Oh, Scottdale, how do I love thee? Let me count the ways. Your buckled slate sidewalks and back alleys. Your broad avenues. Your charming Pittsburgh Street. The old IGA and McCrory’s Five and Dime. Your post office WPA murals. Your lovely parks. Your stately Greystone Manor.
I'm an American girl—the daughter of two Scottdale natives—but I grew up overseas. I spoke four languages over the course of my childhood because my parents, siblings and I moved frequently for my father’s career. During those years, as we travelled like gypsies, there was one place that anchored us. And that place was Scottdale, Pennsylvania.
To many, Scottdale is a small town of about 5,000, nestled in the Laurel Highlands of western Pennsylvania. For me, Scottdale has been a magical place for more than forty years. It is where my parents grew up and where I spent summers as a girl. Although it was typically thousands of miles away from me, except for those brief weeks of summer, Scottdale was always with me.
When my brother and sister and I were kids, our grandmothers still lived in Scottdale. Once school was out, our parents put us on an airplane, sending us on our way across the Atlantic. On the other end, our Aunt Mary Ellen would pick us up at the Pittsburgh airport and drive us to Scottdale. For the next few weeks, we would shuttle our way between our grandmothers’ homes, walking along the alley behind Grandma Martha Rhodes’ house on Loucks Avenue, and down the big hill to Grandma Ruby Ruth’s on Arthur Avenue, and vice versa.
At Ruby’s, we watched the Lawrence Welk Show, played rummy and accompanied her as she called on her friends and neighbors. She zoomed around town in her 1955 black Plymouth Valiant with red leather interior, stopping at the IGA for ingredients to make her dreaded ham loaf. The library, Mennonite bookstore and post office were also regular destinations. She took us to the United Methodist Church on Sundays, the same church my father attended before he left for the Military Academy at West Point. For a treat, we would go to the neighboring town of Mt. Pleasant to visit Brown’s Candy Kitchen, or for ham BBQ sandwiches at Miedels Restaurant in nearby Connellsville.
At our Grandmother Martha’s, bookended by her cats Fluffy and Smokey, we played penny-ante poker, using the spare change she had squirreled away between our visits. We took our poker winnings around the corner to Barry’s Market to buy candy, or down to McCrory’s Five and Dime on Pittsburgh Street. Almost completely bed-ridden with arthritis, Grandma Martha taught us about nature as we studied the outdoors from her bedroom windows. I was mesmerized by her long silver braid and the silky quilted bed jackets she wore all the time.
High above Scottdale on Walnut Street was the Mennonite Publishing House, which produced materials for that religious order beginning in 1908. As a young girl, I fantasied about becoming a Mennonite so that when I grew up I could move to Scottdale and work at the publishing company as a writer. The building is still there, but in 2011 the company merged with another and was absorbed into a media network in Virginia. And now, decades later, my sister Melissa and I joke that when we are widows we will buy a big house on Loucks Avenue and live out our golden years together in Scottdale. Although, I don't think we're joking.
In the Scottdale of my childhood, time seemed to stop, so much in fact that most of the memories of my childhood are rooted in my days there. The Scottdale of our summers was a comfortable bubble where everything was familiar and everyone spoke my native language. All the books at the library were in English! We could gorge ourselves on Cap’t Crunch, Apple Jacks and Fruit Loops cereals, and strawberry-frosted Pop-Tarts because our parents weren’t around and our grandmothers indulged us. I think they knew, as much as we did, that as soon as we got on the plane to fly home, it would be another year until we had those American treats.
By September, we had left our idyllic summer behind and were back home and in school. And so that is why it took me until 2014 to learn that Scottdale has an Annual Fall Festival, dating back to 1974.
And this is when my small-town cozy fiction series, Finch’s Crossing, was born. I had waited for years to find the right way to write about Scottdale, and when I attended that first festival five years ago, I knew I had found it. That September, the festival opened at Gazebo Park in the main commercial district, and vendors and artisan booths dotted the downtown area. The town was alive with music, and the scent of funnel cakes and an unmistakable hint of fall wafted all around. As I walked through the festivities, I knew that I wanted to make the Fall Festival the centerpiece of my first novel about the community. Autumn, Book One in my Finch’s Crossing series, came out the next year. In 2017, I released a Finch’s Crossing holiday novella, and book two in the series will be out in early 2020.
But the Fall Festival has become so much more than a setting and a plot point. It would be three years until I made it back to the festival, this time with my father, sister and cousin in tow. For my father, then eighty-years-old, it was a chance to return to his hometown decades after moving away, and show his daughters the Scottdale of his youth. We learned about and saw things we had not known before: The girls he had walked to school. The place he learned to play Taps on the trumpet. All the houses he and his family lived in. How he unloaded lumber from scorching hot boxcars at his father’s lumber yard during the summers. We even met some of his high school classmates, and members of his high school dance band, The Blue Dots.
We thought the 2017 visit would be our last trip together to Scottdale, but my father is still going strong at eighty-three, so we’re getting the band back together for the 45th Annual Scottdale Fall Festival, September 20-22. The first order of business is my father’s 65th high school reunion luncheon, with the dozen or so remaining classmates, at Carson’s Tavern. We will have lunch in the dining room under a photo of The Blue Dots band on stage when they won the Lions Club Amateur contest in the 1950s. Over the course of the following few days, we will watch the parade and stroll around the vendors and food trucks. We will eat hot ham sandwiches and pie at Miedels Restaurant and have an authentic home-cooked meal at Wise’s. But most of all, we will walk the streets and proclaim, “Oh, do you remember when…,” and let time transport us back to those halcyon days of our childhoods.
I’ll see you soon, Scottdale. Until then, love and kisses!
Amy Ruth Allen
Enjoy the photos below from our trip to Scottdale for the 2017 Fall Festival.