by Bryan Hay
Classic mountain towns dot the nation’s landscape — Estes Park, Colorado, Lake George, New York, Gatlinburg, Tennesse. Count Hamburg, at the foothills of the Appalachians in Pennsylvania's Americana Region among them.
As I stood looking north along the main drag on a recent Saturday, the Blue Mountain ridge provided a stunning backdrop for the borough’s diverse display of architecture, sense of civic pride and re-emerging downtown with its antique shops and art galleries alongside stores that have anchored the business district for decades.
It was a warm day, and our first stop was for an iced coffee at Four Twelve Coffee Shop at 12 South Fourth St., next to the recently renovated Strand Theater. Four Twelve, owned and operated by the Bridge Church in Hamburg, opened last December. Our friendly barista, Cera Klinger, explained that the idea was aimed at fulfilling a need for a coffee shop and creating a sense of community to further stimulate the borough’s steady comeback after a decline that began with the rise of the commercial corridor on Route 61 in Tilden Township.
The menu offers an inviting list of coffee and coffee drinks and local baked goods. There’s a meeting room in the back with exposed brick walls, providing ample work space for professionals and families. Afterward, we stopped into the Hamburg Antiques Center, which was filled with treasures from just about every era – early American to 20t century. Drawn to the store’s collection of vintage iron wear, I bought a hand-forged butcher’s fork with classic rat-tail handle.
Following recommendations from Deena Kershner, executive director of Hamburg’s Our Town Foundation, the next stop brought us to Adams & Bright Drug Store on State Street. The doors beneath the stained glass entranceway open into another era. It seemed as if you were on a movie sound stage, only the authentic soda fountain counter and rows of apothecary jars (museum pieces now) holding concoctions of who knows what are as real as when the store opened in 1906.
“The Cherry Bomb ice cream soda is a favorite among customers,” said owner Loralee Heckman. “All of the equipment at the soda fountain is authentic.” True to its roots as a hometown pharmacy, Adams & Bright still does some compounding and bottles its own clove oil for toothaches. You can also find Porter’s Liniment, a first aid salve, and original Coca-Cola syrup, long used to settle an upset stomach. We enjoyed a coffee milkshake and were rung up with the nostalgic sound of cha-ching at the vintage cash register.Stomachs full of cold, flavored cream, it was only a short walk to the State Street trailhead for the Schuylkill River Trail, a six-mile path along the river between Hamburg and Auburn. Despite the warm August sun, the temperatures dipped along the river and shaded trail, and it was easy to understand why this accessible pathway is a popular destination when visiting Hamburg
There are plenty of other attractions in town, including the Reading Railroad Heritage Museum and the Reading Company Technical and Historical Society, which preserves the history of the Reading Railroad. Easy to access from I-78, charming Hamburg is worth a lingering stop when passing through Pennsylvania’s Americana Region.
Coming soon — Taste of Hamburger Festival
The answer to ‘where’s the beef’ is right around the corner as Hamburg prepares to host its 14th Annual Taste of Hamburger Festival from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Saturday, September 2nd. The event brings 40,000 people from all over the east coast and beyond to the borough’s streets to sample creative and outrageous interpretations of America’s favorite sandwich.
A record 37 burger stands on eight downtown blocks, one more block than in the past years will be set up this year alongside 90 artists, musicians, and other food and drink vendors. Berks County restaurants are well represented, including past award winners Dawn’s Deli and the Deitsch Eck, both of Lenhartsville.
The event began when the Pennsylvania Beef Council contacted state Sen. David Argall’s Hamburg office to see if the town, with its culinarily fitting name, would host an event celebrating the 100th anniversary of the hamburger.
“They gave us $3,000 to put on an event, and we pulled it together on Labor Day weekend that first year and people came,” Kershn Save & Exit er recalled. “But it
was more popular than we thought. Now 40,000 people pile into town for this single-day event. It’s amazing because the night before, it’s quiet on the streets and it’s quiet again by 8 the next night — but for the hours when the burgers are cooking, the streets are full.”
Kershner advised visitors to visit the festival website, www.tasteofhamburger.com, study the burger menus and plan a tasting route ahead of time. “If you don’t, it’s overwhelming,” she said.