The 1960s were such a tumultuous time that every year of that decade is packed with crucial milestones.
Even by that measurement, 1963 was exceptional: The Beatles’ first album was released; Bob Dylan was catapulted into the firmament with the release of “The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan”; the “Dick ‘n’ Liz” soap opera gained a foothold with the release of Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor’s “Cleopatra”; Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his “I Have a Dream” speech at the Lincoln Memorial; and three shots brought Camelot to an abrupt end in Dallas on Nov. 22, 1963.
Closer to home, two landmarks opened in 1963 that continue to enrich and enliven Washington County – The Meadows, more recently known as The Meadows Racetrack & Casino, in North Strabane Township, and the Pennsylvania Trolley Museum in Arden. Scott Becker, executive director of the trolley museum, has aptly called it “the dawn of tourism in Washington County.”
Opening on June 28, 1963, The Meadows ended up in what was then a relatively quiet corner of the county after it was originally considered for a site near Pittsburgh’s airport. However, some Allegheny County political and religious leaders balked, so it ended up to the city’s south, becoming the first track in Western Pennsylvania to allow parimutuel betting. Given the tax revenue it has generated over the decades for Washington County and, more specifically, North Strabane, the Allegheny County chieftains who didn’t want it in their neighborhood should be heartily bestowed with thanks.
In 1973, the facility was purchased by a group that included the rider Delvin Miller, and, 10 years after that, broadcasts of harness races at The Meadows were launched on local cable outlets, which allowed viewers tuning in at home to phone in bets from their easy chairs. In 2007, after the commonwealth approved casino gambling, The Meadows installed slots machines and was officially christened The Meadows Racetrack & Casino. It’s now become an all-purpose entertainment destination, with a summertime concerts series that has drawn the likes of Willie Nelson, Peter Frampton and Canonsburg native Bobby Vinton.
About four miles from the Meadows, in Arden, the Pennsylvania Trolley Museum also opened in 1963. Over its half-century, it has proven to be a Little Engine That Could.
“People really struggled to get this thing going,” Bill Fronczek, the museum’s president emeritus, said at a celebration of its 50th anniversary Tuesday. Now encompassing 25 acres, 50 trolleys and 30,000 visitors in 2012, the museum has become a vital, family-friendly draw for tourists from around the region and other parts of the country or world. The Pennsylvania Trolley Museum adroitly tells the story of how trolleys were once a primary mode of transportation as urban areas expanded, but before the convenience and autonomy of automobiles took hold. Among the trolley museum’s holdings are a New Orleans streetcar that rode on the Desire line, which inspired the title of the Tennessee Williams play “A Streetcar Named Desire,” and 44 other refurbished trolleys. You can study the interior and exterior of the trolleys at the museum and take a four-mile ride on one.
County residents who don’t gamble benefit from The Meadows Racetrack & Casino, and residents who have no interest in streetcars similarly benefit by the existence of the Pennsylvania Trolley Museum. We should be pleased at their continued presence and durability.