When you stand on the grassy hillside above Foxley Farm in the Laurel Highlands and see Chestnut Ridge flanking the sky behind you and the rolling fields of timothy and clover at its feet, its clear why this gorgeous Ligonier Valley would draw farmers to its soil way back in the early 1800’s.
The farmers came to till the rich earth and then travel the two miles to the village of Ligonier to trade, for here was an important stop on the newly built Pennsylvania Turnpike. It linked Philadelphia to Pittsburgh and a town grew in this beautiful spot in western Pennsylvania.
PJ and Maggie Nied have continued in that long tradition with their Farm to Table B&B, Foxley Farm. My son, Bryce and I are staying with them while we explore the Ligonier area.
The 60-acre farm is the happy home of nine Longhorn cows and three pure-bred Scottish Highland cows, as well as a handful of calves. Their long strawberry blonde bangs blow in the breeze, obscuring their eyes like a teenager badly in need of a haircut. The feature is to help them keep flies out of their moist eyes. The Nied’s also have forty-five pigs that are pasture raised that they will butcher and serve at their marvelous Farm-to-Table dinners.
From our perch on the hillside, Bryce and I watch the six horses run and play with the cows, sharing the same pasture. The property is outlined in post and rail locust fences. Foxley Farm offers horseback riding for their guests. The local Rolling Rock Hunt Group organizes the hunts twice weekly that often run through their farm September thru May.
Maggie takes Bryce and I on a tour of her extensive organic garden where she single-handedly raises 250 tomato plants, 200 pepper plants, 100 assorted cabbages, to name just a few of the many veggies she harvests to satisfy her guests appetites, all started from seeds. We gather the fixings for a salad and she introduces us to her meat chickens that she also raises to feed her guests.
“We’re eating Bob tonight,” Maggie announces.
Bob isn’t a family pet, fortunately. Every one of the cows that they raise and butcher for their guests is named Bob…keeps it simple and impersonal.
The original house is an 18th century frame farmhouse with additions built on either side. The former owners, the Todd family, had a grand two story ballroom and library attached with six stately columns that were recycled from the historic Bedford Springs Hotel. The Todd’s ran an import/export business out of their home and Mrs. Todd was a sculptor.
Although the Neid’s have only operated Foxley Farm for three years, they are not new to the hospitality business and continue to also operate the extremely popular and successful, Ligonier Country Inn in town.
THE TOWN OF LIGONIER
Bryce and I went into town for the day to explore the shops and galleries, indulge in its eateries. The center of life revolves around the Town Square, which was set up back in the town’s birth. Four blocks radiate in each direction set the town up in an easy grid. Pots of geraniums decorate the brick plaza and American flags dress up the brilliant white and green painted gazebo, the source for many an enjoyable summer evening concert.
There’s the cool equestrian shop, Equine Chic to buy unique gifts for your horsey friends. Then there’s Martin’s- a historic sporting shop which is over 100 years old and operated by the same family. It’s fun to look at the old Woolrich signs and posters and wicket fish baskets hanging about the store’s walls.
More neat stores include Nearly New, a great second hand store; On the Diamond Antiques, Second Chapter Books is a wonderful used book store, the eclectic Allegory Gallery, and a wonderful place to enjoy lunch- The Kitchen on Main. In the warm sunshine, we dine on delicious burgers and sweet potato fries as we take in the local happenings of Ligonier village. For dessert, Bryce and I head to Scamps Toffee and Sweets, where two friends create amazing toffees right on the premises. This wildly successful business is only two years old and already the demand if up to 50 pounds a day. That tells you something about their tasty treats! After dessert, we head to historic Ligonier Fort which is conveniently located right in the downtown area.
The historic Pennsylvania turnpike road through Ligonier, was originally created in 1758 with the sole purpose of moving supplies for the British Army out to the Forks Of The Ohio, during the French and Indian War. The road had to be constructed right over the crests of the imposing Laurel Highlands. Here in Ligonier, a garrison fort was constructed that became a staging area for British troops and served as a supply depot. It was the base camp for General John Forbes and his army for the final attack on Fort Duquesne. Many fortifications like Fort Ligonier were constructed along the route, using whatever materials were at hand, such as wood and earth as is the case here in Ligonier.
Fort Ligonier is located on the edge of the town of Ligonier. In fact, the north side of the fort has not been reconstructed due to the town being in close proximity. Route 30 skirts the outer retrenchment of the fort and you can see cars and red lights and modern day businesses while you stand inside the 18th century fort. It is a very strange juxtaposition of time periods.
Jeffery Graham, the Reenactment Coordinator and Historical Interpreter for Fort Ligonier, meets Bryce and I, dressed as a British Officer of the 60th Royal American Regiment. As we walk, he explains that the fort originally encompassed 11-12 acres but today’s fort is only on eight. The Fort Ligonier Preservation Society was responsible for completely reconstructing the fort, which began back in 1954, from only an archeological footprint in the ground. They reconstructed buildings from original plans which served as officers’ mess hall, barracks, quartermaster, guardroom, underground magazine, commissary, and officers’ quarters. Visitors can stretch out on a straw mattress and try it out. The hole for the powder magazine is original for it was actually discovered during the forts reconstruction.
The inner fort is 200 feet square, defended by four bastions and accessed by three gates. An outer retrenchment, 1,600 feet long, surrounds the fort. Outside the fort are a hospital, a smokehouse, a saw mill, bake ovens, a log dwelling, a forge as well as lots of canons, guns and wagons.
Jeff tells us that each man’s daily rations consisted of 1 lb. of meat, 1 lb. of bread, 1 lb. of dried beans, rice or oats. Rum was a treat to whet their whistle. Clay beehive ovens baked their bread that has been reconstructed on the site. For the march on Fort Duquesne alone, 1500 head of cattle had to be smoked and jerked.
Guns were laid across fascines long, cylindrical bundles of sticks, placed one on top of the other and staked fast. These bundles were wrapped in vines that are crisscrossed to create a strong yet flexible basketwork, creating a lining that prevents steep slopes from collapsing.
The museum houses three original George Washington artifacts: his saddle pistols that he carried at Valley Forge and during the Whiskey Revolution when he was president; his original manuscript of remarks where he vividly recollects his military experiences on the Pennsylvania frontier- perhaps the only autobiography ever written; and a portrait of him painted by Pennsylvania artist, Rembrandt Peale, portraying him in his youth.
At its peak, the soldier population of Ligonier Fort swelled to 6,000. In addition to soldiers, several hundred women and children camped around its walls as well. These women provided services like nursing and washing. Four women could handle the laundry of forty men.
Since todays population of the entire town of Ligonier is 1500, it is difficult to imagine that many humans stuffed inside this now open and expansive fort. But Captain Jeff, in his authentic-looking costume, his vast store of knowledge, and his lively stories, has the ability to take us back to 1758, at least for an enjoyable few hours.
(a version of this appeared in the March/April issue of Pennsylvania Magazine http://www.pa-mag.com