Lancaster County, 50 Years Ago

old amish men

After yesterday’s look into the future, a glance at the past.

hex sign barn lancaster

These images of Lancaster County were adapted from 35mm slides, courtesy of Russ Glasson.

Hex signs, as seen above, are commonly associated with Pennsylvania Dutch culture, though you won’t find them on Amish barns.

amish carriage vintage

These were apparently all taken in 1963.  How different Lancaster County must have looked then.  The county’s population has nearly doubled since.

amish barn raising lancaster

Were barn-raisings more common 50 years ago?  Probably so.  Lancaster’s Amish population has skyrocketed, while farmland has become harder to obtain.

You can find more of Russ’s images on the Flickr website, under “rbglasson”.

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    1. Richard

      I started going to lancaster when i was alittle kid in the late 1960s, but its the 1970s that i can remember anything really of lancaster. Alot of it to me never really changed much, while the route 30 area close to where the tourist flock to has to me.The area really changed when i didnt go for 7 or 8 years. Some farmland is lost alittle every year even though it might be hardly noticeable to maybe some.But they are trying to save as much as they can through land easements.Ive found here in Lebanon county they are trying the same thing, and i just joined that organization as a member. Here are the 2 main groups trying to save farmland.In lancaster( …… and in lebanon county(….. Richard,Lebanon,pa

    2. Monica

      Oh boy, if you really want to get a lively conversation started after church, start talking about what Lancaster looked like fifty years ago as opposed to today. 😉 I’m not immune either- the Lancaster of the 1970’s stands firmly in my mind as a beautiful place in time, untarnished by the commerce along 30 and in some places, almost devoid of power lines and phone poles.

    3. Marilyn in New York

      It’s sad to see so much farm land go to houses. My Dad is probably spinning in his grave as he was a Real Estate Man in New York State. Farm land is going in New York too. People can’t afford farms anymore. It’s sad. We all have to eat. In our area, every year, you see farms going. I remember when this area outside of the villages, was mostly farms. We are still a big farm area, but smaller and smaller every year. I am glad the Amish have come into our state to keep farming going.
      Marilyn in New York

    4. Alice Aber

      Greetings! You see the same thing happening here in Illinois. Farmland being eaten up by developers paying high, high prices. Such a shame!!

      Loved the pictures, thanks so much for sharing!!

      Blessings, Alice

    5. Robin Miller

      So many changes since my childhood, especially out on the Lincolh Highway (Rt 30). They call it progress but it has really taken a toll of the charm of the area. However, the backroads are as beautiful, serene and untouched as ever. We would take day trips in the 60s from our home in Maryland. I remember going to a place called “The Amish Homestead” on Rt. 30. Trying to visualize it now, I’m sure it’s the site of a shopping center. Dutch Wonderland was brand new and it WAS a wonder … I loved it. We’d eat lunch at Miller’s Smorgasbord before it expanded … I always looked forward to the shoofly pie. Thanks for the memories! My husband and I are hoping to retire to this beautiful area some day!

    6. Robin Miller

      From my previous comment, just checking to be notified of other’s comments as well … thanks!

    7. Marti

      You should have seen it back in the nineteen forties. I was born and raised in Lancaster, but cannot bear to go back there. Developers have just ruined it. Someday they may realize the tragedy of what they’ve done — paved over some of the world’s most fertile farmland. It can never be recovered.

    8. Ya Ich Saaga so much changed in Lancaste Country Ich
      could not find the farm where Ich lived when a kid of 6 years old I had to ask someone where it was it is a shame that all you see is housing development growing up where there was once wonderful beautiful farms just wish sometime it would go back to the 40’s or 50’s then every thing would be just wonderful

    9. If these images were colorized with modern techniques I wonder if anyone would be able to tell the difference from 50 years ago or today.
      Or conversely if you aged some modern photos of the Amish today, would anyone be able to tell the difference from the real old ones? I mean would any anachronism stick out.
      I saw some very well done colorized photos from the 1900s of Russia. They were amazing.
      I love old photos like these. If you can find anymore it would be great.

