Thursday, September 06, 2012

Road Trip, Day 6

North 5th Street United Methodist Church, now Bethel Village AME Church
Whoever penned you can't go home again got it pretty much right. I've tried, and today my wife tried to go back to her childhood haunts, the special places where she grew up in Harrisburg Pennsylvania. The most important spot for her was the downtown Methodist church where he father was pastor for nearly 13 years, located on 5th Street between Kelker and Granite. These were the formative years between her birth in Burwick and her graduating from high school in Altoona. Downtown Harrisburg in the early 1960s, where the church was located and where my wife was living with her family, was growing increasingly violent. In the end her father felt it was safest to move the family to Altoona where my wife could finish high school in safety. The congregation was very disappointed when her father left, and went into a period of sustained decline.

In the 1990s the church was painted white to distinguish it from the rest of the area that was built of brick and also declining.  There were plans to convert the church into a mission, but in 2003 the Bethel African Method Episcopal Church purchased the building for its use. In the process they steam cleaned the exterior and restored it to what it looked like when my wife was living there. It was an emotional moment for her to see that the church was still standing and being used for its intended purpose, a house of worship.
Former parsonage, located on North 2nd Street and Division
The parsonage where she lived with her family wasn't downtown with the church, but further north on the Susquehanna River and much closer to the shore. It was within walking distance to Italian Lake, a little park next to the former William Penn High School. While the house provided some degree of privacy for the family, it had the misfortune of being close enough to the Susquehanna that when the river flooded, the water levels reached the second floor of the house. This is what happened in 1972. In the end the Methodist church, which has purchased the house for her father to live in, sold it after he left.

That house is a what we in the south call a duplex, but is considered normal up north such as in Pennsylvania. My wife was distraught to see the left side overgrown with trees and bushes. The left should have been as clean as the right, showing both entrances into the full house.
Italian Lake is a long lake at the end of Division street near where my wife lived. It was one of her favorite places to walk, the other being along the river near the house. This little bridge was her favorite spot, where she'd go stand and look down in the water. It also gave the best view of the whole lake with all the flowers and ducks that lived on the lake. The flowers are gone now, but the lake shores are kept manicured and mowed.
William Penn High School was once considered a pioneering high school when it was completed and opened in 1926. It's the victim of the budget crises that have plagued Harrisburg for decades. Both my wife's oldest sisters graduated from William Penn. She never got the chance, moving before she graduated from middle school. At the school's height through the 1940's and 1950's, William Penn served as a model for what urban education could be. But as the city's fortunes declined, so did all its services, including public education. In the end the school was completely closed in 2010. It now sits, silent, empty, decaying.

After spending the morning looking at Harrisburg we started up 15/11 north up the Susquehanna River and out of Pennsylvania into western New York state. The trip parallel to the river gave way to travel through the mountains. The passage was gorgeous, the scenery beautiful. The clouds cast shadows on the forest covered mountains. We spent the rest of the day enjoying the scenery as it unfolded around us.

We've stopped at Corning NY for the evening. Before we found a room for the evening we stopped at the Corning Museum of Glass, catching the very last show of the afternoon. Our tickets are good for two days, so we'll go back first thing in the morning to look at the exhibits before we head west to Buffalo and Niagara.

We very much enjoyed watching the glass blowers work their magic on the molten glass. In the space of 30 minutes they created a glass bowl with foot. The piece needed to be anneal cooled, so they put it in a special oven for it to cool for 10 hours. My wife and I hope to see the finished piece tomorrow when we go back.

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