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Lancaster, Pennsylvania
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Portersville, Pennsylvania
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Lancaster, Pennsylvania
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Gettysburg, Pennsylvania
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Holtwood, Pennsylvania

Lancaster County

Experience the world of the ‘Plain People’ of Dutch Country

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Nearly 65 miles west of Philadelphia, Lancaster County is home to America’s oldest Amish settlement. Amidst this bucolic tapestry of rolling hills, dotted with windmills and framed by picket fences, the gentle rhythms of rural life are played out as they have been for generations. At the nexus of Lancaster County culture, the Pennsylvania Amish are heavily involved in agriculture as well as a diversity of cottage industries.

The Amish remain one of the most conservative of the Pennsylvania Dutch sects, shunning modern conveniences in favor of traditional practices: gas lamps instead of electric lighting and horse-drawn buggies instead of cars. With earnest purpose, the Amish have pulled back from contemporary society, only to invite curiosity on an unprecedented scale. Souvenir shops and tour buses are commonplace. In the throes of such a burgeoning modern tourist trade, the National Trust for Historic Preservation has ranked Lancaster County as one of the nation’s most endangered historic places.

Still, it is possible to experience Amish culture in a non-intrusive and culturally sensitive fashion. A handful of reputable operators organize tours of the Amish community. Often led by an Amish or Mennonite guide, informative tours present the history, customs, and culture of the community.

Visitors pass by neat Amish farms where the “plain” people (as the Amish are known) still drive their horses and buggies and work their pastures using traditional methods. Tour groups also visit the town’s one-room schoolhouses, general stores, pretzel factories, bakeries, railroad museums, bustling markets, quilt shops and mills.

When visiting the Amish, certain protocols should apply. Always refrain from taking pictures. As firm believers that personal photographs and videos violate the commandment, “Thou shalt not make unto thyself a graven image,” the Amish don’t carry photos or display personal images in their homes. They don’t go online and they certainly don’t do social media.

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Demuth Museum

In downtown Lancaster, the home and studio of acclaimed American modernist, Charles Demuth (1883-1935) has been restored and reinvented as the charming Demuth Museum. For art lovers, it is a must-see sight. During his short lifetime—Demuth died aged 51 from complications from diabetes—the artist created more than 1,000 watercolors, drawings and oil paintings. Demuth’s sensual watercolors of flowers, fruit and vegetables, which marry intricate botanical observation with Cubist abstraction, are showcased in the world’s top modern art museums, including MOMA and the Whitney in New York.

In the Demuth Museum’s intimate setting, 42 of the artist’s works are rotated within galleries that overlook the antique gardens from which he drew inspiration for his floral watercolors. The Demuth Museum also maintains a rigorous temporary exhibition lineup that showcases artists and works that embody a thematic or technical connection to Demuth. With its expansive archives, the Demuth Museum also functions as an acclaimed research center for art students and scholars. If you are in town the second weekend in June, don’t miss the annual Demuth Garden Tour. Beginning in the museum’s Victorian garden, visitors can explore the gardens of 20 additional town and country gardens in what is one of the country’s most distinguished garden tours.

The Railroad Museum of America

Covering some 18 acres, The Railroad Museum of Pennsylvania, located in Strasburg, preserves more than 100 historic locomotives, in addition to artifacts, memorabilia, and archival material that chart the history of the Pennsylvania railroad. A series of interactive exhibits allow visitors to simulate driving a real freight locomotive, explore a caboose, examine the underbelly of a 62-ton locomotive, view restoration activities via closed-circuit television and enjoy interactive educational programs.

The museum’s highlights include the “Lindbergh Engine” (technically the PRR460), built in 1914, which became famous after racing an aircraft to New York City carrying newsreels of Charles Lindbergh’s return to the US after his transatlantic flight in 1927. Another crowd-pleasing historical touchstone (on display outside the museum), the official steam locomotive of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania (PRR 3750) made its name pulling President Warren Harding’s funeral train. The second-floor gallery, dedicated to temporary exhibits, leads out to an observation bridge, an education center and a “Restoration Shop.”

Dutch Wonderland

Just east of Lancaster, the 48-acre Dutch Wonderland amusement park courts families with toddlers and young children rather than thrill-seeking adults and teens. A self-styled “Kingdom for Kids,” complete with imitation stone castle façade, Dutch Wonderland was the brainchild of erstwhile potato farmer Earl Clark, who opened the park in 1963 (it’s now owned by Palace Entertainment).

There’s plenty of old school fairground charm married with flashier overtures to modernity. In addition to 32 rides, storytelling, and a tropical-themed interactive water play area known as Duke’s Lagoon, Dutch Wonderland goes all out for special occasions. During Halloween, visitors can go on “trick or treat” walks and enjoy “happy hauntings.” During the cold weather, the inimitable “Dutch Winter Wonderland” draws big crowds.

For More Information

Discover Lancaster

800-723-8824

www.padutchcountry.com

 

Pennsylvania Tourism

800-847-4872

www.visitpa.com