(Photo courtesy Discover Lancaster)
Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, is known as Pennsylvania Dutch country, but it’s so much more.
In 2011, we enjoyed the traditional trappings of this area, with our then-6-year-old granddaughter, Helena, who was asking, “Why do these people ride carriages pulled by horses?” as we drove our CRV very, very slowly behind several gray-topped horse-and-buggy vehicles on major roads.
This year my husband, Tom, and I were asking questions of a different sort, discussing the authentic African food at Rafiki’s Deli in Lancaster’s Central Market (centralmarketlancaster.com). We enjoyed sweet potato salad with plantains there, and talked with the deli's owners, native Ugandan Roger Godfrey and his wife, Dorothy Dula, a native of Kenya. We marveled at how well ethnic lifestyles blended with the “plain life” practiced by the Mennonites and Amish, who settled this area more than three centuries ago.
In 2011 we had taken Helena on a tourists’ buggy ride and had enjoyed more of the simple life bicycling on back roads the next day. We dined at a smorgasbord full of comfort food and did the legendary shopping and entertainment at Kitchen Kettle Village (kitchenkettle.com) in the town of Intercourse, and the 5-acre corn maze in Strasburg’s Cherry Crest Adventure Farm (cherrycrestfarm.com), open most weekends through December.
But suburbs have extended into the heart of Dutch Country’s farmlands, leading to anachronisms: on a busy section of U.S. Highway 30 that’s 10 minutes from downtown Lancaster, a Target store is cheek-by-jowl next to the Amish Farm and House (amishfarmandhouse.com), which has been open for tours since 1955.
Despite that juxtaposition, the expansive farm behind the house immersed us in the quiet of a rural oasis. A rope maker (on site at high-volume times) helped a child make her own jump rope as part of a demonstration, and we noted the utilitarian green roller shades at the farmhouse windows, reinforcing the plain lifestyle.
The appeal of the countryside remains, but we discovered that “Meet me at the market” refers not to the multitude of roadside farmers’ markets but to the 275-year-old site of downtown’s Central Market. It’s open 6 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesday and Thursday, and 6 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday, year-round. Its 120-year-old red-brick building is chock-full of character and houses more than 60 vendors selling crafts and collectibles; coffee and tea; snacks and candy; and all manner of meat, produce and specialty groceries, as well as ethnic foods, sandwiches, soups and salads, plus Lancaster Pet Bakery with dog and cat treats. We began our morning with cinnamon buns at the Stoltzfus Homestyle Bakery, a market fixture for more than two decades.
Lancaster, with a population of 60,000-plus, has become energized with new restaurants along its brick-lined streets, galleries (we counted more than 40) and activities for children as well as adults. One evening we enjoyed Australian fare for dinner at Aussie and The Fox (aussieandthefox.com). We also visited the North Museum of Nature and Science (northmuseum.org), where we satisfied our inner scientist by examining dinosaur fossils in an exhibition running through the end of the year.
History lovers shouldn’t miss Wheatland (lancasterhistory.org/visit/wheatland), home to James Buchanan for 20 years following his 1856 to 1860 term as U.S. president before Lincoln’s election. Another Civil War connection is integrated under one roof in the Lancaster County Convention Center (lancasterconventioncenter.com): the pre-1843 home/office of Thaddeus Stevens. As chairman of the powerful House Ways and Means Committee, he made it possible for Lincoln to win the uphill struggle of passing the 13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution to end slavery.
As time allows, check out the family series at the Fulton Theatre (fultontheatre.org); the Lancaster Marionette Theatre (see their Facebook page); the art at the Demuth Museum (demuth.org); and the funky, stylish shops in the 300 block of North Queen Street.
Libations and Lodging
Besides the eateries already mentioned, check out Annie Bailey’s (anniebaileys.com), an Irish pub and restaurant with a lively deck scene as well as bangers and mash; The Pressroom Restaurant (pressroomrestaurant.com), a recently redone eatery with good pizza and impressive meat and seafood entrees; and Ma(i)son | An Urban Cookery (maisonlancaster.com), with its farm-driven menu. For tavern fare and craft beers made on site at Spring House Brewing, try The Taproom (springhousebeer.com). Other options include picking up eats at one of many venues during a Music Friday afternoon.
For lodging, consider The Lancaster Marriott Penn Square, which incorporates artifacts from Lancaster’s heritage, including the 19th-century façade of the landmark Watt & Shand department store at the hotel’s entrance.