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Mid-Atlantic: Old places with new tricks in Pennsylvania

Lancaster Quilt Museum, photo by Karlo Photography

With options that range from an elk-watching facility to an arts center housed in a former steel mill, Pennsylvania has enticing new meeting and special-event locations.

“This is a great time for meeting planners to discover Pennsylvania,” said Cara O’Donnell, spokesperson for the Pennsylvania Tourism Office. “We’ve had a lot of recent growth in our distinctive event spaces, including boutique hotel properties and the reuse of existing historic buildings.”


New venues in old spaces

One historic reuse will turn a former Lancaster County silk mill into the Turkey Hill Experience. Scheduled to open this spring, the interactive center will explore the history of Turkey Hill Dairy and the area’s agricultural/dairy heritage; there will be room for after-hours receptions for up to 300 people.

Lancaster County’s textile traditions are on display at the Lancaster Quilt and Textile Museum, known for its late-19th-century Amish quilts. The museum is housed in a 1912 Beaux Arts building that was originally a bank and its main exhibition space was recently refigured into an events venue.

“We’ve already had a lot of interest from groups that want to hold a reception for up to 300 or a seated dinner for 170 in this grand historic space decorated with beautiful quilts,” said Joel Cliff, media relations manager for the Pennsylvania Dutch CVB in Lancaster.


A two-mile-long entertainment district in Reading isn’t new, but it has been newly rebranded as the Penn Corridor to take advantage of the cultural and culinary options along Penn Street and Penn Avenue.

“We have designated seven different areas, each with an existing significant attraction or event, that together create an exciting destination,” said Crystal Seitz, president, Greater Reading CVB. “Since there are hotels and meeting spaces along the way, including the Sovereign Center and the GoggleWorks Center for the Arts, the corridor provides a new ambiance for the Reading meeting experience.”


The former Bethlehem Steel plant property in Bethlehem will soon become the ArtsQuest Center at SteelStacks, a 65,000-square-foot contemporary performing arts center. It will have a number of special-events spaces like the 20,000-square-foot Festival Center at SteelStacks, formerly the Bethlehem Steel Turn and Grind Shop.

One-of-a-kind natural attractions
The Appalachian Trail Museum, which claims to be the nation’s first and only hiking museum, opened recently in a 200-year-old grist mill at Pine Grove Furnace State Park in southern Cumberland County. Located near the midpoint of the 2,175-mile trail, the museum explores the history of the trail and the people who have completed it.

“While the museum doesn’t host events, the nearby Iron Master’s Mansion has also been under renovation and will reopen this spring as a venue for meetings, receptions and educational programs,” said Kristen Oakley, public relations coordinator, Cumberland Valley Visitors Bureau, Carlisle. “This circa-1827 property also serves as a hostel for Appalachian Trail hikers.”


LEED, luxury inn opens in park
The first luxury hotel in a Pennsylvania state park opened last fall at Bald Eagle State Park in the Pennsylvania Wilds, a 2 million-acre area in north central Pennsylvania.

The 16-room Nature Inn at Bald Eagle State Park is LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) Gold certified and features a facility for bird-watching as well as a 650-square-foot meeting area and a conference room for 10. It is located off Interstate 80, about 25 miles from State College.

“There has never been a facility like this in the state park system,” said Betsey Howell, executive director of the Central Pennsylvania CVB in State College. “As it overlooks a 1,700-acre lake, the Nature Inn is perfect for outdoor groups, provides an amazing corporate retreat location and can host 100 for an indoor/outdoor reception.”

The Pennsylvania Wilds is also home to the Elk Country Visitors Center in Benezette, which opened in September as the premier elk-watching and conservation education facility in the eastern United States.

In addition to meeting space for 15 and interpretive and interactive exhibits on elk and wildlife conservation, “there are enormous elk there,” said O’Donnell.


Keystone State celebrations
In southern Pennsylvania’s 4,900-acre Bear Run Nature Preserve, Frank Lloyd Wright’s famous Fallingwater is celebrating its 75th birthday this year with special events and exhibits.

Meetings at this National Historic Landmark home site are held in the nearby Barn at Fallingwater, an adapted historic dairy barn, where events can be held in the 1,800-square-foot Fireplace Room, the 3,200-square-foot Threshing Room and an outdoor courtyard. Tours of the house, 90 miles southeast of Pittsburgh, can be part of an evening there.

In 1941, the Bantam Jeep was created in Butler, a northern Pittsburgh suburb that will celebrate its heritage with the inaugural Bantam Jeep Heritage Festival Aug. 12-14; the party will include what organizers hope will be the world’s longest Jeep parade.

“We will also debut a new Jeep history exhibit that includes the original Bantam Jeep,” said Patti Jo Lambert, public relations specialist for the Butler County Tourism and Convention Bureau. “In addition to drawing thousands of Jeep enthusiasts, the festival will serve as a springboard for us to draw enthusiast groups interested in historic automobiles, military vehicles and historic reenactments.”