Franklin is a mint of natural charm

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Bob Donaldson, Post-Gazette
The picturesque block of Franklin's Liberty Street between 12th and 13th streets, with the courthouse in the background.

By Bob Batz Jr., Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

If there's a Western Pennsylvania town that's prettier on an autumn Saturday than Venango's County seat, well, RoadTrip would love to move there.

The earlier, the prettier in Franklin, as there's likely to be a fog rising off French Creek and the Allegheny River and wrapping around the vendors and the produce at the Curb Market beside the asymmetrically double-towered red courthouse.

Next Saturday would be a good one to visit, as Oct. 6, 7 and 8 are the dates for the town's big (and trademarked) Applefest. It starts Friday with an apple pancake breakfast, gains momentum Saturday with the apple pie baking -- and eating -- contests and much more eats and events, then winds down Sunday. More than 300 craft and vendor booths will be open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. each day. Read the full schedule at the Web site,, or call the Chamber of Commerce at 1-888-547-2377.

Bob Donaldson, Post-Gazette
Venango County Courthouse with its asymmetric double towers was built in 1868.
Click photo for larger image.

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Why apples? A historical marker in town notes that John Chapman, better known as Johnny Appleseed, actually lived and had a nursery along French Creek between 1797 and 1804.

Even if you aren't one of the thousands who jam the fest, you can enjoy the charm of "Victorian Franklin," which was built on that area's oil boom. The town (pop. 7,000) has aged gracefully and keeps prettying itself up, most recently with a new gazebo and benches in Fountain Park. Murals are appearing in the busy business district, which offers several stores and shops (antiques, yarn, jewelry), a few restaurants, Maggie's Ice Cream shop and the cool and comfy Summer House coffeehouse in a old-time hardware store.

Pick up the brochure for the self-guided walking tour of Liberty and 13th streets -- the Franklin Historic District -- and you can savor the town's rich architecture and some of the history it holds, such as the former United States Hotel, where Maj. George McClelland was born and John Wilkes Booth stayed and ate when he was an oil speculator.

In an 1865 brick house on South Park Street you'll find more interesting old stuff at the Venango County Historical Society (1-814-437-2275).

The town is full of other stately homes, many right on the river.

Over on Franklin Avenue is the Franklin Antique Mall, the second floor of which houses a Wild West Museum (1-814-432-8577). It closes during Applefest, but usually is open, if there's not an auction somewhere, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Mondays through Saturdays.

While you're Downtown, you'll also want to stop in at Debence Antique Music World, a museum collection of more than 100 nickelodeons, music boxes and other old-fashioned mechanical musical devices. It's open Tuesdays through Sundays through October and reopens in April. Admission is $8, or $7 for seniors aged 60-plus and $4 for youth ages 3 to 12 ( and 1-814-432-8350).

Another star is the Barrow-Civic Theater, which presents plays and concerts and more ( and 1-814-437-3440).

The Applefest show is "Guys and Dolls." You can find a full schedule on the Web site.

The theater runs a "three for 10" deal: Go to a show, stay at either the Lamberton House or Hager's Peach Basket B&Bs, and dine at either Bella Cucina or the Franklin Club, and you get a 10 percent discount at all three businesses.

Franklin has other motels, including the Quality Inn and the Inn at Franklin, but not many other good eateries. RoadTrip was sad to be there on a day lovely Bella Cucina was closed. We wound up munching a scone at Summer House Coffee, but were told its owner is putting in a much-needed breakfast and lunch shop. In fact, Aaron Lloyd says he's hustling to have the French Creek Cafe, two doors up, serving some "healthy and eclectic" fare by Applefest.

The Venango Regional Airport, which offers US Airways Express flights to and from Pittsburgh Monday through Saturday, has Primo Barone's restaurant, which is open seven days. A bit farther south of town on Route 8 is a Dairy Queen decorated with a monkeys-in-space-era prototype space capsule shell the owner bought decades ago as scrap.

Alas, Franklin no longer has a canoe outfitter (and the float down the Allegheny is sweet). But you can rent bikes at the County Pedalers store under the state Route 322 bridge over the river (1-814-432-8055). Or take your own bikes and roll along the paved Justus Trail and the Allegheny River Trail, which stretch for 40 paved miles along the river from Oil City to Emlenton. The trail links to the also paved Sandy Creek Trail, with 8 miles on one side of the river and a new 6 miles on the other. For details and maps, visit

Outdoorsy types will appreciate nearby Two Mile Run County Park, which has 26 miles of trails, fishing and paddling and swimming in 144-acre Justus Lake and overnight cottages, including a "treehouse," and a campground (where lots of Applefesters stay). Check it out at or call 1-814-676-6116.

Especially good for a Sunday, perhaps, is St. John's Episcopal Church on Buffalo Street in Franklin, which has 30 real Tiffany windows, including the gorgeous favrille, or single layer glass, Great Rose Window. Only six other churches with such a full collection survive. Tours, for a few dollars donation, can be arranged by calling ahead: 1-814-432-5161. You can get a sneak peak at www.

The tasty tradition of the Curb Market (on 12th Street at the Courthouse) runs from 6:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. Wednesdays and Saturdays, even in winter, when you can buy Christmas trees and such. Those vendors will be out Friday and Sunday, too, during Applefest.

Franklin is about 85 miles north of Downtown Pittsburgh. You can roadtrip there in about two hours taking Interstate 79 north to I-80 east and then heading on up Route 8.

For more on the town and its attractions, visit or call 1-888-547-2377. For more on the surrounding area, visit

Each week we map out a road trip in the region. Read past installments at . If you have a suggestion for a great one, e-mail or write RoadTrip, The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 34 Blvd. of the Allies, Pittsburgh, PA 15222.


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