Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, is a large county, which boasts of being home to the Pennsylvania Dutch.
As you enter the county, you are met with shopping centers, grocery stores, and normal life as seen in most American towns. This is just a facade, because as you venture the back roads, the real Lancaster County emerges.
You will encounter small horse drawn buggies, gray and black. The small gray wagons belong to the Amish and the black wagons belong to the Mennonites. The conveyances are non motorized and horse drawn. The trotting horse is not disturbed by its motorized counterparts which travel beside it. There are hitching posts for the wagons at most stores that the “Plain People” frequent, such as the local hardware store.
The sects are referred to as the Plain People, and the non Plain People are known as the English.
The farms are pristine and the out buildings clean. There are many buildings at an Amish farm, as the Plain People believe in family. When a son marries, he moves into the main house with his wife. The mother and father move to another building on the land. There are several generations that live on a farm.
Both men and women, young and old, tend to the fields. Children are dressed in typical Amish garb, even the youngest member of the family. The women wear dresses that do not have buttons, but use gripper snaps and pins to keep closed. This lack of buttons, comes from the belief that there should be no graven images. This is the reason that the Plain People do not want their pictures taken. If you take a photo, you must do it secretly.
There are many towns in Lancaster County that house the Plain People. Some of these are Adamstown , Bird In Hand, Holtwood, Intercourse, Lancaster, Leola, and Lititz. All are in close proximity to each other. Manheim, Paradise and Strasburg are some others.
If you feel you want to experience the real Pennsylvania Dutch Country, you must take a guided tour of the area. One such tour is given, free of charge, by Bird In Hand Family Inns and Motel. This tour takes the visitor deep in the Amish Country. This tour stops at Riehls’s Farm and Quilt Shop, where quilts are sold. These quilts are hand made, and the store is run by Katie Riehl. She pays the quilters by the hour for their quilts, and sells them for that price. There are quilt shops along the road. A general store is the next stop. There the visitors can purchase large Dutch pretzels, fresh from the oven. An Amish lad stands in front of the store, offering free samples.
The Paradise Farm Market is another stop on the tour. Food, local wares, and fresh fruits and vegetables can be purchased there. Sampling is a treat at the Market, as there are many Pennsylvania Dutch pastries to be sampled.
Shoo Fly Pie was a favorite on our tour bus. It is a sweet delicacy with molasses as one of the ingredients.
The Apple Dumplings were a big hit with the group, also. Whoppie pies were popular also. These chocolate cakes, filled with white creme, and topped with another chocolate cake were delectable.
The Plain People are extremely friendly. A trip to a furniture factory is another must for any visitor. The hand made furniture is sturdy and appealing to all tastes. They take special orders and will ship them to you.
The hand made quilts were beautiful, but the “quil-lows” were unusual.They are a small hand made quilt, which folds into a casing making it a pillow, when not in use as a quilt.
Unique in their transportation system, were the bikes used by the children. They were not bikes, but rather scooters. They had no seat nor pedals. The children rode them to school. Each school in the district was only two miles away, so the children could ride their bikes to school. Most of the Plain People have their own schools and did not send their children to public schools. Pennsylvania Dutch is spoken by the families. Children speak this language until they go to school. There they are taught English.
There are many fine places to stay in Lancaster County. Each small town has a motel. The Bird In Hand Family of Inns and Motels operated several in the area. Most of the Inns were run by families. They are clean and well taken care of. The furniture is sturdy and hand made. Near Strasburg, the Caboose Inn is a popular motel. Each caboose is a motel room, complete with railroad memorabilia. There are franchise motels available, such as Courtyard by Marriott, Days Inn, Econo Lodge, etc. The rates vary from $59 to $199 per night.
There are excellent places to dine in Lancaster County. One place that we enjoyed a delightful buffet type meal was Hershey Farm Restaurant and Inn located in Strasburg, Pennsylvania. The food was excellent, reasonable, and Pennsylvania Dutch cooking was featured. Another wonderful place to eat is the Fulton Steamboat Inn, also located in Strasburg. The property is built to resemble a steamboat, and the dining room’s setting is a steamboat dining decor. Food is plentiful, with prices ranging from $10 to $30.
There are many entertaining things to do in Lancaster County. In Strasburg, there is the Strasburg Railroad, which is a 45 minute train ride. For adults, there is the wine and cheese evening train that includes the 45 minute ride plus wine and cheese. The Choo Choo Barn, also located in Strasburg, has 22 operating model trains.
Dutch Wonderland is a family amusement park in East Lancaster, Pennsylvania. Indian Echo Caverns are located in Hummelstown, where underground formations are featured. You can also pan for gemstones there.
There are Amish Buggy Rides available in Ronks. Hershey Park is another amusement park, which offers amusement park rides for the entire family.
There are many other activities in the area. For more information, contact the Pennsylvania Dutch Convention Bureau at padutchcountry.com. to plan your visit to see for yourself the land of the “Plain People.”
References: Pennsylvania Dutch Convention and Visitors Bureau