a newspaper man adjusts his pen

Monday, September 15, 2008

The Church of the Turnpike

NEW BALTIMORE, Pa. – There is one exit from the Pennsylvania Turnpike where the tolls collected from drivers are routed to heaven.

Tucked into the side of a steep hill hugging the berm east of Somerset, Pa., is a flight of steps to St. John the Baptist Roman Catholic Church in the village of New Baltimore.

“It’s certainly the only place of its kind along the turnpike and might well be the only of its kind in the United States,” Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission spokesman Joe Agnello said.

Motorists do pull off the toll road at mile marker 129 and climb one of two sets of stairs to attend Mass or simply reflect in the historic church, he said.

The stairways are part of a deal reached 70 years ago when the highway opened and cut a path that split the town in two.

“The church wanted that setup so people could continue to get to church. Today, they would never allow this … but it was grandfathered in,” Agnello said.

At one time, monks were cloistered at the church that had been built on purpose in a peaceful remote area before the highway brought a steady stream of noisy tractor-trailers buzzing past its front doors. The town founded in the late 1700s is now home to fewer than 200 residents.

The stairs, however, are supposed to be demolished under a plan to modernize the highway section, beginning in 2009. The church is hoping that the commission changes its mind about them, and is collecting signatures on a petition opposing the move, the Daily Republican of Somerset reported in 2007.

To demolish the roadside stairways would be a shame, especially for curious fresh-faced drivers who might want to take a moment to explore "The Church of the Turnpike," whose doors are open to visitors during the day. At 101 Finley St., it has an 84-foot clock tower and steeple and a beautiful sanctuary hidden. Once inside, the rumble on the highway is silenced with the help of a row of tall pine trees that shield the redbrick building from the traffic.


Anonymous said...

Have the steps from the PA. Turnpike to St. John's Church been removed as of June 2011?

Scott Beveridge said...

I doubt that the stairs are still there. However, I have not been out that way for some time.

Summer Travel said...

I traveled past this location on the PA Turnpike on July 27-28, 2011 and the steps were still there. My question is this: is the church still in exsistence though?

Scott Beveridge said...

It looks to still be open:

Anonymous said...

The church is open and very beautiful.I went to Sunday mass at 10:30 AM Sept 11, 2011.
I'll be stopping again.It's a pleasant place to stop for a break even if you don't catch mass, and has an old cemetery to walk through

Anonymous said...

Just drove by 5/10/12 to visit my grandfather's grave, stairs still present. However if heading west when you see the new baltimore volunteer fire dept on the right you'll need to exit BEFORE the bridge to go over it cause the stairs are on the east bound side of the turnpike.

Dick Bayerl said...

Still there when we drove by August 28, 2013

John Farrell said...

Hope to stop eastbound 10/6/13, any clue out there?

Scott Beveridge said...

Drove past the church eastbound in early September and the stairs were still there.

Jacqueline Craney said...

Stairs are still there as of May 6, 2014 :)

Unknown said...

Stairs are still there as of December 19th 2018