Highway 61 Revisited

For a number of years, we would travel along PA 61 through the heart of Coal Country to get to my in-laws’ house. It was always an interesting trip, and was another source that fed my love for signs, especially the old ones. It also fed my love for preserving the memory of these signs: when we first started making the trip, the hulking remains of the Deer Lake Drive-In sign still existed. Even though it was in my mind to take a picture of it every time we went by, I didn’t do it. After a couple of years of this sorry state of affairs, the Deer Lake Drive-In sign was torn down. This still haunts me a little.

I had the opportunity to drive along PA 61 again this week. They’ve been tearing things apart in that same Deer Lake area, and it was because of this I managed to see a sign that I had never seen before, for a long-departed company called Enterprise Homes. The neon is almost intact:

Enterprise Homes

Just up from here is the town of Schuylkill Haven. Through here, 61 is one of those stretches of road that looks like it had thrived at one point, but that one point was long, long ago. Normally, this is where my Spidey sense for old signs starts to kick in. However, I’ve been through here before, and I know that the only real old one is at the Country Squire, and old restaurant/bar/motel at the edge of town:

Country SquireNot sure what that blue stuff is, but it ain’t neon…

The next town over is Pottsville. I cheated a bit and got off 61 for the next few shots, and I was surprised at what I saw: the first time I came to Pottsville, the old Garfield Diner, amid claims of renovation, appeared to be closed. However…

Garfield Diner garfield-frontAnd it was lit in the middle of the day! Come to papa!

Normally I like to get stuff early morning or magic hour, but Pottsville is a little different. Everything’s kinda smooshed together, so your best bet is right around lunch time to get some good shots. So I ambled over to a particular favorite of mine: a massive wall-mural of a ghost sign just down from the Garfield. Here’s the shot I originally got of it:


And here’s how it looks in the sunlight:hooven-sunIt always pays to get shots of the same thing. Things change, and sometimes you get lucky. I’m sure I’ll go back to 61, and I’m sure I’ll see something I never did before. That’s the beauty.


Destruction and Rebirth

Our friends Denise and Lynn have been trying to get us to Wilkes-Barre for at least a year to see the Sterling Hotel, an abandoned building on the Susquehanna that was one of the more opulent places of its day. We got a chance to visit at the beginning of June, and out we went to the city to see it. The sign, of course, is not much to see, but even in these passing glances you can see the magnificence of it.

sterling sterling-fire-escape

In the course of taking these shots I noticed another guy with a point-and-shoot working around the building from the other side. We met in the middle, both of us shaking our heads at how much the place had gone to seed.

“They’re tearing it down end of July,” he said. “Too far gone to save.”

I re-doubled my effort to get shots. Last chance at this old beauty.


You know there’s a problem when there’s a tree growing on your hotel…sterling-back

Lynn talked to the guy a bit more, told him about what I do. He said he was from Plymouth, which I knew of because I had gotten some shots there last year. “They knocked down an old building across from Fainberg’s,” he said, and my ears perked up. Fainberg’s was the furniture store I went to visit; their neon sign was straight out of the thirties, it appeared. “The building was from 1896, and when they tore it down they uncovered an old tobacco sign from 1892.”

Well, I thought, guess we’re going back to Plymouth.

So, sure enough, as we drove along US 11, we came upon an empty lot, and at the far end, we saw this:


Mail Pouch Alert!


So often, I’m talking about the bad side of the story, like the Sterling: a sign or a building that no one seems to have use for and is deemed “beyond saving.” But this one seemed like a win for history’s sake. Glad to see you again, old man. It’s been a long time…

On a side note, last year Laura and I had taken the road less traveled to Pottsville because I had read about a Mail Pouch sign on the side of a tavern. Look below and you’ll see why I couldn’t resist. But also, note the similarity of the signs. Same artist?


G. W. Hooven Mercantile, Pottsville, PA