Riding down Highway 30 east of Lancaster City I was struck as I usually am by the preponderance of Amish tourist destinations. Amish tourism has a long history dating back to the 1930s and 1940s in Lancaster County, with the Ohio and Indiana industries kicking into gear a couple of decades later. Today it would be hard to imagine these places without the plethora of PA Dutch restaurants and buggy ride purveyors.
I don’t have a lot of direct experience with what we think of as Amish tourist businesses. I did once visit Brad Igou’s Amish Experience Theater in Lancaster, along with a curious Amish friend, and enjoyed it (highlights included Brad’s Amish knowledge and stories, plus the very cool wind-and-ocean spray effects during the Amish passage to America).
I’ve been to English-run shops in Amish tourism centers like Berlin, Ohio, or Shipshewana, Indiana, and of course Amish-owned businesses, which are probably the most common thing the Amish themselves provide in the manner of a “Plain experience” for tourist visitors. Some Amish tourism destinations like Amish Experience Theater provide educational value, while others primarily deal in Amish products (and of course the related “Amish Country” products, which as we know are often not so Amish at all).
When it comes to authenticity, I think most people do want authentic experiences, or at the least something with elements of genuineness. But I think there are different degrees of that.
For some visitors, touring a formerly Amish-inhabited farm home with an English guide describing collected artifacts of Amish life is enough. Others need to visit a real working farm at milking time, a service provided by some tour companies.
In fact you could probably map Amish tourist businesses on a continuum of authenticity with activities like Amish-guided buggy rides and meals in Amish homes on the more “genuine” end and things like Amish musicals and the kitschier Amish paraphernalia towards the other end of the spectrum.
Wherever they do end up, places like Holmes County and Lancaster County see millions of visitors yearly, bringing huge economic benefits to local communities while simultaneously altering landscapes.
Along the way, Amish tourism has gotten a good bit of academic attention analyzing the causes and effects of the phenomenon. For more on the subject see David Luthy’s Amish tourism writings or Amish in the American Imagination by David Weaver-Zercher. There is also the soon-to-be-released Selling the Amish by Susan L. Trollinger detailing Amish tourism in Holmes County, Ohio.
Have you experienced an Amish tourism destination? What was it like? Which are the better Amish tourism experiences and venues?
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I have a friend that lives near Lancaster. When I went to visit her and her family she drove me around to see Amish farms-we didn’t stop. Later I drove through there again looking at the houses from the road, and stopping at a couple Amish food stands to buy baked goods. I did go to several “Amish” stores. I remember one I went into and was considering buying an “Amish made” gift for my sister-in-law-until I turned it over and it said made in Japan. I left the store. I am glad that our area in New York State isn’t as tourism commercial as Pennsylvania. Many people don’t think of Amish in New York State. One Amish man I talk with every year at the Farmers Market. I feel so sorry for the Amish where it is so commercial.
NY Amish tourism
Amish-made in Japan–good you checked the bottom Marilyn 🙂 The NY communities are not as commercial but I was a little surprised to learn that they are pretty oriented to visitors with business maps in a couple of communities (see New York Amish for an interesting discussion by Karen Johnson-Weiner). There is also this fairly extensive NY Amish tourist site:
I don’t think any community will ever really reach Lancaster County but with the growing NY Amish population (as the #5 Amish state) I’m not surprised that tourism is a part of the landscape.
We have indeed experienced the Amish Tourism, in Oct. 2010, when we planned our Fall Foliage trip, stopping by several friends homes, making a loop, from Florida, to Indiana, to New York, then headed south for South Carolina, and back to Florida, with a 2 day stop-over, in Lancaster, PA….for the main purpose of seeing what the Amish lifestyle is all about, and seeing the countryside.
Some of it was a bit too “commercial”, but some things we did see on our own, were the true Amish settlements, stores, road-side stands, and ate a meal in one of the Amish restaurants. While browsing through crafts, etc., we kept a watchful eye out for “mass produced” items, that were tagged “Made in China”, but there were actually mass produced items that were the “real” thing, as well. It’s the same way, in any “tourist” town, just watch what you buy.
We also saw some Amish families, in Southern Indiana as well, driving in their horse/buggies going about their daily lives. Our friends who live in southern Indiana, are friends with some of the Amish, and will do business with them, when they need ‘crafts’ to sell in their little store. They always say how nice and polite they are, are hard workers, and very good neighbors!
