Bellefonte , Pennsylvania 16823
Close your eyes.
Come with me.
It's 1840. It's twilight in December, The streets of Bellefonte are all a-bustle with folks shopping for holiday gifts. Horses wearing sleigh bells pull carriages through the falling snowflakes as carolers sing the old songs that aren't quite so old just yet. The butcher shop, the blacksmith, the ale house and the general store: their windows are all glowing warm and inviting.
Then, out of nowhere, a scream is heard. And another, from a different voice. One by one people begin to rush down High Street with reckless abandon, each of them dropping hams and peppermint sticks in their mad rush to escape this....this...this...what is it?!
"An iron beast is what it is!"
As down around the corner from the courthouse comes a big charter bus, all air brakes and shifting sighs, headlights slicing through the evening gloam like miniature stars dropped out of the very sky above.
Can you imagine the madness?! A bus! In Victorian Bellefonte!
It would have changed the entire world in the flash of a moment!
Alas, it's just my imagination running away with me. There were never any buses back then and we both know that. I'm just playing with fantasy. I probably need to stop doing that, huh? Well, either way, it's not completely crazy, this whole notion of mine. As a matter of fact, the whole thing is born up out of something happening on Saturday, December 8th. And it's right here in Bellefonte, actually. Because that's the day that our very own Bellefonte Woman's Club (BWC) is sponsoring their second annual 'History on Wheels' Guided Bus Tour as part of Victorian Christmas.
And the great thing is that- even though there will indeed be scores of Victorians on the streets of town that day- NONE of them will be fainting in their tracks at the sight of a massive coach easing around the bend up by the library or down by Talleyrand Park. So keep your smelling salts in your pocket, Good Doctor.
This bus is all about time travel, you see. As part of the Bellefonte Woman's Club never-ending quest to help shine a light on the town's magnificent past, they will be sponsoring coach tours all weekend long, six in all. The tour costs $20 a person, which- although that probably could have bought you a small mansion or a brand new six-person stage coach back in the 19th century- is an absolute bargain these days. Especially when you consider what you're getting.
Because what you're getting is an immersive Victorian experience complete with local tour guides steeped in the big history of Bellefonte. And, guess what? Actual citizens of the past with tales of Bellefonte's yesteryear will be boarding the bus at times, dressed to the nines in period garb, of course, adding to the essence of time travel that makes this particular weekend unlike any other the whole year through.
And people love it.
"Last year was a great success," says Mary Kay Justice, chairwoman of the tour. "Not only in financial terms, but a change in what the community had come to expect from the Bellefonte Woman's Club during Victorian Christmas. We had offered the HOMES TOUR for over 30 years, but we had difficulty finding new homes to put on the tour. We understand that in today's world people are reluctant to open their homes for safety and wear issues. So we combined the new History on Wheels guided bus tour with a tour of two houses at its conclusion."
The town's Victorian architecture, her Christmas past, the people who once lived here and the legacy they've left behind, all of this and more is what the Bellefonte Women's Club have worked tirelessly to bring to passengers on these history-bound bus tours. It's a chance to grab a seat after walking the town and be regaled with living history along streets that practically ooze it.
"One person, a local resident said, "I never knew this information and I lived here all my life," Justice recalls.
This year's tour sounds even better too.
"This year the tour focuses on the Famous, Infamous and Ordinary characters of Bellefonte's past," explains Justice. "As the bus winds its way through town it will make nine stops. Characters will climb aboard the bus and share a brief story during the hour-long tour. One of our participants even traveled to South Dakota to visit a museum and research her character!"
There seems to be SO many people behind the scenes making this all happen, and guess what?
"We would be remiss if we did not thank the club members, especially Ann Sager, Janet Kyte and Lora Gauss who wrote the scripts for the characters," says Mary Kay Justice. "The people portraying characters boarding the bus have been so cooperative and eager to share their person with the community. The APS, Big Springs Spirits, and Sheetz have been generous. Sally Houser, coordinator of Victorian Christmas, has been a staunch supporter of this tour since its inception. HBI and Central Pennsylvania Tourism have offered advertising and support. Plumb's, Woodrings, and the Train Station sold tickets. We are a club of 25 active women. We could not have offered such a distinctive tour without their help."
Oh, and as if that isn't enough to convince the Victorian in you to grab your ticket as soon as possible, there's more.
"The American Philatelic Society, where tours originate, has offered to do "mini-tours" as guests wait to board their bus," says Justice. "Cookies made by Bellefonte Woman's Club bakers and coffee donated by Sheetz will be available at the Philatelic. Plus Big Spring Distillery is offering a tour of the distillery and free beverage at the conclusion of each tour."
Maybe you'll even get lucky and have a glass of whiskey with a real live ghost. They drink there too, trust me.
On Saturday, December 9th only, after you're done rolling through Bellefonte in 1829 on that 'iron beast', make sure that you and your family swing by the official Victorian Christmas Arts & Crafts Show. Between the different venues (The Arts & Crafts Venues locations are at the YMCA on W. High Street, Bellefonte Elementary School on the Corner off Allegheny, in the Gymnasium at the rear of the School, and E. Linn Streets and the Mattress Warehouse building on S. Spring Street), there is what amounts to an endless array of charming gift ideas for just about anyone popping up on your Santa List this year.
From handmade jewelry to delicious treats, from holiday collectibles to candles that smell like Christmas morning when you were a kid, be sure to support all the local vendors who make this marketplace such a perfect stop along your Victorian stroll.
Remember the Arts & Crafts Show is Saturday only, from 9am-5pm.
Bellefonte Woman's Club Victorian Christmas 'History On Wheels' Guided Bus Tours
Saturday, Dec. 8th and Sunday, Dec. 9th.
Two buses are available for 3 tours: Bus 1: 10:00AM 11:30AM 1:00PM. Bus 2: 10:30AM 12:30PM 2:00PM
Please plan to arrive thirty minutes before departure time. Enjoy some cookies and punch while you wait.
TICKET INFORMATION $20 per person-check or cash only
Tickets can also be obtained at Plumb’s Drug Store, Woodring’s Floral Gardens and the Train Station through Friday, December 7.
On the day of the event, December 8, tickets for the tour will be available ONLY at the Philatelic Society, 100 Match Factory, Bellefonte, PA from 9am until 1:30pm.
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