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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)


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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

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