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This tour loosely follows the route of the Shenango River, which has
been the backbone of Mercer County’s industrial growth throughout
most of its history. The Erie Extension Canal (1840-1871) followed
much the same course, entering Mercer County in the southwest corner
of Shenango Township and exiting at the Crawford County line in
Sugar Grove Township. This important route of trade and travel from
Pittsburgh to the Great Lakes was responsible for the emergence of
many towns along its banks, some long forgotten, and was vital to
the rise of the Western Pennsylvania iron industry before the
railroads. Several stops along the tour highlight the importance of
the Shenango River and the Erie Extension Canal.
tour begins in the heart of West Middlesex, at the junction of
Routes 18 and 318, one mile south of I-80.
Stop #1: Alf Landon birthplace:
(3096 East Main Street, West Middlesex) and historical marker (Tam
O’Shanter Golf Course):
Less than one block
east of the intersection sits the birthplace (private residence with
marker on front porch) of politician and U.S. Senator Alf Landon,
who ran against Franklin Roosevelt in the presidential race of
1936. 1.5 miles north on Route 18, at Tam O’Shanter Golf Course, is
a historical marker noting that Landon kicked off his presidential
campaign on the No. 1 Tee in 1936 in front of a crowd of 10,000
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Considered one of the finest public golf courses in
Pennsylvania, Tam O’Shanter is a certified Audubon Sanctuary. Emil
Leoffler, who was superintendent of the famous Oakmont Country Club
in Pittsburgh, designed it in 1929. Why not play a round?
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miles west of West Middlesex on Route 318 is Mercer County’s Korean
War Memorial, honoring all soldiers of that conflict.
Stop #2: Hermitage Historical Society : 5465 East State Street
miles north of Tam O’Shanter, at the intersection of Route 18 and
Business Route 62, is the Shenango Valley Mall. Turning right at
the mall and proceeding on Route 62 for 2 miles brings you to the
Hermitage Historical Society. Their headquarters is located in the
Robert Stewart House, a 3-story brick Italianate home built in
1868. The property also houses a restored carriage house. Several
rooms contain exhibits, including a military room, a quilt room, a
scout room, and more.
Stop #3: Buhl
Mansion : 422 East State Street
Returning to the
Shenango Valley Mall, follow Route 62 South (East State Street)
toward downtown Sharon (three miles). The Buhl Mansion, listed on
the National Register of Historic Places, is located on your left on
the East Hill, just before the downtown area. Industrialist Frank
H. Buhl built this Richardson Romanesque castle for his wife, Julia
Forker Buhl. Buhl was the “Father of the Industrial Shenango
Valley.” The Buhls, who were childless, dedicated much energy and
fortune to the betterment of the Shenango Valley, and their names
are associated with many philanthropic ventures still in existence.
The 14-room mansion, steeped in history, was saved from longtime
neglect and restored to its former opulence by local businessman
James Winner. Operated by the Winners’ as a bed and breakfast, the
Buhl Mansion also contains a spa and houses the Winner’s art
collection. Guided tours are available for a fee.
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While driving from Hermitage to Sharon, you will pass
Hillcrest Memorial Park on your right. This large cemetery is home
to the “Avenue of Flags,” the largest display of American flags in
the world, dedicated to the honor of the American hostages held in
Iran in 1979-80. Also in Hillcrest is a new memorial dedicated to
those who lost their lives in the War on Terror. Next to the
memorial park is Kraynak’s Garden Center, where Christmas and Easter
displays feature lavishly decorated trees and animated characters
delight all ages.
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corner of East State Street and Sharpsville Avenue is the Shenango
Valley Community Library—the home of the Mercer County Genealogical
Society. If you have ancestors in Mercer County, this is a great
place to stop and learn.
down State Street, the Shenango River flows through the heart of
Sharon. The Erie Extension Canal flooded an area near Dock Street
with a harbor large enough to hold over 200 canal boats. The
Shenango River Watchers operate a canoe launch on Budd Street.
Throughout history, the Shenango River flooded—sometimes
severely—leading to the building of the Shenango Reservoir.
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Downtown Sharon is home to Reyer’s, the world’s
largest shoe store; The Winner, the world’s largest off-price
clothing store; Daffin's and Philadelphia Candies; several themed
restaurants, including the Quaker Steak & Lube; the Shenango Valley
branch of Penn State University; the Mercer County Convention and
Visitors’ Bureau (for more information on Mercer County, stop here);
and many more shops and restaurants. View our industry and remnants
of the industrial past in this area.
Stop #4: Buhl Farm Park
Perhaps the greatest
legacy left by the Buhls was Buhl Farm Park. From the Buhl Mansion,
travel one mile north on Route 62, towards the Shenango Valley
Mall. At the sixth traffic light, (Buhl Blvd.) turn left. This
road ends at one of the entrances to the park. A statue of Mr. and
Mrs. Buhl is nearby. In 1911, Mr. Buhl announced his plan to turn
300 acres of farmland into a playground and donate it to the people
of the Shenango Valley. The park opened in 1914 and to this day
follows much of the original blueprint, including beautiful Lake
Julia, a “Casino” for dances and entertainment, picnic shelters, and
75,000 trees and shrubs. Later additions include a stone gatehouse
(1936), the Julia Forker Buhl Memorial Garden (1936), and a
Performing Arts Center (1981). Another remarkable feature of Buhl
Park is the 9-hole Buhland Golf Course (Dum-Dum to locals), believed
to be the only free golf course in the United States.
