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Lancaster County

Roll with the Amish and shop at a market for scrapple

Pennsylvania’s Lancaster County is an agricultural region of rolling hills, lush valleys, serene rivers and sparkling streams, all ripe for spontaneous exploration. At the heart of Pennsylvania Dutch Country, a profusion of religious orders and cultures have left their imprint in the form of eclectic architecture, religious rituals and distinct social structures.

Lancaster County is home to America’s oldest and most conservative Amish settlement. The “plain” people (as the Amish are known) shun all modern conveniences and still work their pastures using traditional methods. As the area’s most important commercial center and gateway to the region’s main sights and attractions, Lancaster city was a big hitter during the colonial era and thrived as the region’s cultural apex during the early 20th century. Within striking distance of the city, a clutch of vibrant towns preserve austere 19th-century German buildings, century-old general stores, pretzel factories, quilt shops and traditional farmers’ markets.

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Lancaster

With its grand red-brick historic district, eye-catching architecture and fine museums, Lancaster is a worthy regional hub. Most of the action centers on Penn Square, where the Amish still sell their wares at the central market, the nation’s oldest continuously operated farmers’ market and a town tradition since the 1730s. A riot for the senses, more than 80 stalls purvey regional produce and delicacies, everything from bread and cheese to nuts, Dutch sausage and scrapple (a breakfast concoction of pork scraps and cornmeal).

In the adjacent old City Hall, the Heritage Center Museum features a small collection of Lancaster County crafts and historical artifacts. The Lancaster Quilt and Textile Museum spotlights the region’s quilt-making panache against the backdrop of a jaw-dropping 1912 Beaux Arts building. Far and away the city’s cultural highlight, the home/studio of acclaimed American modernist Charles Demuth is now a well-curated museum. At any given time, some 42 of the artist’s sensual watercolors are rotated within intimate galleries that overlook a beautiful garden.

Despite their aversion to the trappings of modernity, the Pennsylvania Amish have become the region’s premier tourist attraction. For an interesting and culturally sensitive tour, it’s worth a visit to the 10-room Amish Farm and House with its one-room schoolhouse and evocative farm buildings with roaming animals and a water wheel. This site helps tell the story of the Amish’s escape from religious intolerance in Europe and eventual settlement in the United States, where they found the freedom to follow their customs. Remember, although Amish folk are friendly, they request that visitors refrain from photographing them.

Wheatland

The elegant Federal-style mansion where U.S. President James Buchanan resided for over 20 years can be visited on a guided tour led by knowledgeable costumed docents. Built in 1828 by a local lawyer named William Jenkins, Wheatland was bought by Buchanan in 1848 as his main residence.

The mansion served as the Democratic headquarters during Buchanan’s 1856 presidential campaign; it was on Wheatland’s front lawn that he gave his campaign address to local villagers. The interior of Wheatland is faithfully furnished in mid-19th-century period style and features most of the Victorian furniture, artifacts and artworks that belonged to Buchanan. The only significant 20th-century alterations made to the home were the installation of modern lighting and heating.

Lititz

Just 6 miles north of Lancaster, Lititz, nicknamed the Pretzel Town, is one of Pennsylvania’s most alluring communities. Founded in 1756, the town’s architectural gems have changed little since they were built 200 years ago. The Linden Hall School, established in 1794, ranks as the oldest girl’s school in the nation, while the Julius Sturgis Pretzel Bakery is the oldest bakery of its ilk (founded in 1861). The pretzels that come out of its ovens today are as delicious as ever.

Lighthearted and hands-on 20-minute tours of the Pretzel Bakery include lessons in bread making as well as a peek inside the centuries-old ovens and irresistibly aromatic bake shop. The Wilbur Chocolate Store tells the history of the company that invented “Wilbur Buds.” In the modern candy kitchen, you can watch the brand’s signature chocolates being created. The brainchild of Penny Buzzard, wife of former Wilbur president John Buzzard, the museum’s exhibits include antique chocolate molds, tins and boxes, early candy-making machinery, marble slabs, starch trays and copper kettles, as well as 150 hand-painted European and Asian antique porcelain chocolate pots.

Ephrata

With its soothing landscapes, historic landmarks and fantastic markets, Ephrata, an 18th-century Moravian religious site, is well worth a half-day visit. Just northeast of Lancaster, the Ephrata Cloister was home to one of the nation’s earliest communal societies, founded by Conrad Beissel, who emigrated to Pennsylvania in 1720 to escape religious persecution in Germany. At its zenith in the mid-18th-century, the thriving community was made up of 80 celibate members and 200 family members. Nine of the 40 buildings remain, and visitors can take either an hour-long guided tour or a self-guided audio tour of the traditional German-style wooden buildings (constructed without nails), which include living quarters, a physician’s house, weaver’s house, bakery, print shop and stable.

Some 4 miles north of town, it’s worth timing your visit on a Friday for the superb Green Dragon Market and Auction, where seven market buildings are packed with more than 400 local growers, merchants and artisans.

For More Information

Discover Lancaster

800-723-8824

www.padutchcountry.com

Pennsylvania Department of Community and Economic Development

800-847-4872

www.visitpa.com