Pennsylvania Dutch Country
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Pennsylvania Dutch Country

Eastern Pennsylvania especially in the vicinity of Lancaster has become known as Pennsylvania Dutch Country. The name is actually derived from a mispronunciation of the term "Pennsylvania Deutsche", which was applied to the early German-speaking immigrants that settled in the area. Their heritage is reflected in the names of many towns like Germantown, Stroudsburg, Soudersburg and Strasburg, and is still apparent in the local culture of the Mennonite and Amish inhabitants.

Concentration of Amish in Lancaster Pennsylvania

Buggies at the Mud Sale © Mike Leco / USATourist.com
The Amish of Lancaster County drive gray buggies pulled by magnificent standard bred horses.

The largest concentration of Amish and Mennonite residents in Pennsylvania are located in Lancaster County about 60 miles (100 km) west of Philadelphia. Route 30 and route 340 east of the city of Lancaster and the villages of Intercourse, Paradise and Bird in Hand are at the center of the Amish farm country. Route 30 is lined with motels, restaurants, shopping malls, Amish craft shops, Amish buffets, Amish museums and other Amish related tourist attractions. Unfortunately, the road suffers from over commercialization and heavy traffic. Fortunately, you can drive less than a mile to either side of the highway and you will find yourself transported back in time to country roads where horse-drawn buggies canter between pristine farms devoid of electricity and modern conveniences.

The local Mennonite residents dress in simple fashion but otherwise blend in with their "English" (non-Mennonite) neighbors. They drive cars and use modern technology. Their Amish neighbors do not own automobiles and avoid the use of motor driven farm machinery and most other modern technology. They dress in dark clothing that resembles fashions popular in 16th or 17th century Europe, and they till the soil with horse-drawn or mule-drawn machinery. The Amish of Lancaster County drive gray buggies pulled by magnificent standard bred horses. They lead a simple family-oriented life that extols hard work and religious piety. They are often called "the plain folk".

History of the Amish and Mennonites

In 1681, William Penn received a land grant from the King of England, and resolved to create a "holy experiment" of religious tolerance. He invited Europe's persecuted religious minorities to immigrate to his new American colony called Pennsylvania. Many Swiss, Dutch and German Anabaptists refugees accepted his invitation and settled on farms in eastern Pennsylvania.

Anabaptists, or re-baptizers are so named because they believe that infants lack sufficient reasoning ability to consciously accept Christianity, so they reserve baptism for adults who knowingly accept the faith. The majority of the Pennsylvania Anabaptist immigrants were followers of Menno Simons They are commonly called Mennonites. A significant minority followed the teachings of a Swiss dissident called Jacob Amman. They were called Amish.

Amish on roller blades

Visitors to the area are often surprise to see Amish boys in their dark suits and somber hats roller blading down the roads or to see the little telephone booths in the gardens next to Amish farmhouses. These quaint people do not reject all modern technology. They selectively accept certain modern conveniences on their own terms. Basically, technology that detracts from family unity, from community harmony or from spiritual development is rejected. Self-sufficiency is prized and anything that creates dependence on the outside world is avoided.

Amish roller blader © Mike Leco / USATourist.com
Visitors to the area are often surprise to see Amish boys in their dark suits and somber hats roller blading down the roads.

The Amish do not wear fancy clothes and they avoid all personal adornment, yet they create beautifully decorated textiles like their colorful handmade quilts and their simple but exquisitely hand-made furniture and toys. You can purchase many of their crafts directly from the makers in many small shops throughout the area. One of the best ways to see the Lancaster County, to understand the Amish lifestyle and to visit some of the home based craft shops is by taking a tour from the Mennonite Information Center. Mennonite guides are available to accompany you in your vehicle for the modest price of $10 per hour.

Local Amish craft shops and mud sales

Amish Quilts © Mike Leco / USATourist.com
The Amish do not wear fancy clothes and they avoid all personal adornment, yet they create beautifully decorated textiles like their colorful handmade quilts and their simple but exquisitely hand-made furniture and toys.

On our personal tour with Erica, our Mennonite guide, we paused to visit a small quilt shop at an Amish farm on a quiet country lane. The shop was closed, so we had to knock on the kitchen door. A young Amish girl and her little brother came out and opened the tiny shop. Gas lanterns and a quaint-belt driven fan hung from the ceiling. The walls were lined with hundreds of magnificent hand-sewn quilts decorated with beautiful intricate multicolor patterns.

Several times a year, mud sales are held at various villages in the area. They are called mud sales because the fields where they are staged frequently turn into seas of mud from the footfalls of the many horses and pedestrians. You can bid on or purchase Amish buggies, horses, farm implements, hand tools, furniture, antiques, crafts, handmade quilts or thousands of other items. These events are great social gatherings for the local Amish with food stands selling pastries and snacks.

Try the Pennsylvania Dutch food

There are several Amish "show farms" (actually just replica farms or museums depicting Amish lifestyle) along or near routes 30 and 340. It is worth visiting one to gain an understanding of this way of life. The Amish Experience in Intercourse offers a farmhouse tour, a multimedia presentation, buggy rides and a Pennsylvania Dutch buffet. During your visit to Lancaster, be sure to try at least one buffet or family style dinner. The Pennsylvania Dutch people are famous for their wonderful home cooking which includes such dishes as fried chicken, smoked ham, roast pork, sausages, sauerkraut, potato filling, apple butter, and shoofly pie.

The central market in downtown Lancaster is only open on Tuesdays, Fridays and Saturday mornings, but it features a wonderful array of stalls featuring local foodstuffs. Small shops in town and throughout the area present a variety of handmade items like quilts, furniture toys, pottery, artwork, crafts, smoked hams, sausages and baked good. There are even two large outlet malls featuring discount designer merchandise along route 30.

Plenty of inexpensive accommodations

Accommodations are plentiful along route 30. You can easily find budget priced motels or moderately priced family hotels. Several campgrounds are nearby. Some of the nicest accommodations in Pennsylvania Dutch country are available in its reasonably priced bed and breakfast establishments. We stayed at the Stony Hill Barn B&B nestled in the Amish farmlands just south of Strasburg. Our spacious room was tastefully decorated with local artifacts. We ate a home-cooked breakfast while a team of four mules plowed the neighbor's field.

Click here to see a list of hotels and motels in the Lancaster area and to make your reservations.

Written by: Mike Leco
Top Photo Credit: © Mike Leco / USATourist.com
Photo Description: A team of four mules plow a field