Wellsboro, Pennsylvania...My Kind of Town
It’s easy to wax poetic about the town close to your heart. And it can be as boring as talking about your grandchildren.
Let me explain, up front, that this printed piece is a personal statement—a kind of private manifesto, not authorized by the Chamber of Commerce, commissioned by the tourism people or anyone else. If others choose to use it, fine. If not, I’ll send it to my friends and relatives.
I came to Wellsboro fifteen years ago. I read about the town in a book, Where to Retire on a Small Income, by Norman Ford (Harian Publications). Only three places in Pennsylvania were listed: Brookville, New Hope, and Wellsboro.
The author’s rhapsodic prose about Wellsboro piqued my curiosity. “…an undiscovered Shangri-La…unspoiled retirement paradise…magnificent mountains with dense pine forests and tumbling trout steams which come right to your front door.”
The year before my arrival hurricane Agnes dumped tons of water on the area. Tumbling trout streams and a lot more came knocking at the door, but not in Wellsboro. Three small dams held, and the town was spared in the midst of wide devastation.
I first saw Wellsboro on a cool, grey Friday in November. The town looked good even then. Saturday morning I walked down Main Street looking for breakfast. A man approached head on and said, “Good morning!”
Another man appeared. “Top of the morning to you sir,” he said. “It’s a glorious day.”
Twenty years in Manhattan had taught me to be cautious, suspicious, and anonymous. There only con men and dingalings went about saying “Good morning.”
I casually but firmly grasped my hip pocket and forged ahead, looking neither to the right nor the left. Main Street is not that long. I quickly ran out of downtown.
The attack never came.
That morning I found a house. The stream didn’t tumble all that much, there were no trout in it, and it was at the back door. I bought the house anyway.
It didn’t take very long to learn that those men meant it when they said, “Good morning!”
Not All Roads Lead To Wellsboro… but enough of them do to get you there
Once there it may seem remote, but it’s a matter of perspective. To a New Yorker, it’s the outback. Yet to a Wellsboro native New York is another world. Some Wellsboroans have never been to New York—they may keep it that way.
The big cities are about 250 miles from Wellsboro, a nice distance which works both ways. You don’t run into New York or Washington or Cleveland for the afternoon. When you go, you go for a reason. Then, too, Wellsboro is not a commuter town.
Those who discover Wellsboro, as well as some of the old timers, treat it like a favorite restaurant. They try to keep it to themselves for fear it will be spoiled or overrun.
That hasn’t happened, but now and again there will be small flurries of conversations between the Flatlanders (those from away) and the Ridge Runners (third or fourth generation natives). It’s all in good humor and only rarely does the debate become physical.
Flatlander or Ridge Runner, Wellsboro appeals to a special, discriminating segment of people. That may sound orgulous and provincial, but it’s true.
Wellsboro isn’t for everybody, thank goodness. Wouldn’t it be sad if it were.
On the other hand it may be just what you’re looking for.
A Most Unusual Small Town…okay, what’s so different about Wellsboro?
There are gas lights on the boulevards, but is that enough to set it apart?
There’s a lovely village square across from the courthouse, and that’s not uncommon.
Hundreds of towns have concert series, art centers, a summer band and many special-interest groups such as Audubon, historical societies, men’s and women’s choruses, square dancers, bowlers. And most towns, like Wellsboro, have volunteers doing good things for churches, hospitals, scouts, libraries and older people.
Wellsboro has the Laurel Festival, the 10K Run, Red Garter Revue, A Dickens of a Christmas, but other communities do, too. They just give theirs a different name.
Then there’s politics, if that’s your interest. Wellsboro is the county seat—and there’s the borough council and the school board and the fire department.
Perhaps you’d like to learn some new skills—go back to college? Or are you the outdoor type? Do you like to hunt, fish, swim, ski? No? Well, you can just sit and look at the pretty country.
It’s all here, yet you might find the same things in other towns—which brings us back to the original question. What’s so different about Wellsboro?
I wish there was a precise answer. Wellsboro has a quality difficult to pin down—elusive, yet real. The nearest I can come to it is that it’s Special People. People who become your friends quietly and without fanfare.
When you are here for awhile you become part of a kind of family. You’re accepted, protected, cared for. If you stumble, someone helps. When you take a job that’s too big, people lend a hand. Sometimes you never know where the help comes from.
I said this was a personal statement. These things have happened to me. You won’t know if I’m telling it straight unless you try it yourself.
(Frankly I hope there isn’t too big a response to this. Wellsboro can handle a few of you, but let’s not let it get out of hand.)
The Other Grand Canyon
It’s a canyon, to be sure—imposing, impressive, glorious, awe inspiring. To call it the Grand Canyon in competition with that one in the west may be presumptuous.
But Grand Canyon it is thanks to an enthusiastic press agent named Larry Woodin. Larry needed tourists to fill his movie house. He dreamed up the Pennsylvania State Laurel Festival and didn’t hesitate to borrow the Grand Canyon’s name. He would have called the Penn Wells Hotel the Waldorf-Astoria if he thought it would help.
Pennsylvania’s Grand Canyon (after forty years or so the name seems quite natural), is now a state park. Thousands of visitors return again and again to enjoy its spectacular beauty.
As with all good things, there are two sides. Leonard Harrison Park on the east and Colton Point on the west rim, each has fine picnic and camping facilities.
Pine Creek, that handsome stream, is, as I see it, under-named. Look at it in the spring after the thaw. Some creek!
June’s a dandy month almost anywhere. At the canyon the mountain laurel is in bloom. Some back roads are lined with pink and white laurel—a thrilling sight. And sight it must be. It’s against the law to pick mountain laurel.
Quite naturally the State Laurel Festival happens about then. The festival is a small town delight, complete with queens, floats, bands and fire engines, all on parade. For about a week there’s something for everyone—a carnival for the kids, concerts and arts and crafts displays for the folks and festive foods for all.
Late Saturday night the festival winds down, a crew moves in and cleans up. You wouldn’t know anybody had been there. Sunday morning, all of the churches gather on the Green for a worship service.
Look closely and you’ll see the ghost of Norman Rockwell peering around the fountain of Wynken, Blynken, and Nod sketching bits of Americana.