The Ligonier valley is quite a place.
It’s about as historic as we get in the Alleghenies. There were natives here long before the Europeans. “Loyalhanna” is an anglicized Delaware-Indian phrase meaning “Middle Creek” and the site of what is now Ligonier was a native community in the early 18th century.
In 1758, “Loyal Hanna’s Post” became a key fortification facilitating General John Forbes’ successful campaign to capture the French Fort Duquesne and secure British control of the Forks of the Ohio. A dramatic battle between British and French forces took place at Loyal Hanna on October 12, 1758.
Nestled between the Laurier and Chestnut ridges, the narrow, rolling highlands of the Ligonier Valley remained a dangerous place for settlers until after the Revolutionary War. The community of Ligonier was founded in the second decade of the 19th century after traffic began to pick up along the old Forbes Road.
Significant farms were established to take advantage of the fertile uplands, and the valley’s natural beauty attracted wealthy Pittsburgh families, including the Mellons, who established a 12,000-acre club called Rolling Rock. Decades of Pittsburgh connections have provided Ligonier with a chic destination look and feel that makes it unique in the area.
These connections have also supported a healthy business district with a variety of specialty shops, restaurants, and taverns. Ligonier’s community center is the Diamond, a recently redone community park with a white gazebo, brick walkways and landscaped grounds.
The community also punches above its weight with events, hosting the annual Fort Ligonier Days (this weekend, FortLigonierDays.com), an Ice Festival in late January, a Diamond Antiques Fair in June, and a variety of open houses and other special events that support local businesses and keep Ligonier alive.
Frankly, I thought I had a good idea of Ligonier and its annual offers. That is, until an email exchange about bikes earlier this year with Latrobe Bulletin editor Tara Ewanits.
Tara casually mentioned that she had a bike so she could dress up as a witch and ride it to an event in October. Wait, Tara, a witch? By bike ?
“Yes, I’m part of the Ligonier Witches Bike Brigade every October,” Tara replied. “The best event in Ligonier!
Readers from the Ligonier area are probably familiar with this, but for the rest of us, this is a ladies-only type event that was founded in 2016 by a dozen friends who have decided to dress up as witches and cycle to the bars around Ligonier.
Over the past six years, this event has evolved and exploded. About 1,200 women participate each year in what has become “the original Witches Bike, Dance, Shop, Bus Ride” group and day, according to the Ligonier Witches Bike Brigade Facebook page.
All dress in their own highly stylized witch costumes. If they have a bike (many don’t), those are also decorated. There are opening and closing ceremonies, a grand entrance, and choreographed dance routines.
They spend the day shopping in stores and eating in restaurants. Some drink, some don’t. As one of them said, it’s about “brotherhood”. Now it’s a ticketed event and the money raised goes to local animal rescue services.
The Ligonier Volunteer Hose Company #1 actively participates, leading the grand entrance with an antique fire truck, bringing in a caterer, serving adult drinks, and providing a DJ and dance floor.
Interestingly, the Ligonier Witches Bike Brigade takes on a life of its own. Dancing witches now appear at festivals, parades, even the Westmoreland Museum of American Art.
However, the main event is on October 23 this year. Ticket presales are closed, but those interested can purchase tickets with cash on the day of the event. For more information, visit the Ligonier Witches Bike Brigade on Facebook.
War. Wealth. Witches. The Ligonier valley is quite a place.