Overlooking Penns Valley in 1764, James Potter exclaimed to his traveling companion, "My Heavens, Thompson, I have discovered an empire!" He soon began carving one out, which ultimately led to an ironworks that provided half of the iron used in America in the 1850s. As ironmaking moved on, the deforested land used for charcoal was transformed into farmland, making Pennsylvania the breadbasket of America.
The Happy Valley Agriculture Heritage Driving Tour takes you on the area's most beautiful roads, lined with working farms, Amish homesteads and family restaurants sourcing their menus from bountiful local harvests. Along the way, you can explore Happy Valley's rich agricultural history while taking a well deserved time out from the hectic pace of life. Highlights of the tour's 12 stops are contained in the following paragraphs, but to fully experience an agriculture history dating back to the state's earliest years; see family farms still spread gently over the serene landscape as far as the eye can see; and explore historical communities founded nearly 250 years ago, hop in the car and start driving!
An agricultural college is established
As Happy Valley transitioned from ironmaking to farming, Centre County community leaders started the Farmer's High School of Pennsylvania in 1855 to improve the quality of farming. Today, that Farmer's High School is Penn State University. One of the largest universities in the country and a leading public research university, its foundation in agricultural studies has carried it into modern times. Centre Furnace Mansion, home of ironmaster Moses Thompson, is there site where local dignitaries met to sign the document establishing the site for the Farmers High School of Pennsylvania. Centre Furnace Mansion and Penn State are the first two stops on the tour. (If you want to spend a little extra time on campus, here are some tips.)
The Grange Fair tradition is born
Leonard Rhone was a charter member of the first grange organized in Centre County and founder of the Grange Fair, one of the last remaining encampment fairs in the nation. His homestead -- Rhoneymeade (Rhone's Meadow) -- is a tranquil place to visit. Unique sculptures rest among mowed pathways scattered through gardens, fields, woodlands and hedgerows. Grange Fair is a mainstay of the central Pennsylvania agricultural community, and has been held the last week of August since 1874. The tour takes you to both landmarks.
Boalsburg's agricultural connection
Once the focal point of a 10,000 acre farm, the historic Boal Mansion is the former home of David Boal, the founder and namesake of Boalsburg, and his son, George Boal, who played a pivotal role in the founding of Penn State University through his work with the Centre County Agricultural Society. A visit to Columbus Chapel & Boal Mansion reveals much more. Plan a visit as part of your driving tour experience when the museum reopens in 2021.
Rural charm abounds
Three towns on the Agricultural Heritage Driving Tour personify Happy Valley's agricultural heritage -- Millheim, Aaronsburg and Hublersburg. They exude historic character and small town charm. Amish buggies share the road with pickup trucks; museums trace the lives of frontier settlers; and former stagecoach stops serve spirited American cuisine. Traveling scenic Route 45 and Route 192 through Penns and Brush valleys, along with picturesque Route 64 in the Nittany Valley, will enable you to see many of Happy Valley's more than 1,000 farms in areas in which it often appears as if time has stopped.
Continue your agventure
The Happy Valley Agricultural Heritage Driving Tour explores key aspects of the area's agricultural roots. From that heritage has developed amazing farm markets and farm stands; a thriving craft beverage scene; plentiful farm to fork dining options; opportunities to get up close with native wildlife and explore underground natural wonders. Because in addition to history, cheers, yum, fresh picked and exploration all happen here in Happy Valley. To plan your next agventure, visit www.happyvalleyagventures.com.