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Pennsylvania Dutch invite visitors to experience simpler lifecomment (0)

August 21, 2008

By Linda Holloway

Our car is safely parked off a rural road near a one-room building. In the distance, lie vast acres of fertile farmland where men working with rudimentary tools heave the last of earth’s bounty before the long winter’s rest. Large farmhouses, barns and silos punctuate the landscape. The area is decorated with a perimeter of leaves showing off in hues of gold and orange, and the autumn air is refreshingly crisp. Larry, with a camera dangling from each shoulder, was poised to capture the countryside when I noticed a delightful surprise — school traffic.

Conspicuously missing from the scene were yellow school buses, safety patrols and minivans. Normally in my quest to rush from point A to point B, school traffic would be a nuisance, but in Lancaster County, Pa., contentment is found in the simple things in life. We watched as Amish children gleefully exited from the one-room schoolhouse and disbursed to the appropriate family buggy. The girls were dressed in plain dresses and bonnets, and the boys wore crisp white shirts and brimmed hats — no need for shoes until winter.

The buggies traveled curved roads and dispensed children into front yards filled with wooden toys. The children enjoyed playing in their world of outdoor games that I am confident was created from the imagination. On Amish farms, you won’t find video games — or electricity for that matter — and the households shun modern technology.
According to the locals, there is something else that is absent: stress. Lancaster County is currently home to more than 25,000 Old Order Amish, the oldest and second-largest community in the United States. The group came to America from Europe in the late 1600s and early 1700s in search of religious freedom.

If you visit Lancaster County, make your first stop at the Pennsylvania Dutch Convention and Visitors Bureau on Route 30. Here you will find maps and brochures of the area. Be sure to ask about the driving tour to 27 covered bridges in Lancaster County. Follow rural roads where you will find farms with roadside stands stocked with fresh produce and canned goods. In recent years, some Amish have become entrepreneurs, setting up quilt and craft shops inside spare rooms in their homes and barns. But notice the sign posted along fences: “No Sunday sales.”

Two of my favorite shopping destinations are the villages of Intercourse and Bird-in-Hand where you can purchase the products of the Amish and Mennonites, such as quilts, canned goods, furniture and crafts, in various commercial stores. At the Old Country Store in Intercourse, tour The People’s Place Quilt Museum located on the second floor. The museum specializes in antique Amish and Mennonite quilts. The vibrant colors and intricate stitching make the handmade Amish quilts of Lancaster County works of art.

The Old Country Store displays items that are supplied by more than 300 local Amish and Mennonite craftsmen. I found that the Amish potholders were inexpensive souvenirs for friends and family. While in Intercourse, also explore Village Quilts where you will find ladies demonstrating the art of quilt making. Viewing the quilts was one of the few times that I have regretted my tomboy days as a child. I wish I had learned to sew when my mother and Woman’s Missionary Union ladies gathered at each others’ homes to fashion their squares into cover for the winter.

Explore the more than 30 other shops of Kitchen Kettle Village in Intercourse. At the Jam and Relish Kitchen, the Amish and Mennonite cooks still make and can all of the store’s delicious treats by hand. Here, you will find more than 70 flavors of jams, jellies and relishes, and you can watch the complete process before your eyes. I kept circling the store until I found the perfect mix of canned delights, and the store shipped them to our house.

Nearby is the old W.L. Zimmerman & Sons store that has a special connection to Hollywood. The film “Witness,” starring Harrison Ford and Kelly McGillis, was filmed in Lancaster County, and a scene was filmed in front of the store. Here you can purchase locally made souvenirs, food products and hardware. Also, take time to wander Lancaster County items in Lapp’s Coach Shop. Among the favorites are fine hickory furniture, rockers, birdhouses, children’s furniture and toys.

Lancaster County restaurants are known for farm-fresh food. Dine at the Plain and Fancy Farm restaurant in Bird-in-Hand village. We experienced the Amish Farm Feast and dined at the table with people from across the United States in the “pass-the-platter dining experience.” Try the baked Lancaster country ham, fried chicken and shoofly pie. Next door, experience Aaron & Jessica’s Amish Buggy Rides, where the “plain people” will take you along private Amish roads and farms.

Ephrata is one of America’s earliest religious communities; it was founded in 1732 by Protestant Germans. The same greeting that welcomed guests in the 1700s awaited us by a costumed interpreter. Ephrata is home to Ephrata Cloister, a National Historic Landmark. Nine original buildings are part of a 28-acre complex open for visitors. The unique architecture, as well as the early music, printing and fraktur of the Brothers and Sisters who resided there, is featured. In one of the buildings, the group’s disciplined lifestyle is evident where boards were substituted for a mattress, complete with a brick for a pillow.

