We had a fascinating day exploring Lancaster Country, Pennsylvania. Owen, Nadia and I drove 2 hours southeast from our base in Freeland to experience the substantial Amish/Mennonite/Brethren or “Plain People” population. It is amazing to me that these groups came to Lancaster in the early 1700s and 300 years later, they maintain their unusual lifestyle. The religious groups left Germany and Switzerland to be able to practice their faith, free from prosecution like many other groups in America. They are “anabaptists” which believe in adult baptism, which at the time, was highly controversial. They also believe that some forms of technology and modern culture keeps them away from worshiping god and living their best life. Hence, many shun cars, television, internet, mobile phones, etc. We were excited to see them go about on the horse and buggies. They must get tired of being photographed all the time!
In some ways I admire them and am happy that there are different ways of looking at life. They are hardworking, care about family and treat others with kindness. Lancaster County has a huge tourism industry thanks to the approximately 40,000 Plain People farming there. Amish jams, vegetables, quilts, furniture and other crafts are irresistible to many women. After seeing so many dying malls in other parts of Pennsylvania, I can say retail is booming in Lancaster! There are hundreds of shops in the small towns of the county. In looking at some of the bums/hobos/mentally ill/addicts in the streets of the county seat of Lancaster, I think all of them could benefit from an Amish lifestyle. In others ways it is sad that they do not have access to all of the improvements of human society. They miss out on global travel and communication, ideas/information on the internet, activities like scuba diving, etc I also wonder how women are treated in their societies.
The landscape reminded me of a hilly Wisconsin. Amish homes are modern and from the outside, they look like any other home, with the exception of no car in the driveway or electric lines running into the house. They look European with many of the tow-headed kids looking like our children when they were young. We visited the towns of Bird-in-Hand and of course, Intercourse. And being slightly immature, I had to stop and take a picture of the town welcome sign! We also sought out a couple examples of the historic covered bridges. I wondered why they put covers on them and from my limited research, it was to protect the wood in the bridge and give them a longer life span before they needed to be replaced.
We had lunch at the Central Market in downtown Lancaster. The city has done a good job in renovating the historic center and there were lots of coffee shops, restaurants, apartments, etc. Many of the stalls were run by Plain People and they are perfectly comfortable, selling food to non-Amish customers.