As a little boy in the 1890s, Laurence Gieringer was lulled to sleep by the twinkling lights of the Highland House, a resort atop Neversink Mountain.

From the upstairs bedroom of his Reading home, the hotel looked small enough to pick up and carry home.

Gieringer’s childhood fascination with what seemed to be a toy building inspired him to create Roadside America. Created in 1935 and located in Shartlesville since 1953, the attraction is closing its doors permanently, its owners announced this weekend via Facebook

"It is with heavy hearts that we announce the permanent closure of Roadside America after 85 years of business," the Facebook post said. "Nearly three years ago, we decided to place the display for sale, hoping to find a buyer who would continue business operations. Despite meeting with multiple interested parties over the last two years, each with their own unique vision, none committed to moving forward with the village. 

"When we closed our doors in March in the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, we remained hopeful that someone would come forward and commit to the business. As months passed and the future of tourism remained uncertain, we ultimately made the difficult decision to do what is best for our family and pursue other options."

The owners of what has been billed as “The World’s Greatest Indoor Miniature Village” had been facing challenges in recent years, including a need for significant repairs to the building. They successfully rallied the community to help it endure for a while longer, until the pandemic struck.

Roadside America has been a Berks presence for so long, its loss seems almost personal, George M. Meiser IX, county historian, said.

“Roadside America is one of those Berks entities we all thought would always be around,” he said. “Regrettably, COVID-19 has hastened the end of so many things we always thought would be part of our lives.”

Gieringer started building models as a teen in the early 1900s, drawing further inspiration for his miniature streetscapes from the city as seen from atop Neversink and Mount Penn.

He first displayed his creations in 1935 at the Rainbow Fire Company in Reading and later exhibited them in his Hamburg home. Gieringer’s International Miniature Village, as it was then called, also was displayed at Carsonia Park in Lower Alsace and Exeter townships. The 8,000-square-foot miniature village, renamed Roadside America, moved into its current home along Old Route 22 in 1953.

A master craftsman, Gieringer spent half a century fashioning a lasting tribute to small-town America. His churches, schools and shops on Main Street harken to a time when towns had railroad stations and factories.

He died at age 69 in 1963.

The owners announced they plan to auction off all display pieces, including buildings, bridges, figures and animations.

"This decision was not made without extensive thought and consideration and was ultimately the result of multiple factors and circumstances," they wrote. "We ask that you please be respectful and understanding of our choices during this difficult time, as this has been indescribably heartbreaking for our family.

"There are no words to express how grateful we’ve been for every one of you, our valued customers and supporters. We truly feel blessed to have been part of your family traditions, memories and treasured moments. It has been our honor to care for Laurence’s meticulously handcrafted landscape, and to share our family’s history with so many people.

"It was a blessing to remain a family-owned business for so many years. We hope you’re all staying safe during this unprecedented time."

comments powered by Disqus