Brian Jewell

History, harmony and horticulture in Pennsylvania


Brian Jewell
Published March 05, 2014

On a trip to Pennsylvania, you’ll need something to do while you’re not eating — to justify all of the calories you’re consuming, if for no other reason. Fortunately, in this state full of historic places and visitor attractions, activities are never too far out of reach.



The historic attractions around Philadelphia are well known, and any visitor should be sure to see sites such as Independence Hall — where the Continental Congress met — and the Liberty Bell. But if you’ve already hit those blockbusters, a number of other attractions in the area offer additional insight into the history of Philadelphia.

Among the newest attractions in the city is the Benjamin Franklin Museum. Part of the Independence National Historical Park, the museum sits on the site where Franklin’s Philadelphia home once stood and is just steps away from the other historic sites in the park.

The museum gives visitors a fascinating, intimate look into the life of Franklin, who was a notable inventor and publisher in addition to his work as a statesman. Perhaps the most enjoyable aspect of the museum is the series of animated video displays, which use passages from Franklin’s autobiography to tell interesting anecdotes from his storied life and career.



In Butler County, just north of Pittsburgh, the small town of Harmony has two fascinating stories to tell. The first is about a historic religious commune, and the second is about the modern reclamation movement that has taken root in its place.

In 1805, a German religious leader named George Rapp moved in with some followers to establish a utopian community. Rapp and his followers built the town of Harmony over the course of 10 years before moving to Indiana to establish the village of New Harmony. One of their primary buildings now houses the Harmony Museum, where guides teach visitors about the fascinating Harmonists and their practices.

Harmony isn’t all history, though: Locals have converted many of the original buildings into shops, art galleries and other retail concepts. The town now boasts an eclectic mix of antique and collectible shops and more progressive businesses.

Groups can spend an hour or so getting to know the charming area on their own, and then reconvene for a meal and a drink at the historic Harmony Inn.



In Pittsburgh, a booming and dynamic city with lots of metropolitan energy, the Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Garden offers groups an escape into perpetual warmth and natural beauty from around the world.

In the heart of the city’s historic Schenley Park, the conservatory began with a glasshouse built in 1893. Today, the organization includes that original facility as well as newer buildings that have been recognized for their environmentally friendly construction.

Groups that visit the conservatory will see a number of botanical garden habitats that represent warm-weather ecosystems from around the world. The gardens include beautiful collections of palms, orchids, ferns and cacti from around the world, as well as a series of 12 sculptures by glass artist Dale Chihuly that are situated throughout the conservatory.

The conservatory offers a number of tour products for groups, including sustainability tours and behind-the-scenes visits to the production greenhouse.