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Roadside America Shartlesville PA – My Favorite Vintage Attraction! Shartlesville, PA

Posted on: May 11, 2010


Roadside America Shartlesville PA – My Favorite Vintage Attraction!

Roadside Drive Shartlesville, Pennsylvania 19554

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Right off the bat I’ll tell you that whatever I write about Roadside America in Shartlesville PA will not be able to capture how truly cool, vintage and wonderful it is. Trust me. But one thing you should take away from this post is- you MUST go see Roadside America because it is one of the coolest roadside attractions I’ve ever visited!

As they say in their brochure “”BE PREPARED TO SEE MORE THAN YOU EXPECT – YOU’LL BE AMAZED”

Wilkum to Roadside America Shartlesville PA

As regular readers may remember, the Retro Roadkids visited a few weeks back, and I was determined to stuff as much fun into the short weekend as I could. When I sent up a social media flare to get ideas of where to take them, my fave vintage gal blogger Mary Deluxe reminded me of Roadside America, which has been in its current location since 1953. I had had one of their old fashioned looking brochures in my collection for years, but this was the push I needed for us to explore this place. OH what I had been missing!

Roadside America - The Original

We got a bit turned around with the directions my phone gave, which gave us the excuse to stop at a Girl Scout bake sale to ask for directions and buy a bunch of sweets as a thank you (And I have tried to update the info in Google for future visitors.)

Once we were pointed in the right direction we soon found the place – literally on the roadside of Route 78. As we pulled up we came across this giant Amish couple who I am sure are very friendly, but the Retro Roadkids pretended they were a bit ominous!

retro-roadkids-amish-roadside-america-retro-roadmap

Honestly we really had no idea what to expect with Roadside America- we knew it was supposed to be a miniature village with trains running through it, but that was about it. However, I got the feeling we were in for a retro road trip experience when we walked into the wonderfully preserved gift shop to purchase our tickets.

Roadside America Family Owned and Operated

As I mentioned above, whatever I say about this place will not convey how cool it is once you open the door and enter the attraction. Even the photos don’t show the scale, level of detail and incredible hard work that went into creating Roadside America. But what I can show you is this, one happy Retro Roadkid, as enamored with the place as we adults were!

Roadside America and Happy Retro Roadkid!

Now for the backstory of this family owned and operated attraction, here since 1953:

Roadside America - They Just Don't Make 'em Like That Anymore

Yes, one man and his family devoted over 50 years of their time and effort to construct Roadside America. This wonderfully preserved attraction is the work and dream of just one man and his family- Laurence Gieringer, who started building the pieces of The Original Roadside America when he was in his teens. He continued with it for over 60 years, expanding, building by hand, mechanizing, planning, the whole deal. Amazing.

Roadside America - In Memory of Laurence Gieringer

From the official Roadside America Inc website:

“ROADSIDE AMERICA is an unforgettable panorama of life in rural United States. The exhibit spans more than two hundred years in time and lets you see, in exquisite miniature, how people lived and worked in pioneer days … through the years since then … right up to the present.”

Note that Roadside America really shows a time capsule of the country, as “the present” referred to really is circa 1963 when Laurence passed. This time capsule effect can be seen in the wonderful details of this Most Modern Esso Service Station seen below.

Roadside America - The Most Modern Esso

(Again from their website) The exhibit fascinates not only because of its authentic, beautifully crafted miniatures, but because of the excitement of continual movement. Swift trains glide through tunnels and over bridges … a tiny fountain bubbles in the miniature Zoo … a mountain trolley hustles through the woodland … an old-time grist mill slowly grinds grain for flour. This is only a small part of the action at ROADSIDE AMERICA.

Roadside America - Play The Hurdy GurdyTo think that someone dedicated their life to creating such a wonderful miniature world, and that we can enjoy it to this day, is impressive. Would anyone today have that level of focus and dedication? I’d like to hope so, but I’m not so sure.