For the most part, in Lancaster, we loved the scenery, the early morning fog, outside our Inn window, the well-kept large farms, acres of crops, and the “awe-inspiring” large wagons, pulled by Belgians or other draft horses,out in the field, tending to the crops. Large pastures of milk cows, everywhere, too! A lot of this, we do not see in Florida…Developers have bought up most farm lands, these days!!(Well, I won’t get into that!!)And of course, the unusual (to us) sound of the ‘clop/clop’ of the horse/buggies everywhere, and we thought it amazing that they have their own ‘driving lanes’, on the side of most major roads!
My wish is to return, to this beautiful part of the U.S., and to have those extra days, to absorb more….It’s not an “Attraction” or a “SHOW” to me, but more like a feeling of “contentment”, and peace as you notice the environment and the people around you, always in “wonder” of how they are managing so quite well, in all of the years they have been here. SharonR
I guess the farmers’ market in St. Jacobs is Amish-y, although it is mostly Mennonites. We were there as Plain people, too, which changes the experience. Being a rural girl myself, the usual Amish type attractions don’t interest me, so we have never bothered with them.
My first Amish “tourism” experience was driving through Southern Maryland Amish country as a child in the early 60s. Untouched even to this day, it gives one a true look including their little shops, beautiful farms without the commercialism of other destinations. However this community is rather small in comparison so you need to know where to look! We also enjoyed visiting Lancaster County, PA in those days. The Route 30 corridor was not nearly the commercialized mecca that exists today. We’d visit a place called “The Amish Homestead,” a house, farm, museum complex. It has since been plowed under and probably a shopping center sits there today. I can’t quite place it in today’s landscape. The Amish Farm and House complete with covered bridge still operates though not out in the fields but smack dab next to a Target. Horrible!! My father always enjoyed our meals at Miller’s which was just a small place in those days, almost looked like a converted gas station. The best way to experience Lancaster County today is to get off the main drag, drive through Bird in Hand, Intercourse,Strasburg and beyond. We love this area and we are planning on retiring there, off the beaten path!
OH yes, just to add to my earlier post, we also went to Bird-in-Hand, Intercourse, and Strasburg getting into the “real” countryside, away from some of the commercialism.
Robin I remember the first time I saw the Amish Farm and House nearly swallowed up by all that asphalt from the neighboring Target. The site says it is “nestled behind the hustle and bustle of today’s world” and that sounds about right!
When I was in S. Maryland I didn’t see much at all in the way of tourist destinations, and the Amish road signs advertising products like cheese and eggs (including in Spanish) were about the extent of the commercialism I saw, unless I missed something. It’s kind of an unusual layout in places–lot of Amish farms tucked away on dead-end lanes that would go on for a couple miles off the main drag.
Erik, I remember the first time I saw Amish Farm and House next to the Target, my heart sank. I guess it’s a survivor and does a decent business, pulling in the tourists who don’t get off the beaten path. Do you know what sits on Route 30 now, where The Amish Homestead once stood? I’m thinking it was near that new shopping center where Christmas Tree Shops is located, maybe where the Mennonite school sits? As for the St. Mary’s County, MD Amish, if you’re really interested I can put you in touch with my cousin who lives nearby. She has done quite a bit of business with them buying her spring plants and beautiful pieces of furniture. Also, did you notice the Farmer’s Market in Charlotte Hall? Not sure what days it operates but it has been there for years. Also, there is an Old Order Mennonite settlement a bit farther south in the county in Loveville. They are also very “plain” in their dress, still use buggies though do ride bicycles. Mennonites live here in my area of Virginia Beach/Chesapeake, some dress “plain” and others not so much and they all drive cars and use electricity. They operate farms, carpentry and building businesses. I think you touched on this settlement a while back. My understanding is that they came down from Lancaster County in the early 20th Century?
Robin I do not know the history of that location. It’s hard to imagine what that road must have looked like 50 some years ago but I’m sure there are those that remember it. The St. Mary’s County MD people started that community in the early 1940s. Next time I get back there I may need to look up your cousin, unfortunately I was just there for a brief visit in 2010.
