By Garrett Dvorkin
Herald Staff Reporter
FRANKLIN, Venango County — There are many ways to tell the history of a town. There are the people, the industry, the culture, the cuisine, the architecture and many more factors that can make a place special.
Valerie Perry, a travel blogger, cruise ship worker and lover of travel, decided to tell the story of Franklin with a combination of food, stories and people. She created “A Bite of History” food tours, where guests can hear stories of Franklin while eating and drinking their way through the city.
What better way is there to learn about Victorian architecture than in a Victorian home eating waffles and drinking orange juice? How about learning about the trails of Franklin with a beverage at Trails and Ales?
Since Franklin was laid out in 1895 by Andrew Ellicott, the same person who helped lay out the plan for Washington D.C., Franklin has been a city of rich history that has helped shape not only Pennsylvania, but the world.
On the food tour, guests not only get to hear about the great history of Franklin, but also learn about its business owners and where Franklin is headed in the future.
Perry’s tours aren’t a history lecture, according to her, she likes to use stories and storytelling. Guests learn about Joseph Sibley, who started the Galena Signal Oil Company, which was one of Franklin’s largest businesses and part of the Rockefeller oil empire. They also get to hear about the time Sibley went to Chicago to demonstrate new oil products to barons of industry, only to find himself in the middle of the Great Chicago Fire with his company’s secret recipe in hand.
The tour started at the Peddlers and Paddlers Bed and Breakfast. At this spot Perry explained the early history of Franklin, known as “America’s Victorian City.” Guests were treated with waffles and frittatas while learning about the oil boom and wealth that once put Franklin on the map. The bed and breakfast, originally built in 1867, showcases both the colonial revival and arts and craft architectural styles of the 1860s.
The tour then went to Trails & Ales, JP’s Tickle My Ribs, The Olive Vault, Bossa Nova Roastery, Bella Cucina and Poppin Sweet Shop. Perry plans to rotate through partnering establishments to keep the tour fresh.
On the way to these establishments, Perry took those in attendance to important points in the city such as the former site of Fort Franklin, St.John’s Episcopal Church and the Pioneer Cemetery, to name a few. At these stops, Perry told stories about Franklin as it would have been.
Throughout the tour, Perry would highlight spots that can seem to be overlooked in the area. She showed St.John’s Episcopal Church, one of eight churches in the United States with a full set of Tiffany stained glass windows.
Even though the weather may have not fully cooperated, raining on some of the tour as Perry led the group through the city, the food was enough to keep everyone warm and motivated to get to the next stop.
Some of the cuisine enjoyed included risotto and shrimp, ribs, bubble tea and beer flights. Perry scheduled a variety of locations so that no matter what a guest’s tastebuds prefer, there is something on the tour for everyone.
As Franklin is a place where individuals like Sibley and Ellicott have left their marks, Perry tried to focus some of the tour on the current wave of Franklin business owners.
Perry told stories like that of Jay Poindexter, owner of JP’s Tickle My Ribs BBQ. Poindexter dropped out of high school months before graduation and later worked with at risk youth.
After going back to school, he worked as a child abuse investigator. Poindexter looked for outlets outside of his career to take his mind off of work, and started cooking and barbequing using his grandmother’s recipes. He took a liking to cooking, and now has his own restaurant.
Poindexter’s story was one of the reasons that Perry wanted to show Franklin and what is has to offer.
When still living in the Washington D.C. Area, Perry did a food tour in Maryland. A native of the area, and Cranberry High School grad, Perry immediately thought of how the tour would work well in Franklin.
“It combines global travel experience with a great home-town feel,” said Perry, “And it’s a great way to quickly get an overview of Franklin.”
Dvorkin can be reached by email at [email protected].