The Fred Rogers Trail In Pennsylvania Will Let You Take A Self-Guided Tour Of The Area That Inspired ‘Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood’
My favorite part of the summer I spent at Carnegie Mellon University when I was in high school studying the great and noble art of musical theatre was the fact that I literally lived in Mister Rogers’ neighborhood: The WQED building, where Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood was shot, and the apartment Fred Rogers and his wife, Joanne Byrd, kept are located in the Pittsburgh, Pa. neighborhood of Oakland, just down the road from the university. But now, you can do one better than just a stop in Oakland: Thanks to the Fred Rogers Trail, you can go on a complete Mister Rogers pilgrimage throughout Pennsylvania if you feel like it.
The brainchild of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood aired its very first episode on Feb. 19, 1968, which means that the show turned half a century old in February of this year. So, in honor of the beloved television program’s 50th anniversary, the Pennsylvania Department of Community and Economic Development has put together an itinerary for a three-day, self-guided tour taking you from Mister Rogers’ very beginnings all the way up to the present.
“Each stop on the trail was respectfully selected and have relevance to Fred Rogers to make you feel like you’re visiting Fred’s own neighborhood,” said Dennis Davin, secretary of the Department of Community and Economic Development, to Pittsburgh area CBS affiliate KDKA 2. “We feel like it will serve as a guide to the places Fred Rogers touched the most.”
The full itinerary is available on Visit PA, Pennsylvania’s official tourism site — so, as the site puts it, “lace up your tennis shoes, zip up your cardigan, and get ready to walk a mile in the shoes of a Pennsylvania legend.”
Day One takes you around Rogers’ hometown of Latrobe, about 40 miles east of Pittsburgh. This day admittedly has a pretty hefty itinerary; there are eight tops on it, plus an additional two bonus stops. Some of the stops are more time-consuming than others, though, so you can adjust the intensity of the day accordingly. The first stop is the biggest: Idlewild & SoakZone, the amusement park which operated the Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood of Make-Believe attraction from 1989 through 2013. The attraction took the form of a trolley ride that took park visitors through the Neighborhood of Make-Believe, encountering King Friday, Lady Elaine Fairchilde, and all the rest of the characters that inhabited that magical land.
The ride was removed after the 2013 season — but a similar attraction based on Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood, the spiritual successor to Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, moved in shortly thereafter. Daniel Tiger is the son of original Mister Rogers' Neighborhood character Daniel Striped Tiger — and, in keeping with continuity, the new ride even uses the same trolley, tracks, and some of the sets as the original ride.
Amusement parks are often a full-day activity, though, so if you’re not into the idea of going just to see the Daniel Tiger ride, you could always skip Idlewild and go right to the next stop: The Fred Rogers Exhibit at the Fred Rogers Center of Saint Vincent College. Here, you can learn about the life and work of Fred Rogers and see some of the puppets, the Neighborhood Trolley, and a collection of cardigans and sneakers worn by Rogers throughout the production of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood. Other stops on Day One’s itinerary can be driven by or seen relatively easily, among them Latrobe High School, where Rogers was the yearbook editor and president of the student council during his time as a student; the Latrobe Presbyterian Church, where Rogers was ordained as a minister; the Fred Rogers statue in James H. Rogers Park; and Mister Rogers’ burial site at Unity Cemetery.
Day Two takes you to Pittsburgh, where most of the magic happened: Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood was produced in this Pennsylvania city for the entirety of its run. The major stop on the second day of the tour takes visitors to the Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood exhibit at the Senator John Heinz History Center. Here, you’ll see the largest collection of artifacts from the show currently available for public viewing — including the complete living room set where Mister Rogers swapped his blazer for a colorful cardigan and his fancy, leather shoes for his comfy tennis shoes at the start of every episode.
BRB, getting a little teary.
King Friday XIII’s Castle, the Great Oak Tree, and tons of puppets are also on display at the Heinz Center, so get ready to meet up again with some old friends. And afterward, you can check out the Tribute to Children monument on the North Shore, drive by the WQED building in Oakland, and snap a photo or two of the Duquesne Incline — complete with a cable car that very closely resembles Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood Trolley.
Day Three, meanwhile, takes you to the Pittsburgh Children’s Museum for more artifacts from the show before leaving the city for Washington, Pennsylvania, about 30 miles south of Pittsburgh. In Washington, you can visit the Pennsylvania Trolley Museum, where the now-iconic “Grandparents” episode of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood was shot. And, if you’re feeling really ambitious, you can also use this day to take a detour to Buttermilk Falls in New Florence, a beautiful outdoor spot with hiking, a waterfall, and a picnic area. Fred Rogers’ grandfather owned the area from 1931 to 1956; he and his family visited quite a lot when he was young.
Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood ceased production in 2000, with the final episode being tapes on Dec. 1 of that year; then, just a few years later, Fred Rogers himself died on Feb. 27, 2003 after a battle with stomach cancer. But in the years since — and, I would argue, particularly over the past two years — his messages of kindness, caring, and compassion have been more relevant than ever. As Ann Nemanic of the Laurel Highlands Visitors Bureau put it to KDKA 2, “Generations have been influenced by Fred Rogers. In a single sentence, he could teach a child and allow them to feel significant and that he mattered. As adults, we seek meaning in his message.” Added Visit Pittsburgh’s Jason Fulvi, “There are not many Fred Rogers. In fact, our world today could use a lot more of him.”
If you want to travel the Fred Rogers Trail, head on over to Visit PA for the full itinerary — or, y'know, just read about it. That's OK, too. Because in case you need a reminder: Mister Rogers likes you just the way you are.