Lewisburg

My Home Town

There are hundreds of terrific small towns in the United States, and City Slipper is about all of them. Because I live in Lewisburg, Pennsylvania, my stories about rural life draw from Lewisburg and its surrounds. It seems fair, then, to provide some concrete information about the community. This page summarizes a former city slicker’s impressions of Lewisburg to help orient readers to what we refer to as The Valley.

The Valley

The Valley is the Susquehanna River Valley. Two branches of the river flow from the North out of New York State and converge south of Lewisburg at the towns of Northumberland and Sunbury. The river continues through the state capitol of Harrisburg, and on to the Chesapeake Bay. Demographers can tell you where “The Valley” begins and ends—I’m confident it doesn’t include Harrisburg—but the rest of us give it little attention: you see “The Valley” in news articles and you hear it on the radio, and you know you’re there and that’ll do.

Looking South from the bridge

Looking south from the middle of Lewisburg’s Susquehanna River crossing, emphasizes the rural nature of the community.

Lewisburg sits on the west bank of the Susquehanna River. Early settlers apparently saw little beauty in the river; you could spend a day shopping and dining downtown and never notice there’s a river here. The river brings with it two very significant influences:

  • Heavy rains and snow-melt result in regular flooding
  • A bridge crosses the river from downtown Lewisburg

Flooding

Materials from Chambers of Commerce aren’t likely to tell you about flooding. I don’t remember any mention of flooding in any materials we received from the nearly two dozen small towns we explored. For most city dwellers, flooding might never come to mind. When you go rural, consider it.

Since I moved to Lewisburg, there have been three significant floods in town. Two creeks run through on their way to the Susquehanna, and they overflow their banks every three or four years. The Susquehanna itself makes it into Lewisburg far less often, but as it approaches flood stage, the creeks feeding it rise and make life miserable for the downtown community.

Newscasters refer to “routine” flooding and explain that people in flood-prone neighborhoods are “used to it, and know how to minimize the inconvenience.” If you’re moving to a rural community, be aware of area waterways, and look for a home that is well uphill from them. Most residents of The Valley remain dry except during floods of biblical proportion.

The Bridge

There are few bridges across the Susquehanna River in our part of The Valley. About five miles north, you can cross at the town of Milton. About eight miles south, you can cross at Northumberland. This means that for thousands of people, the most convenient river-crossing is over the bridge at Lewisburg.

Lewisburg, however, is a massive roadblock to the bridge. At the busiest times of day, you might crawl through town, taking as many as fifteen minutes to go ten blocks. Town planners take heroic steps to slow traffic and keep pedestrians safe. They make no mention of making traffic move efficiently to provide visitors with easy access to downtown businesses. If anyone has asked what the merchants and the residents want, it hasn’t made the newspaper. In the meantime, the trip through town has gotten dramatically slower over the past twelve years… if you feel challenged when crossing the street, downtown Lewisburg might be good therapy.

Lewisburg's main street

Market Street is very attractive, and slows traffic to a crawl. Often, during the entire duration of a green light, only a single car turning left out of your lane makes it through an intersection.

Cost of Living

Lewisburg is, perhaps, the most expensive community in The Valley. Anyone building here seems to think new houses should be crazy-huge (3,000 sq feet and larger) and cost more than $250,000. However, there are plenty of more modest “used” houses. People moving in from out of the area see even the very expensive houses as relative bargains.

You can still—rarely—find houses in Lewisburg priced under $100,000. With higher frequency, you’ll find houses in the range of $140,000 to $280,000. Such a house will be 2,500 sq ft, it will have three or four bedrooms, several bathrooms, a full kitchen, a living room, and a dining room. It will also have a yard and a garage.

