Visitors Flock to New Castle from Around the World

NEW CASTLE, Pa. – They come from Dubai and Delaware, from Ohio and Ontario, from Pittsburgh and Neuburg, Germany. From around the world and around the corner, New Castle is seeing the impact out-of-towners have on its business community.

Many of the visitors to Lawrence County come to see the Amish or to enjoy nearby parks and visit small towns. But for trips like that, says Visit Lawrence County Executive Director Janet Falotico, tourists don’t go straight to their final destinations.

“They usually come through the county seat,” she says, which means New Castle gets its fair share of visitors. Most are from Pennsylvania, she says, followed by the states that border it, primarily Ohio and New York.

For international visitors, she adds, the area is part of the “horseshoe” route through the region. They land at Boston or New York airports, head south to Washington, D.C., then west to Pittsburgh before heading to northern New York for Buffalo or Niagara Falls.

“Our state has done a terrific job in helping us market as an international state,” Falotico says. “They love that we’re not exactly on the wheel, but we’re close to it. If you want to get to Cleveland or Pittsburgh or Buffalo or even Columbus, you can go. We can be here and get you to where you want to go.”

What draws visitors, though, isn’t just proximity to other cities. It’s having your own attractions and in this regard, New Castle excels. As part of a celebration of two decades as a sister city to other New Castles of the world, this city in Pennsylvania is launching an exchange program of sorts with Shinshiro, Japan, England’s Newcastle upon Tyne, Neuchatel in Switzerland and Neuburg, Germany.

“You can meet the mayor in Germany or a tea ceremony in Japan or chocolates in Switzerland. We’re doing guided Amish tours,” Falotico says. “I don’t know how many people from New Castle will travel, but I do believe that we’ll see an influx of visitors. People love to come to America and to have someone host them through it. It’ll be a nice summit that encourages tourism.”

Groups within New Castle, such as Blueprint Communities (See story page 8), are working on community improvement projects that make the city more appealing to everyone, including out-of-towners. One such effort is a river walk along Neshannock Creek that will run along the southern side of downtown. Also along the banks of the river is the weekly Summer Concerts Live series.

Beyond events – New Castle also hosts festivals every summer – visitors can find the third-largest historic district in Pennsylvania, the Scottish Rite Cathedral, the New Castle Playhouse, an amphitheater along the banks of Neshannock Creek, historic Cascade Park and restaurants galore.

“I believe we’re going to be a foodie community,” Falotico says. “Our hot dogs and chili are big here. Greek immigrants were the ones who came into New Castle with this and it’s taken off. It’s still here today and people will fight you over which place has the better chili.”

In the North Hill district, visitors have come from as far as the United Kingdom to visit the neighborhood where New Castle’s richest once made their homes. The district, created in 2000, covers nearly 450 acres, 91 blocks and 1,680 buildings constructed between 1890 and 1949. Among the notable homes are the Johnson house on Highland Avenue, built of limestone pulled from the family’s quarry outside town, along with houses designed by P. Ross Berry, who also designed The Rayen School and the Grand Opera House in Youngstown.

“It’s the opulence of the homes. It’s not every day that you see an 18-room mansion, especially today. And having it within a city is even rarer,” says Andrew Henley of the Lawrence County Historical Society, whose headquarters is in the district. The age of the homes on the North Hill attracts a lot of people who see a more prosperous time and how that story is told through the buildings, he adds.

On the southern edge of the district is the Scottish Rite Cathedral, opened in 1927, which has hosted comedians, concerts, ballets, bingo nights, weddings and meetings. Among the guests over the past 90 years: Jerry Seinfeld, Chubby Checker, Johnny Cash, The Four Tops and the Air Force Band.

Staff at the cathedral, operated by the nonprofit Cathedral Foundation, also offer tours for bus groups and tourists.

“I can’t help but notice that every time we have an event, there are new people who walk into the auditorium and just do a 360-turnaround,” says James McKim, promotions director of the foundation. “It has a grand, formal feeling to it. At one time it was the largest stage between Chicago and New York.”

Earlier this year, the Pittsburgh Symphony performed there and, later this year, The Guess Who, best-known for “American Woman,” will perform. Cathedral Foundation Executive Director Dawn Piroli says tickets for that show have been sold to residents of San Francisco.

Pictured: Cathedral Foundation director Dawn Piroli leads tours of the Scottish Rite Cathedral.

In downtown, a soon-to-open museum chronicling the Warner brothers’ time in New Castle is expected to draw tourists.

The four brothers – Harry, Albert, Sam and Jack – started their first theater in February 1907, their second in March and by that November had left the two, the Cascade and the Bijou, in control of their brother-in-law as they headed to Pittsburgh to start a film distribution company.

The Historic Warner Cascade Theatre Museum occupies the same space as the theaters.

“In our museum area, we’ll have several TV screens. One is operational now, where we’re showing the very first movie the Warner brothers showed here, ‘The Great Train Robbery,’ ” says Jerry Kern, president of the museum, as well as a documentary about the family made by Cass Warner, granddaughter of Harry Warner.

“These people who didn’t have a penny to their name came to a country with democracy and free enterprise and became some of the richest people in the country through an entertainment empire,” Kern observes.

Pictured: Jerry Kern has turned the site of the first Warner brothers’ theaters into a museum.

The only thing that stands between Kern and a grand opening, he says, is installing carpeting and theater seats for the museum’s two screening rooms. After that, he’ll begin raising funds to improve the space.

Just beyond New Castle city limits, the Haunted Hill View Manor is known for drawing crowds, including several TV shows such as “Ghost Hunters” and “Ghost Adventures.” Open for both private and public tours, the former poor farm and assisted living center is considered a center of paranormal activity. It’s not uncommon to see repeat customers come in several times a year, says manager Rachelle Ruzzo.

“It is one of the most haunted locations I’ve been to and I’ve been to a lot. I’m not saying that because I work there,” she says. “I work there because of the activity and because of the building.”

The most common occurrence while the building served as assisted living, Ruzzo says, is that patients would report seeing a young boy a few days before he died.

“People who used to work there had experiences. A neighbor who recently passed away has given me stories,” she says. “Doctors and nurses confirmed that it was a common occurrence.”

Pictured at top: International visitors come to see the Amish, says Visit Lawrence County’s Janet Falotico.

Copyright 2024 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.