A Victorian Gem with a Modern Vibe Headline: Bellefonte is Exciting, Eclectic and Entertaining!
By David Harry
Take a drive through Central Pennsylvania – the Appalachian Mountains nesting around the highway, farmland stretching out in patchwork lines – and sooner or later you'll find Bellefonte. I'm here to advise you to make it sooner rather than later, because exploring this jewelry box of a small Victorian town bursting with flavor, culture and ideas is going to be a highlight of your summer. And here's how to make the most of it.
The first thing you'll notice is the unique heritage of buildings and homes from a bygone era that give the town its picturesque flavor and character. It’s still a place where people walk downtown to conduct their business, sit on their front porches to greet friends and know their neighbors. I've lived here in Bellefonte for many years, and I can tell you firsthand that it's like living inside a Norman Rockwell painting – it’s classic small town America.
The ideas and energy that surround Bellefonte, however, are anything but small. The town has been a magnet for entrepreneurial and creative energy that has made Victorian Bellefonte a modern center of commercial, cultural and recreational activity. Amid the beautiful buildings and gorgeous scenery, there is a vibrant, thriving atmosphere bursting with energy and excitement, an expanding business environment, a cultural and creative edge and a deep-rooted sense of community that make Bellefonte a place you'll want to be.
While preserving its unique heritage, Bellefonte looks confidently to the future. Partnerships like Downtown Bellefonte Inc. are providing the synergy to champion economic development, cultural and community vitality and promote Bellefonte’s many attractions. [QUOTE] This combination of Victorian charm and 21st century energy has made Bellefonte a unique and exciting destination. “It not only has small town charm, but it also has an urban vibe,” says Mark Dello Stritto, founder of bellefonte.com and Loaded Creative. The fascinating mix of traditional and modern makes Bellefonte a vibrant and exciting place to live, work – and visit.
If you’re wondering where to stay when you’re visiting, there are a number of great hotels in and around Bellefonte, but to truly experience authentic Bellefonte, you should try one of our Bed and Breakfasts. A number of Bellefonte’s grand Victorian mansions have been transformed into Bed and Breakfast establishments, combining period elegance with modern conveniences and amenities. One of the stand-outs is Our Fair Lady B&B, located on Linn Street, within easy walking distance from downtown. Built in 1883 in the Second Empire style, it boasts four beautiful guest rooms and meetings rooms, as well as breakfast and an afternoon wine and cheese hour. If you want to really experience Bellefonte, there’s no better way to do it than by staying at one of its unique B&Bs.
Summer is a great time to visit Bellefonte, with many exciting events to experience and enjoy. In addition to taking in the beautiful scenery and impressive buildings and homes, there are almost daily events throughout the summer. Here are just a few of the annual events the town has to offer:
- Summer Sounds in the Gazebo – For nearly forty years, this series of free concerts has been offering the perfect end to the summer weekend. Enjoy nine free concerts every Sunday from June through August at 7 pm at the Gazebo in Governors Park. The hour-long concerts feature different musical styles, including folk, pop, rock and jazz. Bring a lawn chair or blanket and enjoy cool music on a warm summer’s evening. This year, the Sunday night concerts will be complimented by free movies shown on Saturday night at the park, beginning at dusk. All movies are family friendly and open to all.
- Bellefonte Cruise – It’s the 31st year for the annual Cruise, held each year on Father’s Day weekend (June 14 -16.) Highlights include an open cruise, arts and crafts vendors, an all vehicle show, a parade of classic show cars, a motorcycle poker run, and an awesome, rocking sock hop to cap the festivities on Saturday night.
- Arts and Crafts Fair – Capping the summer festival season is the annual Bellefonte Arts and Crafts Fair, celebrating creativity, offering fun arts, crafts and more from talented vendors from far and wide. Bring the whole family for lots of games and activities that are sure to make memories to last a lifetime.
In addition to these events, Bellefonte boasts a large and growing arts community, embracing music, theater and the visual arts. Located in the heart of the downtown, the Bellefonte Art Museum is located in the Linn House, built in 1810. The museum's mission is to showcase and sell works by local artists and to provide enrichment by showing art from around the world as well as art from our own community. The Museum provides enrichment to our communities through free art shows, classes and cultural exhibits. Highlights include:
- Special Exhibitions Gallery including works from China, Vietnam, East Africa, Haiti, Japan, South America.
- Artist Registry that helps promote and exhibit art by 165+ local artists.
- Underground Railroad exhibit - A Journey to Freedom commemorating a painful time in art and words, this new permanent exhibit remembers the role of our region in the operations of the Underground Railroad.
