On the Road…to Lancaster

Lancaster conjures images of rolling countryside, buggies and Amish traditions. The area, located just 90 minutes from Philadelphia, does have a decidedly Norman Rockwell type, idyllic small town America feel. Scenic country roads connect a series of small towns throughout Lancaster County. Each boasts its own charm and rich history– rife for the exploring.                     

Visitors to Lancaster County will find history at every turn. Lancaster is one of the oldest inland cities in the United States. German immigrants were the first settlers, arriving in 1709. John Wright dubbed the city Lancaster after his hometown in England. Lancaster became the capital of the American colonies for a day in 1777 when the Continental Congress was forced to flee Philadelphia. The city even served as the capital of Pennsylvania from 1799 to 1812.   

A Storied Past

LancasterHistory.org is a good place to begin a journey through Pennsylvania Dutch country. The ten-acre campus tells the area’s story from the Conestoga Indians to present-day newsmakers. Exhibit halls located in LancasterHistory.org headquarters preserve three centuries of art and history. The exhibit, “Freedom: “To secure the Blessings of Liberty” explores the stories of Lancaster residents who sought freedom, fought for freedom, lived in freedom and were denied freedom over the course of 300 years. Don’t miss Congressman Thaddeus Stevens’ clubfoot boot and the House of Worth Gown worn by former First Lady Harriet Lane Johnson. The keystone of the property is Wheatland– home to perhaps the most famous resident of Lancaster. James Buchanan was the 15th President of the United States and the only one to date to hail from Pennsylvania. The stately Federal style home served as his residence from 1848 until his death in 1868. Tour guides in period dress lead visitors through the mansion, which is preserved to look much as it did during President Buchannan’s time. Tours bring the historical figure to life through stories that tell of a stern, yet lovable bachelor uncle who raised orphaned nieces and nephews, cared for Lancaster’s widows and orphans and was a successful attorney. Highlights also include discussion of the president’s distinguished political career, which includes two years in the Pennsylvania Legislature, 22 years in the U.S. House and Senate, four years as Secretary of State and six years in Russia and Great Britain as a U.S. Foreign Diplomat. The tour offers entrance into the president’s library, formal dining room, bedroom and office. Period furnishings and artifacts grace each room. Check out the Emperor’s Bowl– a gift from the Emperor of Japan and believed to be the largest porcelain bowl ever made. Visitors are also welcome to roam the grounds, which include a carriage house, ice house, privy, lush gardens and frog pond.   Set aside some time to stroll through The Louise Arnold Tanger Arboretum. Located on the grounds of Lancaster History.org, the area features 104 varieties of mature trees in a park-like setting designed by Gustaf Malmborg.

The Fabric of Time

Intercourse is a quintessential Lancaster County town. It’s home to one of the largest Amish communities nationwide and the Amish live, work and shop in town. The Old Country Store is a landmark here. It’s the oldest continually operating general store in Intercourse. The building dates to 1833 and present-owners Jan and Dean Mast carry on the traditions started 184 years earlier. Visitors to the store enjoy reading about both the town’s history and the store’s history in the adjoining Story Walk. The Masts are natives of Lancaster County and former employees of The Old Country Store. When the previous owners decided to sell, the Masts felt they could not only keep the tradition alive, but also improve upon a store loved by many. “We’ve worked hard to cultivate The Old Country Store into the best purveyor of locally-made crafts and quilts in the region, and with a high concentration of fabric shops in Lancaster County, we strive to set ourselves apart,” explains Dean. He says the varied mix of finished quilts along

with unique, locally handmade merchandise and a full-service fabric store with classes and events, makes the shopping experience at The Old Country Store truly unique. The store is known for its extensive selection of quilts and crafts hand-made by the Old Order Amish and Mennonite of the area. The Quilt Room serves as inspiration for fabric customers looking to make their own quilt and the store’s heirloom-quality quilts are a popular “treat-to-self” purchases and special occasion gifts. The store also stocks kitchen gadgets, soaps and remedies, old-fashioned toys, jewelry, pottery and local food. According to Dean, many customers are drawn to the store’s quality inventory. “Fabric is a big component of our sales, but our locally-made crafts, especially when so much is made overseas these days, is a huge draw for our clientele,” states Dean.  Whether Amish-made baskets, purses, leather crafts, kitchen textiles or Mennonite-crafted wood décor, pottery or quilts, the quality of the crafts we curate to sell is exceptional.” 

Connection to the Past

Riding through the scenic landscape is one of the most popular activities in Lancaster County. Visitors may take in the sights by car, bicycle or horse and buggy. The region’s covered bridges are among the most coveted scenic destinations. While Pennsylvania is home to the most covered bridges in the nation, Lancaster County boasts the most in the state– 28 in all. Don’t miss Pine Grove Covered Bridge in Oxford. At 204-feet it’s the longest bridge in Lancaster County and the only two-span covered bridge still in use today. 

Taste Some Memories  

For residents of and frequent visitors to Pennsylvania, the name Turkey Hill is synonymous with refreshing treats. The business, which has grown into a nationally recognized brand, began on Armor Frey’s dairy farm, called Turkey Hill, located in Pennsylvania Dutch country. During the Depression Frey sold milk to his neighbors. His son’s expanded the business to include ice cream and eventually branched out to sell the brand through supermarket chains. Still headquartered in Lancaster County, today Turkey Hill is known for its frozen yogurt, ice tea and of course ice cream. In 2011, the company opened Turkey Hill Experience in Pennsylvania Dutch Country as a way for consumers to connect with the brand in a unique way. Visitors can learn how the ice cream is made, sit in a milk truck, milk mechanical cows, and learn about the people and culture of Turkey Hill Dairy. Don’t miss the Turkey Hill Taste Lab. Here visitors may create their own unique ice cream creation. Tea Discovery is new to the Turkey Hill Experience this year. Fun, interactive exhibits take visitors around the world of tea to discover tea origins, aromas and different varieties of tea. A visit to Turkey Hill Experience also includes free ice cream and iced tea sampling!    

Mining History

Many immigrants to Eastern Pennsylvania in the first half of the 20th century toiled to fuel America’s industrial revolution. Their work took them deep into the depths of the earth. Pioneer Tunnel Coal Mine stands as a testament to that perseverance and ingenuity. Today visitors may travel 1,800 feet into the side of Mahanoy Mountain to explore a mine tunnel. Open mine cars take riders deep into the drift mine where miner guides describe the hard coal way of life. Don’t miss a ride aboard the Henry Clay– an old-time narrow gauge steam locomotive. The 30-minute ride travels a route around Mahanoy Mountain to see the remnants of the region’s strip mining past. Visitors will see Mammoth Stripping, an area where an unusually thick seam of anthracite known as the Mammoth Vein juts to the surface. Millions of tons of coal was ripped from the exposed vein and left a wall of solid rock 150 feet high extending westward as far as the eye can see. Riders will also hear about the infamous nearby Centralia mine fire and see the smoke from the fire, which continues to burn today.      

Timeless Appeal  

There’s no better souvenir from a visit to Pennsylvania Dutch country than furniture. Gish’s Furniture carries a full-line of wood furnishings handcrafted and custom-made by select Amish and Mennonite craftsman. Customers can choose from a wide range of furniture, from kitchen tables and hutches, to bedroom furniture and baby cribs.                                                                          Whether a day, weekend or weeklong trip to PA Dutch country, visitors can immerse themselves in a history and heritage that’s as old as America itself. -Barbara Toolan