For contrast, I pulled real estate listings for my old neighborhood of Allston, MA and found the least expensive property at $149,000. It was a one-bedroom condominium! Chances are, whatever you own in the city, a comparably sized and appointed property in Lewisburg will cost substantially less.After real estate, you find further savings in so many places: Groceries may cost less here, but if you can shop farmers’ markets, produce stands, and cut-rate grocery stores, you can dramatically lower your cost of eating. Deli roast beef, for example, costs only $3.99 per pound at the meat counter of a store where I shop regularly—compared with $6.99 at a chain grocery store. On most Wednesdays, I can buy a fresh pineapple for $1.50 at a farmers’ market when I’d pay $3.00 or more in the local grocery store.

At some theatres, tickets for first-run movies are still just $5.00. The cost for a child to participate for a full season on an AYSO soccer team is just $45—and other youth sports teams offer similar bargains.

People

In contrast to any US city I’ve visited, Lewisburg lacks ethnic diversity. I didn’t recognize this until I’d lived here for a week or two: fully 90% of the population here is Caucasian.

Church steeple

There is a preponderance of Christians in The Valley. In fact, there are Amish communities sprinkled throughout, and a respectable population of Mennonites. You’ll find many better-known protestant denominations here, and nearby Northumberland is the birthplace of Unitarianism—with a sustained congregation. As well, Buddhism and Hinduism have enough local followers that they each have some organization.

In general, what I’ll call religiousness is much higher in Lewisburg than it was in Boston: upon meeting you, many people make it clear that they have specific religious perspectives. I’m not convinced people here are more religious than people in Boston, but a much higher percentage make a point of wearing their religiousness on their sleeves.

Perhaps surprisingly, Lewisburg is a retirement hot-spot. There are religion-based progressive-care retirement communities here. There is also a significant population of retired parents who have followed their kids to Lewisburg. We often hear of this retired population in articles about how the town planning commission has new ways to slow automobile traffic.

Schools

Lewisburg has an outstanding public school system—the middle school recently received an award for excellence from the US Department of Education. Based on the results of standardized testing, the school system ranks in the top 10 percent of schools in Pennsylvania. School administrators here have embraced the no child left behind agenda while offering special programs for intellectually gifted students. For the sports-minded, Lewisburg High School competes with others in 19 sports.

There are private schools within reach of Lewisburg—a Catholic school about fifteen minutes south, and a Quaker school about forty five minutes away. As well, there are many small Mennonite and Amish schools, and a vital and well-connected network of families that home-school.

Business

Three-globe light

Lewisburg has chosen a three-globed street lamp as a sort of signature fixture. These street lights line Market Street as well as many cross streets, and they appear on much of the literature that markets Lewisburg to the rest of the world. The street lights fit very well alongside the federalist style buildings that dominate near the town’s center.

Lewisburg is the county seat of Union County. The big businesses here are a high-security federal penitentiary, Bucknell University, and corporate offices and manufacturing for the playground equipment company Playworld Systems. Several small manufacturing businesses exist in Lewisburg, and there are many larger manufacturers throughout The Valley. Being rural, farms abound.

Route 15, the main road running north-south through Lewisburg is the only significant highway within fifty miles that connects New York State to Maryland. For years, a life-sized cow on top of a local restaurant and ice cream shop beckoned travelers. A “miracle mile” of hotels, grocery stores, auto and auto parts stores, strip malls, and fast-food restaurants runs north of town along Route 15.

Big-box stores arrived on that miracle mile starting with a Walmart which just moved and expanded into a Super Walmart. There is also a Staples. The nearest home-improvement warehouse store is fifteen minutes south.

A plumbing supply store in town, an electrical supply store north of town, and a lumber store also north of town provide great alternatives to big-box stores. That lumber store, and a smaller hardware store in town sells tools, fasteners, and other items you’d expect from a traditional neighborhood business.

