It’s a hot, humid afternoon in summer — a good time for a nap or a visit to the pool. But here at the Railroaders Memorial Museum, a crackerjack historical institution in Altoona, Pennsylvania, there’s a good-sized crowd, including a passel of folks who might have stepped off a motorcoach. Smiles on their faces, they’re wandering among interactive exhibits celebrating the people who kept America on track and rolling full steam ahead.
The museum is impressive, but it’s just one of the cultural jewels that glimmers within the Keystone State.
Along with the Railroaders Memorial Museum, Pennsylvania offers stellar attractions, like the Hardy Family Art Collection, where groups can tour a magnificent collection of paintings, sculptures and the like, and the Warner Theatre, which presents top-notch performances of Broadway hits, ballet classics and more. The Lackawanna Coal Mine Tour gives groups the opportunity to learn about the process of pulling coal from the ground where it formed, and the Barnes Foundation is home to a legendary assemblage of works from 19th-century French masters. All are sure to educate and entertain group travelers in equal measure.
Hardy Family Art Collection
The 900-piece Hardy Family Art Collection is located throughout the grounds and buildings of the Nemacolin Woodlands Resort, which is tucked in the spectacular Laurel Highlands not far from Pittsburgh. Amassed over the past four decades by the property’s founder, Joseph Hardy III, and his family, it’s an expansive gathering of great art with something to please every group member.
“We have an incredibly eclectic collection,” said Nemacolin Art and Gallery director Amanda Haymans Shane, “ranging from the ever-popular Tiffany lamps like the Wisteria pattern, fan favorite Dustin Yellin’s sculpture from the series ‘Psychogeography,’ popular pieces like ‘Little Bird’ by Colombian artist Fernando Botero, lithograph prints like ‘Jane Avril Before the Addition of Jardin de Paris’ by Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, a wonderful set of the John James Audubon ‘Birds of America’ books, and our hidden gem, an Alexander Calder mobile, ‘La Lune at la Fesses.’”
Groups can arrange 60-minute Curator’s Tours of the resort’s art collection.
Built beginning in 1929 on behalf of Hollywood’s legendary producers the Warner Bros., Erie’s 2,250-seat Warner Theatre presents 150 events annually. But that’s not all that makes it a must-visit for groups, said Patrick Fisher, Erie Arts and Culture’s executive director. “Driving down State Street, you cannot help but be impressed by the Warner’s external marquee, which positions it as a downtown landmark. But that doesn’t truly prepare you for the experience you’re about to receive once you step foot through the doors: Art Deco and French Renaissance architecture, crushed velour, gold and silver leaf, and other grand designs make it one of the great theaters in America to enjoy a live event.”
Home to group-pleasing performing arts companies like the Erie Philharmonic and the Lake Erie Ballet, the Warner also hosts the Erie Broadway Series, as well as lectures, concerts and more. Discounts for groups are often available, and tours of the venue can be scheduled, depending on the theater’s event calendar.
Lackawanna Coal Mine Tour
Opened in 1860, Slope 190 produced anthracite for more than a century. After shuttering in 1966, the mine sat dormant for 20-odd years before it was renovated and reopened as one of the Scranton area’s premiere attractions. Nowadays, retired miners escort groups 300 feet beneath the earth’s surface on slow-traveling mine cars, before guiding them through three veins of coal, along tunnels and gangways, all the while explaining the ins and outs of the dramatic, often dangerous business of deep mining.
The Lackawanna Coal Mine Tour provides group members thrills and chills — the year-round temperature of the mine is 53 degrees — as it details the day-to-day realities of mining. With reservations, groups of 20 or more get reduced rates. Souvenir packages and box lunches are also available upon request. The mine is open April through November.
Railroaders Memorial Museum and Horseshoe Curve
Altoona was once home to the biggest railroad shop complex in the world, and the nearby Horseshoe Curve, a 2,375-foot section of locomotive track famed for its extreme curvature, was so important to industrial transport that it was targeted by Germany for destruction during World War II. The Railroaders Memorial Museum, which operates the National Historical Landmark Horseshoe Curve, celebrates this proud heritage with three floors of engaging exhibits groups will enjoy, as well as a nifty roundhouse where the museum displays its train collection.
Whether groups include rail fans or history buffs, “these two Blair County sites are ideal for group travel, as the museum portrays not only the importance of railroad’s role in westward expansion but, more specifically, how crucial Altoona’s development at the base of the Allegheny Mountains built the very strength of this mode of transportation,” said Altoona Mayor Matt Pacifico. “And the Horseshoe Curve itself is an engineering marvel that must be seen to absorb its magnitude in this development.”
Both attractions offer reduced rates for groups with a prescheduled tour.
Rocky may have made the Philadelphia Museum of Art famous when he ran up its steps, but the city offers another visual art institution just as notable: the Barnes Foundation. Between 1912 and 1951, Albert Barnes put together one of the globe’s finest collections of European impressionist, postimpressionist and early modernist works, including a breathtaking array of paintings by Matisse, Renoir, Cézanne and Picasso.
But what elevates the Barnes into a unique museum is how the pieces are grouped. It’s not by style or media, or who produced them, or even when they were created, but by certain aesthetics Barnes wished to manifest, with an eye toward changing how people see art. It’s a challenging, fascinating way for groups to view masterworks from some of history’s greatest artists.
A wide range of group tours are available, including docent-led tours when the museum is closed to the public.