The larger-than-life Amish couple’s goodwill gesture that welcomed visitors for decades turned to one of farewell in the aftermath of the recent auction of Roadside America Miniature Village near Shartlesville.
As Amos and Anna departed aboard a flatbed trailer, they appeared to be waving goodbye.
Andrew King of Lebanon County fended off all comers with a high bid of $5,000 to become the new owner of the gigantic fiberglass sculpture.
Thing is, he hasn’t found a permanent home for the beloved sculpture, perhaps Roadside’s most enduring symbol.
“I didn’t want to see it go to California,” King, 23, said of his impulse bid. “I just wanted to keep it in the Shartlesville area.”
For the moment, the sculpture resides at Creative Crafts in Reistville, near Myerstown, while King searches for a permanent home.
The Amos and Anna saga is just one of the scores of stories surrounding the breakup of the 8,000-square-foot exhibit the late Laurence T. Gieringer began building 86 years ago.
When bidding ended on Jan. 23, 363 high bidders emerged as new owners of miniatures crafted by one of the 20th century’s premiere model builders.
Bill Howze, owner of Renaissance Auction Group of Reading, attributed the interest to strong memories of Roadside America and an attachment to specific objects in the display.
In the days following the auction, a Renaissance crew dismantled the exhibit and packaged each piece. Some items were picked up in person at Roadside America, while others are being shipped to destinations from Maine to California.
For many successful bidders, some of whom braved Sunday’s snowstorm to pick up the items they purchased, the refrain was the same: I came here as a child and wanted something to remember it by.
Growing up, Kathy Glaser had been there numerous times.
Laurence Gieringer’s wife, Dora, was Glaser’s great-aunt. And her grandmother Leona Bennethum of Reading, played organ in the Roadside America chapel.
“I wanted something to remember it by,” confided Glaser, a Muhlenberg Township nurse.
Glaser and her husband, David, took home the Sleepy Hollow Bakery, a sign painted by the late Berks County folk artist Johnny Claypoole, along with a model of the William Penn Memorial Fire Tower atop Mount Penn.
David Glaser, a folk artist who makes log cabin birdhouses, marveled at Gieringer’s craftsmanship.
Gieringer cut tiny slivers of wood without fraying, and transformed a 35-pound newel post into a fire tower whose exterior perfectly mimicked the stone on the real one.
“I’d love to know how he did it,” Glaser said. “His work is priceless.”
Joseph M. Brown, Kathy Glaser’s brother, purchased the Sleepy Hollow Jail.
“I went to Roadside America as young as a child of 5,” recalls Brown, a Berks County detective. “I bought it because it brings back memories of growing up.”
Brown, who works in the Berks County courthouse, wanted Gieringer’s model of the old Reading courthouse at Fifth and Penn streets. It went to an Easton collector who bid $2,525.
Ryan Strause had his heart set on another Berks landmark, a model of Degler Chevrolet in Hamburg.
Joined by members of the Degler family, Strause glared at his laptop in amazement as the bid price on the Chevy dealership escalated to a prohibitive $1,025.
“We had hoped to donate it to the Hamburg Historical Society,” said Strause, a job printing manager.
One by one, Strause was outbid on a long list of items. He stuck it out until shortly before 11 p.m. when the last item on his list, the Beaver Creek Blacksmith Shop, sold for $5,100.
Far and wide
Laurence Gieringer’s reputation as a master model builder will be carried far and wide as his life’s work is disseminated to buyers across the country.
Berks landmarks found new homes coast to coast.
Kauffman’s Furniture went to Tacoma, Wash.; Degler’s Chevrolet to Rocky Point, N.Y.; Long’s ESSO to Mechanicsburg, Cumberland County; and Yellow House Hotel to Pottstown.
A “Wilkum to Roadside America” hex sign purchased by Christopher Otto is headed for Arizona.
“I’ve been to many roadside attractions, but Roadside America was one of the very best and most unique,” said Otto, who’s moving from York to Arizona. “I’m fortunate to have a memento of what this meant to Pennsylvania culture.”
Eventually, Otto said, he’ll donate the sign to the Pennsylvania State Museum in Harrisburg.
Roadside America touched many lives in very personal ways.
With the past and future in mind, Courtney Richie of Lititz bought the Hilltop Church.
The miniature church reminded her of the one where her father, a retired minister, preached as a young pastor in rural Perry County.
Richie said she plans to give it to her 8-year-old son for his HO model train display, sowing the seeds of a family heirloom connecting three generations.
Dolores Heinsohn, 72, matriarch among Gieringer descendants, saved a few things with precious memories.
One was what she calls the “Barney Google” house because its roof is made from a game board featuring the comic strip character. She also saved an outhouse, one of the few items that’s signed and dated.
She kept a model of the Charles Gieringer Harness Shop. Charles was Laurence Gieringer’s father, and he once ran a harness shop on Penn Street in Reading.
Heinsohn, who did just about every job at Roadside America, also ran the PA Dutch Gift Haus.
Heinsohn promised her mother that, should it ever become necessary to sell, she would see to it that the collection went to people who understood its importance and would respect its legacy.
“I’m just numb and melancholy over it,” she confided as pieces of the collection were loaded into vehicles with out-of-state plates. “But I’m satisfied that the right people got the right pieces.”