Monday, January 4, 2010

Bradford, PA: A Dichotomy of Human Existence

My Fellow Americans,

Happy New Year!  I hope you had a wonderful holiday.  I know I did.  Today, I would like to talk to you about my experiences and travels as 2009 became 2010 -- and another decade seemed, once again, to virtually pass us by.  But, that's a story for another day.

I visited Bradford, PA over my New Year's break.  It's a place I probably never would have even known about had it not been for my friend and her parents.  You see, my friend's parents grew up in Bradford, a town of roughly 9,000 residents on the border of Pennsylvania and New York State, south of Buffalo (source: Wikipedia).

Bradford emerged as a wild oil boomtown in the Pennsylvanian oil rush in the late 1800s.  Today, Bradford is well known as the home of Zippo, a manufacturer of collectible pocket lighters, and Case, which is owned by Zippo and makes collectible knives. As of February 2009, the two companies employed 1,117 people. But significant layoffs have taken place since then (source: Wikipedia).

The Dichotomy
During my brief time in Bradford, I saw things I don't think you would normally see in just any town in the United States.  I witnessed what I called "the dichotomy of human existence."  The rich and poor literally lived side by side.  On one parcel of land would be a house worn down with the passage of time.  On the very next parcel would be a beautifully restored mansion unlike any you have ever seen. 

It truly was a great contrast.

The Option House & Sam
We spent our first night in Bradford having dinner at The Option House (photo on right).  On their website, they have a motto saying: "Restoring the Old Tradition."  This could not be more true.  I felt like I was stepping back in time to the 1930's when we went there.

Bradford native Sam Sylvester wanted to give back to his community.  So, he decided to take up the task of restoring the old Option House.  He told us he only used workers from a 40-mile radius to help put this together.  He even enlisted the help of a town electrician and his son. 

"You see that young man there," he said, as he proudly spoke of his establishment, "he did the electric for all the lights in this room."

"So, I take it he drinks for free," I responded.

"You bet," Sam said.

Glen Dorn
The reason for our entire trip, though, was to go to Glen Dorn (photo below).  Situated on a 1,280-acre estate, Glen Dorn offers remarkable accommodations -- from fine gourmet food to various complimentary activities.  Presidents have stayed there.  Movie stars have stayed there -- including Denzel Washington, who spent time there as he filmed the movie "Unstoppable" (due out later this year).  (Washington, the cast, and the film crew frequented the Option House as well).

We stayed in a fabulous 4-bedroom log cabin that was approximately 2,000 square feet.  It's beautiful, rustic paneling was carefully crafted to give you that outdoor, yet refined, look and feel.

Snow fell daily and found its way onto every pine tree branch.  It truly was a winter wonderland.

The greatly-anticipated New Year's Eve night did not disappoint.  A 5-course gourmet meal.  Excellent service.  A pianist and a clarinetist.  Fireworks.  Champagne.  And a beautiful winter backdrop.  It was perfect.

So, What's My Point?
I tell you all of this for a reason (and no, it's not to brag about how my New Year's was better than yours).  It's to explain to you this dichotomy I noticed. 

First up, you have Bradford, PA.  While a nice town with an old-time feel, many people who came to Glen Dorn for the holiday bashed it (unjustly, I believe).  Overall, it's simply your typical small town where the main industry has been gone for decades (in this case oil).

Then, you have Glen Dorn.  A beautiful destination resort with all the pleasantries that come with being rich and successful (which I definitely am not).

Finally, you have the homes in Bradford.  Rich, poor, rich, poor...and so on -- all throughout the town. 

When it came down to it, I came to the conclusion that Bradford was a great place that really did not get the recognition it deserved.  It truly is a beautiful place if you stop and take a look around. 

You have the University of Pittsburgh at Bradford there -- giving numerous opportunities to young men and women. 

You have old mansions that, if restored, could be gorgeous once again.

There is no reason why Bradford cannot do away with this dichotomy one day.  There is no reason why it cannot look more like Glen Dorn.  It has the bones for it. 

All it takes sometimes is a guy like Sam Sylvester.  All it takes is someone with a capitalistic mindset who wants to give back.  In his own way, Sam took something bleak and unpromising (like Bradford looks to many people) and turned it into the brand new verison of the Option House (his Glen Dorn). 

We need more Sam Sylvesters to go after their Option House dreams.  There are many places that just need a revival.  Sometimes you need to go back to your roots -- back in time.  Places like Bradford need to hold onto their history and capitalize on its importance and beauty today.

Maybe it's time for America, as a whole, to do the same.

(Picture Source: Google)

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