with an amazing view from high up of the Susquehanna River
At the appropriate time for our tour, we headed to the front porch where we were welcomed into a small parlor. The tour guide welcomed us and invited us to watch a short 5-minute video history of the family and house. The video was informative and the tour guide even more so when he returned to the room. We were given the basic information about when the house was built (the first section in 1786) and more about the families that once resided in this house. The tour guide than said something that blew my mind, in a good way. 99% of the furnishings and artifacts in the house were actually in the house when it was last lived in. This is such a rare find! The family members that inherited the house, in the early to mid-1900’s had worked to preserve the house and its belongings. The attic was full of various artifacts that had been stored away in the attic during the houses occupancy and the museum had carefully catalogued them and worked to display the amazing collection.
The house was decorated exquisitely and had so many extra knickknacks and touches that it was easy to imagine that the owner had just stepped out for a moment. Each room was a plethora of artifacts and history that had my eyes roaming as I soaked in the information from the tour guide. All too soon, the tour was over. It was over so quickly, not because it was short but rather because I was enthralled the whole time. I am absolutely sure that if I went back and did the tour again, my eyes would feast on other items that I totally missed during this first tour.
Fort Hunter Park and Buildings
The grounds surrounding the Fort Hunter Mansion are split by a roadway and contain numerous buildings. As I mentioned above, the house and gardens contain a small dairy and Ice house, but there is so many more things to see. With a map of the park in hand, we headed out to explore. We headed along the Susquehanna River when we left the Mansion tour. A paved path meandered along the way, passing restrooms and an access to the Susquehanna River. We wanted to see it all, so we headed toward the Susquehanna river to check out the river bank before heading to the first building on our exploration.
The first building we decided to check out was the Heckton Church. This church was once a Methodist Church and sits at the end of the parking lot on the same side of the road as the mansion. The church is not in its original location. It was moved within the last 15 years to preserve it from the periodic flooding of the nearby river.
This was the only other building on this side of the road, so we carefully crossed the road and began to explore the other buildings within the park. There is a Large bank barn, a stone stable, a Tavern, smokehouse, and springhouse. We were in the height of summer when we visited so we were able to enjoy the vegetable garden that resided between the bank barn and the stone stable.
Beyond these buildings sits a covered bridge. This is the covered bridge that was built in 1881 to span the little Buffalo Creek. The covered bridge is not in its original location. The founder of this park and museum mansion bought the bridge to save it from its demise when the need for the covered bridge became obsolete. The bridge was dismantled and moved to this property, where it now sits over a small swampy area.
Beyond the covered bridge is the remnants of the Pennsylvania Canal. There are a number of signs to educate the visitor about the canal and the various means of transportation over the years.
We opted to drive to the last historical building within the confines of the park. That is the Fort Hunter Station built in 1929. . This was a gas station that was privately owned and operated as a gas station, restaurant, tourist cabins, miniature golf course and came complete with a beer garden. Everything a tired traveler would need. The building looks to be in the process of being remodeled inside, but the stone building is still standing well to the changes of time.
This park and mansion was a great place to spend a few hours. We were able to immerse ourselves in history that dated from the 1700’s to the 1900’s. It is truly a remarkable collection that should be visited by all. We can only thank Margaret Wister Meigs who was the family member that was instrumental in saving this amazing property and contents in the early 1900’s. Her foresight is a blessing to those of us that can visit in today’s day and age.
We were heading to the mountains to hike when we got a bit sidetracked the other week! Our drive to our planned hike took us up Route 15 in Maryland through Thurmont. As we approached the small town of Thurmont that sits at the base of the mountain, we saw the signs for the Catoctin Wildlife Preserve. As always, we started to talk about our past visits there and how much we enjoy a stroll through the zoo and how we hadn’t been to the Preserve once this year due to a lack of time in our schedule and of course the pandemic. Before we knew it, we were pulling into a parking spot and heading toward a fun afternoon at the zoo.
