Historically Speaking Lancaster
Hans Herr House
Oct 31, 2019 at 8:00 AM in Things to Do by
Embracing the Pennsylvania Dutch and Amish culture most definitely plunges you back in time, however, there’s more dialing back of the years to be experienced elsewhere.
Let’s start with Lancaster, the city that’s the seat of Lancaster County. Founded as a borough in1742 and then chartered as a city in 1818, it’s one of the oldest inland cities in the United States. It’s named after the English city of Lancaster and as you may notice around town, its symbol is the red rose, which is also the symbol of the House of Lancaster in England.
Lancaster weathered the American Revolution well and was even the capital of the United States for one day when the Continental Congress had to flee Philadelphia. After the war, Lancaster became an iron-foundry city. Settlers were headed out for the frontier at that point and Lancaster crafted two of their most needed products:the long rifle and the Conestoga wagon. (The latter was named after the Conestoga river that runs through the city.)
You can learn much more about the rich history of Lancaster at Rock Ford Plantation, the home of Revolutionary War General Edward Hand, and the Hans Herr House, the oldest homestead in the county that dates back to 1719. The Hans Herr House also informs you about the Lancaster Mennonites, another religious group within the Pennsylvania Dutch umbrella. Both of these fine properties are listed on the National Register of Historic Places; Rock Ford Plantation is located within Lancaster and the Hans Herr House is just a short drive outside of the city.
For a more complete look at the history of Lancaster, go to The Lancaster Campus of History. Here you can also take a guided tour of Wheatland, the home of President James Buchanan, the only Pennsylvanian to become president of the United States. The grounds and gardens on this property are beautiful as well. Be sure to leave time for The Museum Store, which is filled with lots of interesting gift ideas.
In terms of art, the Demuth Museum is a must. Located in the former studio and home of early twentieth–century painter and Lancaster native, Charles Demuth, this museum ranks as a favorite to most visitors. Not only is the art very pleasing but the Demuth home, which was built in the late 1700s and once served as a Colonial tavern, is one of the oldest in Lancaster. Next door you’ll find the Demuth Tobacco Shop, a commerce founded in 1770, which is not surprisingly the oldest smoke shop in America. Clearly they have maintained the customs of the past because here you can even smoke in the shop!
For artwork from more recent times, go to the Lancaster Museum of Art and The Phillips Museum of Art at Franklin & Marshall College.
If you like birds-eye views and you want a good taste of what it was like back in the day, take a hot air balloon ride with The United States Hot Air Balloon Team in Bird–in–Hand. (But of course!) They organize rides in a handful (another pun!) of locations within Pennsylvania, so you can bet they’re a safe and reputable company. Sailing over the countryside here is oh-so sweet.
Experience another form of travel with the Strasburg Railroad, a company that has been conducting train rides in Ronks since 1832. Their historic steam trains take you on an old time-y ride through Amish country the likes of which you’ve never experienced. While you’re in Ronks, you can also hit the National Toy Train Museum.
Train aficionados will also want to take in the Choo Choo Barn just north in Strasburg. Here you can delight in taking in all of the extraordinary details of one of the world’s largest model train sets. To give you an idea of the size, they operate twenty-two model trains within this display. And you thought setting up a train set for your kids on Christmas morning was a big deal!
As you may have already discerned, there are many businesses within Lancaster County that have been around for a while. Usually the ones that last the longest are among the best. Well, that’s arguably the case for two confectioners that have been satisfying people’s sweet tooths (or is it sweet teeth?) for well over a hundred years. Wilbur Chocolate in Lititz and Miesse Candies and Ice Cream Parlor in Lancaster both illustrate how products made with the finest ingredients–fresh cream, superior quality chocolate and roasted nuts–endure. Wilbur Buds, chocolates that resemble a flower bud, are the signature item at Wilbur Chocolate, hand-dipped fruits and nuts are a big draw at Miesse. Whatever you choose at both of these fine establishments will surely be mouthwatering. They also offer terrific online shopping.
Shop for more delicious comestibles, local produce, meats, prepared foods and unique crafts at the historic Lancaster Central Market, the oldest continuously operating market in the country established in 1730. It seems as though the people here were way ahead of the curve in terms of embracing farmer’s markets.
For antiques, it’s all about the Strasburg Antique Market in Strasburg. Browsing around the three floors of this beautifully restored tobacco warehouse, just brimming with antiques and collectibles, almost makes you feel as though you’re at the renowned Paris Flea Markets. Alas, it’s all about Old World charm and here you can even purchase a piece of it.