That's what most folks say when they see Williamsport, Pennsylvania - seat of historic Lycoming County - for the first time from a mountainside vantage point along Route 15. Under the veil of night the city sparkles like so many diamonds on the sequined dress of a queen or an empress. One travel writer called it the greatest scenic view on the East Coast.
But that's just the beginning. Lycoming County is full of so many wonderful surprises that you'll want to have plenty of film as you take in the sights. You will see so much-- from the simple charm of general stores and covered bridges to the spectacular beauty of Victorian homes and Gothic towers. Situated in north-central Pennsylvania's Susquehanna River Valley, where Indians roamed the forests ten thousand years ago, Lycoming County is both rural and urban. Never is the visitor more than a twenty-minute ride from the nearest stream or forest; never is he out of sight of the gently rolling Allegheny Mountains.
After settlers began arriving here in the middle and late 1700's, traveling by packhorse and keelboat, they established what came to be known as a Fair Play Republic, with three elected commissioners acting as administrators, judges and legislators. It is a curious fact of history that these Fair Play lawmakers and their constituents, unaware of developments in Philadelphia, declared their independence from Great Britain at the precise moment that the Founding Fathers were approving Thomas Jefferson's more famous declaration.
During the war the river valley became the "Back Door of the Revolution," its chain of forts vital to the infant nation's defense against British-allied Indians.
Although it was Paul Revere's ride that was immortalized in history, the ride of Robert Covenhoven, a Susquehanna Valley scout, was, by far, more daring. Risking his scalp, he galloped up and down the valley, riding distances of twenty-five to thirty miles at a clip, to warn of an impending Indian attack. And although Daniel Boone often gets credit as America's greatest Indian fighter, one historian says the honor should rightly go to Captain John Brady, a famous Lycoming County resident.
Not long after the war, valley settlers established and laid out a county seat, Williamsport, auctioning off town lots to promote growth. They held court in a tavern, the Russell Inn, until a courthouse was built in 1811. One of the county's first judges was Thomas Cooper, who was also a physician, scientist, journalist and all-around Renaissance man known to kings and presidents and philosophers. Thomas Jefferson called him "the greatest man in America." According to one historian, it was Cooper who originated the phrase "Government of the people, by the people and for the people," adopted later by Lincoln at Gettysburg.
Although Lycoming County remained quiet and unassuming for the first half of the Nineteenth Century, in the second half it boomed and burgeoned after an ingenious businessman, "Calico Tycoon" Major James Perkins, harvested the timber in the rich forest lands, floating it downriver and snaring it in what was known as the Susquehanna Boom, a seven-mile-long chain of timbers reaching out from the shore like the arm of a Titan. When other businessmen, most notably Peter Herdic, invested in the lumber industry, Williamsport and Lycoming County became the largest lumbering center in the world.
Money begat more money, so much that Williamsport had more millionaires per capita than any other city in the United States. Architectural wonders - mansions, churches, and public buildings - rose from the marshes in the central city. After Herdic built a hotel, which was among the finest on the east coast, he got the railroad to build a train station next to it. Cultured and sophisticated, beautiful to look at, Williamsport was crowned the Queen City of the Susquehanna.
Today two museums showcase the county's history. The Thomas T. Taber Museum of the Lycoming County Historical Society has been rated by the state as one of Pennsylvania's top ten tourist attractions. The Peter J. McGovern Little League Museum has been rated by children and their parents as pure delight.
Mid-city Williamsport has often been called "one big museum." San Diego artist Robert Parker, when traveling the country to draw "Images of America", stopped here and wrote of Williamsport, "I have never seen a city of this size with so many marvelous buildings. The whole town should be declared a national site." Life can be as simple as a quiet country lane with a one-room schoolhouse or as spectacular as the mansions that line Millionaires' Row on West Fourth Street.
Lycoming County residents, proud of their communities and rich heritage, are famous for their hospitality. Come, ride our paddle wheeler upriver and into the Eighteenth Century. See the house once occupied by the wealthiest woman in the world. Worship in the church whose pastor composed "We Three Kings of Orient Are." Visit the grave of George Washington's bodyguard, or see one of the nation's finest model train collections.
Surprising Lycoming County--it has played host to presidents and once to the king and queen of England. And now it's ready to play host to you.