In case you haven't heard of it, and most likely you have not, Renfrew is a small farm village that is in Butler County, and the location of my family farm. It is also my go-to place to relax, get special projects done, visit my family, and generally soak up lots of love and pampering.
The founder of the village was John Renfrew. He came to America from Scotland in 1774 at the age of seventeen and settled on the banks of the Connocochigue Creek, in Franklin County, He built one of the first gristmills (grinds grain into flour) there, having purchased the land in 1778. This property is still in possession of the fourth generation of Renfrews, and the old stone mill is still standing. John Renfrew, who was a Revolutionary soldier, married a Miss Thompson, and they became the parents of five children. He died in 1844 at the advanced age of ninety-six years
Pennsylvania is also a home to many religious societies that looked for religious freedom in America. These include the Mennonites, Utopian Harmonists, Amish, and Quakers. Our first family farm was located in Harmony, PA, which is where I did most of my growing up. The Harmony Society was formed in Germany in the late 1700s, but relocated to the United States due to religious persecution. The group, led by Johann Georg Rapp purchased 3,000 acres of land in Butler, Pennsylvania to build the beginnings of a society that would last for roughly 100 years and build three successful communities in the U.S. Two of these communities were located in Pennsylvania.
Members of the Harmony Society were known as Harmonists or Rappites and they put all their goods in common. Because they believed that the second coming of Christ was close at hand, they did not put effort into gaining converts. The Harmonist Society is remembered best for its financial success and the attention it gained from economists and politicians nationwide before its dissolution in 1892.
Originally, most of the population of Butler County were farmers and from Germany. I grew up in an extremely homogenous area that is, in my opinion, still isolated in their location and viewpoints, but I try not to pay attention to that. I am here for the best sweet corn you will ever eat, the taste of homegrown vegetables, the smell of freshly mown grass, fireflies flickering on hayfields, brilliant orange sunsets, family parties and picnics, and the quiet.
Not to brag, but my mom still takes care of me. She cooks for me and would clean up after if I let her, makes coffee in the morning, washes my clothes, and folds them. I am in the enviable position of having a mother that still takes care of me at my age. I know this.
This was a big trip for Dennis and I because it was the first time he was to meet my family. Almost all of them still live there. My three brothers, most of my nieces and nephews, my aunts and uncles, and many cousins. I recognize that it is crucial to my emotional well-being to come back here to visit, to contemplate, to steel myself to withstand the difficult and sprawling megalopolis known as L.A. I know that any of my family who moved away feels the same way I do ... the importance and even the urgency of coming back here to visit.
My favorite local restaurants:
1. Harmony Inn (not an inn)
2. Log Cabin Inn (also not an inn)
3. Rachel's Roadhouse
4. Clifford's Restaurant (call ahead for a reservation which is hard to get)
Fly into Pittsburgh International Airport. Rent a car. Drive about an hour north on Route 79. Get off at the Evans City exit Route 528. Use your GPS from there.
Thing I Learned: There's no place like home.
Things to do near Renfrew:
1. There are no hotels in Renfrew. There is a Beacon Hotel, but you can't stay there. You can only drink beer and eat there. Same with the nearby Harmony Inn, But there are some in the neighboring towns of Cranberry, Zelienople, and Butler. I've never stayed in any because I always stay with my mom. The summer has many worthy activities such as the Butler County Fair (the location of every vacation of mine growing up) and boating on Lake Arthur at Moraine State Park, but I would rent a car and drive up Route 79. That trip would take you through farm country, past lakes and rivers, little towns and villages, Amish country, and all the way to Lake Erie and Niagara Falls.
2. Drive south in the spring and take a day whitewater rafting on the Youghiogheny River in the spring. I've done this twice and it is exhilarating and well worth the trip. From there I continued on to Fallingwater, the stunning Frank Lloyd Wright-designed house built over a waterfall, south of Pittsburgh. When my kids were little, we also went to Gettysburg National Park and museum (which is far, far more interesting than I ever thought it would be) and Hershey Park, for the kids and the chocolate.
3. Hiking and Biking. Western Pennsylvania is home to many fantastic trails most of them converted from old train tracks. One trail goes all the way to Washington, D.C.
4. Horseback Riding. I grew up riding horses, so I never had to rent. But there are places to rent horses if you google it. I can tell you that Pennsylvania has probably the most beautiful trails of anywhere in the U.S. We used to start out in the morning, and not come home until sunset. And one of our goals, was to find a different way home - not just turn around. Thanks mom for letting us do that and not worrying too much (something I'm not sure I could do with my children).
5. Visit Pittsburgh about an hour and a half south of Renfrew. Consistently voted as one of the top ten cities in the U.S. to live and most recently, named one of the "Best Places to Travel in 2017," by Harper's Bazaar, Pittsburgh has a lot to offer - too much to list here. So do some research and visit!
Let us know what your favorite Pennsylvania activities are. I'd like to explore some new places and activities the next time I go home to visit!