|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|
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|
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 www.BigSpringSpirits.com.
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|
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|
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 goodintentcider.com.
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 www.Bellefontearts.org 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|
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|
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|
For more information, phone 814-353-3330 or visit website www.Bonfattos.com.
For more information on Bellefonte, phone 814-355-2917 or visit website www.bellefontechamber.org.
|Bonfatto's Chicken Mascarpone Marsala Credit: Bill Rockwell|