ABOVE PHOTO: Strasburg Railroad Station.
By Renée S. Gordon
The location of Philadelphia, Penn’s “City of Brotherly Love,” was selected because rivers were the roads of the era and it is situated where the Schuylkill and Delaware rivers meet. Also, the Delaware Bay that leads to the Atlantic Ocean is just south of it. Philadelphia was, from its founding, at the heart of the colonies and offered relatively easy access to the other important 17th-century cities and in the more than 300 years since that time little has changed.
Philadelphia continues to occupy an enviable geographic location on the Eastern Seaboard. We are within a two-hour drive of a significant number of destinations that draw national and international tourists including Washington, DC, New York and Pennsylvania’s own Lancaster County Dutch Country. www.dutchcountryroads.com
Lancaster County is one hour away via Route 30, once the Lancaster Turnpike Road. The privately owned turnpike, chartered in 1796, was the first in the country to be “paved,” with a pebble surface. The road followed an earlier walking path used by Native Americans for trade and to hunt inland from the coast. Later, Europeans used these trails to settle the western frontier. Gradually, the paths were widened to accommodate wagons and troops. In May of 1729, Lancaster became the first of the state’s western counties.
Many Europeans came to the New World fleeing religious persecution and because of Penn’s ”Holy Experiment” and promise of religious tolerance, chose Penn’s Woods for colonization. The earliest record of mass German immigration is their arrival in 1683 in Philadelphia. Ninety-four “Swissers,” a Mennonite group, contracted with William Penn for 14,000-acres of land in the area and arrived aboard the Maria Hope in September of 1710. Widespread Swiss and German immigration continued until the American Revolution interrupted it.
The most widely recognized group in Lancaster is the Amish. Many consider the Amish a reform group of the Mennonites founded by Menno Simons. Although the Amish base their beliefs on those of the Mennonites, Jacob Amman established the sect to reestablish the original 17th-century customs and behaviors of the religion. Their core beliefs include adult baptism, God’s grace, a literal interpretation of the Bible and strict separation of church and state.
The Amish Experience on the 10-acre Plain and Fancy Farm provides a glimpse into the Amish lifestyle in a variety of ways, 90-minute countryside tours, a movie and guided tours of the county’s only designated Heritage Site.” www.amishexperience.com
Several specialty tours are scheduled on a regular basis and should be booked in advance. The Amish V.I.P., Visit-in-Person, Tour provides stops at three unique sites where visitors can interact with a farmer at milking time, an Amish artisan or a visit with an Amish family in their home.
Harrison Ford and Danny Glover starred in the movie Witness in 1985. The film brought international attention to the region and the Witness Movie Covered Bridge Tour offers access to film locations including the summer kitchen where many interior scenes were shot. The house is only open on these tours. The driving portion of the tour takes you through the farmlands and three covered bridges.
The Amish Adventure Tour introduces visitors to “modern” life in Amish country. With shrinking farmland many people have turned to alternative occupations. On this tour visitors meet some of these creative people and tours end with homemade ice cream.
Jacob’s Choice, a 40-minute state-of-the-art movie is shown in the F/X Theater, one of only three in the nation, in the Amish Experience visitor center. The multi-screen film uses special effects and holograms to relate the history of the Amish and the dilemma of choosing to remain a part of the community in the 21st-century.The film is shown in a barn setting, explores the tradition of Rumspringa, “running around.” This gives teenagers the opportunity to experience the world prior to being baptized into the religion and agreeing to following Ordnung, the “rules.” On an average 92 percent elect to remain Amish.
On-site guided tours of the Amish Schoolhouse and Farmhouse are scheduled. The schoolhouse has no electricity, air conditioning, central heating or running water and classes average 35 children through 8th-grade. Teachers are around 16-years old and were the best students in their class. They are unmarried, receive no benefits and are paid $1.00 per day per child.
You get a close look at the Amish culture and lifestyle inside the nine-room farmhouse. All aspects of family life are interpreted and guides answer questions in each room and at the end of the tour. We are told that the average family has 10-12 children and everyone is in bed by 9:30 PM so they are rested for the next day. The Amish pay taxes but do not collect money from the government or have hospitalization. They provide for themselves in case of emergencies and medical situations.
