Williamsport has the bases covered

City that's known for Little League offers plenty to see and do

September 16, 2007|By Diane Stoneback | Diane Stoneback,Morning Call

WILLIAMSPORT, PA. / / Williamsport makes national and international news once a year -- when the Little League World Series is played here in August. But it's unfortunate that this north-central Pennsylvania city gets forgotten almost as quickly as the last Little Leaguer rounds the bases at Howard J. Lamade Stadium.

That's just wrong, because Williamsport is too rich a place to leave unexplored. I know, because I've spent some of the happiest times of my life there. In fact, Williamsport is more like my home than my hometown.

Both sets of my grandparents lived there all their lives. My parents were born and raised there. And I spent the first 20 carefree summers of my life vacationing there with all of them. After that, I shared my love for the place with my husband and children. But some 20 years ago, when the last of my grandparents were gone and our family homestead was sold, I lost track of Williamsport.

When I returned recently, I was amazed at what residents have done to preserve the Williamsport of my memories and improve upon it. In the process, they've added many reasons to visit the area.

After a few days of exploring, I can tell you how to make memories of your own in the city -- like having an Indiana Jones-style experience at an archaeological dig or going eye-to-eye with an American alligator and watching a boa constrictor methodically encircle a man's neck. I've also discovered a way for visitors to sample the good life as it was lived by Williamsport's lumber barons in their mansions along Millionaires Row.

So let me tell you more about my memories and discoveries to see if you can fit any of them into your future.

Memories of the city

"Wow, I can still walk!" That's how I used to feel when I climbed out of the car's back seat at the Bald Eagle Mountain Lookout, high above Williamsport. In those days, Dad spent at least four hours driving through the Coal Region and then past endless fields and forests to reach the lookout that's on U.S. 15, just south of the city.

When Dad handed me a quarter to operate the lookout's telescope, it meant more than just getting to scan the view of Williamsport, South Williamsport and the other communities lining the banks of the west branch of the Susquehanna River. It signaled the start of good times. In minutes, we'd be at my grandparents' homes and, in a few more hours, we'd be hiking in a forest or splashing around in a refreshingly cold mountain stream.

Kids can still push quarters into the telescopes, check out the views and watch planes land at the airport. But it's also a fun place for a picnic. Just be sure to pack some round foods like tomatoes and then claim the picnic table at the lookout with the decidedly concave top. The diner-in-the middle will get all of the food, but everyone else can have fun rolling the food toward them.

Baseball always has been big in this city where Little League was invented. Every night the Williamsport Grays played at home at Bowman Field (the nation's second oldest minor-league baseball field), Grandad and I were in the stands to the right of home plate. In those carefree days, I collected players' autographs and raced out of the stadium to chase foul balls that landed on the parking lot. I enjoyed those nights as much or more than the times I spent perched on the hillside in South Williamsport watching the Little League World Series.

Today, you can still attend minor-league games at Bowman Field, but now you'll root for the Williamsport Crosscutters, a farm club for the Philadelphia Phillies. And although the stadium's wooden chairs and floors have long since been replaced by aluminum bleachers and concrete, the foul-ball-chaser in me still smiles at the warning sign that says, "Be alert at all times for balls and bats released in the air."

The Little League sites, including the riverfront diamond near Bowman Field where the original three Little League teams played their games in 1939, and the Peter J. McGovern Little League Museum, are much easier to enjoy after the crowds are gone.

Hint: Visit the Little League Museum on a Monday or Tuesday when crowds are the lightest and head for the lower level. An instant-replay setup will film the kids pitching balls, taking swings at balls in batting cages and running the bases. Then it's your turn. Just make sure the children have wandered off, because you won't want them to see you strike out and miss the target with the balls you pitch!

Another of my childhood memories went full circle the day I visited the Thomas T. Taber Museum's James Bressler Gallery. It contains an extensive collection of the archaeologist's finds from 50 years of digs all over Lycoming County. Some 40 years earlier, my father and I had visited Bressler at a dig along the Susquehanna River. The day I was in the museum, he was there, too. The 92-year-old was checking over some "sharps" and other artifacts that tell the story of Native Americans' travels in Lycoming County as early as 11,000 years ago.

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