Route 30 Lancaster
We visited here for 20 years before moving here in 1998. I remember when Route 30 was 2 lanes with a center turn lane. I believe the Amish farm/house/museum someone referred to was on 462, just west of the eastern end of the Rt 30 bypass. Going west, I think I remember it being just west of where you go under the bypass, before you get to Strasburg Pike corner on the left where Walmart now sits 🙁
I visited it in the 70s and the next time I went by and was going to visit, it was gone. There is some farmland preservation but with tight budgets the townships have cut back, donations are down. If it were not for the plain church people who buy up farms as fast as they can get them, this whole area would be housing tracts, on some of the richest nonirrigated farmland in the country. So sad.
I will never forget the first time I saw the “Amish Farm” encased in Target”s parking lot…I remember thinking, “Why couldn’t Target have left them just 10 more feet…?” It took my breath away.To think how long that farm stood, with those beautiful trees…I will NEVER shop at that Target! (That will show them 🙂 )
Might I suggest the Amish Experience on Rt 340? There are many tours there that can take you to Amish farms where you can meet real Amish people. The VIP tour is fabulous! It runs in the evenings and I think you get a really good picture of who the Amish are from a 3 hour tour.
Our area in Kish Valley (Big Valley), in Mifflin County, PA still is not touristic. The Amish have their own shops and welcome visitors to purchase their quilts, produce and plants, but they really seen to only focus on what is needed by the local people. I know some people travel from other areas to purchase their items, but we don’t really have the tourist trade that Lancaster County has. While I encourage people to come and visit, sit back and relax in a peaceful setting, and appreciate what the Amish have preserved, I hope it doesn’t become another tourist attraction. It’s nice to see how to live by the basics.
I agree with how Sharon R summed it up in her last paragraph … that it’s not because they are an ” attraction ” or a ” show “, but rather we enjoy being around the Amish and the way they live because it generates a feeling of contentment and peace.
It also invokes alot of memories of how life used to be … more simple and free, when we were closer to nature and the outdoors and animals, and where family, friends, and neighbors meant everything – next to God, of course.
There are still certain ” tourist ” areas, like Intercourse, Bird-In-Hand, and Strasburg in Lancaster County that I will always love as long as they stay the same and don’t change much, as they are still quaint and have alot of charm. And the same goes for some of the tourist towns out in Ohio. But my favorite thing is still to get off the beaten path in these areas, for that is where the true heart of the place lies.
On another note though, pertaining to tourism and the Amish, it does appear as though alot of them are making a living off of some kind of service geared to the ” outside world ” or tourism, whether it be in the form of food stuffs, furniture, crafts, quilts, buggy rides, etc., so they can’t be too against us for helping to supply their livelihoods.
Concerning the Amish Farm and House — Museums have a very difficult time surviving — many are closing — and I would imagine the Amish Farm and House operated on a shoestring budget. Rather than closing, as so many have had to do, they chose to sell off some of their land and thus became a bit more financially sound. Perhaps when they sold the land (where Target is located) they had 2 choices — close or sell part of the “unused” acreage. I personally think it’s “good” that they chose to be a “survivor”.
I guess since I don’t go to Lancaster County looking for a “tourist experience”, I might view things differently.
Museum by Target
When I called to ask what happened a few years ago when Target was building, a lady there told me the same people who owned Dutch Wonderland, the Farm House next to Target and the Weavertown school house, they sold Wonderland and the School House (now closed) to Hershey Resorts and tried to keep the Amish Farmhouse as authentic as possible. I remember going there 10 yrs ago for one of the fall lantern lit carriage rides and it was beautiful. The person giving the house tour was knowledgeable and very respectful. They had a lady there demonstrating quilting by lantern light.
I don’t think that land or at least most of it belonged to the Amish Farmhouse. In 1992 the first time I wanted to buy a Mennonite covering, a plain friend took me to a little ranch house which is now gone that sat being where Target is now. A plain Mennonite lady had a coverings shop. I think at least some of the Target land came from their farmette which is now gone. I remember the wagon ride took us in deeper behind the farmhouse, around some outbuildings and out a driveway that went to Witmer Road beyond the house that is now gone. Perhaps they had some arrangement to ride around that farm.
