June 2, 2019
We left Gettysburg on May 28, and headed north to Elizabethtown, PA, located in Lancaster County in central Pennsylvania. We soon learned our last name and Lancaster County are pronounced differently than we are accustomed to. Up here, it’s “Lan kiss stir,” with the accent on the first syllable. Plus, you have to say it really, really fast. Harry refused to abide by the old adage, “When in Rome . . .” Me, I just went with the flow.
But I digress.
In 2018, Pennsylvania had the highest population of Amish in the United States, with Ohio coming in at a close second. The Amish live in villages known as census-designated areas. A census designated place is a concentration of population identified by the United States Census Bureau for statistical purposes, but the town is not incorporated.
Pennsylvania has 53 Amish settlements, leading the nation in the number of Amish communities. Lancaster County is the oldest and most widely-known of all Amish settlements. Bird-in-Hand and Intercourse are two of the popular Amish tourist destinations in Lancaster County.
The Amish are a group of traditionalist fellowships of German Jewish descent. The Amish and Mennonites emerged from similar cultures and religious beliefs. The history of the Amish church began in Sweden with a schism (division) within a group of Swiss and French Anabaptists (meaning to be baptized again) lead by Jacob Ammann in 1693. The word “Amish” was derived from Jacob Ammann’s last name. The Amish split off from the Mennonites in the seventeenth century due to what one faction saw as liberalizing trends.
Today, the Older Order Amish stick more closely to their old traditions. They generally forbid higher education, dress in plain clothing, refrain from the use of electricity, and ride in horse-drawn buggies. The Mennonites accept higher education and modern technology. Some Mennonites even own automobiles and have cell phones.
Our first visit to the Amish Country was a bit of a disappointment. The English (as Americans are referred to by the Amish) have established businesses in Amish villages, often using names suggesting they are an authentic Amish shop. Many Amish people worked in the market we visited, giving us a false sense that we were doing business with Amish people. That is, until we started looking more closely at the items they sold such “Amish-style” butter and cheese. They even carried the same pretzel chips I purchase at Walmart.
Undeterred, we returned a second time and drove some of the back roads in Bird-in-Hand and Intercourse. We saw more Amish farms and a couple of covered bridges, but they were interspersed with non-Amish houses and businesses. The juxtaposition of an Amish farm with utility poles adjacent their property or a vehicle parked next door is mind-boggling.
I imagine at one time that most of the land in the Amish Country was owned by the Amish and Mennonites. Perhaps some of farms were lost because the families couldn’t pay their taxes, or who knows, maybe some of them were greedy and sold out to developers. Regardless. The Pennsylvania Dutch Country I’ve pictured in my mind or seen in movies like Witnessno longer exists. At least not in the parts of Lancaster County we visited.
Lancaster County is also home to The Hershey Company, in Hershey, PA, commonly referred to as Chocolatetown, USA. Hershey is home to Hershey’s Chocolate World. For the low, low price of $26.95 each, we got to make our own candy bars when we toured the facility. Truthfully, we could have gone to Walmart and bought a cartload of chocolate for the nearly $54.00 we spent at Hershey’s Chocolate World, but like Harry said, we paid for the experience. Our ticket price included an endless transit-style ride similar to the one in the Haunted Mansion at Disney World near Orlando, Florida. The ride takes you through a “factory” simulating the chocolate making process. Your visit ends with a trip to the gift shop where you can purchase what appeared to be every chocolate or candy-based item Hershey produces. If you love chocolate, a visit to Hershey’s Chocolate World is pure nirvana.
Note: During our visit to Elizabethtown, we stayed at the Elizabethtown/Hershey KOA. The campground was your typical KOA, but what set this one apart from the others we’ve stayed in is that it was so hilly. Although the sites were level, the roads, mostly gravel, were so steep it made walking for exercise difficult. Luckily, I found a five-mile rail trail about three miles from the park, and that’s where Harry and I walked each day. On the upside, Harry said the restrooms were excellent, the cleanest ones he’d seen since we were in Gardiner, Montana, last spring. The land the KOA occupies was once a dairy farm, but I guess the owners decided that herding RVs was more profitable that herding cattle. Given the steep terrain, on a scale of 1 to 5, I’d give this KOA a 3.