Amish country/Lancaster County, Pennsylvania
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Personality Types that Like it Best
Did You Know … ?
- About two-thirds (63%) of North America’s Amish live in Ohio, Pennsylvania or Indiana.
- Lancaster was capital of the American colonies for one day in 1777 and of Pennsylvania 1799-1812.
- The still-occupied Benjamin Mishler house in Lancaster was built in 10 hours.
- Overall, the Amish population doubles about every 20 years.
- Milton Hershey, a Mennonite, started his first successful candy firm in Lancaster (1880s).
The majority of Pennsylvania’s Amish people live in Lancaster County in the southeastern part of the state, and theirs is the world’s oldest existing Amish community (from the 1720s). The Amish are generally distinguishable by their plain style of dress and use of horse-drawn buggies. The county also is host to Mennonites, a group with similar religious precepts and shared origins in Switzerland. Mennonites may or may not be distinguishable as they more often dress like the general population and drive cars.
Of added interest, another centuries-old religious group, the Moravians, with 15th century roots in today’s Czech Republic, founded towns in Pennsylvania, including Lititz in Lancaster County. The church is still active in the area, and the town appeals to visitors with museums and the Lititz Historic District.
Indeed, all the groups boast of historic sites to be visited and understood plus the kinds of handmade goods that serious shoppers look for, from furniture and quilts to folk art and food.
Nevertheless, it is the more numerous and more obvious Amish who are the top draw for such shoppers and for those interested in learning more about a unique subset of America’s social and historical landscape. While protecting their way of life, the Amish participate directly in the tourism business, offering buggy rides, bringing their products to market or selling goods at roadside stands.
In addition, a variety of service providers are obliging about offering learning experiences or personal encounters with the Amish. Touristic activities include Amish houses and one-room schoolhouses to explore, a variety of tours through the back roads of Lancaster County, Amish-themed theatrical productions and some home visits.
A Mennonite information center and historical society are supportive with their own services; the Discover Lancaster Visitors Center provides tours. Visitors may attend Amish mud sales or shop in Lancaster’s Central Market to further enrich the experience.
Finally, the Amish don’t pose for photos and don’t want to be in photos that show their faces. This is less of an issue with children. Also, horse-drawn buggies move slowly. Drivers must take care, especially when approaching hills and corners.
Things to do for Venturers
- Tour Amish country from an airplane, an option available any day the weather permits.
- At Lancaster’s Central Market, try scrapple (a mush of pork scraps, cornmeal and wheat flour), and head cheese (a terrine made with flesh from a calf’s or pig’s head). Both are acquired tastes! Or shop for chowchow (pickled vegetable relish) and bread and butter pickles at this, America’s oldest continuously operating farmers market, (1730).
- Overnight, or stay several nights, at an Amish-run guesthouse located on the host’s farm property.
- Or, try a working farm B&B where you would help with chores. These B&Bs are not on Amish farms.
- Place your bids at an Amish mud sale, generally in early spring when spring thaw turns earth to mud. Good for interaction with the Amish, these auctions are the primary fundraiser for many fire companies in Amish communities — and may let you uncover real finds among handmade Amish quilts and furniture and other goods.
- Rent a bicycle to stretch your legs while seeing the countryside at your own pace. Or join a cycling tour of the county.
Things to do for Centrics
- In summer, at the Amish Village in Stasburg, learn a few things in the one-room schoolhouse during a “class” led by an Amish teacher.
- Factory tours are options at Eldreth Pottery Factory in Oxford (in next-door Chester County) and George’s Furniture and Woodshop in Marietta. Shop for the handmade goods. Or, focus on quilts big time at Quiltweek, staged in Lancaster in March.
- Drive the countryside, stopping when signage invites you to stop and shop for, say, homemade baked goods or quilts.
- For train buffs, consider these, all in Strasburg: the Strasburg Rail Road (offering a ride into the Amish countryside and themed rides); the Railroad Museum of Pennsylvania; the Choo Choo Barn (a custom model train display); the National Toy Train Museum, and the Red Caboose Motel and Restaurant (for eating and sleeping in refurbished railroad cars).
- Amish Country Tours at Plain & Fancy Farm (in Bird-in-Hand), offers an Amish VIP (meaning, visit in person) tour promising unusual access to Amish residents via visits to a farm at milking time; to a home cottage business, and to an Amish family for informal conversation. Look into this one.
- Take time for the Moravian story in Lititz at its historic house museums and its larger Lititz Historic District with the Lititz Moravian Church as its centerpiece.
Things to do for Authentics
- Head to the Lancaster Mennonite Historical Society in Lancaster for background information on the area. Despite the name, the society’s museum covers the Amish as well as the Mennonite story.
- Tour a former or typical Amish residence at the Amish Village in Strasburg, the Amish Farm and House in Lancaster or Amish Experience at Bird-in-Hand. All have one-room schools and grounds to explore.
- Go for the factory tour at Miesse Candies, Lancaster. Also in Lancaster, round out the day with a tour at the Thistle Finch Distillery, the county’s only operating distillery. Shopping is always an option, too.
- Explore the Pennsylvania Amish countryside in an Amish horse and buggy. Or, join a guided motorcoach tour along the back roads of Lancaster County.
- Book a Broadway-style Amish-themed musical production at the Bird-in-Hand Stage. In addition, at Amish Experience Theater, also in Bird-in-Hand, see the theater’s 40-minute fictional “Jacob’s Choice,” dramatizing the choices one young Amish man faces.
- Shop for Amish-made quilts, furniture or foods to take home. The county has even created a Made in Lancaster Shopping Trail. Then, eat Amish comfort food.
For more information, consult Discover Lancaster at www.discoverlancaster.com