Withstanding the test of time, Roadside America — the iconic roadside attraction off Interstate 78 in Shartlesville — continues to offer visitors a unique, miniature view of 200 years of American history in a 6,000-square-foot display — and assures that the village is still open.
“We’re very much still open,” said Jon Jordan, village supervisor, dispelling any rumors of being closed.
When news originally broke about the sale of the business two years ago, there was a surge in patronage. Since then, some made the assumption that Roadside America closed.
Jordan explained that the sale has nothing to do with any financial issues. Rather, current owner Dolores Heinsohn (granddaughter of village creator Laurence Gieringer) is looking to pass the torch onto the right buyer to continue the village’s legacy.
And that legacy is still very much alive.
Changing with the times, Roadside America can be found on social media encouraging fans to visit for special monthly events.
February’s Super Hero Month encouraged visitors to wear superhero attire for a discounted ticket. The event featured super hero trains and a scavenger hunt to find super hero figures hidden within the village.
“We started some events probably back in 2017, which is when we first started decorating, starting with Christmas time. That became a huge success,” said Jordan. “This year, we’re really ramping up a lot of the major holidays with special events.”
For March, visitors are encouraged to find Spud the Leprechaun’s lost pots of gold hidden within the village and asked to wear St. Patrick’s Day attire for a $1 discount off their ticket.
There will also be special events for Easter, Patriotic Month, Halloween, Turkey Takeover and Christmas.
“I think it adds a new level of depth,” said Jordan. “One, it brings more people in. We have people who come once a year; we have people who come here once every couple of years. By adding these different events, it gives them an excuse to come more than once because it does bring out the kid in everybody who comes in the door.”
The events also connect generations.
“It adds a level of interaction between parents and kids,” said Jordan. “I make the scavenger hunts fun for the kids but I also make them a little bit trickier so parents can get involved… It adds a level of interaction with the display, on top of what is already part of it – the push button animations.”
Another work in progress is the Gift Shop. The perimeter is being outfitted to be more like a museum, including the recent addition of a commemorative timeline of the village’s creation. Also, displays will allow visitors to touch and interact with history from trains to more about the village’s creator.
History of Roadside America
Stepping through the doors of Roadside America is to step back through time. That first view of the 6,000-square-foot display is awe inspiring and wows young and old.
Even after viewing the village 100 times, Jordan hears people say that every time they come they find something new.
Created by Laurence Gieringer in 1935, the village was first displayed to the public in his home in Hamburg. As word spread and the display gained popularity, the miniature village moved to a local amusement park, Carsonia Park, from 1938 to about 1940. In 1941 Geringer purchased a former dance hall in Shartlesville to build a larger display. Since his death in 1963, Roadside America has remained unchanged.
American Life on Display
The village features more than 300 hand-crafted buildings, ranging in architectural style and dating back as far as 1903 when Gieringer was age 9. Model railroads cut through the miniature countryside and hillsides. Four trolley tracks, three of which are controlled by push buttons, run through small towns like Fairfield and Sleepy Hollow.
Life from a specific time period is shown through the details including vehicles, trees, lights, flowing waterways and waterfalls, and small interactive animations visitors can bring to life with the press of a button. The display captures a freeze frame of life from blacksmithing to firefighters battling a blaze.
To help visitors learn more, silver plaques now line the village, instead of through a paper handout.
“We reduced paper consumption, but we were able to add a lot more information that was never on the paper,” said Jordan. “Every building has or had an address at some point. It’s all created based on memory or architecture that he enjoyed. The modern town is named Fairfield after Fairfield, Pennsylvania; however it’s not built to look like Fairfield, Pa. It has buildings from Reading, Hamburg, from all over the place in local Berks County.”
In Sleepy Hollow, plaques explain that Charles Gieringer, the practical harness maker of Sleepy Hollow and real life father of the display’s creator, once owned and operated his real harness business in Reading. The Sleepy Hollow Grocery and Delicatessen shop is modeled after a real store that stood in Birdsboro for more than 150 years. There is also a model of Yellow House Hotel, the real hotel in operation today as a restaurant in Douglassville.
“It’s kind of a world of make believe but it drew inspiration from real places,” said Jordan.
A Family Adventure
On Feb. 29 and March 2, families enjoyed a day together at Roadside America.
Ray and Wendette Kline from Pottstown brought their granddaughter Adrianna Keesey to celebrate her 6th birthday.
“I came here first when I was 9 years old,” said Ray.
“We’ve brought our kids and now we’re bringing our grandchildren,” said Wendette. “We love to share things that we’ve done with our kids and grandkids.”
“Just bringing that experience to them,” added Ray.
They keep coming back because they find the village fascinating, interesting and fun. Adrianna really enjoyed the opportunity to push buttons to make elements in the display move or make a sound.
For Andy Heiffer of Auburn, whose interest in model trains dates back to his own childhood, a trip to Roadside America was a three-generation adventure, bringing together his children and grandchildren.
“It was overdue with the whole family. It’s reasonably priced and it’s a day that’s cold outside so we came up with this,” said Heifer. “We figured all of the grandkids would love seeing the trains.”
John and Vanessa Boyle from Brockton, Schuylkill County, brought their boys Brody and Cooper, ages 8 and 2, to find super heroes during their first visit in the village.
“It’s neat to see all the different things and the time that they put into this, different periods in time. It’s pretty neat,” said Vanessa. “There was a little bit of something for everybody.”
For Jordan, being able to work as the village supervisor is a childhood dream.
“My Dad brought me here when I was a kid and it became one of my favorite places on earth. Then at one point I decided to bring my now wife here on a date. There was a ‘Help Wanted’ sign in the window and I applied and the rest is history,” said Jordan. “It’s a lot of fun. It’s nice meeting new people every day. There’s something about the creativity and the passion that went into the display that’s just really exciting to come into work every day and get to be part of it.”
Roadside America, located at 109 Roadside Drive in Shartlesville, is open Monday, Wednesday and Thursday 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and weekends 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday. Admission is $8 for adults (age 12 and older) and $5 for children ages 4 to 11, free for ages 3 and younger. The senior/military discount ticket is $7.