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US Route 40: See History in Full Color

The Historic National Road Byway in Pennsylvania’s Laurel Highlands wasn’t christened “historic” for nothing—the area has an overabundance of historic landmarks, perhaps only matched by the proliferation of spectacular views. As the nation’s first federally funded interstate highway in one of the most scenic portions of Pennsylvania, US Route 40 in the fall abounds with vibrant colors and historical significance, displaying the grand workings of Mother Nature and humanity side-by-side.

Fort Necessity National Battlefield is the location of the first conflict of the French and Indian War in 1754, providing a glimpse into the framework that eventually brought on the Revolutionary War. Visitors will be introduced to 18th century warfare, get a look at the early career of George Washington, and learn about the importance of the battle for the sweeping geopolitical conflicts that sprung from it.

While Ohiopyle State Park is not a historic attraction per se, its twenty thousand acres of unspoiled natural beauty provide a window in the untamed Pennsylvania of the past. Whether hiking, biking, or walking, visitors will be able to witness untainted wilderness in all of its autumn glory, as Pennsylvanians did generations ago.

For those interested in exploring the intersection of nature and human structures, Frank Lloyd Wright’s Kentuck Knob (one of his last designs) and Fallingwater (one of his most acclaimed designs) are must-see destinations. These two celebrated homes are not only dubbed National Historic Landmarks, but they are also on UNESCO’s World Heritage List. Both homes were constructed as vacation homes but are now available to the public as exemplary representations of Lloyd Wright’s organic architecture—seamlessly unifying art and nature.

Searight’s Tollhouse, located on the Cumberland Road in Fayette County, is one of two remaining National Road tollhouses. The building and the surrounding history, centered around the politics of wealth in the mid-19th history, will pique the “off-road” historian looking for a unique experience.

If in this area, travelers need to stop at the the Route 40 Overlook in Hopwood, Fayette County, which will provide a breathtaking and colorful view of the region’s glacial topography.

Beyond captivating visitors with its unique architectural details, Nemacolin Castle, provides an accelerated time-lapse film of the historical changes that took place in the region: indigenous peoples, British colonists during the French and Indian War, traders after the Revolutionary War, and then the Bowman family all built upon the grounds in recognition of its strategic location on the eastern bank of the Monongahela River.

For an interesting detour through a lesser-known conflict in American history, the Bradford House Museum and associated Whiskey Rebellion Education and Visitor Center showcases the many facets of the Whiskey Rebellion in the late 18th century.

Pennsylvania Trolley Museum seeks to preserve the “Trolley Era” for posterity through its extensive collection of almost fifty trolley cars. Beyond witnessing the past through exhibits, a trolley simulator, and a short film, visitors can experience bygone eras for themselves by taking a four-mile ride on one of the museum’s twenty operational trolley cars.

At Meadowcroft Rockshelter and Historic Village, the historic is displayed on a greater scale at the oldest site of human habitation on the continent. In addition to gaping at the rock overhang used almost twenty thousand years ago by North America’s earliest hunters and gatherers, guests can get an up-close look at everyday life in a reconstructed 19th century village as well as a 16th century Monongahela Indian Village.

If you have not yet had your fill of the breathtaking and far-reaching after sampling from the sites and overlooks along the Historic National Road Byway, Laurel Highlands Scenic byway provides even more autumn splendor. While the route is not coterminous with US Route 40, Laurel Highlands Scenic byway (routes 711 and 381), intersects with it and provides another worthy destination in its own right.

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