Plain & Fancy Farm Restaurant has been featured on the “Feasts” episode of Travel Channel’s Man v. Food Nation. The restaurant, the first with family-style service, opened in 1959. It has been serving fresh, local food and Lancaster specialties for more than half a century, a trend other regions are just beginning to discover. www.plainandfancyfarm.com
Columbia, PA’s newest attraction is the delightfully interactive Turkey Hill Experience. There are six thematic galleries with more than 20 stations within the 26,000-sq. ft. structure. Exhibits on the second level begin with “River Town History” and the story of the indigenous people, early contact with Europeans and regional Underground Railroad history. In “Our Story” we read that the Frey Farmland was part of the Manor chartered by William Penn and the natives called the land Turkey Hill.
Interactive highlights of the self-guided tour include a photo op in an original delivery truck, milking a mechanical cow and creating your own ice cream flavor, packaging and commercial. Visitors can also view the factory in real time in a special Dairy Cam gallery. The tour ends with a stop at the Tasting Bar to sample ice cream and tea flavors. The first floor gift shop has logo items as well as Turkey Hill food and beverage products. This is a great place for all ages but children in particular will love it. www.turkeyhill.com
Strasburg village was first settled about 1733 and 35-years later it consisted of 19 houses. In 1983, the 82.5-acre Historic District was placed on the National Register of Historic Places. The village is situated on Route 741, which was Conestoga Road. The district features 193 structures built of log, limestone and brick. Most unique in Strasburg is the number of surviving log buildings and its city plan as a village located along a major transportation route. www.strasburgpa.com
Minqua’s Path became The Great Conestoga Road, using the name by which the Susquehannock Indians referred to themselves, “the people of the pole.” The first documented mention of a Conestoga wagon appears in 1717 but it is believed they were made earlier than that in the Lancaster area. The trucks of their day, they were made to carry goods over rugged terrain. The bottom was curved to keep goods from falling out and prevent shifting. The waterproof canvas cover protected the goods. They averaged 12 miles per day and the trip to Philadelphia took around five days.
Ironically, the Strasburg Railroad was never a huge financial success until it became a visitor attraction in 1957. Chartered in 1832 it is the oldest shortline railroad in the nation, the oldest continually chartered public utility in the state and maintains the largest fleet of wooden coaches in the US with one of the last remaining wooden dining cars. A tour of the complex includes the 1882 East Strasburg Station, a quaint shopping mall, the Cagney miniature steam train, Trackside Café, railyard, kid’s play area and working restoration shop. This facility has the ability to restore historic trains and build new trains. Shop tours are offered daily.
Visitors can ride the rails on a series of different excursions including, The Great Train Robbery, Wine & Cheese Train, The Night Before Xmas Train and a Day Out With Thomas the Tank Engine. The 45-minute, 9-mile, round trip takes you pass acres of the most pristine and iconic Amish farmland remaining in Lancaster.
Strasburg Railroad station and cars have been used in numerous movie and television productions including Hello Dolly, The Wild, Wild West, The Men Who Built America and Raintree County. Schedules, events and fees are available online. www.strasburgrailroad.com
• Located directly across the street is the Railroad Museum of PA. More than 100 locomotives are exhibited along with the Pennsylvania Railroad Historical Collection. www.rrmuseumpa.org
Sight & Sound Theatres launched the groundbreaking production of “Noah” in 1995 with an original script based on chapters 5-9 in Genesis. The play has recently returned to Lancaster County for a limited engagement. The production has a cast of 52 actors, more than 50 live animals and more than 100 animatronic animals. The second act of the musical is largely set inside the ark, constructed of 11 individual sections, 45-ft. high, weighing 100,000-lbs. The theater itself is the largest faith-based theater in the US. Information on individual and group sales is online. This is a must-see theatrical event. You will be astonished. www.sight-sound.com
The Country Living Inn is ideal for a trip to Lancaster County. It is located within 25-minutes of all the listed activities and it offers all the amenities including free WIFI and on-site parking. www.countrylivinginn.com
DJ’s Taste of the ‘50s is adjacent to the inn and has been featured in “USA Today” as serving the best burgers in PA. You will love all the choices and the décor. www.djstasteofthe50s.com
You can step back in time on a trip to Lancaster. It is a very unique, affordable, family friendly vacation and best of all it is a one-tank of gasoline trip. Experience something different. Experience Pennsylvania Dutch Country. www.padutchcountry.com
I wish you smooth travels!
National Geographic’s new Pennsylvania Recreation Atlas is a wonderful addition to your summer travel planning tools. The guide contains detailed road networks, recreation specific maps and comprehensive listings of cities, towns, water and physical features and parks, forests and refuges. It is indispensible for the casual travel as well as the avid sports enthusiast. www.natgeomaps.com