Be Prepared to See More Than You Expect
A rather large sign bearing the above message warns visitors outside Roadside America near Shartlesville in Berks County, Pennsylvania.
And stepping into the building, visitors are transported back into the 1950s in a schlocky gift shop filled with railroad memorabilia and Pennsylvania Dutch trinkets. But after purchasing your tickets for the main attraction, you'll find that the warning on sign outside was indeed correct.
You see, Roadside America is a tribute to one man's obsession with making miniature houses and model railroading. The exhibit covers some 6000 square feet and is truly impressive.
A walkway leads you counterclockwise around the display. Interpretive plaques point out many of the most impressive features of the exhibit. There are also buttons for visitors to press to activate the interactive parts of the display, like one which makes the trolley run through the streets of the town or one which makes the swings in the park move back and forth.
The following are just a few of the highlights of the exhibit:
- The town church has 44 hand-painted windows and it took 400 hours to construct this one building. If you listen you can hear hymns being played on the organ inside.
Growing up near Reading, Pennsylvania, Laurence Gieringer and his brother Paul liked to climb Mount Penn and look at the city spread before them. At some point, the brothers decided to build miniature houses like they saw from the mountain overlook.
As time passed, they built dozens of little houses. Eventually brother Paul left the family home to join the priesthood, but Larry kept on building miniature buildings at a scale of three-eighth inches per foot.
Larry married childhood sweetheart Dora Seisler and the two of them continued his hobby together as did their two children Paul and Alberta. Wife Dora created many of the 10,000 bushes and trees within Roadside America today. The childrens' small hands were perfect for detailed work and painting fine details.
Meanwhile, word of their hobby until the Reading Eagle Newspaper did a 1935 feature story on the annual Christmas display the family set up in their home. A local fire company then donated the use of their building to set up the display during the holidays with all admission proceeds going to local charities.
In 1941, the display was set up in a permanent display in a building near Hamburg, Berks County. It was later moved to a larger building west of Shartlesville along US Route 22 where it resides to this day.
If You Go...
Roadside America is open July through Labor Day from 9am to 6:30pm and on weekends from 9 am to 7 pm. During the off-season months (September through June) it is open 10 am to 5 pm and on weekends from 10 am to 6 pm.