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    Title photo for American treasure tour

    Montgomery County Philadelphia                

    Philadelphia is so filled with museums, historic houses, restaurants and entertainment venues that people often forget that there are a staggering number of things to do in the communities and villages that are within thirty-minutes of the city. One of the most prominent areas is Montgomery County (Montco) just northwest of Philadelphia. The land was deeded to William Penn in 1681 for the purpose of Quaker settlements but during the late 1700s it first came to national attention when George Washington and the Continental Army encamped there for 6-months during the winter of 1777-8. It was part of Philadelphia County until the 1780s. A number of structures from that time are sprinkled throughout the region and several offer tours and special events and there are more than 58 historic markers throughout Montco.                

    Eighteen-miles northwest of Philadelphia and 5-miles from Valley Forge sits the village of Oaks, PA. The village's history has been shaped by its location as a transportation hub. In 1825 a canal system was completed and the village was named in honor of Thomas Oakes who designed the canal. Forty-three years later the Reading Railroad erected a station there when the canal became obsolete.                

    Oaks is the home of the most surprising star in the constellation of sites in the northwestern suburbs. The American Treasure Tour takes collecting Americana to the next level with more than several thousand objects, a mere portion of the owner's private collection, displayed in two main sections, in 100,000-feet of gallery space. One of the most unique aspects of the museum is the fact that the walls and ceiling are covered with hundreds of 45s and album covers, representing all genres of music, each cover with the original record enclosed.

    Nicolodeum in Mechanical Music Room in Montgormery County, Pennsylvania

    The two-part tour begins in the Mechanical Music Room where the history of nickelodeons, originally called orchestrians, can be traced through the preserved and refurbished instruments on view and an accompanying video. The earliest patented piano designed to use paper rolls appeared in 1842 but it was not until Philadelphia's 1876 Exposition that it gained national attention. Essentially the nickelodeon is a piano that, after payment of a nickel, played itself by means of a music roll read by a tracker bar. Unlike a player piano the nickelodeon contains several other instruments often replicating an entire orchestra.

    All nickelodeons were electric and replaced steam-powered and manual instruments. Only 7% of American homes were electrified and one can only imagine the excitement of entering an establishment filled with music from a quiet world. Route drivers who changed the rolls serviced the machines weekly. One of the exhibited nickelodeons has red keys and testimony says that this particular item was used in a bawdy house and the nickels that it generated were used to pay off local politicians.

    Information  about the Nicolodeum  in Montgormery County, Pennsylvani

    Perforations on the roll were scored using a special, two-keyboard, arranger's piano. Piano music was done by machine and then other instruments were hand scored. One of the premiere arrangers was J. Lawrence Cook, an African American who is credited with arranging more than 20,000 rolls during his 50-year career. Highlights of this gallery are the 1897 single-banjo, Cook's personal piano, 60 antique radios and an authentic musical chair activated when someone takes a seat. An art teacher created Ormond's Giant World of Miniatures. These tiny dioramas were created from repurposed materials and depict both everyday and movie scenes.  

    castle made of 396,000 popsicle sticks that once held the Guiness record for the number of popsicle sticks used

    The second half of the tour is a tram ride through the galleries that comprise the adult Toy Box. The collection began when the owner was fifteen with a hot rod he built himself. There are more than 100 vehicles as well as animated figures on display. Many of the figures were formerly in store windows. Must sees in this area include a gangster's car complete with bullet hole, a castle made of 396,000 popsicle sticks that once held the Guiness record for the number of popsicle sticks used to create such a structure, more than 900 clowns and the first motorized wheelchair. The chair could attain speeds of 15 mph, which at the time, was very fast as witnessed by the fact that a speeding ticket was issued at the time to a driver traveling 12 mph. The tour ends with a song played on the only Wurlitzer 175 in the world. The greater the Wurlitzer number the larger the instrument.                 

    New additions to the collection are a constant and last year the museum welcomed the 20-lb each papier-mache reproductions of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. The dwarfs are aproximately 7-ft. tall with a 9-ft. Snow White.                 

    The museum's gift shop is filled with Americana items that bring a smile. After the tour visitors should stop to shop because the wares make great souvenirs and memorabilia. The American Treasures Tour is available by groups for tours and events.

    King of Prussia, 8-miles from Oaks, was an 18th-century Welsh settlement that was named after an inn established in the 1760s and in the 19th-century the village around the inn was named King of Prussia (KOP). Because of its location as a transportation hub the area has always been a popular place for travelers to rest and dine. The list of colonial visitors, Washington, Monroe, von Steuben, Nathaneal Greene, Anthony Wayne, Hamilton, etc., reads like a revolutionary era who's who. They ate in King of Prussia and you can too.

    Sing at Mistral Restaurant in King of Prussia

    In March of this year local food activist and James Beard acclaimed Chef Scott Anderson opened Mistral Restaurant in King of Prussia, his second location. The restaurant is located on the mall, the second largest in the nation. The original Mistral Princeton, NJ restaurant earned a place on New Jersey's "25 Best Restaurants" list in both 2016 and 2015.
                                                                                        food at Mistral King of Prussia

    Mistral King of Prussia's Michelin-quality chefs offer a different menu from that of Mistral Princeton but it too provides cuisine that is filled with inspired seasonally and locally sourced American dishes with an international twist. The 3,700-sq. ft. venue seats 111 guests with outdoor seating available for 48 additional diners. The 18-seat bar is the ideal spot to avail yourself of the extensive bar menu with wine, spirits, beer and unique craft cocktails that are created using both traditional and eye-opening ingredients. Each menu item is a cullinary surprise but you absolutely must try the grilled calamari, pork riblets, wings and corned beef sausage sandwich. and @MistralPrinceton

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    Public Disclosure-- Please Read
    I recently learned of a FTC law requiring web sites to let their readers know if any of the stories are "sponsored" or compensated.  American Roads and Global Highways' feature writers are professional travel writers. As such we are frequently invited on press trips, also called fam trips. Most of the articles here are results of these trips. On these trips most of our lodging, dining, admissions fees and often plane fare are covered by the city or firm hosting the trip. It is an opportunity to visit places we might not otherwise be able to visit and bring you a great story. However, no one tells us what to write about those places. All opinions are 100% those of the author of that feature column.  

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