GRANTSVILLE – Stepping off the National Road in Grantsville and into the Spruce Forest Artisan Village is more than a step back in history: It’s a step back into many different histories.
There is a colonial homestead built in 1755 by some of the area’s first white settlers. Right next door is a Revolutionary era log cabin. Out back is the Casselman River Bridge, the longest single-span stone arch in the country when it opened in 1813 as part of the National Road.
Across the parking lot is the Penn Alps Restaurant — originally called the Little Crossings Inn when it was built in 1818 — whose owners claim is the only log tavern remaining on the National Road. There is also a shed built in 1880 during Reconstruction and a small country church, white-sided and with a modest steeple, constructed at the turn of the 20th century.
“When I came up I just fell in love with the place,” said Trish Morgan, who chucked a career in marketing three years ago to become administrator at Spruce Forest. “The idea of working in a log cabin with a pot-bellied stove was amazing … and we’re right on the National Road.”
Like Morgan, many of the estimated 50,000 visitors who come to Spruce Forest each year are attracted first by the history of the cabins and the bridge. But that is only part of the vision of the woman who built Spruce Forest, literally log by log.
“The place was never meant to be a recreated historic village, but an ongoing work where artisans could work their crafts and teach others about them,” said Ann Jones, a master weaver at the village.
In 1958, local matriarch Alta Schrock, now close to 90, began driving all over the region looking for local artisans and craftsmen who had skills and the interest to produce crafts. She delivered tools and materials to the budding artists and even arranged for classes to help hone their skills.
After only a few years, Schrock had opened the Penn Alps Craft Shop to sell goods produced by her artisans. The Penn Alps Restaurant followed soon thereafter. In 1967, the restaurant bought the spruce forest next to its property and the artisan village was born.
Schrock then went on another scouting expedition, this time looking for buildings. The first building — an 1820s stagecoach stop and tavern from Grantsville — was moved to the site in 1967.
Even though it is only about an acre large, the spruce forest today is home to 10 reconstructed or salvaged buildings that serve as office and workshops for 10 local artisans.
Nine of Spruce Forest’s 10 cabins were donated, broken down, transported to the village and rebuilt by volunteers. The 10th cabin, which serves as the village office, was constructed in 1993 using logs collected from razed buildings around the region.
“I know of no other artisan village like us within a 100-mile radius,” said Morgan.
Visitors can wander freely among the buildings and visit artisans practicing their crafts in the cabin workshops — weaving, soap making, pottery, sculpting or making stained glass, said Jones.
“People are sometimes surprised — they are looking for a succinct demonstration and they have to realize that it is a work in progress,” she said.
Jones, who still educates visitors with demonstrations on her loom, got her start at Spruce Forest 25 years ago, when she was just learning to weave.
“Originally, I was a person here to just demonstrate what to do with raw fleece,” she said. “The first two years I didn’t sell anything. I just sat and spun wool and talked to people about it and learned how to really spin.”
“I was just a first-year teacher that needed a summer job,” she said. She became a permanent resident when a cabin opened in 1974 “and I just love it … I’m sure when I retire from teaching, I will do this full time.”
Jones shares her cabin, the Glotfelty House — built in 1776 and relocated from Salisbury, Pa. — with soap-maker, John Daugherty. He and Jones said that the experience of Spruce Forest Artisan Village is unlike anything a big city can offer.
“Many of our visitors are looking for an escape from the beltway and want to capture the tranquility of Grantsville,” Daugherty said, adding that over the summer hundreds of people come through the tiny cabins each day.
“It’s a very unique little spot,” he said.
The same could be said of Grantsville.
The town has only 500 people, but more than 120 businesses, most of them mom-and-pop operations, said Garrett County Commissioner Fred Holliday, a former mayor of Grantsville.
The town is one of the oldest in the county and lies just minutes south of the Mason-Dixon line. It has three streets — the National Road doubles as Main Street here — and Holliday gasps at the thought that there could ever be a stoplight in town.
The biggest attraction is the Casselman River Bridge, which is no longer open to traffic but serves as a pedestrian link between the town on the west side of the river and the artisans village on the east.
“About half of the village’s visitors are here because of the bridge,” Morgan said.
The bridge attracted gawkers from the outset — when supports used in its construction were removed, a crowd gathered, fully expecting to see the 80-foot stone arch collapse into the river. Today, the graceful span is Garrett County’s most-photographed attraction.
The bridge supported traffic — from wagons and horses to bicycles and cars — until 1953, when it was closed down and restored by the state. In 1964, it was designated a historical landmark by the Department of Interior.
At the other end of the village is Stanton’s Mill, built in 1797 and operated for its first 150 years using water power of the nearby river. Five generations of the Stanton family kept the mill continually operating for about 185 years.
The mill closed for good in 1996. Local residents — many of whom worked there 40 years and more — are putting their hopes in a plan to convert it into a museum and antique market.
In between the mill and the bridge lies Spruce Forest. Schrock’s deep devotion to the village is evident in her detailed, hand-written notes about each cabin and how it came to the village.
She writes, for example, that the Miller House, built in 1835 in Springs, Pa., and restored in 1987 was originally built on “land occupied by some of the first white settlers” and is an “architectural gem.”
“It is one of the finest examples of early craftsmanship in the area … note the carefully crafted ‘beading’ and grooving on the ceiling boards, rafters, door and window trim and even stair treads,” she wrote.
Her pride in Spruce Forest has spread to its artisans, who are now “a number of very serious craftspeople who do this full-time,” according to Jones.
“It’s become a very serious enterprise … not as much teaching goes on here as it used to,” she added.
And it’s still a work in progress. After 20 years of looking, Schrock found a church in Oakland that was donated and moved to the village in 1995. And construction is under way on the Yoder House, a museum dedicated to the history of a dominant family in the region.
But residents are confident that the village, now run by a non-profit board, will never be more than the cozy little piece — or pieces — of history that drew many of them there in the first place.
“It’s a beautiful place and I don’t think it will ever lose its charm. They’ve worked very hard to keep that intact and I think they have done it,” said Jones.