National Road Festival celebrates 40 years

May 15, 2013
Lisa Bradshaw of Belle Vernon paints the face of Abby Daerra of Connellsville during the National Road Festival in Scenery Hill last year. - Observer-Reporter Order a Print

The festival that celebrates one of America’s oldest roads is hitting middle age this year.

The National Road Festival is now a 40-year-old. Having been launched in advance of the country’s bicentennial festivities in 1976, it celebrates the National Road, the 620-mile corridor constructed in the 19th century between the Potomac and Ohio rivers and snaking from Cumberland, Md., to Vandalia, Ill. The National Road is now mostly paved over by Route 40, though some traces of the original artery remain, and this weekend’s festival will include special events in Washington, Fayette and Somerset counties.

Over its four decades, the festival has “ebbed and flowed,” according to Donna Holdorf, executive director of the National Road Heritage Corridor in Uniontown, based on varying levels of funding and support. In this county, the epicenter of the festival is almost certainly Scenery Hill, which has a full schedule of entertainment and happenings on its agenda for Saturday and Sunday.

“It’s a whole-community thing,” said Jan Dunker, the proprietor of Jan’s Tea Shoppe in the North Bethlehem Township community. “It’s a nice thing for the whole town.”

Scenery Hill is one of a few communities that has continuously scheduled events during the festival and, as Dunker pointed out, “there’s not a parking place to be had” in Scenery Hill for the duration of the festival.

The wagon train, an annual festival fixture, is set to arrive in Scenery Hill at 1:30 p.m. Saturday. Fireworks are also on the agenda for Saturday, at 9 p.m.

An assortment of musical entertainment will be on tap in Scenery Hill both days , including Avery Molek, the 6-year-old Washington-area drummer who appeared last month on “Good Morning America” and “Live! with Kelly and Michael,” who will be bashing the skins at 5:15 p.m. Saturday, and the Hobbs Sisters, who grew up in Peters Township, are set to take the stage at 8 p.m.

In others parts of Washington County, the Waleski Horse Farm on Emery Road in Fredericktown will be hosting craft and antique dealers both days, along with demonstrations of horse-drawn farm equipment, carriage rides and free bluegrass music, with a gospel session on Sunday. The Bradford House in Washington will be open for tours from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. From 5 to 9 p.m. Saturday, visitors to Washington Park will be able to interact with costumed reenactors at the Washington County Frontier History Center.

Claysville will be participating in the National Road Festival from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Saturday and 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Sunday. Abby Abbondanza and Junior Guthrie from the Povertyneck Hillbillies spin-off group the Hillbilly Way are due to play at 5:30 p.m. Saturday, and the Four Townsmen are scheduled for 3 p.m. Sunday.

Partly cloudy skies are forecast for both Saturday and Sunday, and that bodes well for the festival since the weather is “always make-or-break,” according to Lynn Dutton, who is the co-chairman of the committee planning Claysville’s National Road Festival events. “It’s the determining factor.”

Brad Hundt came to the Observer-Reporter in 1998 after stints at newspapers in Georgia and Michigan. Brad holds a bachelor’s degree in communications from George State University in Atlanta, Ga., and a master’s in popular culture studies from Bowling Green (Ohio) State University. He has covered the arts and entertainment for the O-R, and also worked as a municipal beat reporter. He now serves as editorial page editor.

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