Skip to main content

The Church of the Turnpike - St. John the Baptist Catholic Church - New Baltimore, PA

St. John The Baptist Catholic Church and Retreat Center
Along the 36 miles that are between the Somerset and Bedford interchanges on the Pennsylvania Turnpike, there is not much to break the monotony of this segment.  Yes, there is the Allegheny Tunnel and a full service rest area that motorists can use to countdown the miles along this 30 minute drive between the two interchanges.  However, it is at milepost 129 that maybe one of the most unique features of the Pennsylvania Turnpike appears.  In the town of New Baltimore, a rare town the original Turnpike actually runs through, steps from both sides of the Turnpike can carry motorists, if they desire to stop, to St. John the Baptist Catholic Church.  "The Church of the Turnpike" has become a travelers' tradition since the 1950s.

A vintage PA Turnpike Postcard showing St. John's Church.  (Image courtesy Doug Weasner)
New Baltimore and the church's importance to the Pennsylvania Turnpike System has slowly decreased over the toll road's 75 plus years in existence.  A service plaza once existed nearby.  It has been years since Greyhound Bus Lines picked up or dropped off passengers at the church.  The town of nearly 200 residents is without direct access to the turnpike.  However, the church, cut off from the town by the turnpike, still attracts curious passers by like myself along a busy ribbon of concrete and asphalt.

The quiet village of New Baltimore
St. John's Cemetery
In 2007, it was announced that the connection between St. John's and the Turnpike is coming to an end.  A highway improvement project that widened the Turnpike and updated it to modern standards was to result in the staircases on both sides of the the highway being removed.  Because there is no formal requirement for access to the church from the Turnpike to exist and Interstate highway safety standards, the stairs were not to be replaced.  The project began in 2009 and was completed in 2011.  However, reports as late as May 2014 say that the eastbound stairs are still there.   (Editor's Note: Though my family has driven past St. John's numerous times since 2012  - we do so late at night and cannot tell if the westbound stairs are still in place.)

There are plans to widen the turnpike through here to six lanes beginning in 2021.  When this occurs, it is most likely that the stairs and all access to the church will be removed.

Stairway from the eastbound lanes of the PA Turnpike leading to St. John's Church (Bee Family - 2001)
 
Mass listings for St. John's Church along the Eastbound lanes of the Turnpike (Bee Family - 2001)


Site Navigation:
Sources & Links:
  • The Bee Family
  • Joe Klunk
  • Doug Weasner

Comments

Maryanna said…
How sad to think they might remove the steps to St. John's Church. We live in Ohio. We stop every time we are on the turnpike. We don't get there very often but it is very special to me. My uncle was a priest at St. John's and was killed in a car accident close to the church . Rev Pascal Baier. October 5, 1953 I am in my 70's and have been visiting this church since I was a very young child. The last time we were at St. John's was November 15, 2021. The steps were there and I took lots of pictures of the church.
Maryanna Johnson

Popular posts from this blog

Horace Wilkinson Bridge (Baton Rouge, LA)

Standing tall across from downtown Baton Rouge, the Horace Wilkinson Bridge carries Interstate 10 across the lower Mississippi River between West Baton Rouge and East Baton Rouge Parishes. Unusually, the bridge is actually named for three separate people; three generations of Horace Wilkinsons who served in the Louisiana State Legislature over a combined period of 54 years. Constructed in the 1960s and opened to traffic in 1968, this is one of the largest steel bridges on the lower Mississippi. It’s also the tallest bridge across the Mississippi, with its roadway reaching 175 ft at the center span. Baton Rouge is the northernmost city on the river where deep-water, ocean-going vessels can operate. As a result, this bridge is the northernmost bridge on the river of truly gigantic proportions. Altogether, the bridge is nearly 2 ½ miles long and its massive truss superstructure is 4,550 ft long with a center main truss span of 1,235 ft. The Horace Wilkinson Bridge is one of the largest

Sunshine Bridge (Donaldsonville, LA)

Located about halfway between Baton Rouge and New Orleans in southern Louisiana, the Sunshine Bridge spans the lower Mississippi River near the city of Donaldsonville as part of the longer Louisiana Highway 70 corridor, which connects Interstate 10 and Airline Highway (US 61) with US 90 in Morgan City. In the years following World War II, the only bridges across the lower Mississippi River in Louisiana were located in the area of the state’s two largest cities – Baton Rouge and New Orleans. Postwar agricultural and industrial development along the river in this region led to the planning of a series of infrastructure projects in southern Louisiana that were aimed at spurring this development and modernization of the Delta region. One of these projects was known as the Acadian Thruway and was developed in the 1950s as a toll road intended to connect greater New Orleans with Lafayette and points west while providing a high-speed bypass of the Baton Rouge metro area. The Thruway, which

Natchez-Vidalia Bridge (Natchez, MS)

  Located about halfway between Baton Rouge and Vicksburg near the city of Natchez, the Natchez-Vidalia Bridge crosses the lower Mississippi River between southwest Mississippi and northeastern Louisiana at the city of Vidalia. This river crossing is a dual span, which creates an interesting visual effect that is atypical on the Mississippi River in general. Construction on the original bridge took place in the late 1930s in conjunction with a much larger parallel effort by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to strengthen the area’s flood protection and levee system along the Mississippi River. One of the more ambitious aspects of this plan was to relocate the city of Vidalia to a location of higher ground about one mile downriver from the original settlement. The redirection of the river through the Natchez Gorge (which necessitated the relocation of the town) and the reconstruction of the river’s levee system in the area were undertaken in the aftermath of the Great Flood of 1927, wh