Downtown businesses have faced the same challenges as any where big discounters settle: they have had to reinvent themselves or perish. The variety of businesses is impressive: office supply stores, photo processors, art studios, salons, boutiques, clothiers, sporting goods, jewelers, photo studios, advertising agencies, architects, dentists, doctors, lawyers, realtors, insurance agents, an art supply store, gift shops, a toy store, home supplies stores, candy stores, bakeries, restaurants, a meat store, a camping goods store, a bike shop, a party supply store, a cobbler, one of those glaze-it-yourself pottery shops, a few antiques consignment stores, a few flower stores, a home appliance store, and a movie theatre. They have organized into an association that sponsors various festivals and other events to attract shoppers.

Pegasus carved for the Ice Festival

Among the downtown events are The Lewisburg Arts Festival (with two rows of arts and crafts vendors running down the middle of Market Street), the Stroll Through The Arts (late-night shopping with area artists displaying their works inside the businesses), the Ice Festival (with ice sculptures and late-night shopping), the Woolly Worm Festival (we called them Woolly Bears where I grew up), Lewisburg Live (all the bars and cafes feature live entertainment… and a few other businesses do as well), and The Sidewalk Chalk Festival. Lewisburg hosts several parades each year, with the July 4th parade drawing by far the most participants.

Local farmers sell produce on Wednesdays at “The Auction” more commonly known as the Farmer’s Market. In-season, a “Growers’ Market” assembles on Fridays in-town at the park. There’s also a flea market north of town on Sundays where you can buy fresh and generally local produce. At the flea market, you can also find tools, antiques, coins, and dozens of other collectible items.

On the miracle mile, there is a Weis grocery store—one of the biggest Weis stores in the state. A bit up the road from there is a Save A Lot grocery store run by Weis; it sells many products in bulk and often at lower prices than at Weis. The nearby Super Walmart sells groceries alongside all the department store stuff typical at any Walmart.

Eating Out

As long as we’ve been here, we’ve been blessed with such national franchises as McDonald’s, Wendy’s, Burger King, Dunkin’ Donuts, Kentucky Fried Chicken/Taco Bell, Perkins, Domino’s, and Pizza Hut. Over the years, we’ve seen the arrival of Subway, Damon’s, Appleby’s, Papa John’s, and Quiznos. There is China King Buffet (clearly a franchise each unit of which has a unique name), and a place called Original Italian Pizza (which is a small central PA franchise). Several others have opened and eventually closed.

Local feeding holes include two Chinese restaurants, several sub and pizza shops, a handful of coffee shops, an Austrian restaurant, an Italian restaurant, two Mexican restaurants, several family-dining places, and four or five upscale restaurants, depending on your measure of upscale.

Entertainment

Bars and pubs may fit better in the topic of dining,” but I include them here because of a mantra we heard for months when we first moved to Lewisburg: It’s a great place to live… (or, It’s a great place to raise kids…), …but there’s nothing to do here at night. If you crave nightclubs and bar-hopping, then Lewisburg isn’t for you (Bozeman, Montana might make you happy if you like country music).

There are some bars here that stay open late. Most of them stink—that is, the exceptionally awesome laws that forbid smoking in public establishments in Boston and other cities have not been passed in Lewisburg. With rare exception, you’ll be exposed to cigarette smoke in every bar and restaurant in The Valley—even shopping malls have stinky patrons.

Still, the bars are no less impressive than modest bars in any city—with one exception: A place called Vic’s Pub, about twenty blocks from downtown bars offers typical family fare, several gourmet items, and it forbids smoking! Several of the bars and coffee houses feature live entertainment–from Irish folk music to jazz to experimental to folk to do-it-yourself.

University clock tower

The Campus Theatre in town shows first-run movies and hosts film festivals periodically. There is a ten-pin bowling alley in town, and several social clubs that may have activity as late as 11:00 PM.

Bucknell University has an impressive performing arts theatre and hosts music and dance programs through the school year. The university also sponsors well-known speakers and entertainers, and invites the general public to attend—as long as tickets are available after students and faculty have gotten theirs. Past and upcoming guests include Salmon Rushdie, Philip Roth, The Harlem Globetrotters, Bill Nye The Science Guy, Pulitzer Prize winning columnist Leonard Pitts, and the team from the television show MythBusters.

