DUNCANNON >> Exploring new sights can almost seem like a mini-vacation. Taking a leisurely stroll around a friendly little town, meeting the locals and browsing area businesses can be a fun way to spend a few extra hours. And when you get right down to it, unplugging from our devices is a great way to recharge our own batteries.
If you can get away for a few hours this summer, you might want to take the scenic drive to Duncannon in Perry County to visit "The Old Sled Works" and the Doyle Hotel, to learn more about the history of the area.
• Antiques galore and more at The Old Sled Works
You won't have to venture far into town to find the Old Sled Works at 722 Market St. The aged building was once home to The Standard Novelty Works, a company which churned out millions of Lightning Guider sleds that no doubt delighted many a child on a snowy Christmas morning.
As years passed, however, the sturdy, wooden sleds fell from favor, forcing the business to cease operations in 1990.
The Rosen family decided it was time to turn their attention toward a new business venture and "The Old Sled Works Antique and Craft Market" was born. Jimmy Rosen said he had no trouble finding vendors to sell their wares in the 30,000 square-foot building and business has been brisk ever since.
The fun starts when visitors stroll through the front door and the first thing they see is at least a half-dozen old, working televisions dating back to the 1950s. These TVs vary in design from the stodgy to the "mod," depending on the era. Old clips of 'The Three Stooges' run on a continuous loop, which stops first-timers in their tracks as they take in the display. A cooler-type soda machine nearby beckons the curious to lift the lid and peer inside, only to discover that they can drop in a few coins and yank out a frosty soda pop. "It's getting harder to find bottles that go in them," said Rosen. "We use a small soda bottler from up around Catawissa, Pa., and they have a lot of old-fashioned flavors like birch beer, cream soda and sarsaparilla." About a dozen of the machines can be spotted around the property. All are in working order and date from the 1940s to the 1960s.
A visitor favorite is the working penny arcade in the rear of the building, where dozens of old pinball machines are sampled by young and old alike.
"Many have been changed over to accept quarters, rather than pennies, but otherwise we try to keep them in their original condition," said Rosen, offering a short history lesson. "Pinball was a cheap form of entertainment during a very dismal time in our nation's history and some people made a big stink about it, saying it was bad for the youth of America. I have some scathing articles about the demise of society and pinball playing," he said, with a laugh.
Located near the arcade is a real, working soda fountain that is up and running on most weekends. "We encourage customers to call ahead if they're interested in the fountain," said Rosen.
Those who haven't visited in a while will discover that the antique selection has changed over the years. "You have to keep up with the times. These aren't your fathers' antiques. Pop culture is making more of a showing. We strive to maintain a certain quality level to set us apart from a flea market and I think we've done a pretty good job," said Rosen.
To learn more, visit www.sledworks.com
• The Doyle Hotel: Respite through the ages
Located just down the road from the Old Sled Works on Duncannon Square is the Doyle Hotel, where Appalachian Trail hikers often stop for a bite to eat, charge their cell phones, seek lodging or pick up boxes of food they ship to themselves.
A three-story, wooden hotel, dating back to the 1770s, once stood on the corner where the hotel now sits. That structure caught fire in 1803 and was replaced with the current brick building, which was bought by Anheuser-Busch in 1880. Co-owner Vickey Kelly said, "They built ice houses up the rail line and the Clydesdales used to come right down the street."
After Busch died, the property changed hands several times until Jim "Doc" Doyle bought it in 1944. "He worked at the Steelton Steel Mill and won $444,444.44 in the Irish sweepstakes, so he bought the hotel and in 1945; he renamed it the Doyle," said Vickey.
Vickey and Pat Kelly bought the old hotel in 2001.
Visitors will spot remnants of the past as they stroll around the property. Lettering over the street door still reads "Ladies entrance," dating back to the days when it was unseemly to women to enter taverns.
The tavern does a brisk business during the summer, with all the hikers who pass through. "In the winter it's mostly all locals and in the summer it's about 80 percent out-of-towners, ..." said Vickey, adding that of the 23 rooms, about 18 are generally rented by hikers.
Vickey runs the front of the house, while Pat generally toils in the kitchen. You're a stranger but once in the Doyle, and the affable couple makes it a point to visit with all their customers; Vickey generally takes one by surprise with a quick quip designed to elicit a laugh, or a ready story for those interested in learning more about the historic landmark. The owners keep a book behind the bar filled with old pictures and articles and are happy to pull it out for customers to pore over while indulging in a beer and a burger.
• Celebrating the sesquicentennial
The Doyle Hotel and the Old Sled Works are interesting destinations, but if you wait a few weeks, you can add the sesquicentennial celebration to your list of things to do as well. The tiny town will be celebrating its 150th anniversary from Aug. 5-9, with bands, arts and craft shows, baking contests, food and dances.
A parade is slated for 11 a.m. on Aug. 8.
To learn more about this historic celebration, visit the "Duncannon PA Sesquicentennial a Trail through Time" Facebook page.