TRAVEL | Roadside America – An Enchanted Miniature Land

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Roadside America is an unforgettable panorama of life in the rural United States. The exhibit spans more than two hundred years in time and displays, in exquisite miniature detail, how people lived and worked from pioneer days to the present.

Roadside America has been widely acclaimed as the largest known miniature village–the most unique and highly detailed masterpiece of its kind in the world. In actuality, it is not one village; rather, it is the entire American countryside as it would be seen by a giant who can gaze upon the country from coast to coast.

How it all began…

At the turn of the century, near Reading, Pennsylvania, Laurence Gieringer, age 5, often looked out of his bedroom window at night, gazing toward nearby Neversink Mountain. Crowning the mountain was the Highland Hotel, with lights that twinkled and beckoned to young Laurence. To his eyes, the glittering white building looked like something from a fairy tale, small enough to pick up and carry home. One day, the boy’s curiosity got the better of him. Leaving the safety of his backyard, he set off through the woods to find the mountaintop and the “toy” building. The inevitable happened and Laurence became bewildered, and then completely lost. After a frightening night alone in the woods he was found by an anxious search party the next morning. Despite this experience, Laurence’s interest in “toy” houses flourished and continued to grow for the rest of his life.

He skillfully whittled away at blocks of wood, fashioning them to his dream of a miniature village…Laurence went to work at age 16, initially in the printing trade. Unsatisfied with the creative aspects of printing, he found work as a carpenter and painter, a profession that was better suited to his particular skills and talents. In his spare time, he continued to work on his hobby of making model buildings. He skillfully whittled away at blocks of wood, fashioning them to his dream of a miniature village…a church…bridges…a horse-drawn carriage…stables…farm houses. In the beginning, he knew nothing of drawing to scale, yet he arbitrarily established a size for his models of 3/8″ to the foot, a scale to which he strictly adhered to in all of his modeling.

So the years went by until Laurence had pursued his hobby for some 60 years, continually enhancing his skill and artistry. The miniature “village” had grown steadily in size and scope, and awareness of it became much more widespread. At Christmas, 1935, Gieringer set up a part of his miniature display for his children, as he would typically do every year at this time. The display prompted the Reading Eagle newspaper to publish a feature story on it, and interest in Laurence’s spectacular village mounted even more rapidly.

The exhibit fascinates not only because of its authentic, beautifully crafted miniatures, but also due to the excitement of continual movement.Every day through all twelve months of the year, throngs of people visit Roadside America. The exhibit fascinates not only because of its authentic, beautifully crafted miniatures, but also due to the excitement of continual movement. Swift trains glide through tunnels and over bridges…a tiny fountain bubbles in the miniature zoo…a mountain trolley hustles through the woodland…aircraft swoop and dive…an old-time grist mill slowly grinds grain for flour. This is only a small part of the action at Roadside America.

Boys are known to have active imaginations, but never in his most optimistic dreams could the 10-year-old Laurence Gieringer have imagined that his beloved hobby would one day become a giant exhibit of museum caliber…an exhibit that annually delights hundreds of thousands of men, women, and children.

Travel is a LIVE Section series of articles featuring mini travel destinations.

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