Visiting Lancaster County, Pennsylvania

Story and Photos By Bud Cole

Lancaster County is located in the beautiful agricultural area of south central Pennsylvania. The county offers a multitude of attractions for all ages and tastes. And there are certainly many great tastes available. The county is often referred to as the Garden Spot of America. This nickname definitely hits the “spot”. The regions soils are among the most fertile soils in the world.

One of many historic buildings in Lancaster

One of many historic buildings in Lancaster

The area’s farms produce a large variety of crops including tobacco. Pennsylvania Dutch Country is another common nickname used for Lancaster County. This nickname, however, needs additional clarification. The word Dutch was what early settlers from countries other than Germany thought their neighbors the Germans were calling themselves. But the Germans were not saying Dutch they were saying Deutsch, the German word for German. This inaccurate term continues to confuse people today. The county is also home to a large Amish community with different local sects. There are also many Mennonite families in the county. A great number of individuals of various nationalities emigrated to the area to take advantage of the religious freedoms offered by William Penn. Penn established his colony of Pennsylvania in the New World on land he received from England’s King Charles II. The land satisfied a debt owed by the King to Penn’s father, Sir William Penn a politician and an Admiral in the Royal Navy.

Mule power is used to cut alfalfa field in a Bird-In-Hand area farm field.

Mule power is used to cut alfalfa field in a Bird-In-Hand area farm field.

It is difficult to see everything Lancaster County offers in only one day. Plan to stay at the beautiful AmishView Inn and Suites in the village of Bird-In-Hand. The community of Bird-In-Hand was founded in 1734. Legend has it that two road surveyors were on a job that took several days and discussed whether to stay in the area or travel to Lancaster each evening. One supposedly said, “A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush,” which meant it is preferable to have a sure but smaller advantage than to take the chance of possibly gaining more; so they stayed at McNabb’s hotel and made it their headquarters for the job. Local folklore also tells that a sign in front of the inn had a man with a bird in his hand and two in a bush. The inn became known as the Bird-In-Hand Inn. So, now you know how the oddly named community that grew up around the inn got its name. Or do you?

The view from Amish View Inn

The view from Amish View Inn

The AmishView Inn combines the intimate atmosphere of a bed and breakfast with all the amenities of an upscale hotel. Visitors receive special treatment including an unbelievable complimentary hot country breakfast. No, not a continental buffet, but a hot breakfast with an onsite chef preparing your favorite eggs, omelets and other breakfast favorites. The buffet offerings are extensive. The all you can eat “pass the platter” family style lunches and dinners at the Plain and Fancy Restaurant is truly a feast made for a king. Guests sit at large tables where the country meal is served by waiters and waitresses. The servings come in large bowls that are passed from guest to guest just like at home. But unlike many homes, the food keeps coming as long as you have room for more. Check out their great gift shop with its extensive selection of Lancaster County crafts. The suites in the new section of the inn look out on a beautifully manicured Amish farm house in the distance with its surrounding fields. Views are especially great in summer and fall when the fields are alive with produce. The inn also caters to special events.

Lancaster County barn with slatted and sliding doors open for drying tobacco

Lancaster County barn with slatted and sliding doors open for drying tobacco

Aaron and Jessica’s buggy rides are within walking distance across the parking lots from the inn. Customers have their choice of riding in buggies or open wagons. The rides take guests along local farm roads where the driver discusses the Amish and Mennonite traditions and other interesting information. Watch from the buggy windows as beautiful farms, one room school houses, family-run businesses and acres and acres of beautiful pastoral scenery slowly passes by. Stop for homemade cookies, root beer, browse through a family quilting shop, roadside vegetable and fruit stands and many more surprises. You won’t be disappointed. The drivers are well versed in the local history and are happy to answer your questions. The Amish owned businesses are closed on Sundays due to religious traditions, but the buggy rides and other non-Amish businesses are open.

