2020: Roadside America has closed and the contents auctioned off 🙁
2018 Update – Roadside America is FOR SALE 🙁
I totally get it that Dolores and family don’t have it in them to continue their family’s legacy, but hoping someone with their hearts and pockets in the right place, buy this historic landmark!
2014 bonus – we got to film a Retro Roadmap video at Roadside America!
Original Post May 2010:
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”
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!
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!
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.
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!
Now for the backstory of this family owned and operated attraction, here since 1953:
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 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.
(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.
To 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.
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.
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.
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?!
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
Shartlesville, Pennsylvania 19554