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Pittsburgh and Western Pennsylvania Show Off Creative Flair

November 29, 2018

Launched in March 2016, the Pennsylvania Tourism Office’s “Pursue Your Happiness” marketing initiative echoes the call to “Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness” that began with the Declaration of Independence in Philadelphia in 1776.

“This new slogan encourages travelers to satisfy a core virtue which we all desire and can never have too much of—happiness,” stated the Pennsylvania Tourism Partnership in a release at the time. “Happiness is a universal aspiration.

"Whether you are looking to explore the outdoors, a historical attraction or an urban setting the overarching motivator is happiness," it added.

The campaign included updating nearly 40 interstate and highway welcome signs with the slogan. The goal was to create “a positive first impression for those entering Pennsylvania from neighboring states.”

In Western Pennsylvania and Pittsburgh, people-powered happiness begins with the beloved personality who was everybody’s neighbor.

Mister Rogers’ neighborhood Exhibit, senator john Heinz History center, pittsburgh
Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood Exhibit, Senator John Heinz History Center, Pittsburgh | Credit: Rachel Lynn Schoen

Beautiful Days for Meetings in Western Pennsylvania

Making its nationally televised debut in February 1968 and running until 2001, Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood has lasting cultural impact. Or, as Variety writes of the show and its creator and star Fred Rogers, a major countercultural force.

For groups motivated to learn more about Rogers’ life, or simply to enjoy tangible reminders of his inestimable legacy, the Pennsylvania Tourism Office’s new self-guided Fred Rogers Trail offers a collection of 15 memorable venues and experiences. The discoveries are right in line with the state’s "Happiness" campaign. Rogers, whose luminary life and career are showcased in the current hit independent documentary Won’t You Be My Neighbor?, truly believed in goodness and the power of love.

Rogers hailed from Latrobe, Pennsylvania, about 40 miles east of Pittsburgh, where sights include his childhood home, church, statue and burial site. Adjacent to the St. Vincent Basilica and Archabbey—America’s oldest Benedictine monastery and largest in the Western Hemisphere—is Saint Vincent College, where the Fred Rogers Center building features the group-accessible Fred Rogers exhibit. The campus also hosts Pittsburgh Steelers pre-season football.

Another 25 miles east in Indiana County is the Buttermilk Falls Natural Area. Owned by Rogers’ grandfather, the site features a 45-foot waterfall, trails and a picnic area.

frank lloyd wright’s fallingwater,  laurel highlands
Frank Lloyd Wright’s Fallingwater, Laurel Highlands | Credit: Sean Pavone / Shutterstock.com

In Pittsburgh, the Smithsonian-affiliated Senator John Heinz History Center, Pennsylvania’s largest history museum, features the largest collection of original items from the series, including the entryway and living room set. Rentals at the venue, which incorporates the Western Pennsylvania Sports Museum and Fort Pitt Museum, include full facility buyouts for 3,000 guests, with individual spaces including the 400-capacity Great Hall.

Yet more Rogers artifacts are displayed at the Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh.

Updating a century-old former YMCA building in Pittsburgh’s vibrant East Liberty neighborhood, the five-story, 63-room Ace Hotel Pittsburgh sings with Fred Rogers’ history. He worked here, and with other local YMCAs, to improve the lives of children, a mission carried on by the Fred Rogers Company. Rogers was also a jazz musician, and guests can buy original vinyl records from his Small World Records label.

Guest rooms come with turntables, with recordings including the sounds of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood. The boutique hotel’s three event spaces include The Gym, a historic 4,550-square-foot event space flexibly hosting 400 guests.  

Photo-ops include WQED Studios, where the show was filmed, and the Tribute to Children monument. Backed by views of downtown Pittsburgh, this 10-foot bronze statue on the North Shore depicts the classic show opening of Rogers sitting down and tying his sneakers.

In neighboring Washington County, the event-capable Pennsylvania Trolley Museum served as filming location for the show’s famed “Grandparents” episode.

Opened in 1954, the museum celebrates the region’s famed trolley car, featuring some 50 vintage cars and rides on a line that once ran from Washington, Pennsylvania, to Pittsburgh.

Famed for its 23 covered bridges, Washington County is also home to the Heinz History Center’s national landmark Meadowcroft Rockshelter and Historic Village, at the site of North America’s oldest known (16,000 years old) place of human habitation.

Dreamers and Doers: Pittsburgh Talent Shines Through at Events

Creative to its molten core, Pittsburgh is a foundry of uniquely talented people.

Featured in the 2015 documentary Pursuing Happiness: The Search for the Happiest People in America, Randy Gilson shares Fred Rogers’ enthusiasm for love and giving back. When not working at the Westin Hotel Downtown, Randy personally greets the many daily visitors at his free-admission Randyland.

Located in the Mexican War Streets neighborhood, his ongoing transformation of his home and garden into a found-art fantasy is a Pittsburgh must-see.

Late Pittsburgh icon Andy Warhol commands the spotlight at his eponymous “art that dares” museum, the largest in the world dedicated to a single artist. Hands-on activities include appearing in a Warhol-style “Screen Test” or trying out Warhol’s signature art-making techniques in the underground Factory studio. Famed for bringing people together, Warhol believed that “one’s company, two’s a crowd, three’s a party.”

Consider that your invite to host informal dinners for 20, cocktail receptions for 300, guided tours and more in spaces such as the museum entrance and Warhol Theater.