Erik, I’m thinking The Amish Homestead was where I’d described earlier. It sat on a hill and there was a country road off 30 beside it. It was on the right hand side before Amish Farm and House and Miller’s. I’m thinking back and it was about 30 years ago, the first time we made a day trip up from Maryland. Route 30 was a two lane road, out in the country. Breathtaking to say the least. I fell in love with the area as a 9 year old. When you do get to St. Mary’s County, MD again, I’d be more than happy to hook you up with my cousin. It would be her pleasure to give you some ideas!
I grew up in Lancaster County (50-60 years ago) before the Amish became a tourist attraction. We enjoyed driving out into the country to see the beautiful serenity of their life style. It is sad in a way to see so much of that area so built up and commercialized. i guess they call that “progress”! I now live in Lebanon County, where every day I can expect to see Amish buggies go by my house. Some days more than others. Sundays are especially fun because there is a sort of procession of buggies all on their way to or from a farm where their church service is held. Well, it is fun unless you are behind the procession and trying to get around is almost impossible! There are a few Amish stores and fresh fruit and baked goods stands in the summer time, but no major commercialism. I hope it stays that way!
Hi Pat –
Where in Lebanon County are the Amish located? I get as far north/west as Brickerville and Schaefferstown, and drive up 322 on the way to Hershey. Thanks for your help. Barb
Richard or another local can probably tell you better Barb–I was up there and it is apparently a quite spread out settlement–the friend I visited said it was something like 25 miles across, but it is only 6 or 7 congregations.
The Dutch Haven as seen in that image has in my opinion the best shoo-fly-pie in Lancaster county! Richard
And Pat is right about the Amish in Lebanon county since i live there as well, where our Amish can farm and travel in peace without most tourists! Richard
Anybody see the tour bus in the Amish PBS video?
I must admit it came across as incredibly dopey and reminded me of why I kind of cringe at most organized tours. From the tour guide throwing out random Amish canards, to the astonished gasps at the remark that one Amish farmer raises ponies.
Generally speaking, I think tours should be led by someone from the culture or community being “toured”. The Amish understandably aren’t willing to call attention to themselves that way, so I guess I have little to complain about here.
But for me, it’s the Amish destinations the tour bus doesn’t go to that would be most fascinating. I’d pull off the freeway for the chance to see a “bent ‘n dent” store. I’d love to happen upon an Amish country auction. And I’d gladly forgo fast food fare for authentic Amish cooking.
Anyone else feel the same way?
Amish tour bus
Ed I did take note of the tour bus. I saw it as something of a comic frame. It’s an amusing intro to the story and then it just looks kind of funny popping up at the end after you have viewed all of these “natural” Amish images. It was a stark contrast to the seriousness of some of the testimony and things discussed. I read it as underscoring that there are different levels of viewing the Amish, there is what the passing outside world sees and then of course there is a lot more to these real people’s lives.
I understand that Wal-Mart bought land along the train route out of Strasburg…..what could be worse than seeing a Wal-Mart on the train ride through the beautiful farm country to Paradise. So far they have been blocked.
I agree with Claudia that the Big Valley in Mifflin County is not touristy yet. And Ed, go on a Wednesday for Market/Auction Day.
Erik told me about that, and sure enough lots of different buggies and interesting auction. Also, from Lancaster, there is some wonderful scenery after you head north above Harrisburg. Worth a trip.
Bob, glad you agree with me on our “Big Valley”. It is truly a special valley. For anyone serious about seeing an Amish community the way it really is, I will give $20 off a room per night if you just mention you saw my offer on this website. I have my homemade maps of the Amish stores and produce stands and you go on your own “tour”. My guests have enlightened me some of I’ve missed. Check out my bnb at www.weilermansionbnb.com and the links I have to other local businesses. I’m happy to share our beautiful valley! For city folks, just a little warning….you’ll find horse poop on the roads and a certain “smell” in the air when the fields on spread with that “organic” stuff!!
When I was raising my children in So. Calif, we made PA & Washington D.C. a vacation destination-a learning one. It included Lancaster County, & having never even heard of Amish until I was about 30-it really astounded me a people as this existed in America. You can’t tour & visit without really doing some self-examination, I believe, of what we deem important or necessary in life. It made me question if the freedoms we enjoy aren’t really bondages to some extent.