Stop #5: Sharpsville Historical Society at the Former First Universalist
131 North Mercer Avenue, Sharpsville
to the Shenango Valley Mall via Forker Blvd and State Street, follow
Route 18 north for 1.6 miles to its intersection with Route 518.
Near the intersection, note the historical marker for the Erie
Extension Canal. Turn left on Route 518 towards Sharpsville. At
the first traffic light (Mercer Avenue), turn right. The
Sharpsville Historical Society is located in the former First
Universalist Church, listed on the National Register of Historic
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The Jonas Pierce Mansion, also on the National
Register, is located around the corner at 18 East Shenango Street.
Pierce’s father, noted industrialist James Pierce, lived in an
opulent 30-room mansion, now demolished, near the intersection of
Shenango and Mercer Avenues. President George W. Bush is a direct
descendant of James Pierce.
Stop #6: Raisch Log Cabin, Erie Canal Lock #10, and Shenango Dam and
the Sharpsville Historical Society, proceed one block further on
Mercer Avenue and turn right on High Street. Just before the bridge
is the cabin and lock. Discovered inside at the core of a house in
Hermitage in 1978, the Raisch Log Cabin stands as a memorial to our
frontier roots. It was moved and reconstructed, and is now used by
the Mercer County Historical Society for programs in the summer
a short trail along the river is Lock #10 of the Erie Extension
Canal, the only known remaining canal lock still in existence. By
following the trail along the river, one can see the Shenango Dam
from a unique angle.
along High Street (Kelly Road) is the Shenango Dam, operated by the
Army Corps of Engineers. This 68-foot dam, built in 1965, controls
flooding on the Shenango River.
The 6-square mile reservoir created by the dam has many recreational
opportunities, including camping, hiking, picnicking, and fishing.
Horsepower on the lake is unlimited in most areas. Bass, walleye,
muskellunge, and pan fish reward anglers. The outflow area of the
dam near the log cabin and lock is popular with trout fishers. Just
past the dam is the Mahaney Recreation Area, with a boat launch,
picnic shelters, and the Seth Myers Nature Trail, a ½-mile
Stop #7: Clark Area and the Shenango Trail:
Big Bend, New Hamburg, and Kidd’s Mill
the junction of Route 18 and 518 in Hermitage, proceed on Route 18
north 2 miles to Clark. The town of Clarksville, located on the
Shenango River and Erie Ext. Canal, was flooded in 1965 by the
construction of the Shenango Dam. The small town was renamed Clark
and several of the buildings were relocated near Route 258. Saved
by its higher ground was the Koonce home, a Greek revival-style
antebellum mansion built in 1859. After some expansion, it became
the Tara, a bed and breakfast establishment and restaurant. It is
open for meals or for a guided tour (fee).
right on Route 258 south, passing a historical marker for Alfred
Bushnell Hart, distinguished scholar and historian, who was born
nearby. Proceed on Route 258 for 5.7 miles and turn left on North
Bend Road. One mile ahead is a parking area for the Big Bend
Historical Area (listed on the National Register) and a trailhead
for the Shenango Trail. Big Bend, known at one time as Shenango,
was one of the largest industrial towns along the canal. Nothing
remains now but a few foundations near the banks of the river. The
Shenango Trail runs from Big Bend to Pymatuning. The most
accessible section runs 7.5 miles from Big Bend to the Kidd’s Mill
Covered Bridge, passing through the New Hamburg Historical Area
along the way. For much of this distance the trail follows the
towpath of the canal, and south of New Hamburg ripraps are visible
along the riverbanks. The trail is remote for most of its length
and is replete with wildlife, including bald eagles.
Stop # 8: Camp Reynolds:
to Route 18 in Clark, continue north 4.6 miles to the intersection
with Reynolds Industrial Park Road (also known as Kidd’s Mill
Road). The current industrial area near the intersection was the
site of a 3300-acre U.S. Army facility from 1942-45, as noted on the
historical marker south of here. During World War II, about one
million U.S. troops passed through Camp Reynolds. At its peak
capacity, 75,000 soldiers billeted here at any one time. A race
riot occurred here during that time and is chronicled in Studs
Turkel’s award-winning oral history,
The Good War.
In addition, it was an internment camp for over 1800 German
prisoners of war from 1944-46.
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Just north of Camp Reynolds is the Brucker Great Blue
Heron Sanctuary, accessible by going north one mile further on Route
18, turning on a “jug handle,” and returning south for a short
distance. This preserve, operated by Thiel College, is home to the
largest colony of breeding great blue herons in Pennsylvania, with
over 210 nests.
