Monday, January 2, 2017

Bellefonte’s Small Town Charms Appeal to Those with Varied Interests

Looking up Bellefonte's High Street to the County Courthouse Credit: Bill Rockwell

Travelers with an interest in stamp collecting, world-class fly fishing, history, Victorian architecture and/or unique shopping, good drinks and beverages and eclectic dining experiences might want to give Bellefonte a try.

The country seat of Pennsylvania’s Centre County, smack dab in the middle of the state, is located about 15 miles from State College, home of Pennsylvania State University. My  recent early winter visit started at the old rail station, now converted to serve as the Chamber of Commerce and the Centre County Visitors Bureau office, a first stop to pick up brochures and get information about the town.

 Spring Creek Flows Through Talleyrand Park Credit: Bill Rockwell
Located on the edge of beautiful Talleyrand Park, where the ducks scoot around the waters of Spring Creek begging for grain, (available from coin-operated machines at 25 cents a pop), the chamber is with in walking distance of the American Philatelic Center (APC),the international headquarters and a mecca for stamp collectors everywhere.

Occupying a former match factory complex, part of which dates back to 1899, the APC rests on a six acre site bound by two trout streams. The Center underscores the town’s historic role in the early years of air mail delivery when planes stopped  to refuel on their way between Chicago and New York.

Outside the Philatelic Center Credit: Bill Rockwell
Visitors are invited to tour the Society’s museum free of charge and explore its rotating exhibits of stamp collections, historic items and artwork. Interested adults and children may also request a packet of free introductory material to the hobby of philately. Located at 100 Match Factory Place, the Society is open from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., Monday to Friday. To schedule a tour or for more information, phone 814-933-3803 or visit

In another Match Factory Complex building, Big Spring Spirits opened 2-1/2 years ago in a renovated space with plenty of eye appeal. Its current inventory of 12 different spirits is made from grain grown within a 25 mile radius. Visitors can sample 3 spirits for $2.50 or 6 for $5 or enjoy some of the over 40 craft cocktails listed on the menu. Residents of Pennsylvania can also order bottles online and receive free shipping. Go to

An Aging Imperialist anyone? Big Spring Spirits makes it with aged gin cinnamon-infused white corn whiskey, lime, ginger liquor, star anise liquor, orgeat and cardamom bitters. I especially liked the taste of the Talleyrand Cream Bourbon, a slightly sweet cream beverage with flavors of toffee, vanilla and hints of coffee and butterscotch.

Tasting room manager, Lucy Rogers, said the water for the spirits comes from Spring Creek, voted the best water in the state by the Pa. Rural Water Association. "The soft water from the source gives our products a smooth, round texture," she said.

The Bar at Big Spring Spirits Credit: Bill Rockwell
To go along with the craft cocktails, the establishment serves local seasonal dishes that include a charcuterie board, hors d’oeuvres, one or two sandwiches, an entree and a couple of desserts.

Each Sunday at 6, Big Spring, Jen  Spirits offers a 5-course, chef’s tasting menu with cocktails for $60. The dinner is limited to 15 people, and reservations must be made at least a week in advance. Phone 814-353-4478.

Across the bridge, rail buffs can visit the Bellefonte Historical Railroad Society and enjoy several historic pieces of rolling stock including two Budd Rail Diesel Cars (RDCs), a wooden caboose and a snow plow on static display and four speeder cars. The Society also stages annual excursions offered in October and December along still-working track. Phone 814-355-1053.

Cidery Bartender  Jen Zelinskie  at Good Intent Credit: Bill Rockwell
Good Intent Cider has been around since November 2010. Located at 167 S. Potter Street, the cidery inventory includes six to 11 different ciders, all sparkling, with 7 to 10% alcohol, made from apples mostly from Adams County. The cozy tasting room offers flights of four 2-1/2 oz. ciders for $4 or $4 for a 6 oz. glass of your choice. Take out in growlers is also available.