[Related Content: D.C. Meeting Planners Get a Free Ride to PCMA in Pittsburgh]

The Warhol and nearby Carnegie Science Center are two of the four museums in the group-capable Carnegie collection, named after industrialist Andrew Carnegie.

Established in 1895, the Carnegie Museum of Art features one of the world’s largest collections of plaster casts of architectural masterpieces, while the adjacent Carnegie Museum of Natural History features a globally preeminent dinosaur collection. Andy Warhol studied at the latter two museums.

Honoring Pittsburgh-born dance legend Gene Kelly and jazzman Billy Strayhorn, who studied at the Pittsburgh Music Institute and helped Duke Ellington compose and arrange some of his greatest hits, the Kelly Strayhorn Theater in the Penn Avenue Arts district is a rentable 350-seat multiple-use performance venue along with newly renovated sibling KST’s Alloy Studios.

The star power extends an hour-plus southeast of Pittsburgh to the scenic Laurel Highlands region, where groups can tour late architect Frank Lloyd Wright’s iconic master work, Fallingwater, and rent The Barn at Fallingwater.

Wright, remembered last year on the 150th anniversary of his birth, also designed nearby tour-capable Kentuck Knob. His 1957 Duncan House, relocated from Illinois to Polymath Park resort, north of Fallingwater, is one of only a few Wright homes accommodating overnight stays. Relocated from Minnesota, a fourth Wright home, the 1952 Lindholm House, is slated to open in the resort this summer.

Laurel Highlands’ groups have a premier base at multi-venue Nemacolin Woodlands Resort, offering 32,000 square feet of versatile space and featuring fine dining at Forbes Five Star- and AAA Five Diamond-rated Lautrec restaurant.

Another American icon, late actor Jimmy Stewart, was born about an hour east of Pittsburgh in Indiana, Pennsylvania, where groups can tour and rent his namesake museum.

Groups also have “dream machines” in Johnstown’s legendary Inclined Plane, the world’s steepest funicular, and Erie’s Waldameer Water World, one of Pennsylvania’s oldest amusement parks.

Originated in 1896 by the Erie Electric Motor Co., the city’s main trolley company, the park recently completed a $2 million expansion that includes “The Battle of Lake Erie,” featuring 103 water attractions alone.

Pittsburgh and Western Pennsylvania CVB Contact Information

Butler County Tourism & Convention Bureau
724.234.4619

Greater Johnstown/Cambria County CVB
814.536.7993

Indiana County Tourist Bureau
724.463.7505

Laurel Highlands Visitors Bureau
724.238.5661

Visit Erie
814.454.1000

Visit Monroeville
412.856.7422

Visit PITTSBURGH
412.281.7711

Washington County Chamber of Commerce
724.225.3010

Click over to page two for an meeting and event update on nearby Butler County.

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Bountiful Butler County Keeps Planners Happy

Unfolding 20 minutes north of Pittsburgh, scenic Butler County keeps planners happy with diverse draws ranging from agritourism to sports.

“Easily accessed from the Pennsylvania Turnpike, major highways and Pittsburgh International Airport, our location and venue options make Butler County the perfect place to host your next event,” said Jack Cohen, president of the Butler County Tourism & Convention Bureau.

“From state-of-the-art facilities to newly renovated barns in picturesque country settings, Butler County is a place for memorable meetings that clients will never forget," he added.

Strand Theater
Strand Theater | Credit: Visit Butler County

Founded in 1800 and named for American Revolutionary War veteran Gen. Richard Butler, the county was settled by German immigrants. Many were farmers and craftsmen, including Prussian-born Johann Roebling, who cofounded charming Saxonburg.

The Saxonburg Museum features the workshop where Roebling invented the wire rope—the essential element of suspension bridge technology and his greatest triumph, the Brooklyn Bridge.

Another Butler County original is the Jeep, invented here during WWII by the American Bantam Car Company and celebrated each June at the popular Bantam Jeep Heritage Festival.

Saxonburg is also home to Armstrong Farms, dating to 1816 and one of several agritourism options county-wide. Brewing is another strong suit, with notable practitioners including sustainability-focused North Country Brewing Company, which serves 100-plus different brews at its circa-1805 pub in downtown Slippery Rock. The company offers its production and canning facility and 1856 Harmony Inn in historic Harmony for tours and events.

North Country is on the self-guided Butler County Beer Circuit, which the bureau promotes via its “Passport to Hoppiness.”

To work up a thirst, the multiuse UPMC Lemieux Sports Complex, the Cranberry Township training facility for the NHL’s Pittsburgh Penguins, offers open skating and pick-up hockey, plus meeting space, private tours and F&B options. The Audubon Society of Western Pennsylvania’s Succop Nature Park is ideal for outdoor events, while culture is served at the 287-seat Strand Theater in Zelienople, a restored movie and vaudeville palace from 1914 featuring live entertainment, movies and events.  

Butler County’s growing hotel stock includes a new Best Western adjacent to the UPMC Lemieux Sports Complex and new SpringHill Suites in Butler.

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About the author
Jeff Heilman | Senior Contributor

Brooklyn, N.Y.-based independent journalist Jeff Heilman has been a Meetings Today contributor since 2004, including writing our annual Texas and Las Vegas supplements since inception. Jeff is also an accomplished ghostwriter specializing in legal, business and Diversity & Inclusion content.