- Children's Creativity Center offers free art classes every "1st Sunday" and a huge Lego collection and Lego wall.
Another recent addition the Bellefonte Arts scene is the Art a la Carte gallery and studio at 107 S Allegheny Street.Art a la Carte is an artisan collective gift shop and teaching space owned by Elizabeth Hay. “I am thrilled to bring an artisan collective gift shop to Bellefonte. The shop features the works of dozens of local artists. You will find paintings, pastels, jewelry, pottery, glass, quilts, soaps, and wearable art, Bellefonte photography and souvenirs, and much more,” said Hay. Art a la Carte gives artists a place to sell their creations, as well as to teach classes and workshops to the community. Hay’s vision is to help create community through the shop, especially by providing a teaching space for local and visiting teachers to engage and teach the community methods of art and fine craft, and also to give the community a place to gather, learn and meet new friends. “You never know what might be in the works when you come by!”
Renovating a historic space on High Street, TriYoga of Central Pennsylvania brought well-being to the Bellefonte community more visibly in winter 2018. The Bellefonte studio welcomes those who are new to TriYoga® or yoga, as well as more active students who practice yoga alone or at studios and gyms away from their home community of Bellefonte. Classes are offered in many levels, including Basics, Level 1, gentle, prenatal, and Mom & Baby. TriYoga Bellefonte also holds special events like Yoga for Recovery and Essential Yoga workshop, which combines the transformational power of yoga with the healing power of essential oils. TriYoga of Central PA is the only yoga nonprofit in the region, and aims to offer strength, balance, peace and ease one body and mind at a time through community outreach and classes in Bellefonte, Boalsburg and Spring Mills.
Bellefonte’s historical and artistic footprint is complimented by a vibrant business and service community. One of the great things about Bellefonte is that it can be experienced on foot. Unlike a lot of areas, where a car is necessary to really sample the local flavor, a lot of what Bellefonte has to offer is within a pleasant walk. Let’s take a little stroll and sample the unique and interesting restaurants and shops Bellefonte has to offer.
There is no more venerable name in the Bellefonte business community than Bonfatto, and the latest iteration of the family restaurant business, Bonfatto’s Italian Market and Corner Café, is celebrating its 100th year! The business, founded in 1919 by Guy and Pauline Bonfatto, is returning to its roots and to the downtown area. The founders’ grandson, David Letterman, has moved the family business from its Zion Road location to the heart of downtown at 401 West High Street, and brought back the market end of the business. “This is something different. This reminds you of a small, Italian market. We have a nice line, which we’re continuing to grow, of authentic Italian and imported retail, deli and cheese items, not things you’re going to find in grocery stores,” Letterman said. The design of the new market is the work of David's wife Sherri, which gives the location its unique atmosphere. The walls feature local artists, with artwork on display and for purchase, rotating different artists throughout the year. The coffee is also authentic. Customers order espressos and cappuccinos from a hand-operated espresso machine similar to what you’d see in any Italian café. While there are some changes, “The dining menu is now smaller, with more healthy alternatives, including a line of smoothies, customizable to customers’ dietary needs,” Letterman wants to assure his customers that the brand’s legendary Bonanza subs, invented by Letterman’s uncle John in 1958, are still available. The design of the new market mingles the traditional with art work by local artists. As one long-time resident noted, “Coming to Bellefonte and not enjoying a Bonanza sub is like going to Philly and not having a cheese steak!”
Coming out Bonfatto’s front door and taking a stroll across Talleyrand Park will bring you to Big Spring Spirits, a craft distillery using the finest local ingredients to make award-winning spirits. They produce over a dozen products that their talented bar staff blend into artisanal cocktails. To complement these offerings, their in-house food service, MJ Custom Craft Cooking serves locally-sourced, unique seasonal fare, designed to harmonize beautifully with their Big Spring libations. For a truly unique, and local dining and drinking experience, Big Spring Spirits is the place to go.
Leaving Big Spring and crossing the park to Potter Street, you’ll arrive at Good Intent Cider. Starting with a cider-making class, husband and wife owners, Adam and Jenn, have expanded their hobby into a thriving business, located in the heart of Pennsylvania apple country. They strive to make the best cider and set themselves apart by adding no water and very little sweetness to their ciders, producing a more pure and natural taste. With a second generation getting involved, Good Intent will be serving good cider for a good long time!