View of farm area from buggy ride

View of farm area from buggy ride

The city of Lancaster is the county seat and provides a perfect location to start a tour of the county. The city ranks eighth in size among the Keystone State’s cities with a population according to the last census of 59,322. It is one of the oldest inland cities in the United States. If you enjoy shopping head to Park City Center shopping mall, the largest indoor retail facility in the region. Historically, the town was home to James Buchanan, the 15th President of the United States and the only bachelor to occupy the White House, and Thaddeus Stevens, a congressman and abolitionist. There are many historical buildings and vibrant arts centers open for tours. The Railroad Museum of Pennsylvania located in Strasburg is a short drive from downtown Lancaster. You don’t have to be a train buff to enjoy this museum. The museum offers a fantastic view of the history of Pennsylvania railroads from ground view and a second floor walkway. There are over 100 historic locomotives and railroad cars chronicling America’s railroad history housed in one huge building. Guests can easily trace the advancements in railroad technology from very early examples of steam engines to the most advanced modern equipment. Many of the locomotives and railroad cars are open for inspection. Be sure to visit the replicas of a train station, a telegraph office and a general store on the main floor. Videos and signage are conveniently placed throughout the museum. Children and adults alike will enjoy using the many interactive displays.

Photo inside the Railroad Museum of Pennsylvania, Strasburg, PA

Photo inside the Railroad Museum of Pennsylvania, Strasburg, PA

The Strasburg Rail Road is located across the highway from the museum. It is the oldest short-line railroad in the United States. Tickets are on sale at the Strasburg Train Station. A gift shop and restrooms are readily available. Passengers board the steam locomotive on the hour for a 45 minute round-trip ride from Strausburg to Paradise and back.

The East Strasburg Railroad Station

The East Strasburg Railroad Station

The ride passes through more than 1000 beautiful acres of farm country. Passengers can disembark mid-way between Strausburg and Paradise at Groff’s Grove or Leaman Place Grove. Many of the white farm barns found along the railroad route have unique vented doors mounted on central pins. The doors operate much like a seesaw. When the doors are open the outside air helps to dry the tobacco leaves that are hanging inside the barn. The doors are closed at night and during very damp weather. There are special seasonal and holiday trips.

The lovely village of Lititz was named the Coolest Small Town in America for 2013, by Budget Travel Magazine. Village businesses will satisfy all your tastes, especially the sweet and salty ones. Lititz is home to the Wilbur Chocolate Factory and the Julius Sturgis Pretzel House. The Wilbur Chocolate Factory is located above the first floor candy shop at 48 N. Broad Street. Visitors can hear the busy factory operating above as they browse through the store with its strong scent of chocolate. Fudge is made, cut and boxed at the back of the store. Guests can watch the entire fudge-making process from start to finish. Take a tour of the factory and taste the various samples. Yes, the company still offers samples to its visitors.

Entrance to Julius Sturgis Pretzel House

Entrance to Julius Sturgis Pretzel House

Take a stroll through the lovely downtown area visiting the many mom and pop shops on your way to the Julius Sturgis Pretzel House located about three blocks from the chocolate factory at 219 E. Main Street. The bakery, founded in 1861, was the first commercial pretzel bakery in America. Sturgis celebrated their 150th anniversary in 2011. Visitors will be amazed to find the many varieties of pretzel creations. See how the pretzels are made. Make your own pretzel during the tour and take a few family pics by the giant pretzel located at the front entrance. The Landis Valley Village and Farm Museum, a living history village showing Pennsylvania Deutsch life, is another great venue. Landis Valley has over 40 historic structures spread across approximately100 acres. The village was once an actual crossroads community. Today it serves as a historic education center for schools, civic groups and family field trips. Docents in period dress explain Pennsylvania German traditions and folklore while skilled artisans demonstrate their crafts and skills. Children love seeing the farm animals and young and old enjoy learning about the history of the area. Visit the general store. All the profits benefit the museum.

Visit the historical buildings and watch as artisans work on their crafts at Landis Valley.

Visit the historical buildings and watch as artisans work on their crafts at Landis Valley.

Lancaster County is famous for its many original covered bridges. Do you know why the bridges were covered? You will after your tour. A helpful tour brochure with details of the route and background information about each bridge is available from padutchcountry.com.

One of Lancaster's many covered bridges

One of Lancaster’s many covered bridges

 

For more information and additional venues to visit please check out padutchcountry.com or call 1-800-723-8824.

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