I spent an extra day today in Rockwood, PA at the hostel. I didn’t mean to, time just slipped away. Tomorrow I’ll head back to Columbus for a fourth of July picnic invitation.
This has become a cool little town. No cell reception, no traffic, no grocery store, really no reason to be here. Its quaint and an anachronism and its filled with nice people all voting for Trump this November. Oh well.
The reason it WAS here was the railroad, that runs right outside my door. It seems Rockwood’s little ravine was the only one big enough to turn a train around. That caused the freight train yard to build here, bringing lots of jobs. Oh, I was told, not big enough for a roundhouse like down the line. They ran the trains up one valley, then could roll it around up the other to reverse its direction across the Y-shaped intersection, then run it back. Most of the tracks have been pulled up for the Allegheny rails to trails bicycle path, but the switch yard is still here, and those trains go rattling by all day and all night.
Sadly, for Rockwood, in the 1940’s, the PA Turnpike followed some the other natural feature and passed to the north. As car traffic increased, nearby Somerset grew. As train traffic decreased, Rockwood shrunk. Today Somerset has a Wal-Mart, a McDonalds, a CVS and three exit hotels. You can see it was a bustling place in the 1950’s & 60’s as well. Rockwood has one restaurant, one bank branch, the fire department, the hardware store, one barbershop (the other closed when the barber passed away). Almost everything is open from 9-12 and 1-4. Most places (I hadn’t noticed) just don’t reopen on Wednesday afternoon because nobody’s out. … oh.
I walked the town and got a haircut yesterday, tieing up John the barber for almost 2 hours, today it was Judy’s turn, the lovely woman that restored the historic granary, mill, and opera house next door.
The ground floor in front has a coffee shop in the morning that becomes an ice cream parlor in the afternoon. The middle section is a pizzeria with an outdoor deck area. In back are a couple independent shops (like an indoor mall) and stairs up to a couple more units and a conference room for the kiwanis and the like. Finally, there is a former “opera house”, a small vaudeville hall, that she has redone with hard labor into a small entertainment venue for dinner shows. It’s all very nice, but this little town and the surrounding area, sadly, just can’t possibly support it.
She tells an inspiring story. She ran her family’s small coal concern, and ended up buying the abandoned mill in 1999. It was a labor of love to restore it, over a year’s work most of it by hand. There is no way she did the market analysis, or she would have never started. She thought with her heart and not her head.
After 10 years of small crowds, she now shutters the building for January & February, to save heating. They have one Saturday show per month and one Wednesday night show. I immediately brainstormed “Karaoke”, “Union meetings”, “local politicians”, “school functions” and as I turned back to look her face was stoney silence. She had thought of all that, and tried most of it, and is just doing her best to keep it open.
So two shows times ten months is twenty shows per year. She won recognition from the PA governor’s office for her work and its now on the National Historic Registry. But it’s also an anachronism, too big, too lively for this little reactionary town.
I heard the story, can’t verify it, about resentment that some amount of “government help” occurred, by which I assume was meant the National Registry, and so some percent of local whack jobs decided to never set foot in that communist conspiracy building. With hardly any traffic, any unsold pizzas or bagels is a damn big deal.
There was another historic building, also abandoned, also failing, at the other end of town. NOBODY stepped forward with the (misguided) intent to revitalize or restore it for historic or romantic purposes. It is now a pile of rubble, and I hear tell some are proud and happy that no “gubment money” was spent. Hard to say. Part of our social contract is for our children to be able to see how settlers lived. You can’t put buildings in a museum, so those that can keep something 70% or 80% operational might benefit all of us if we pass the hat and are able to remember other times. That is the social contract. But not in the libertarian paradise that is Somalia or the Cali Columbia drug war, and for some the Trump headquarters of rural southwest Pennsylvania. “Let it fall”, they say, “and the let the rubble lay there.”