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Social Distancing Fun: Free VIRTUAL Walking Tour of Historic Bellefonte w/ Local Historia

Local historia2

Bellefonte, PA 16823

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By Serge Bielanko

Are you already bored and a little stir-crazy from all this Social Distancing? Well, you're obviously not alone. Steering clear of public places and other humans is the absolute smartest thing ALL of us can and should do right now as Americans. Yet most of us are not very good at hunkering down in our homes, huh? We talk a good game at it: "If I could stay home from work every day and just watch Netflix, I'd be the happiest person on the planet!"...but now that reality has forced us into that corner against our own will, well, things are very very different indeed.

But we gotta do what we gotta do for the greater good.

Fortunately, there seems to be a collective movement of artists, teachers, and interesting people on-line who have stepped up to help us out by offering up a slew of virtual concerts, lectures, lessons, and even tours of the outside world.

And that's exactly why I need to let you know about Local Historia's Matt Maris, who I wrote about not long ago, is the Bellefonte High School History teacher who's love of the past led him to start giving historic walking tours around town this past year. So when this whole COVID-19 thing hit right as he was getting ready to kick off a new spring season of tours, he was forced out of his classroom AND off of the streets as all gatherings by the general public were put on on hold.

But look, you can't keep a good historian down.

An thankfully for the rest of us, Maris, along with the folks at Downtown Bellefonte Inc., has come up with a plan to help bring the historic side of Bellefonte straight into your lunchtime kitchen at home. This Wednesday, we are all invited to join Local Historia on a virtual walking tour of downtown Bellefonte. Maris will guide us from one historically unique site to the next as he does all the legwork for us.

Now, don't forget to go LIKE Local Historia's Facebook page right now. You'll be able to donate a little money to the cause there too, if you like. We're all in this together. History will show that in the end.

I reached out to Matt to pick his brain about what we might expect from this virtual walking tour idea of his. Here's our full interview.

------- What will this virtual tour of Bellefonte consist of, generally speaking? Give me some ideas about what/ who/where…

Matt Maris: This virtual tour will feature some historical highlights of Allegheny and High Streets, making our way down from the Bellefonte Art Museum to the Waterfront area (Bush House site). The tour will be approximately 45 minutes so we won’t try to cover every downtown site. I’ll cover some of my favorite topics, people and structures in Bellefonte. I also have a couple new items I’ve researched if you have taken any of my tours before, there should be something new for you to enjoy too!

I know you had a much-anticipated 'Bellefonte in the Civil War Walking Tour' all worked up to launch in early April. That must have been disappointing to have to postpone it. You going to save that one for later or might we see it as a virtual tour as well?

I’ll be saving the Civil War tour for another day. I’d hope to offer them in April but with everything going on it will get postponed. Rest assured, as soon as I am able, be it the end of April, May or so forth I’ll post the times and dates to take a walk into Bellefonte’s Civil War. I’m really excited about it and there are so many connections to Centre County and the Civil War. That being said, I probably won’t be able to stop myself from sharing some of the Civil War and Underground Railroad content during this virtual tour as well.

Okay, so who is going to hold the phone to broadcast you live to Facebook? (Inquiring minds need to know!)

My friend and community connector, Ellen Matis, at Downtown Bellefonte Inc. I have been wanting to do more events like this so I was very happy to participate when Ellen approached me with this opportunity to collaborate.

Have you ever done anything like this before?

Actually not really, it’s been a goal but this is a first for me. My first “live” virtual walking tour. For some reason I’m very comfortable in front of actual people, I guess I’m used to it being a teacher, but I’ll have to get used to the camera and “live” idea but it will be fun. I plan to do more of it.

As a seasoned historical walking tour guide, what do you imagine might be noticeably different this time around when you can't really see or hear the people 'accompanying' you on the tour?

I really like the engagement of having actual people in front of me. I guess it's the classic live theatre versus scripted situation but, don’t worry, I’m sure to go off script. My goal is to help individuals make authentic connections with local history, this might be more challenging without them being present, without the attendees asking questions, etc., (although I’ll try my best to react to any live comments) but hey, I like challenges. Maybe in some ways this format will help Bellefonte’s history become more accessible to more people, so that is a very positive thing.

Historically remarkable circumstances are keeping Americans isolated at home- including high school students. So how does a high school history teacher like yourself handle the sudden absence of classes and young minds and teaching....all of which are typically very real life/ real time for you? Do you miss the classroom yet? Are you teaching via the internet?

Yes, I miss my classroom and my students for sure. This kind of situation puts things in perspective and will make us thankful for a routine day at school or anywhere else again. Public education is an opportunity to learn and grow and this isolation makes that a challenge. Our district is not requiring any formal online instruction but many teachers like myself are sharing voluntary resources that students can use if they choose. I also invited them to this virtual walking tour by sharing the Facebook link on my Google Classroom pages. I hope my students can virtually join my tour and learn a little bit more about our community’s rich local history.


Log onto Downtown Bellefonte Inc.’s Facebok page for a virtual walking tour featuring historic sites in downtown Bellefonte.
Donations for the tour are being accepted:
Local Historia:
Downtown Bellefonte Inc.:


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