During my visit, I managed to sample North Meets South - which is aged in bourbon barrels, Hoptide - a hop infused cider with citrus and floral notes, and Ginger Kid - made with fresh ginger root and Pennsylvania maple syrup. For teetotalers, the cidery also serves an alcohol-free hot mulled cider.

Hungry? You can choose from seven different cheeses on the premises made in-state by local producers and serve them up on crackers.

Good Intent Cider is open Fridays, Saturday and Sundays. For hours and other information, phone 717-778-8171 or visit

Bellefonte’s Raison d’Etre

The discovery of iron ore in 1784 laid the basis for the town’s wealth and growth and eventually was said to make Bellefonte the most prosperous town between Harrisburg and Pittsburgh. Prosperity brought along with it the construction of many Victorian mansions, some of which serve as bed and breakfast inns today.

Walking tour maps of the Victorian district are available at the Centre County Visitors Bureau.. Phone  814-355-2917 or visit for more information .
The High Street Memorial in Talleyrand Park Credit: Bill Rockwell

Walk along High Street from the train station and you’ll find a historic marker that memorializes the seven governors who lived, studied or worked in Bellefonte. Five were Pennsylvania governors, one of California and one the territorial governor of Kansas.

If you’d like to delve deeper into Bellefonte history, the Pennsylvania Room and Historical Museum is comprised of Textile Room (displaying quilts and samplers), the Sieg Room (featuring Centre County's Industrial Heritage), the Linn Room (honoring this influential local family) and the Community Heritage Room ( highlighting everyday life in Bellefonte). The museum is located in the early 19th-century, Georgian style Miles-Humes home at 203 North Allegheny Street. Phone 814-355-1516.

Inside the Historical Museum Credit: Bill Rockwell
Art lovers might want to add the Bellefonte Art Museum for Centre County to their itinerary. The museum, located at in 133 N. Allegheny Street in the 1819 Linn House, exhibits works from China, Vietnam, East Africa, Haiti, Japan, South America and promotes and exhibits art by more than 140 local artists.

An Underground Railroad exhibit," A Journey to Freedom" commemorates a painful time in art and words in a new permanent exhibit that remembers the role of the region in the operations of the Underground Railroad. For more information, phone 814-355-2700.

For a place to dine, Bonfatto’s will celebrate its golden anniversary in two years. The first generation of Bonfatto’s opened a grocery store on High Street on August 15, 1919. Now the third generation of the same family runs this popular American-Italian restaurant two miles out of town at 205 Park Place.

Array of Bonfatto's Sauces Credit: Bill Rockwell
Home of the famous Bonanza Sub, Bonfatto’s menu also includes award-winning wings, salads, pizza, pastas, strombolis, steak and seafood. Owner David Letterman, the grandson of the original proprietors, makes a series of hot sauces from scratch with  inventive names like Apocalips Hell Fire, Peaches and Scream, Tongue Thai’d and Fire in the Hole.

Each night offers a different special including a $7 local, grass-fed, free-range burger on Monday, half-off pizza on Tuesday, all-you-can-eat pasta on Wednesday, discounted wings on Thursday, seafood dinners of Friday, 10-oz. sirloin steaks on Saturday and family-style, folksy dinners on Sunday.

Famous celebrities who stopped by for dinner include Bill Murray who relished his plate of linguini with scallops and shrimp tossed in Arrabiata sauce. While there, he signed a bottle of Dave’s Fire in the Hole sauce, which remains at the restaurant to this day.

Bonfatto's Blackened Salmon with Linguine Credit: Bill Rockwell
Craft cocktails, wine and craft beers, which change frequently, are available from the bar. Dishes I can personally vouch for are the wings, the sauces, the Stuffed Hungarian Peppers and Coconut Shrimp appetizers, the Chicken Mascarpone Marsala and the Salmon, either grilled, blackened or glazed with apple (mildly spicy hot) or orange.

For more information, phone 814-353-3330 or visit website

For more information on Bellefonte, phone  814-355-2917 or visit website

Bonfatto's Chicken Mascarpone Marsala Credit: Bill Rockwell

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