Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Goosebumps and glory above the Delaware Water Gap

We pull into Milford after keeping our eyes out for eagles over the Delaware Water Gap on beautiful Route 209. Here’s a classic river town from the gilded age, home to pioneering artists and architecture, science-fiction writers and Horace Greeley’s free-love movement. Surrounded by the original Hollywood hills, silent greats like The Perils of Pauline were filmed here. Reverence for the outdoors is in the air; Milford is where the U.S. Forest Service was founded.

We’re here for the history and the scenery, always on the lookout for oddities worth a story and food worth a u-turn. In Milford, we find it all, and then some.

Right away, a wrap-around porch on a 150-year old steakhouse catches our eye. As does the Pike County Courthouse with a big rainbow trout riding high above on a weather vane. And we check into the Hotel Fauchére, beautifully restored from “crumbling plaster and moldy carpet” to a contemporary version of the original glory that attracted such guests as Franz List and the scandalous Evelyn Nesbit.

But the real prize in Milford is one that raises goosebumps. Up on a hill, housing the original stagecoach that once jitneyed the cream of New York society from the train station is a grand mansion called “The Columns.” The Pike County Historical Society has a collection of marvels here, but the one we come for is known as “the bloody Lincoln flag.”

It seems members of a prominent theatrical family, the Gourlays, were performing at Ford’s Theater the night Abraham Lincoln was shot. Thomas Gourlay was one of the first to attend to the president, and he cushioned Lincoln’s head on one of the American flags decorating the presidential box. Gourlay kept the flag, now stained with Lincoln’s blood, and passed it to his daughter, Jennie. She retired here in Milford, a community popular with the arts and theater crowd.

Today the flag is displayed in a glass case, next to a bust of Lincoln and surrounded by Civil War memorabilia. The blood of America’s greatest president saturates the flag and this poignant reminder of the humanity of history sends chills up the back of our necks.

The noon bell from a nearby church changes the subject, and we follow a local’s counsel and find our way to a remarkable tavern that keeps us firmly planted in the mid 19th century. Rohman’s Tavern, in the village of Shohola, is virtually unchanged from its 1850’s opening. Legend has it that even during prohibition, Babe Ruth and his cronies would get off the New York train here and enjoy Rohman’s signature fresh-squeezed screwdrivers. What the heck, we say; it’s 5:00 somewhere. So we enjoy a happy dose of fresh vitamin C and gaze at hundreds of ancient police and firemen’s patches from as far away as Hawaii that vie for historic wall space.

Tonight, perhaps a flick at the classic Milford Theater followed by gilded dreams beneath our downy duvet at the Hotel Fauchére. Tomorrow, it’s back to the hunt for the hidden gems and historic goosebumps along the bends and backroads. Maybe we’ll see you there.

When you hit the road, here's where to stop. (For a map with photos of all these places and more, go to www.visitpa.com/shunpiker.)

Hotel Fauchére

The newly restored rooms have side-by-side “showers-for-two” and the walls hold a great collection of paintings from the Hudson River school. Sip your martini beneath a huge photo of Andy Warhol kissing John Lennon on the cheek. 401 Broad Street, 570.409.1212. Online at hotelfrauchere.com.

Gray Towers

Incredibly beautiful 100-year old mansion, once home to Gifford Pinchot, a two-term governor of PA and founder of the US Forest Service. Tour info: 570.296.9630 and at www.fs.fed.us/gt.

Milford Diner

Come and get your breakfast. We recommend girding yourself for the house special kielbasa and eggs. It won’t let you forget how good it was. 570.296.8611 and yep, they’re online: www.milforddiner.com.

Milford Theater

A movie theater like they used to be. Catch a first-run Johnny Depp or come in October for the annual Black Bear Film Festival. Check out www.blackbearfilm.com for festival info. Either way, ask for extra butter on the popcorn.

Collage of shop/sign photos

Walk the streets of Milford and you’re surrounded by antiques, collectables, beautiful hand-made clothing, knick-knacks and bric-a-brac, trinkets and baubles, geegaws and gadgets and tchotchkes galore. Guaranteed you’ll drive home with a full trunk.

Fretta’s Salumeria

The Fretta family’s 100-year old Italian deli is a must. Try the best sausage=and-peppers sandwich ever, homemade sweet cappacola, scaramozaa they smoke in the backyard and a cannoli filled only when you order it. Mangia! 223 Broad Street, 570.296.7863.

The Columns/Bloody Lincoln Flag

The Columns mansion is home to the Pike County Historical Society. Among a collection of historical marvels is the jaw-dropping “bloody Lincoln flag.” Ask for Vaughn; she gives a great tour in period dress. 608 Broad Street, 570.296.8126. Online: www.pikehistory.org.

Rohman’s Tavern, Shohola

The bar here is virtually unchanged since the Civil War. An antique juicer is perfect for fresh-squeezed screwdrivers. The bar stools unfold from the bar itself, and upstairs is a two-lane bowling alley where you have to set the pins yourself. 100 Rohman Road, Shohola. 570.559.7479.

Pat’s Bar, Hawley

Bernie Barry cooks her legendary cheeseburgers behind the bar on a 50-year old broiler, and quite simply, they’re the best tavern burgers we’ve ever had. And try a “boneless chicken dinner,” one of her homemade pickled eggs. 219 Main Ave in Hawley. Call 570.226.9653 and ask for Bernie.

Costa’s Family Fun Park

Drive a go-kart and a golf ball, swing a bat, and even bet a round of drinks on a round of mini-golf. Enough with the shopping and site-seeing, it’s time for family fun. On Route 6, just east of Hawley.

Cliff Park Inn

Set against the cliffs where The Perils of Pauline was filmed is the first woman-owned golf course in the US. Inside the romantic country inn the chateaubriand is a no-brainer. We suggest booking a room so you can have your way with the wine list. 155 Cliff Park Road, 800.225.6535. Online at www.cliffparkinn.com.

Ok, now it's your turn. Let us know what you find out there with an email to shunpiker@visitpa.com.

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