Catoctin Wildlife Preserve
The Catoctin Wildlife Preserve is a 50-acre wildlife preserve that is dedicated to educating the public about the animals that live in our world. The atmosphere at this zoo is very relaxed and allows you to view and interact with the variety of animals in a safe way. The park offers quite a few paths that allows for a nice walk that will take you through some lush areas of vegetation and past many different types of animals.
While parking is free at the zoo, there are admission costs. Currently, the cost for admission ranges from $16.50 (child) to $22.50 (adult). The annual membership is $60 per person and includes passes for some of the additional activities in the park, amongst other benefits. There are also family and grandparent passes available.
While visiting this preserve you will be able to observe quite a few animals from a safe distance. However, there are ample opportunities for a visitor of the zoo to interact with the animals in different ways. For an additional fee (check for availability) one can purchase tickets for additional activities. Some of these activities include a Safari Ride that will take you around the property and give you the opportunity to see and even feed a wide variety of animals from the safety of the Safari vehicles. You can also purchase a camel ride or a feathered encounter experience.
If you are not interested in any of the additional purchases, there are still plenty of opportunities to interact with animals. There are special times throughout the day (Memorial through Labor Day) to allow for opportunities to hear a zookeeper talk about specific animals and to encounter a variety of animals at the conservation theater. (Check with the Preserve for a schedule of the times and opportunities available on the day of your visit.) There are a variety of animals that you can feed and pet interspersed all around the zoo. They are friendly and welcome a little treat from the visitors that come into their home.
Our Visit to the Catoctin Wildlife Preserve
During this visit, we decided to pay for an annual pass for each of us. The annual passes work on a rolling calendar year so we will be able to visit the Preserve on these newly purchased passes through October 30, 2021. (And if we visit a total of 3 times, then financially we will come out even….actually a bit better than had we paid for individual passes for each day). We declined the Safari Tour that came with our membership. We are going to save that for a nice spring day next year. When we entered the park, we also purchased two cups of food to feed the animals and we headed off!
Due to the temperatures, some of the animals had been removed from display for their safety, but we had expected that. However, there were still quite a few animals that were out and about! We couldn’t help but stop and watch the cages where there were young animals.
We stopped to explore all of the animals on display. We each have our favorites but stopped to enjoy all of the inhabitants of the preserve. The cooler temperatures of the fall day made our visit much more enjoyable and perfect for the current pandemic as we very rarely saw other visitors and never felt rushed to move on to allow someone else to see an animal. We laughed at the antics of some of the animals such as the wolves who were totally disinterested in us when we first walked up. But when we decided to grab a drink and snack became TOTALLY interested in us due to the beef jerky that Jason was eating.
We especially enjoyed the opportunities to feed the animals at the feeding stations. The animals that they have in those areas are a joy to interact with. They were all very interested in us, probably because they are used to quite a few more people visiting and they missed the interaction as much as we enjoyed their attention. Ok, maybe the food that we were offering was part of their interest.
The Catoctin Wildlife Preserve is a great place to spend a few hours enjoying animals that you may not normally have a chance to experience. This preserve is just entertaining. From meercats to wolves, from alligators to emus and from snakes to black swans; the Wildlife preserve in Thurmont Maryland offers fun for all ages! We have our annual pass; we will be back!
In February of this year we decided to get away for the weekend. We wanted to do something that was lighthearted but fun. We wanted to get away. We wanted to explore. It was cold and we felt our options were limited, so we decided to go into Virginia and visit two small towns. We went to Front Royal Virginia and Manassas, Virginia and explored and visited their quaint downtown areas.
Our first stop was actually in Harpers Ferry, West Virginia. We were heading down the road and decided to take a stroll through the shops in that unique town. Visiting the fun shops and stores in Harpers Ferry really set the tone for our whole small town weekend!
A stroll through Front Royal, Virginia
Front Royal sits just north of the Shenandoah National Park and the famed Skyline Drive. The town sits nestled in the shadow of the Appalachian mountains. The town received a lot of visitors who are seeking to embark upon the skyline trail, hike in the mountains surrounding the town or canoe in the plentiful rivers and streams.