It is peaceful, the Amish areas. We have an elder at our church heavily involved in ministry,& told us when he ministers in Cleveland, his spirit senses such darkness-him & his wife bought a home in Holmes County for the simple reason, he senses the peace & tranquility & needs that get away-I immediately sensed the same when we moved to OH & would go to Holmes Co-it’s hard to convey unless you experience it.
Lancaster - what a shame
I have visited the Lancaster (PA) area for the last 35 years and truly am saddened by what has happened along the Route 30 corridor, and throughout the community. What an invasion into what was once beautiful Amish farmland, with a few Amish-owned stores. Now, I am not so sure I want to visit anymore. At least I have some happy memories of staying at the Willow Inn on Route 30, with my children, who awakened in the morning to see cows in the adjoining field. They loved it, and the family style meals at the Inn’s restaurant. Now, it is almost impossible to travel Route 30 because of the congestion. What a shame.
I’ve been to many of the Amish-tourist type places in Elkart/Lagrange/Nappanee settlements in Indiana and Holmes County
Ohio. One good purpose they serve is to give tourists a brief
introduction to Amish culture, though I’m not sure how authentic
that introduction is. I would think many of the local Amish people
in those settlements are glad the tourist venues are there. Just
think what it would be like for the Amish if the millions of visitors to the Amish communities all drove through the countryside making stops at many Amish farms, roadside stands, etc.!
I think it’s good that several of the larger settlements (Northern Indiana, Holmes County, Lancaster, Arthur,etc.)have Amish/Mennonite Information Centers. I consider those centers to be better introductions to Amish life than the typical tourist-type venues. The website of the Young Center for Anabaptist Studies of Elizabethown College has a good listing of Amish/Mennonite Information Centers in several of the larger Amish communities.
Favorite Amish tourist sites
I went to Amish country in Ohio in May 2006 with a bus tour from Maine for 6 days. It was my introduction to the Amish. (The first and last days were spent driving.) My favorite stops were the Behalt Amish and Mennonite Heritage Center in Berlin, Ohio and Lehman’s Hardware and Appliance Store in Kidron, Ohio. I also enjoyed the Roscoe Village living History tour. I have several books about the Amish I bought at the Heriage Center.
The Old Order Community here in Unity, Maine has a small amount of tourist interaction, mostly at the Community Market, where they sell vegetables in summer, furniture, bird houses, hardware, and books about the Amish, and tasty donuts on Wednesday mornings. Some also sell produce and noodles and cereals to the health food stores in Waterville.
I like the spots in Ontario where you get to mingle with the Old Order people in Ontario.
It might be market day in Alymer or something while your vacationing, but you don’t want to get food from Wal-Mart, Food Basics, IGA, Food Town (which is probably IGA, but I forget), Fortinos or Metro and its affiliates, so you get to go hang out with the regular folk and the plain folk, and just kind of chill with everyone, see how the neighbors interact. EVERYONE is playing tourist, even the A/Ms. That being said, in any community it is cool to see the OOs in regular grocery stores doing regular people stuff, because they are.
BEST AMISH EXPERIENCE IN OHIO
Well, there are several – but my favorite for ambience and interior of an Amish home is the Swartzehntruber home of Mary Gingergich baskets. You actually go into her home and from the 2 rooms of baskets and other specialties, you can see into her kitchen, dining room and front room. It is a rare treat that an Englisher can go into a S-truber home at all much less see as much of her home as you do. And if you ask, she will let you stick your head through the doorways to really see what the rooms look like. When Englishers think Amish, thanks to TV, this what they think all Amish homes look like; dry sink, wood burner stove, hardwood floors, white walls, etc… it’s truly a great place to visit. Also, her baskets are very very well made and very reasonably priced. They live on the NW corner of South Kohler Road & Berg Road in Kidron, OH – basically one mile west and one mile south of Lehman’s General Store.
In the Aug. 6 edition of the Mennonite World Review, there is an interesting book review by Marlin Jeschke of the new book “Selling
the Amish” by Susan Trollinger, which was mentioned in this post.
If you would like to read the article, go to mennoworld.org and
then on the home page, go to “Columns” and click on Jeschke: The
Amish for Sale. I enjoyed reading the book review and do want to
read the book soon.
Interesting you mentioned this today, Al. We should be having an interview post with Susan fairly soon. I’ve started her book and have been enjoying it.