Take a short drive to Columbia, Pa., to the National Watch and Clock Museum. We journeyed through the history of timekeeping, illustrated by more than 12,000 treasures of time and exhibits ranging from Stonehenge and early sundials to today’s modern technology. My favorite piece was Napoleon Bonaparte’s sister’s pocket watch, and Larry enjoyed the nostalgia of the car clock display. A popular spot was the grandfather clock exhibit. The Engle monumental clock was also fascinating with its 48 moving figures.

If antiques interest you, stroll through the wares of thousands of antique dealers in Adamstown. Railroad enthusiasts will want to visit nearby Strasburg, where families can also take a ride on the Strasburg Rail Road’s Ride to Paradise aboard America’s oldest shortline railroad. Enjoy the scenery through the heart of Pennsylvania Dutch Country and stop back by the Railroad Museum of Pennsylvania, the National Toy Train Museum and the Choo Choo Barn.

Has Broadway moved to Strasburg, Pa.? The Sight and Sound Millennium Theatre welcomes approximately 800,000 people from around the country and the world to experience one of the largest faith-based live theater productions in America. There is seating for 2,047 people, plus designated spaces for 22 wheelchairs. The 300-foot long wraparound stage is where more than 50 actors and dozens of live animals dramatize the Scriptures through musical productions.

The total stage area is more than double that of Radio City Music Hall in New York. In May 2008, a second theater was opened in Branson, Mo. 

We enjoyed “In the Beginning,” the epic musical that brings the Creation to life on the stage. The elaborate re-creation of the Garden of Eden was thought-provoking and inspiring. To appreciate the production, try the informative behind-the-scenes tour before each musical. Hosted by Sight and Sound actors, the 75-minute tour took us to set designs while our guides explained the flight riggings for “angels” and other stage wonders.

In the costume room, our group was allowed to try on costumes, beards and wigs. Live animals are also incorporated into the musicals. On hand to greet us were Rambo the macaw, Stewie the calf, a skunk, a camel and a goat — the many other animals were waiting patiently for showtime in the barn. The spectacular opening of the musical will leave you asking the question, “How did they do that?”

“Abraham and Sarah: A Journey of Love,” will be presented through Sept. 20, and you can enjoy “In the Beginning” through Oct. 25.  Future productions include “Miracle of Christmas” and “Behold the Lamb.” For more information, call 1-800-377-1277 or visit www.sight-sound.com.

Lancaster County has a variety of lodging options, including 7,500 rooms in a variety of hotel, motel and bed-and-breakfast inns. In the northeastern part of Lancaster County, you will find the small town of Terre Hill and the Artist’s Inn. Jan and Bruce Garrabrandt purchased the inn in 1996. The historic Federal-style home dates back to 1848 and is surrounded by Amish and Mennonite farms. Bruce’s colored-pencil artwork lines the walls.

The Garrabrandts not only fell in love with the charming house, but the history of the landowners was also intriguing.

“Martin Oberholzter was the original landowner, and he acquired the deed from William Penn. Oberholzter deeded 110 acres to his daughter and she married Sam Watts — he is the person who built our house,” Jan said.

The inn has three bedrooms and a cottage, and the couple are in the process of acquiring the Carriage House next door, which also belonged to Sam Watts. Be sure to read the framed articles in the foyer that tell the stories from the past. 

We lodged in the Rose Room and were surrounded by 1800s antique oak furniture and a feather bed. The décor includes quilts created by local Amish and Mennonite women.

The most relaxing spot is in the rocking chairs located on the Victorian porches where you can watch Amish buggies powered by magnificent horses clip-clop down the street. For breakfast, Jan served us a four-course meal by candlelight. Our favorite was the pumpkin pie pancakes with hot cider syrup, double-chocolate snacking cake, Swedish scones and strawberry crepes.

After breakfast, Jan directed us to all the local favorite spots for Amish goods, including an Amish farm where we could purchase fresh cheese.

We visited the covered bridge in Weavertown and the Weavertown auction where harvest-fresh pumpkins and other crops were stacked high on wagons. Amish children and teens were along to assist their parents in unloading the bounty.

We parked our vehicle next to a row of black and gray buggies with horses that were securely tied to a hitching post. We knew we were in the heart of Pennsylvania Dutch Country.

For area tourist information, contact the Pennsylvania Dutch Convention and Visitors Bureau at 1-800-PA-Dutch or visit www.padutchcountry.com.  

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