Vanessa Orr a RoamRight Blog Author

From Crayons to Clapton: Reinventing an Entire Region in Pennsylvania

For many years, the Lehigh Valley area of Pennsylvania was known for steel; at its heyday, the Bethlehem Steel Plant employed more than 30,000 people. But with the decline of the industry, the area had to reinvent itself—and it did so with a whopping dose of creativity. 

Stacks no more

While the steel stacks still tower over the area, today they represent one of coolest music venues around as the ArtsQuest Center and SteelStacks arts and cultural campus, which uses the defunct industrial plant as a base and background for the largest free music festival in the country, Musikfest. Instead of a blight on the environment, the old blast furnaces symbolize a new use for what was once the largest brownfield in the United States. Today, more than 1.5 million people enjoy the performances and programs at the site, including free and ticketed concerts, films, comedy shows, tours about the history of the area, family programming and more. They even hold an annual PEEPS Fest—a tribute to those bright yellow marshmallow chicks that were first made in Bethlehem in 1953.

Getting colorful

Easton, PA is home to the Crayola Experience, a brightly colored, three-story building where you can learn more about how crayons are made in an easy-to-understand presentation that’s fun for both adults and kids. What will strike you before you even get all the way in the door is the smell—there’s nothing quite like the rush that comes from remembering what it was like to open that brand new box of Crayola crayons! In fact, a Yale University study has shown that the smell of a Crayola crayon is one of the top 20 most recognizable scents in the world.

There are 28 hands-on activities to keep kids busy within the 65,000 sq. ft. Crayola Experience, ranging from a 4-D coloring adventure to naming and wrapping your own crayon. Kids can even star in their own coloring page. And don’t forget to take a picture with Big Blue—a massive 1,500 pound crayon that is made up of 123,000 blue crayons donated from around the world. That’s certainly not a selfie you can get anywhere else! 

And as you might expect, the Crayola Experience has one of the coolest gift shops around—you’re going to want to have a little cash put aside for this because it’s not only a good place to find souvenirs of your experience, but to also start some early Christmas shopping.

Feel the rhythm 

It’s no surprise that as the steel industry declined, the Lehigh Valley turned to music and the arts for inspiration, because Nazareth, PA is home to the C. F. Martin Company, the largest acoustic guitar manufacturer in the U.S

I’d never toured a guitar factory before, and it was absolutely fascinating to watch these craftsmen create these works of art. Who knew that it took more than 300 steps to take a guitar from rough lumber to finished product

You can take a free tour, or pay $25 for a behind-the-scenes tour, which I would highly recommend. What’s especially neat about this tour is that you are right on the factory floor, standing beside the artisans who are creating these amazing instruments—you watch while they work. I can’t imagine being able to do my job with an audience on-hand, but it doesn’t seem to interrupt their concentration at all

You definitely want to leave time to stop in the Martin Guitar Museum that is practically a shrine for fans of guitar history. More than 170 guitars are on display, documenting the more than six generations of craftsmanship at the factory. You can also pay tribute to the musicians who made these guitars famous including Elvis, Johnny Cash and of course, Eric “Slowhand” Clapton. An audio tour is available for $2. If you happen to play, you’ll be in heaven in the Pickin’ Parlor, where you can play some of Martin’s high-end and limited edition models.

While many areas have struggled to reinvent themselves after the steel industry’s decline, the Lehigh Valley is a prime example of how creativity can reinvigorate a region.

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About the Author

Vanessa Orr

Vanessa Orr, a RoamRight Blog Author Freelance writer. Road tripper. Travel diva. Dog rescuer. Writes for food or kibbles and bits. Based out of Pittsburgh, PA, via Juneau, AK, Vanessa has been a freelance writer for more than 25 years, and has been published in many diverse publications,including GEEK, Recreation News, CATS, VFW magazine, the Antique Trader and more. An avid traveler, she always brings home amazing memories...and often more dogs. Follow Vanessa on her blog, Mood Swings and Other Things, on TwitterFacebookPinterest, or Instagram.

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