Pennsylvania Dutch Country (aka Deitscherei) refers to an area centered on Lancaster County in southeastern Pennsylvania. It was originally named so because it was made up of a large population of people speaking Germanic based languages. Today it is home to many Amish and Mennonites who are both doing their best to resist the changes of the modern world creeping in all around them. This is proving to be a difficult task with Philadelphia, Baltimore, and Harrisburg all within 50 miles of the region.
I have wanted to visit Pennsylvania Dutch Country for years. Matt had been in or around the area a few times, but this was my first time. I thought it was beautiful. I admit, I am an idiot when it comes to a lot of the details regarding the Amish and Mennonite way of life. In an overly simplified description, I understand the Amish live off the land, don’t use electricity or electronics, and use horses, non pedal bicycles or walking as their mode of transport. Mennonites are able to use electronics and drive cars. Throughout the day I came up with several questions regarding instances I observed, but I never seemed to find someone willing to make eye contact with me to ask.
We tried to stay away from the touristy sites of Lancaster County. We didn’t want to experience the area in such an altered way. Instead, we wanted to see the countryside and view the area from the less traveled roads. I am not sure we accomplished exactly what we set out to do, but we came away with a wonderful day.
The trip started at an Amish Mud Sale in Rawlinsville, PA. I had never heard of a mud sale before that day. A coined term by the county of Lancaster, a mud sale is an enormous outdoor rummage sale held at a local fire house. The sales are in the spring when the ground is thawing and hence creating mud. More information is available here.
The sale was a blur of action with simultaneous auctions going on under several tents. There was a barn housing the horse sale. I seemed to keep going back to the horse auction for a few reasons. One, they had several Saddlebred horses for sale which surprised me. I grew up showing Saddlebreds so to see them as work horses was a different take for me. Two, the pace and the excitement of the horse auction was unparallel to the other auctions. Three, some of the horses had visible injuries, and nothing was done to fix the injuries before or after the horse went up for sale. I tried to ask two men questions about the crossbreed of one of the horses, but neither seemed delighted or willing to talk to me. Which made me think I was doing something wrong by asking questions and/or not understanding the proper etiquette when speaking with an Amish person. My ignorance led me to just observe the rest of the day.
The rest of the mud sale was crazy busy. It was very well organized into sections of furniture, kids toys, carriages, pet housing, kid playgrounds, kitchenware, flowers, etc.. Each area had its auction callers, each zone was quite busy, but every section seemed to run so smoothly. It made it fun to go to the different auctions and see how overall this place was a well-oiled machine.
[Matthew’s View – Mud sales are a community event. I wouldn’t be surprised if 80% of the neighboring residents were involved in the event in one way or another, as it felt like the whole town was in attendance. I also breathed a sigh of relief that my mom had not accompanied us to this event as we would never have made out of the antique tent.]
After we had left the sale, we drove around the country roads. It was spring, so there were a lot of farmers out preparing their fields for planting. I grew up on a farm and have always loved the wide open spaces. Growing up in Minnesota, I don’t think I ever saw anything but a farmer with his John Deere. This area was the complete opposite. It was beautiful to see the farmers working the land with their horses. We did see a few tractors, but mostly it was huge, huge horses out there pulling the tills.
Bird-in-Hand. PA and Intercourse. PA are pretty touristy areas. I believe there are several horse and buggy vendors, lots of shopping and a huge tourist trap thing we saw that claimed to offer everything under the sun that could be made or touched by someone Amish.
Both towns are cute and are very much geared toward tourists.
In Intercourse, we stopped for lunch at the Old Mill Restaurant. I highly recommend this place. It had the best vegetable beef soup I have ever tasted! Ask for Maribeth, she was incredibly sweet and could not have made us feel more welcome. The restaurant prides themselves on serving homemade food and for good reason. The burger Matt ate, and the steak wrap I had were both delicious.
Before leaving Intercourse, we made one more stop to a farm off of the main road. They were selling homemade root beer, and we couldn’t resist. We drove up and in the midst of the big barns was a little cement building full of fudge, baked goods and knick knacks. It was really adorable. We purchased one bottle of homemade root beer and hung around on their outdoor bench to watch the farmer out in the field. The root beer was good, and I was convinced there was molasses in it but the young sales lady assured me there was not. Unfortunately, they do not advertise a farm name or anything like that…so if you are driving down Old Philadelphia Pike in Intercourse look for a black and gray root beer mug cut out sign that says Homemade Root Beer.
Three imperative notes if you are planning on visiting Amish country:
- Do NOT take pictures directly of an Amish person and/or any photos in which their faces are recognizable. The Amish belief system does not include pictures of themselves in their homes or otherwise. Please be respectful and either ask to take a photo or frame/time your photo to not include a recognizable face.
- When passing a horse pulling a carriage do not honk, do not race by, and do not pass too closely.
- Be respectful. Remember you are the visitor.
Recommendable: YES! It is a gorgeous area, and it is a fantastic opportunity to learn about the Amish lifestyle. My biggest regret is myself. I wish I had done more research to learn about the Amish and Mennonite belief system, so I would have been more comfortable to ask questions.