Thursday, May 22, 2008

If Your Breeze Past Pottsville, Pennsylvania, Turn Around & Go Back

The City of Hazleton website says go see Pottsville. That’s odd…I never heard of Pottsville until on Monday night, I found it on the Internet. I actually clicked around for information about Hazleton, the town where Ed and I boondocked for the night. In a weird twist, the “Life in Hazleton” section of the city website recommended people visit nearby Pottsville, home of Yuengling Beer.

A recommendation from “The City” and the thought of a cold Yuengling was reason enough for me to turn around and go back to Pottsville, a Pennsylvania town we breezed by in the coach. Pottsville is south of Interstate-81 on Pennsylvania Highway 61in Schuylkill County. Seven hills surround downtown so I was glad we left the coach parked in Hazleton and drove the car.

First, we stopped at the Yuengling Brewery so we’d know where to go for the 1:30 PM tour. Then, we set off on foot to explore downtown. The appeal of Centre Street – the main commercial drag – is not eye-level. The ornate cornices and façade work on some of the downtown buildings add color and design to what would be ordinary bricked and glass fronts. These architectural extras serve as reminders of the boom town atmosphere that swept the region in the 1800s. The Industrial Revolution and anthracite coal mining made Pottsville an economic center. Today, the downtown survives as the center for financial institutions, county government, and small business owners.

Mary Bryne is a fifty-something lady with a tattoo partially hidden by her hair at the nape of her neck. She says the tattoo was a gift to herself when turned 50. Mary owns The Mad Potter at 6 South Centre Street, a place her business card describes as “Funky to Functional Pottery and Regional Art.” Mary’s business developed from a hobby. At the entrance of her studio, there is a black spiral staircase colorfully and deliberately splattered with paint drippings. Next, illuminated shelves display the pottery she crafted…vases, candle holders, dishes, and more. If you can’t visit her store for a peek of her work, go to or catch her at a regional arts & craft fair. In the back half of The Mad Hatter, Mary gave instructions to three women who were beginning potters.

I didn’t have time for a lesson, but Mary showed me how she cast a starfish, sand dollar and conical shell. She used these molds to add the contour of the sea creatures to the neck of several vases on display. I promised to buy one when we go back into a house without wheels. I noticed Mary is trendy too. On the wall hung a breast and belly cast captured in the last days of a woman’s pregnancy. Time Magazine called this trend “Art of the Womb” (April 3, 2008). I call it a beautiful statement by women celebrating special time in our lives, an heirloom.

Prominent on the hilly skyline sits the Schuylkill County Courthouse, a massive structure built in 1889 -1891. Across the street, the Schuylkill County Prison looks like a castle. The Molly Maguires went on trial here in the years 1876 -1878. Authorities hung nine of the men in the Schuylkill County Jail. Historians believe the Molly Maguires, a secret Irish immigrant organization, were present in the coal fields of Pennsylvania. The evidence presented against these men held them responsible for a wave of coalfield crimes. There is speculation that some of the witnesses may have been coerced or bribed.

Another controversy rocked Pottsville; this time surrounding the National Football League (NFL) Championship. Bob Dirtmar, Owner of Maroons Sports Bar & Grill located at the North end of Centre Street, showed us the bar’s display of memorabilia from the Pottsville Maroons while explaining the story. He told us the Maroons and the Chicago Cardinals were top contenders for the 1925 NFL Championship, with the Maroons winning a late-season game between them, 21 to 7. But the Maroons scheduled a game in Philadelphia against a team of Notre Dame-All Stars, which included the famed Four Horsemen. Joe Carr, the NFL President, warned the team that they faced suspension if they played Philadelphia. The Maroons played and won 9 to 7. The team later claimed that they had permission for the game. In response, Carr suspended the Maroons from all league rights and privileges including the right to play for the NFL championship and nullified the franchise. Bob said the Chicago Cardinals did not publicly claim the 1925 Championship title until 1933 when the Bidwell family acquired the team.

There’s three ways to get more information about the Maroons. You can read. ESPN’s David Fleming wrote a book Breaker Boys: The NFL's Greatest Team and the Stolen 1925 Championship about the Maroons. You can surf. There’s an “Official Site of the Pottsville Maroons” at for football enthusiasts. Or, you can wait for the movie. Disney bought the rights and will soon release a movie. I personally liked hearing from Bob in Maroons Sports Bar & Grill about what some Pennsylvania football professionals and fans call the “biggest travesty in NFL history.”

There’s history inside and outside Maroons Sports Bar & Grill. Check out the traces of a Mail Pouch Outdoor ad on the side of the bar. Mail Pouch was betting you'd turn around too!

May 21, 2008

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