Say Goodbye to the World’s Greatest Indoor Miniature Village

Roadside America has been open since 1953, delighting visitors with its model of a Pennsylvania town frozen in time and full of little cars and trains. But the popular roadside attraction couldn’t survive the pandemic.

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(Photo: David Kidd)
The smallest town in Pennsylvania is being broken up and sold at auction, another victim of the coronavirus and changing times. Billed as the “World’s Greatest Indoor Miniature Village,” Roadside America is closing its doors after 67 years in the same location. The 8,000-square-foot nostalgic representation of the Pennsylvania countryside was created by self-taught model maker Laurence Gieringer. He drew his inspiration from seeing the city of Reading from the top of a nearby mountain as a nine-year-old in 1903. 

Gieringer began working on his model in 1935, inside his home in Reading, eventually moving to a bigger house that could better accommodate his creation and the people he invited in to see it. By the 1940s, his miniature village had grown to over 100 buildings and more than a thousand human and animal figures. That’s when he purchased a former dance hall, just off I-78 (before there was an I-78) between Harrisburg and Allentown and began constructing an even larger version of his ever-expanding creation.  

The aptly named Roadside America opened in 1953, just as the country was hitting the highway in a post-war automobile-driven economic boom. In the decades that followed, families in Ford Galaxies and Plymouth Satellites would pull over to take in the sprawling, idealized, nostalgic version of Pennsylvania in miniature. 

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(Photo: David Kidd)

The final version of Gieringer’s display included over 300 hand-built structures, 10,000 trees and 4,000 little people. Visitors could activate numerous animations including a circus parade, construction workers and a sawmill. At least 18 electric trains, trolleys and cable cars roamed the set on over 2,000 feet of track. A concrete base supported the 17,700 board feet of lumber, 21,500 feet of electric wire, 18,000 pounds of plaster and 900 pounds of nails used in the diorama’s construction. 

Gieringer’s creation lived on after he died in 1963, surviving construction of the Interstate and the vagaries of popular culture. Still a family-owned business, the newest generation has decided they’d rather pursue something of their own. Weathering an unsuccessful three-year search for a buyer, Roadside America was forced to close its doors last March when the state ordered all non-essential businesses to shut down because of COVID. With cases surging again in December, the family reluctantly decided to close for good and auction off the display, piece by piece, until the sale ends later this month. The trains will be sold in a separate auction in the spring. Brought to life as a celebration of times gone by, the “World’s Greatest Indoor Miniature Village,” is itself now a thing of the past.

You can visit the auction here.

 

 
David Kidd is a photojournalist and storyteller for Governing. He can be reached at dkidd@governing.com.
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