Route 40 festival marked with nostalgia

May 18, 2013
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Katie Roupe / Observer-Reporter
Kayleigh Earnest, 4, of Bentleyville, and Mira White, 3, of Canonsburg, enjoy blue raspberry shaved ice at the National Road Festival in Scenery Hill Saturday. The girls took a pit stop from checking out festival sales with their mothers to cool down with a snack. Order a Print
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Katie Roupe / Observer-Reporter
Horses pulling a wagon from the Blue Horizon Farm trot along Route 40 in Scenery Hill Saturday for the National Road Festival. The festival celebrated its 40th anniversary. Order a Print

SCENERY HILL –The National Road Festival this year has a note of nostalgia surrounding it, not just for the era when the National Road was the young country’s primary highway, but for the early days of the festival itself.

At Jan’s Tea Shoppe in Scenery Hill, proprietor Jan Dunker was dressed in period garb and had a bulletin board set up outside her business with brochures from past National Road Festivals pinned to it, going all the way back to the 1970s.

“People come every year,” Dunker said. “You may not see them all year, but you see them at the festival.”

The most hectic and traffic-clogged weekend of the year in Scenery Hill, the community in North Bethlehem Township was one of several along Route 40 participating in the yearly shindig, which commemorates the National Road, built starting in 1811 in Cumberland, Md., and eventually stretching to Vanadalia, Ill. It was once a primary conduit for commerce and migration.

Launched in the lead-up to the country’s bicentennial celebrations in 1976, in its early days the festival was chock full of re-enactors, musicians and crafters, all decked in their 19th-century finest. The emphasis isn’t quite as much on the historical now, as a bumper crop of yard sales and flea markets have sprouted along Route 40 during the festival. Though Shirley Gaudette, who lives in a house on Route 40, misses the days when the historical aspects of the road received a larger share of the spotlight, “we need to keep traditions alive.”

One longtime tradition of the National Road Festival is the wagon train, which, this year, came to Scenery Hill from Washington. The people and horses participating in the wagon train set up outside the township building Saturday before moving on to the community of Malden today.

West Finley Township resident Sandy Workman has participated in the wagon train for 24 years and “we love laying back and not cooking and looking at the scenery. The people are so nice.”

The festival will be wrapping up today with events scheduled in Claysville and Washington, along with communities in Fayette and Somerset counties.

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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