Fundraising events such as Relay For Life, the Library Auction, the Recreation Authority’s casino night, and the Hospital’s Fundraising Gala provide occasional opportunities for nights out. Then, there are the sports events.

Bucknell University runs several teams that draw national attention. Their sports facilities are excellent, and it can be challenging to gain admission to some events. Because it’s a small community, if you’re into a particular team or sport, you encounter the same fans game-after-game; for many spectators, games are more about visiting in the stands than they are about the players. This is even more apparent at high school games where many spectators attend simply because it’s something to do.

So… while nightclubbing and bar-hopping aren’t options in Lewisburg, to most who live here, that’s not a negative.

Participation

When you first move to Lewisburg, you can get connected quickly by participating in the Neighbors and Newcomers club. There is an extreme sexist bias in the club’s operation–it flat-out states that it provides opportunities for women to meet. The club is a good starting place; it sponsors reading and play groups where preschoolers play while parents get to know one another.

Lewisburg and surrounds offer every imaginable youth sports activity, and quite a few for adults as well. Outdoors, there are public tennis courts, basketball courts, ball fields, both a municipal and a private swimming pool, and a semi-public golf course owned by the University. Indoors, churches offer various recreation programs such as basketball leagues and volleyball pickup games. There is also a publicly-funded gymnastics center.

Hungry ducky

The university offers athletic facility memberships to people who aren’t affiliated with the university. There you can find several weight-training rooms, an indoor track, racquetball and squash courts, basketball and tennis courts, and even a climbing wall.

Five minutes south of Lewisburg is half an airplane hanger housing an indoor field used primarily for soccer. About 15 minutes north, there is a private indoor tennis club. You can even find privately-operated horseback riding stables.

For the size of the town, Lewisburg has an impressive number of public parks and playgrounds. There is an understated park on the bank of the Susquehanna River. It has an expansive lawn with benches and tables for picnickers, but not much else. A few blocks north is a complex of baseball fields with a small playground and picnic area. Residents gather on these fields near Independence Day to enjoy a jazz concert and a fireworks show. Midtown, two adjacent blocks cut an attractive patch of grass and walking paths. There is a gazebo where bands play on summer Wednesdays, and a playground with a good variety of climbing equipment for kids. An exercise path circles the playground.

Federalist-style store fronts

A few blocks north, there are two small baseball diamonds with an adjacent playground having several seesaws, a jungle gym, and picnic tables. The most impressive of Lewisburg’s parks is a complex of facilities about twelve blocks west of the town’s center. The complex includes an outdoor ice skating facility (winter-only, of course), basketball courts, tennis courts, the recently renovated municipal pool, an elaborate playground for kids, a fitness course and walking paths, and a truly awesome skate park—with the types of ramps on which they hold skateboard competitions. A stream that runs through the park attracts ducks who expect visitors to feed them.

When all is right with the world, the ducks don’t eat at this park because Lewisburg maintains a duck pond only a few blocks away. If you like to feed water fowl, you’re encouraged to do so at the duck pond—and you’ll be able to entertain a decent number and variety of birds.

Lewisburg has a “recreation authority” whose purpose is to develop and manage recreational programs for residents. This authority publishes a calendar of activities and handles registration for many of them. The presence of LARA (Lewisburg Area Recreation Authority) creates considerable opportunity for participation.

Downtown, the Donald Heiter Community Center provides a supervised hangout for kids. After school, there is a study hour followed by unrestricted time. Kids can chat, participate in games, and otherwise interact. The Center sponsors dancing classes, martial arts, various sports events, and parties.

The public library is impressive. It offers reading programs, shows movies, and makes computers available to patrons. Since we moved here, the library has expanded, and plans to begin construction soon on another addition. The library’s one liability is that it sits well away from town center, so few can walk to it—and there is no protected bike path.

