Route 441 has developed into a foodie trail of sorts. Along the route you’ll encounter Marietta’s ever-growing selection of restaurants, a farm that raises 100% grassfed Cattle, and a winery that is now in the hands of a third-generation vintner.
The Susquehanna River has proven to be both a blessing and a detriment to the town of Marietta. In the 1800s, the river helped to provide the town with a robust economy that attracted both a workforce and travelers who arrived by rail. Today, the river is once again having an economic effect on Marietta (as well as Columbia and Bainbridge), only this century’s visitors are arriving to enjoy it from a recreational perspective thanks to the Northwest Lancaster County River Trail. But, as we were reminded by the deluge that struck Central Pennsylvania in late July, the river can create havoc. That is clearly evident on the high-water plaques that can be found on the exterior of Shank’s Tavern on South Waterford Street.
Despite the occasional challenges, it seems that Marietta is a town that is once again reinventing itself and moving forward. Credit is given to the aforementioned river trail, which skirts the river from Columbia to Falmouth. Marietta is fortunate to have two access points in town and four others to the north and south.
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Those who use the trail have discovered the charming town and its array of eateries. “It’s had a huge impact,” says Freddy States, who is a member of the borough council and owns McCleary’s Public House and the Railroad House Inn. “People come from all over to use the trail. It’s unbelievable! I’m always surprised to learn where they’re from.” Joey Bowden, who co-owns and manages the Railroad House, agrees, pointing out that when the trail initially opened, Sunday’s brunch business tripled.
Things were not always so upbeat. The building in which the renowned Josephine’s made its home on West Market Street stood vacant for several years until Nick Liazis purchased it in 2014. Today, it’s a bustling restaurant and bar that has a recognizable name heading up the kitchen – Dave Kegel of the family that once operated Kegel’s Seafood Restaurant in Lancaster. And, the Railroad House, which was impacted by flood waters in 2011, sat vacant for three years before it was restored and renovated.
Freddy is of the opinion that the trail and the foodie movement beautifully complement each other. “People have become more health conscious,” he notes. “They can come here and walk or bike the trail and then enjoy one of our restaurants.” He observes that the focus on healthy eating has prompted Marietta’s restaurants to reevaluate their menus and “step up their games” by emphasizing seasonal, sustainable ingredients and making options such as vegetarian and gluten-free available. Many have added outdoor dining options to their properties, allowing visitors to breathe in that fresh, riverside air as they relax.
Freddy also has high hopes that Marietta’s once-thriving arts community will stage a comeback. “Food is leading the way – cooking is an art form. I’d also love to see antiques shops and art galleries come into town,” he says, noting that there is an arts precedence in Marietta, as the Pennsylvania College of Art & Design traces its beginnings to the river town. Susquehanna Stage Company, a community theatre that makes its home in Marietta’s former movie theatre – which it is aiming to renovate – is celebrating its 10th anniversary this year.
Of course, architectural restoration is an art in itself where Marietta is concerned. Marietta’s architectural gems are shared with the public each December, when Marietta Restoration Associates hosts the Candlelight Tour of Homes, which is regarded as one of the state’s oldest home tours.
An increase in visitors has also attracted a handful of other businesses to invest in Marietta. For example, Stephen Ulrich has opened First National Escape (100 W. Market St.), which challenges visitors to break into a bank vault and grab as much cash as they can by using objects and technology from the Victorian era. Scores are determined by the amount of cash that is “stolen.” He also utilized the rear of the former bank building to create Mulberry Thrill, which serves cold brews (coffee in this case) and ice cream treats. Purchases are served out of an old tellers’ window of the bank.
Tammy Herr Weidman parlayed her love of dogs into a pet boutique called For the Love of Dog. Located at 17 W. Market Street, the shop offers everything from food to accessories.
And, Scott and Diane Barrows found a perfect location for their Lancaster Recumbent bike shop at 103 W. Market Street. Scott became a fan of this mode of transportation during a trip to Colorado. Unable to test drive such bikes locally, he and Diane decided to open a shop devoted solely to recumbents. They outgrew their original Rohrerstown location and set their sights on Marietta, where their inventory includes 75 models of recumbent bikes.
Freddy says the business opportunities are endless. He hopes to see the farmers’ market reopen and is aware queries have been made about opening a distillery in Marietta. “It would be a perfect location,” he says. Outfitter shops would also be a seamless fit. He has plans of his own for opening a bakery along Front Street. “We really want to revive our commercial district,” he says. “Never count anything out.”