There are many buttons to push, details to observe and wonders to behold, but don’t leave until you’ve seen the Night Pageant, which plays roughly ever half hour. Sure some folks may think it is hokey, or heavy handed with its imagery, but remember this is the work of one person, and his view of the world from a simpler time. When you look at it that way I think you’ll be touched. Don’t pull the jaded hipster act on me please – I get teary eyed at patriotic songs.

Night Pageant

On the way out don’t forget to roam the gift shop looking for retro souvenirs and put a quarter into the player piano / orchestrion / nickelodeon in the alcove. While I was bummed that they had run out of silver charms for my charm bracelet, both my sister and I got a laugh at the fact that, unbeknownst to each other, we had both purchased the exact same pack of Roadside America playing cards.

It was tough leaving this great vintage attraction, but the only thing that took the edge off was knowing they had an even bigger gift shop just across the parking lot at their Pennsylvania Dutch Gift Haus.

Roadside America - Thank You Come Again

The Dutch Gift Haus appears to originally have been the restaurant and lunch room for Roadside America, and still has the wonderful linoleum floor and counter in great shape.

Pennsylvania Dutch Lunch Room - Roadside America

Snack Counter

There are all sorts of Pennsylvania Dutch trinkets, souvenirs, hex signs, trivets and even shoo-fly pie and more to purchase, and we had fun trying on the Amish hats and bonnets with the Retro Roadkids. There are also non Penna Dutch related souvenirs, antiques and modern trinkets and toys for those of you not as enamored with the colorful PA Dutch stuff like I am. I mean, who can resist the word distlefink?!

Hex Signs
Again Retro Roadsis and I cracked up at the fact that we both bought the EXACT SAME dish towel with knitted loop on it, without knowing it. Great minds think alike!

So please, whatever you do, make a point of visiting this great roadside attraction, charming gift shop and friendly folks. I admit to being mortified at how long it took me to just get up and go there, so here’s a rush and a push and a shove for you to GO there SOON!

The Original Roadside America Miniature Village
Roadside Drive
Shartlesville, Pennsylvania 19554
(610) 488-6241

  • http://www.vintageroadside.com Vintage Roadside

    Wow! What a great report from the road. R.A. is high on our list and like you mention it looks even cooler than we thought! Thanks for the great post.

    • http://www.RetroRoadmap.com Mod Betty / Retro Roadmap

      Thanks! I so wanted to tell you both how cool the place was as soon as we got home, but knew I should probably wait ’til I wrote my post. But the place is so cool I dragged my feet, knowing I could not describe how neat the attraction itself is, plus the totally preserved vintage quality of the entire place. Glad I got something out there, hope it helps!

    • Ivy Morrow

      This is so cool. My mom found a brochure from when we went as kids probaly 35 years ago.
      I see the posts are from 2010, thank you for that.
      Does anyone know if Roadside America is still going to be open in about 4 years so great grandma can go take her great granddaughter?
      Thank you.
      Keep up the good reporting.

      • http://www.RetroRoadmap.com Mod Betty / RetroRoadmap.com

        Ivy – I love that you want Roadside America to become a family tradition, I hope it will be around forever and ever!

  • rick

    This place is amazing!

    • http://www.RetroRoadmap.com Mod Betty / Retro Roadmap

      It really is. Totally a time capsule, but so cool!

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  • http://paulconard.smugmug.com Paul

    Saw your latest post on Facebook reminding us about Roadside America. Great article here Betty. I used to love going there when I was a kid, and I’d still love it as an adult. They just showed an old documentary about Mr. Gieringer and Roadside America the other night. I believe it was made in 1955 or 1956. It reminded me a bit of the films they used to show in history class when we’d have a substitute teacher…lol! Anyway, Laurence Gieringer was a great man who really loved what he built and the kids he built it for. It’s so sad that many roadside attractions have dissappeard, they were an important part of Americana. I hope Roadside America will continue so future generations can experience it.

    • http://retroroadmap.com Mod Betty

      Paul – so glad to know I’m not the only one who loves that wonderfully unique, hand-made, family-owned, one-of-a-kind place. It really touched me when we went there, thinking of all the work that went into it, and even seeing the older folks working there. I’ll have to look up the documentary -thanks for the tip!