We arrived in Front Royal, Virginia with enough time to stroll through the town and explore the shops. This little town was alive with activity as we strolled up and down the street. We were tickled to see an antique shop and a trail outfitter store. There was no question that we were going to go into those stores. But we also enjoyed looking at the architectural salvage in one storefront and we had a blast visiting all the stores on the street.
A trip to Front Royal is not complete without a stop in at the General Store. Whenever we are in town we always like to stop in this shop. This store has a bit of everything. We looked at the cast iron pans, shoes, coats, knives, candy and so many more things. We always take our time to amble and stroll through this jam packed store and almost always have to try on a cowboy hat! On this trip, I even bought a new nightgown!
We had a great time exploring this small town. It has a charm that just draws us in. The people are welcoming and the stores are unique and fun! But the evening went way too fast. We enjoyed a good nights sleep at a locally owned hotel and a nice hearty breakfast at a local diner and we were ready for our next day of exploring!
Our next stop was Manassas, Virginia
For our next adventure, we decided to head east about an hour and explore the town of Manassas, Virginia. Manassas is probably best known for it's role in the Civil War, where not one but two instrumental battles were fought. But many people visiting the area never take the time to explore the actual town.
We had been there before and knew that it had a neat historic downtown area that would interest us. OK let me be honest, we also knew that there was a candle shop in that downtown that just might hold some interest for us! So we headed off!
Manassas, Virginia lived up to our expectations that day! We enjoyed our leisurely stroll through the historic downtown. We popped in and out of the stores and explored the side streets. We did find that candle shop and we did purchase a lot of candles! The stores were so fun and many of them were in old buildings that still held many of the vintage aspects of the architecture. My favorite store was the Used book shop. Sadly, the pandemic hit just a short month after our visit and the bookstore closed it's doors for good.
We ambled down a side street to the site of the Manassas Museum. This museum offers free admission and has a small gift shop in the lobby. The museum is dedicated to the history of the area. It won't take long to visit but it is absolutely fascinating to see how the area surrounding Manassas was developed and how it has changed over the years!
We were impressed with the town of Manassas. We Spent time watching the ice skaters on the outdoor rink under the pavilion in the center park. Upon reading up on the area, I discovered that in the summers when the ice rink is closed the town of Manassas will utilize the are for farmers markets and community events and festivals. I loved to see the community spending time building a place of recreation and activity for their residents!
We had an absolutely fantastic time exploring both of these small towns in Virginia. Both Front Royal and Manassas made us feel welcome and afforded us the opportunity to experience life in a small town. The shops and products in these locally owned shops were top notch and sorely tempted us to spend money! (Which we did). Visiting small town America is definitely a great day of exploration!
I first learned about the Trans Allegheny Lunatic Asylum somewhere right around 2010. I had been searching for abandoned and historical buildings online and the Trans Allegheny Lunatic Asylum came into my radar. I read all that I could about the building. I was fascinated with the history and filled with thankfulness that this building had been purchased and open to the public for tours. Immediately, this location skyrocketed to one of the top three places to visit on my bucket list. I wanted to visit the Trans Allegheny Lunatic Asylum in a really bad way. Unfortunately, life and circumstances kept me away. I may have not been able to visit at that point, but I kept a close eye on the website. I was pleased to see that the tours were supplying the funds for ongoing restoration. As a result, through the years they began to offer a larger variety of tours and more access to the property. My interest only grew, but more years passed.
FINALLY, the arrangements were made and I had plans to go visit the Trans Allegheny Lunatic Asylum. I was beside myself with excitement. I had researched the different tours and I knew that there were two of the available tours that I was planning on taking. I wanted to do the Four Floor tour and the Criminally Insane Tour. We planned to arrive in time to start with the first tour, which would give us the option to add on a third tour at the end of the day if time permitted.
We pulled up to the building and I was practically giddy! The pictures that I had seen (and that I took) do not do this building justice. This building is quite immense and imposing. (I am honestly struggling to not just fill up this post with pictures!)