Stop #9: Kidd’s Mill Covered Bridge and Bigler Home:
Route 18 turn right on Reynolds Industrial Park Road and travel .8
mile to Kidd’s Mill Covered Bridge. Built in 1868 and restored in
1990, Kidd’s Mill is the last historic covered bridge in Mercer
County and the only remaining bridge in Pennsylvania with an
all-wood truss design. Its 120 foot length is open to hikers and
bikers. A canoe launch nearby is the perfect spot to launch a trip
down the Shenango River to New Hamburg or Big Bend, passing in the
opposite direction of the Shenango Trail trip described above.
Just past the
covered bridge is the home of Jacob and Susan Bigler, parents of two
governors. It was relocated (from near Kremis) and restored. The
Biglers’ son, William, became governor of Pennsylvania in 1852, the
same year their son John became governor of California. The
Shenango Conservancy operates both the Kidd’s Mill Covered Bridge
and Bigler Home.
Stop #10: Greenville Historical Society, Greenville Railroad Park &
Museum, & the Canal Museum:
the Bigler Home, continue on Reynolds Industrial Park Road until it
ends at Route 58. Turn left and follow Route 58 north for 3.8 miles
to the center of Greenville at the junction with Route 18. Turn
right for .3 mile to the Greenville Railroad Park & Museum at 314
Main Street. This park boasts the largest steam switch engine ever
built, a coal tender, an ore car, and a caboose. The museum area
houses railroad memorabilia, including a reconstruction of a
stationmaster’s quarters and dispatcher’s office.
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By turning right where Reynolds Industrial Park Road
ends at Rt. 58 and traveling several miles, you can visit the Mercer
County Historical Society (MCHS) Caldwell One-Room School and
Teachers’ Garden. Continuing further south on Route 58, you can
visit the MCHS Rural Life Museum located on Munnell Run Farm and
behind Woodland Place. If you continue south into Mercer, you can
visit the MCHS headquarters—a museum and genealogical library. The
Mercer Community Band, during mid-summer, performs free concerts on
the Courthouse lawn. This is undoubtedly the “best free
entertainment on a Friday night” in the County.
to the junction of Routes 58 and 18 in Greenville, travel .4 mile
straight ahead to the Waugh House, 23 West Main St. Listed on the
National Register of Historic Places, this is the home of the
Greenville Historical Society. The museum here recreates life in
Western Pennsylvania during the canal and railroad eras and
highlights the growth of modern industry.
the Waugh House, return towards downtown Greenville and turn on the
third street to the left, Race Street. .3 mile on the right is The
Canal Museum, located on the exact site of Lock 22 of the Erie
Extension Canal. Inside the museum is a history of the canal,
complete with a 40-foot replica of the canal freighter Rufus S.
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The Greenville Commercial District, bounded by Main
Street, Clinton Street, and Canal Street, is on the National
Register of Historic Places. During the canal era, many shops
sprang up along Canal and Race Streets, feeding off the canal, which
led to the growth of Greenville. The area still contains many
unique small businesses.
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Across Race Street (Alan Avenue) from The Canal
Museum is Riverside Park, Greenville’s community park. Operated by
the Greenville Area Leisure Service Association, the park features
nature trails along the Shenango River, an amphitheater built by the
WPA in 1934, ball fields, and a swimming pool. The Recreation
Center was originally built as a USO center during World War II.
Many servicemen stationed at Camp Reynolds came here for
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Thiel College, a small liberal arts, sciences and
professional studies school founded in 1866, is located nearby.
From the Canal Museum, turn right on Alan Avenue (Race Street) and
proceed a short distance until the street ends at Route 58. The
tree-lined campus of Thiel is straight ahead.
Stop #11: Gibson House and the Jamestown Historical Society:
Thiel College, follow Route 58 north six miles to the borough of
Jamestown. The Gibson House, now operated as the Mark Twain Manor,
a restaurant, is located straight ahead on the right. Built by Dr.
William Gibson, who traveled with Samuel Clemens to Russia, this
house is on the National Register. It is also featured on our
Underground Railroad Tour because it has been rumored to be a stop
for fugitive slaves. The Jamestown Future Foundation now owns it.
the Gibson House, return to the junction of Route 58 and Route 322.
Several blocks east on Route 322 make a left at the carwash onto
Summit Street. The Jamestown Historical Society is the first house
on the right. The Society has been revitalizing the house that
dates from the 1870’s and they have filled it with photographs,
scrapbooks, and memorabilia from Jamestown’s history. The last
weekend in July each year the Historical Society sponsors a Pioneer
Festival at Pymatuning Lake.
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Pymatuning Deer Park, located .5 mile south of town
on Route 58, houses over 200 animals. Features include petting and
feeding the animals, pony and train rides, and picnic areas.
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Jamestown is the “Gateway to Pymatuning.” Built in the 1930’s, the
Pymatuning Dam attempts to control floodwaters along the Shenango
River and is in Crawford County. The lake is a major recreation
area managed by the Pennsylvania Department of Natural Resources.