Roadside America building.

Roadside America: The Attraction

Field review by the editors.

Shartlesville, Pennsylvania

The hazy claims of Roadside America's billboards ("You Have to See It!") have been luring travelers since 1941. It is not until you arrive, passing an incongruously large fiberglass Amish couple, that you know the attraction is actually a miniature village representing small-town America. The late Laurence T. Gieringer crafted the tiny town his entire life -- as a lad, he thought that far-off structures were actually small and not just distant.

A corner of Gieringer's layout.
A corner of Gieringer's layout.

Roadside America is laid out in one big room, some 6,000 square feet, with walkways around the perimeter. There are lots of buttons to push to get mechanical things to work, trains to move, or lights to blink. The overhead observation deck is for parents, and has its own set of buttons. Tip: If you spot a particularly bratty kid, you can drive him crazy by shadowing him from above and pushing all the buttons first.

Every aspect of normal life half a century ago is arrayed in town squares, parks and railway stations -- though you won't find any pawn shops or tattoo parlors. This is a hallucination of a sanitized America -- Gieringer's happy vision. In fact, since Gieringer died in 1961, nothing has been added and the march of history comes to parade rest, circa 1960.

Of special note is the underground portion of the layout, where you can play tiny tourist and visit Luray Caverns, or a coal mine . And the climax of any trip to Roadside America is the every-half-hour Sound and Light show. Night falls over the sleepy town, and a patriotic multimedia slide show illuminates one wall. Over the decades, the color has been accidentally cooked out of the show, which runs on six 1950's style projectors that each hold one slide. It is nonetheless moving when the washed-out images of the Statue of Liberty, Jesus and the American flag are juxtaposed as Kate Smith sings "God Bless America."

There are other giant train layouts and miniature towns around the US, but few have the grandness of Roadside America's vision, its mastery of billboard skill, nor as good a name.

Note: The authors of this page, the Roadside America books and roadsideamerica.com are not affiliated with this attraction. This is a review of the miniature railroad attraction. You can find directions, hours, and admission prices at their Web site.

Roadside America: The Attraction

Address:
109 Roadside Dr., Shartlesville, PA
Directions:
I-78 exit 23.
Phone:
610-488-6241
RA Rates:
Major Fun
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