The building was opened in 1864 and operated as a hospital until 1994. It was opened under the name of Trans Allegheny Lunatic Asylum but later changed its name to Weston State Hospital in the year 1913. The name was changed back to “Trans Allegheny Lunatic Asylum” when it was reopened to the public for tours. This imposing structure is the largest hand cut stone building in the United States and is the second largest in the world, second only to the Kremlin in Moscow.
The main floor opens up to a grand entrance that has been beautifully restored. Here you will have the chance to buy your tickets, sign your waiver and visit the gift shop. Your price of your admission (no any of the variety of tours) will give you access to the museum which is housed on the main floor and right wing of the main floor. There are artifacts from life in this mental hospital and the property that included fields for producing their own food and a coal mine. As you walk through the right wing you will see various examples of common treatments for mental illness. You can read about them and then take in the re-creations that they have set up.
The first tour in my day was the Four Floor Tour. This guided tour is fantastic. In 2020 it was $30 and will last for about 90 minutes. The tour guide will lead you through the main building and talk about the various features of the architecture and history of the building. The tour guide will point out various points of interest and will share stories of the patients and personnel who lived, worked and resided in this grand building. During the tour there will be opportunities to learn about the history and uses of the other buildings that surround the main building on this medical campus. The tour will lead you through beautifully restored areas. You will see what the building looked like when it was at the height of it’s use.
However you will also see similar areas that are showing signs of the years of disuse and decay. The juxtaposition between the two is amazing to witness.
The tours will lead you through many areas of the building that are rough and raw and showing signs of the years decay. You will see the peeling paint. You will see decay as you learn about how the areas were used. You will see the sheer beauty of this building.
The four floor tour will also give you access to the Medical Building. This building served as the for not only the asylum but also for the community. While this building may not be as old and prestigious as the main building, the history and stories are no less plentiful and fascinating.
We were absolutely pleased with our tour and our tour guide. It was 90 minutes of amazing sights and fabulous stories about what we were seeing. But our day was not over yet! We had a thirty minute break before our next tour. We spent our time strolling through the museum portion of the building. The artifacts are well displayed and you can tell that they were carefully chosen to convey the life of the people that worked in the building as well as the life that was created for the patients that spent most of their lives within the confines of this property.
All too soon it was time for our next tour but we knew that we would have time to see the rest later in the day! Up next was the Criminally Insane Tour. Yes, this hospital housed the criminally insane and at one point they had a building that was built for this exact purchase. This tour is again led by a tour guide who was quite knowledgeable In fact, we were lucky enough to get the same tour guide for this tour but even luckier, we were the only two people on our tour. A personal tour! We headed back to the criminally insane building. Our tour guide let us peak into the windows of the hospital library and look at the patient graffiti that still graced the walls outside the library before heading into the main portion of the building.
This tour was just as good as the first tour. We learned that they housed two types of patients in this building. They housed the patients that were deemed criminally insane but the state also used the building to house prisoners while they were awaiting on the trial for their mental competency. The doctors and staff of the hospital would work with the prisoners/patients to determine the level of their sanity. Much of the building was in a dorm room style where these criminally insane patients were housed together. The stories, history and architecture on this tour was just as impressive as the first tour that we went on. It was a great decision to add this tour onto our day’s activities. It was an additional $15, but worth every penny.
After our two tours we continued to explore the museum and visited the gift shop. We were seriously debating adding on the Daytime Paranormal tour to our day . This tour would lead us through the buildings. It would be full of stories of paranormal experiences and show different areas that were noted to have higher than average paranormal events. We eventually decided to not do the tour so that we would have plenty of time to enjoy the museum.
Visiting the Trans Allegheny Lunatic Asylum was on my bucket list for years and after visiting, I question why I waited so long to actually visit. The money from the tours goes back into the building and each year they work on restoring and stabilizing this grand building, so the money is well spent. But these tours are preserving not only the buildings, they are preserving the stories and the life that was held within these buildings. As we were driving away Jason looked at me and said “we will have to come back to Weston, West Virginia in a few years to do the paranormal tour and to see what they have restored!” Yes, this building really is that awesome!
Belief In Living
Travel with us as we explore!