Lewisburg has several small museums and historical landmarks. The downtown itself is on the National Register of Historic Landmarks. It is well appointed with both Federalist- and Victorian-style buildings, and property owners face a review process for any changes they wish to make to the outsides of their houses or businesses.

Hunting and fishing are huge in The Valley. In fact, schools close for the first day or two of deer hunting season, and thousands of people line the creeks on the first few days of trout fishing season.

Health Services

Evangelical Hospital (called Evan by the locals) sits on Lewisburg’s miracle mile, and provides services to a large swath of The Valley. Family Practice physicians, surgeons with private practices, and other health care professionals tend to work at or be affiliated with Evan. At the same time, one of the largest rural hospitals in the country—Geisinger Health System—is about 45 minutes from Lewisburg. Rated among the top 100 hospitals in the United States, it boasts outstanding neonatal, children’s, and cancer treatment centers. In emergency trauma situations, Geisinger runs an evacuation helicopter, and there is a landing pad at Evan’s emergency entrance.

From the East bank of the Susquehanna

There’s a restaurant across the river from Lewisburg, and a lovely view of Lewisburg from the restaurant’s parking lot.

Soldiers Park on the West bank of the Susquehanna

Soldiers’ Park is the only public space in Lewisburg with a view of the river. It is several blocks from town center, and draws few visitors–except during festivals. The photo gives you a sense of where I stood to shoot the preceding photograph: I was very near the building you can see under the left end of the bridge.

A view East on the South side of Market Street

The Campus Theatre on Market Street is one of only a few Art Deco theaters still in operation in the US. Inside, there’s theater seating as well as cafe-style seating with sofas and chairs. Near the holidays, the theatre shows several movies for free–encouraging donations for charity.

Half of the park near town center

Hufnagle Park, seen here from the back, hosts free weekly concerts in the summer. Organizations set up booths and activities during some of the downtown festivals, and people gather each December to light up that tall evergreen which stands near the front of the park.

Looking through Kidsburg toward Hufnagle Park

A single photo can’t do justice to the generous assortment of playground gear in Kidsburg. This park extends Hufnagle into a second block. The equipment came at a discount from local manufacturer, Playworld Systems, and most of the assembly was by volunteers.

A midtown message board and Federalist-style houses

A decorative element (left) near the center of town provides a place to post event schedules and other community announcements. Federalist-style buildings line Market street and many of Lewisburg’s side streets.

A single park provides distractions for the whole family

About ten blocks from town-center, Lewisburg has a municipal swimming pool with water slides and a beach volleyball pit. There is also an elaborate collection of playground gear (shown here), a basketball court, tennis courts, some fake boulders for climbing, a walking path with exercise stations, and a totally excellent skate park.

The duck pond on Fairground road

If you want to feed water fowl, you’re supposed to go to the duck pond. Adjacent to a baseball diamond and a football field, the duck pond is in a small park with a walking path around it.

Weis Center for the Performing Arts

Bucknell University has a performing arts center at which they sponsor world-class performers; tickets are available to the general public. Guest lecturers speak at other venues as well, and many presentations are open to the public at no charge.

Bucknell's football stadium

Bucknell generously shares its stadium with the Lewisburg High School. There is a separate facility for soccer and field hockey.

Bucknell's observatory

Bucknell has an observatory on campus, and they open it to the community one night a year for kid-friendly presentations and deep-space exploration; the resident astronomer trains telescopes on planets and nebulae and invites visitors to gaze.

These links lead to more about Lewisburg and The Valley:

Comments:
1 Comment posted on "Lewisburg"
Kyle on August 15th, 2010 at 6:18 am #

I’m not even sure how I stumbled on to your site, but I must say I do like your take on Small Town USA. I’ve lived in Lewisburg my entire life(23yrs). Well aside from a year in Mifflinburg and a year in Williamsport, most of which I spent in Lewisburg anyway. I really do enjoy this town, even with its lacking in things to do sometimes. Anyway, I just wanted to say I appreciate your page a lot.


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