Uniontown, Pennsylvania, bustles with charming shops, fabulous food, and historic attractions.

Every once in a while, it is good to get a change of scenery. And just a hop, skip, and jump across the state line is Uniontown, a charming and historic community that serves as a gateway to Pennsylvania’s Laurel Highlands.

Uniontown has a rich history. A confrontation in 1754 at Fort Necessity,  located 10 miles outside of Uniontown, was the prelude to the French and Indian War. It was here that General George Washington led his first major military operation, the only time he ever surrendered to an enemy. The road Washington cut through the wilderness to Fort Necessity became the National Road, the country’s first federally funded highway. Today, the National Road, which served as an impetus for much of the area’s early growth, runs through Uniontown’s downtown as Business U.S. 40.

With the arrival of the coal and steel industries, Uniontown became a bustling city. That prosperity is still evident in the large collection of historic buildings. In fact, 113 buildings make up the downtown historic district. If you’ve never walked the streets of Uniontown, park the car, get out, and look up. The stunning State Theater Center for the Arts, built in 1922, offers live professional theatrical productions, film series, and concerts throughout the year. The 11-story Fayette Bank Building is a preservation success story. When it was designed by D. H. Burnham and built in 1902, it was one of the tallest buildings in the country. It now has residential units and commercial space as well as a beautiful event space in the Rotunda. Across the street is one of the most distinctive buildings in town—the Thompson-Ruby Building, constructed in 1900 as a bank building and topped with a gold dome. There are a plethora  of magnificent churches, an imposing Romanesque courthouse, and beautifully maintained parks.

One such park, The George C. Marshall Memorial Plaza, honors the Uniontown native who grew up to be one of the country’s finest generals, a U.S. secretary of state, and the 1953 Nobel Peace Prize winner for his creation of the Marshall Plan that rebuilt Europe following World War II. Located at “Five Corners” where Fayette Street, Mt. Vernon Avenue, and Main Street intersect, the plaza includes a statue of the general, descriptive displays, historic photographs, the Flags of Nations, and an arched bridge over Coal Lick Run, where Marshall played as a boy.

You can easily spend the day shopping downtown at local establishments. Neubauer’s Flowers, a third-generation local florist located on Main Street, is the go-to place for unique arrangements, and just around the corner on Church Street, owner Steve Neubauer opened an additional store, Neubauer’s Market House. Located in the 1902 Tedrick & Williams Livery Stable, the Market House is an out-of-this-world, 15,000-squarefoot gift and home décor boutique. When you first walk in the door, don’t be surprised if you just stop and stare with your mouth hanging open. With the largest collection of MacKenzie-Childs products in the region and everything from jewelry and unique gift items to cuddly lounge pants, Vera Bradley, and seasonal decorative items for your home, you will not leave empty-handed. During the holidays it takes on an even more magical appearance, when holiday décor and thousands of ornaments transform it into a winter wonderland.

Another testament to the importance of locally owned, family-run businesses is Joyce’s Fine Jewelry, located on Main Street overlooking Storey Square. Joyce’s stunning and spacious showroom offers everything from custom creations and dazzling diamonds to Charles Krypell and Alex & Ani. It even has a room dedicated to just watches, where you’ll find popular brands like Bulova, Oris, and Michele. A Uniontown mainstay since 1979, Ptak’s, at 21 West Main Street, offers men’s casual and formal wear, and nearby, The Prom Shoppe is the locals’ favorite place for prom, formal attire, bridal gowns, and veils.

Pepperberries is another unique specialty shop and is located in a charming 1820’s historic building at 129 West Main Street. The shop specializes in artificial and natural floral design for your home, business, or special event. It also carries a large selection of gourmet food products, home décor items, candles, stationery, and items handmade by artisans.

After your walking tour and shopping, you will have worked up an appetite. There are plenty of places to whet your whistle and grab some grub—too many to mention. If you are in search of good Italian food, Uniontown has many places to choose from. Caporella’s Italian  Ristorante is a local favorite. Located in a rehabilitated freight depot at 90 Pittsburgh Street, its pasta dishes, pizza, and breaded cheese logs are unbelievable. Another local institution is Meloni’s Restaurant. It has been dishing out its popular Veal Parmigiana in a diner setting at 105 West Main Street since 1950. Titlow Tavern and Grille, at 92 West Main Street, has been serving libations in its atmospheric and historic location even longer—since 1905. Not only is Titlow known for its creative cocktails, the Grille and Tavern menus keep the locals coming back for more. From seafood, steak, and Italian dishes to sandwiches, burgers, and pizzas, you’ll find a diverse offering.

Marilyn’s on Main, located across from the State Theatre, also has delicious gourmet sandwiches and pizzas and creative fresh salads, but you must try the popular Deep Fried Pepperoni and Johnny’s Candied Bacon. Another option, Rizz’s, is a family-owned pub and restaurant that serves breakfast, lunch, and dinner. For the best shakes in town, the most creative burgers and hot dogs, and a darling diner atmosphere, visit James’ Grill, located in a roadside plaza at 524 Morgantown Street, just a quick drive from downtown. With options like the Hoagie Burger, with grilled pepperoni, salami, ham, provolone, and banana peppers, or the “James’ Special” Garbage Burger topped with Nathan hot dogs and melted American cheese, James’ is a favorite among the hard-to-please teenager crowd. In fact, Uniontown has an affinity for hamburgers. One little-known tidbit is that in 1967 Uniontown was the birthplace of the McDonald’s Big Mac sandwich. To Uniontown’s dismay, in order to celebrate this revered creation you’ll need to drive to The Big Mac Museum Restaurant in North Huntingdon. But that’s for another day.

written and photographed by NIKKI BOWMAN