Fun In Pennsylvania Dutch Style by Ron Kapon

Pennsylvania Dutch Country (often referred to as Amish/Dutch Country or Dutch Country Roads Region) refers to an area in southeastern Pennsylvania centered on Lancaster, Gettysburg, Allentown, Reading, Harrisburg, Hershey and York. I have previously visited and written about Gettysburg, Allentown, Reading and York. The term “Dutch” refers to the German- speaking (Deutsch language) immigrants that moved to the area in the late 17th and 18th centuries. Pennsylvania Dutch describes people and a culture, not a religion. The economy of the region was almost entirely rural and agricultural, based on the immigrants’ dream of ownership of their own farms. The industrial revolution brought technology based on coal, iron, canals and the railroad. English speaking residents from the New York and Philadelphia areas founded Lehigh Coal and Navigation Company, Lehigh Valley Railroad and Bethlehem Steel Company. They dominated the managerial positions while the Dutch supplied the blue-collar workforce. By the middle of the 20th Century both the Amish and others began promoting the region as a tourist destination. The area is within 50 miles of Philadelphia, Baltimore and Harrisburg, the capital of Pennsylvania. New York City is around three hours away.

The story of the Amish dates to the 16th century Reformation in Europe. They have their roots in the Mennonite community and both were part of the Anabaptist movement (along with the Brethren). They believed that only adults who had confessed their faith should be baptized. They were very conservative, emphasizing humility, family, community and separation from the modern world. Although the two groups have split several times, the Amish and Mennonite churches still share the same beliefs. They both settled in Pennsylvania as part of William Penn’s “holy experiment” of religious tolerance. They differ primarily in dress, language, worship and how the “modern world” will impact their life. Many Mennonites, Brethren and Amish Mennonites wear distinctive Amish clothing but often make use of “worldly” conveniences, such as cars, electricity and telephones. Many Amish are willing to use modern technology to live, work and communicate, as long as they do not disrupt family and community stability. The Old Order Amish eschews modern conveniences and are the most conservative of the various groups.

This trip centered on Lancaster, Hershey and Cumberland Valley. My first stop was at the Amish Experience Theater in Bird in Hand (next to Intercourse, PA) for its 40-minute presentation explaining the Amish lifestyle and how one teenager struggled with his decision to commit to the Amish faith for life. On the grounds I then took a 45-minute Aaron & Jessica’s Buggy Ride through the Amish farmlands. Joel Cliff from the PA Dutch Convention & Visitors Bureau met me in downtown Lancaster for a tour of the oldest U.S. Farmers Market- Central Market. We then walked around the downtown Gallery Row area and Joel took me to my overnight stay at The Cork Factory Hotel, where I also had dinner.

The hotel was once the home of a 19th Century cork manufacturing giant and is a member of the Historic Hotels of America. I had a ticket for the Fulton Theater in downtown Lancaster to see Deathtrap, by Ira Levin. I had seen the play on Broadway in 1978 and still remember the movie (1982) starring Michael Caine, Christopher Reeves and Dyan Cannon. It was beautifully performed and was a fitting end for a long day. The Fulton Opera House was built in 1852 and is considered the nation’s oldest continuously operating theater. It is one of 8 theaters on the National Historic Register.
In an hour I was in Hershey. I have been to the amusement park before but this was my first time at Hershey’s Chocolate World. First stop was the 20-minute free tour using a motorized car to see where cocoa beans are grown and their delivery to “The Sweetest Place On Earth,” also known as ‘Chocolatetown, USA”- Hershey. I did not have time for the Really Big 3D Show, the Chocolate Tasting Adventure, the Chocolate Works Machine or Hershey’s Kisses Packaging. I did spend 45 minutes creating My Own Candy Bar (Vinoron) at the Dessert Creation Studio.
It was then time for my one hour Hershey Trolley Works Tour through Chocolate Town USA with a stop at the Milton Hershey School and its Founders Hall Rotunda, the second largest in the world at 74 feet high. Today the MHS is the country’s largest pre-kindergarten through grade 12 home and school for boys and girls from families of low income and social needs. Everything is provided for them free of charge. Every time you buy a Hershey’s product you help these young people. I then met Rick Dunlap from the Hershey Harrisburg Regional Visitors Bureau for lunch in nearby Hummelstown.
I was running late so did not get to the West Shore Farmers Market in Lemoyne before they closed, but did spend some time at the Village Artisans Gallery in Boiling Springs. Located in an 1875 former church they celebrate American art and crafts. I then checked in to the Comfort Suites Hotel in downtown Carlisle. My early dinner was at Rillo’s Restaurant, located 5 minutes from my hotel which was celebrating 50 years in business. I had a 7:30 show at the Carlisle Regional Performing Arts Center Theater (1939), which was only two blocks from the Comfort Suites. The show was a Double Shot of the Blues featuring Otis Taylor and the second act was The Nighthawks. Although I am not a blues fan this double bill was lively and quite entertaining. Otis Taylor was staying at my hotel, and we had a very nice conversation the next morning at breakfast.
I had an hour’s drive to Liverpool the next morning to attend the Hunters Valley Winery Open House & Craft Fair. Bill & Darlene Kvaternik planted their vineyard (40% of their grapes come from their own property overlooking the Susquehanna River) some 30 years ago and have been selling their wines for the past 25 years. I enjoyed their Seyval Blanc, Cabernet Franc and their Very Blueberry and Classic Cranberry wines. There are now 8 wineries on the Susquehanna Heartland Wine Trail.

I was back in the Big Apple in less than 3 hours having spent 2 1/2 days learning about a culture, eating a lot of calories, seeing great theater and sipping some excellent wine. All in all a very worthwhile trip.