York, Pennsylvania – Market Street

Main Streets 2017: Pennsylvania

A small southeastern Pennsylvania city with a rich history, York has an abundance of shopping, dining and cultural offerings in its central business district. It all comes together along Market Street, home to the nation’s oldest annual fair and the core of York’s ongoing downtown revival.

Travel + Leisure recently named this one of “America’s Greatest Main Streets,” and York has found one key to keeping the applause going — it hosts a very lively schedule of fairs, walking tours, pub crawls and other lively events. King of them all is the York Fair, which dates to 1765 and claims title as the nation’s oldest. It runs for 10 September days on Market Street in the York Expo Center which, in June, also hosts Street Rod Nationals East, the largest annual gathering of street-legal hotrods.

That’s just the start. Every Mother’s Day, more than 150 vendors of food, art and crafts line Market and George Streets for the 60,000 or so who come to the Olde York Street Fair. In June, the city’s Made in America Tours Event celebrates York’s strong and continuing manufacturing tradition, including a local Harley-Davidson plant. Today’s robust local craft beer industry is celebrated year-round on the self-guided Susquehanna Ale Trail and in the Sweetest Pint Downtown Tasting Tours, a series of downtown pub and restaurant crawls.

Yearly events also include the Masquerade Ball, staged in October by Downtown Inc., the local nonprofit that actively promotes York’s downtown revival; September’s York City Boutique Week, which spotlights York’s small, independently owned retailers; and the Spooky York Dark Downtown History Tour right around Halloween.

The core business area is a national historic district, and its centerpiece is the 1888 York Central Market, which hosts nearly two dozen eateries in one of the city’s many historic-architecture landmarks. During the Revolutionary War, York was the temporary capitol of the Continental Congress — and during the Civil War, it became the largest Northern town to be occupied (for three days) by Confederate forces. The Heritage Rail Trail Park crosses Market Street on its 21-mile path that runs from York’s Colonial Courthouse to the Mason Dixon line, the historic border between the pre-Civil War North and South.

Finally, for an offbeat angle on York traditions, try “History on the Half Shell,” an October celebration of oysters served every which way at the city’s Agricultural & Industrial Museum, a short walk from Market on Princess Street.

All photos courtesy of Downtown York PA Inc.

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Jim Thorpe, Pennsylvania – Broadway

Main Streets 2016: Pennsylvania

Nestled in the Lehigh Valley in the eastern part of Pennsylvania is the picturesque town of Jim Thorpe, known as the “Gateway to the Poconos.” One of America’s most photogenic communities, Jim Thorpe has drawn a number of accolades — including a top 10 spot on Budget Travel magazine’s “America’s Coolest Small Towns” list, and recognition by the Rand McNally/USA Today Road Rally series as one of the most beautiful towns in the United States.

Jim Thorpe, the celebrated Native American athlete and Olympian, never actually lived in or even visited this town — but in an odd twist of history, he is buried here. Two boroughs here, originally founded as Mauch Chunk and East Mauch Chunk, merged and renamed the town Jim Thorpe after Thorpe’s widow made a deal with officials to erect a monument in the athlete’s honor. She then brought his body here from his native Oklahoma. (The athlete did attend the Carlisle Indian Industrial School in Carlisle, about 100 miles away.) The monument includes Thorpe’s tomb and two statues of him.

Despite the controversy around the name, there is something special about this town. Broadway, the heart and soul of Jim Thorpe, is lined with 19th century architecture, gorgeous Victorians and quaint storefronts. Among its treasures is the Mauch Chunk Opera House, built in 1881 and one of the oldest operating opera houses in the eastern U.S.

Also on the street are the Mauch Chunk Historical Society, the Anita Shapolsky Art Foundation, Dimmick Memorial Library, Old Jail Museum, shops and eateries — even a very sweet candy store. Overlooking it all is the 1849 Inn at Jim Thorpe, with its New Orleans-style balcony.

Beautiful scenery, mountain recreation, stunning architecture and an outdoorsy culture are just some of the reasons why Jim Thorpe has also been deemed the “Switzerland of America” by the Swiss Tourist Board. To take it all in, hike up Flagstaff Mountain for an incredible view of one of America’s landmark small towns.

Fall Foliage Festival photos courtesy of Mary Ann Drury and Sharon Exner

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