After sampling cider, you can walk back across the Park and meander along the water front up to Maria’s Italian Restaurant and Pizza. Featuring a full menu of Italian cuisine and authentic New York-style pizza, Maria’s also offers burgers and cold subs, complemented by a full-service bar with craft beers. Whether it’s take-out or eat-in, for great Italian food, it’s hard to beat Maria’s!
Heading back toward the Park will bring you to Bella Vino Wine Bar. Looking right out onto the park, this wine bar is stocked with wines produced at Happy Valley Winery and have won numerous national and international awards. They also offer a menu of soups, salads, Charcuterie & hummus plates, local cheese and cracker combos, specialty wraps, and weekend breakfast options, as well as local coffee and specialty coffee beverages. Stop in and enjoy their fine wines, food, and relaxing atmosphere!
A short walk up High Street will bring you to Governor’s Pub and Talleyrand Tavern. If you’re looking for great food, great drinks and a great atmosphere, you’ve come to the right place! Serving comfort food “with a twist” and complemented by a huge selection of domestic, imported and craft beers, and liquors, Governor’s Pub also provides lively entertainment with special parties and trivia nights. If you’re looking for a happening place to be, this is it.
Heading up High Street and taking a right onto Allegheny will bring you to the Blonde Bistro. An Italian bistro that features “the fun side of food,” the restaurant grew out of the catering business operated by its owner, Chef Ciara Semack. Recently remodeled, the intimate atmosphere complements the excellent cuisine. Open for lunch and dinner, the Blonde Bistro is definitely one to check out!
When Bonfatto’s moved out of its Zion Road location, it created an opportunity for the owner of the Red House Tavern to expand the business by opening a new location, Sammi’s. He describes Sammi’s as the “fast casual sibling” of the Red Horse. What does he mean by fast casual? “It’s a snappy way to say an independent, local place that cares about the food they are hand-crafting to fit your busy lifestyle. To put it simply, it’s good food made by good people!” Sounds like a winning formula!
Having enjoyed one of these (or one of the other) fine eateries, you might want to do a little shopping. Bellefonte has a thriving business community with many specialty shops with unique offerings. Let’s take a stroll and see a few.
A mainstay by the county courthouse, Confer’s Jewelers provides the community with exceptional jewelry at affordable prices. Confer’s Jewelers was started in 1977 by Monte and Brenda Confer, and moved to its present location in 1985. The business was taken over by the Confers’ daughter, Monteca and her husband Dan in 2018, ensuring that Confer’s will continue to be not only a part of the community, but a part of people’s lives as they celebrate their most precious milestones.
A few steps away is CO2 – The Unique Boutique, specializing in the perfect and unique accessory with a giftable touch. CO2 started in 2008 as an off-shoot of Confer’s Jewelers (hence the name CO2) to give that same hometown feel to a boutique setting where people could find gifts and luxury items. They have a large selection of fashion jewelry, scarves, frames, purses and a baby boutique, sporting the hottest brands like Pandora, Alex & Ani and Vera Bradley. CO2 is definitely a happening place to be!
Leaving CO2 Boutique, a block down Allegheny Street, is Helen Foxx & Co., a women’s boutique. Owner, Joyce Mills, feels that every woman deserves to feel and look her best, and is dedicated to helping each customer find the perfect outfit. She exclusively hand-picks all Helen Foxx's on-trend fashions, “Beautiful clothes and fashion come and go, but the feeling of being beautiful and treasured is everlasting.” Stop by and enjoy the chic yet casual atmosphere and experience the exceptional customer service!
Across the street is Victorian House Antiques and Estate Jewelry. Featuring an eclectic display of every piece of antique furniture or item imaginable, the shop is expertly organized and provides quality merchandise at reasonable prices. If you’re looking for that special item that will compliment your home or collection, Victorian House is the place to check out!
Another Bellefonte institution along Allegheny Street is Plumb’s Drug Store and Gift Shop. Steeped in tradition, Plumb’s combines all the benefits of a modern pharmacy with old time charm – including a soda fountain! The gift shop provides cards and small gifts, so it’s a one-stop shopping destination. For convenience, reasonable prices and service, it’s hard to beat Plumb’s!
That’s only a sampling of the many events, restaurants and shops that historic Bellefonte has to offer. For more information about planning your trip to Bellefonte, contact Downtown Bellefonte Inc., Bellefonte Intervalley Chamber of Commerce, or check out Bellefonte.com for everything Bellefonte has to offer. The small town with the big city feel has seen a tremendous surge of energy over the last few years, with projects such as the Waterfront Development opening new opportunities for residents and visitors. With an interesting past and exciting future, Bellefonte will continue to be a Victorian gem with a modern vibe.