    10. Robin Miller

      Marti, I can only imagine … we have a good family friend who also grew up in Lancaster and she tells us the same thing. I hadn’t been to the area in over 30 years until my husband and I came for a get-away in Strasburg a bit over 3 years ago. I couldn’t believe it when I saw all of that former farmland turned into shopping “meccas” … how did they allow that to happen?

    11. Theresa H.

      We use to vacation there twice a year in the late 70’s and 80’s when I was growing up. We would stay at Willow Valley Farms because it was a small hotel surrounded by farm lands (before it became a mega hotel) and it was beautiful. My mother always referred to the area, as a little piece of heaven here on earth. We use to drive the back roads for hours, get lost everytime, and laugh. I had not been back there until 4 years ago (20 year gap), when my husband returned from deployment in Iraq we took a big family vacation out to that area…..I cried for the first day. What we had first gone there for 20+ years ago, was no longer there. It is very sad to see it so built up, I do not know how the Amish will survive in that area. I guess they call it progress, but at what cost….more like cashing in on the Amish culture. I think we will stick with Holmes County, Ohio from now on. That area reminds me of the Lancaster, I always loved.

    12. Leo

      Does anyone know if the men’s hat brims have gotten narrower over the years?
      In the first photo, the felt hat brims seem to be wider than what is worn by the Lancaster amish today.

    13. Marcus Yoder

      I have very few picture’s of my grandparent’s.I imagine someone’s children or grandchildren would love to have these picture’s. There is A picture of my grandfather at Yoder’s resturant in Arcola,Illinios.
      The thing is that everyone want’s to live or visit place’s like these area’s. The more people the more place’s needed to stay overnight, and to shop at. It’s just one big cycle. Marcus Yoder London,Ohio

    14. Leo, I think you’ll find that’s generally the case. And the more conservative groups tend to have relatively wider brims.

    15. Richard

      Hey everyone, i just got back from Leola in Lancaster county. I think like anything, if your away from a place for a certain amount of time the changes will most likely be more noticeable to you. Like seeing a relative or old friend after not seeing them for years, even though we ourselves are changing, getting older and maybe even alittle bigger in some places. Lancaster to me is still beautiful, still that special place to be in, and like myself Lancaster is changing alittle as time goes on. I think the basic goodness of this place has not changed, maybe its one of the reasons that i love it so much. Those that are living here can at least try and keep some of the development at bay, and maybe even help saving some farmland in the process. I hear alot of people complain about Lancaster changing, and talk about the good old days, i say why not be part of the solution instead of the problem. I think Lebanon county where i live is looking in their rear view mirror at Lancaster, and has seen what some over-growth can do, so they are learning.The state of Pennsylvania to my understanding has a land savings program in place. So one of my goals this year is to help my county save farmland, and ill join the Lancaster farmland trust again as well. we might not win every battle, but we can at least try, and with that i could live with that. ………………..that’s my 5 cents folks, and good topic today Eric………… Richard, Pennsylvania

    16. Richard

      I just posted a new topic on the blog.After driving back from leola and seeing so many buggies on the road this morning, and then hearing a comment on a talk radio station about electric cars, it made me think a min.And so a topic was born.…….. Richard, lebanon,pa

    17. Will Amish survive in Lancaster?

      A lot of comments regret the loss of farmland. In a way I think it is inevitable given the location and attraction of the area.

      Theresa you compare Holmes County today to Lancaster of yesteryear. For me it is hard to imagine Lancaster like Holmes, but I’m sure it was more similar at one time.

      I think the Amish will survive in Lancaster one way or another (ie, through small businesses needing an acre or 2 of land vs. 60-100), but I think that many in the region (both non-Amish and Amish) do have a strong economic interest in maintaining the rural quality of Lancaster Co.

      So I believe preserving farmland is wise from that standpoint.

      After all, Amish without farms is a little like Mexican food without salsa.

      Glad you enjoyed the topic Richard. And thanks everyone for all the great comments.

    18. Tom

      Just found your website a few days ago. I really enjoy reading the post. I currently live in a area of Kentucky with a Amish and Mennonite population. I believe my area has 4 Amish church districts here in my area. From time to time I will stop in to a few of their stores just to say hi, and pick up a few spices. I really like how some of your post detail the Amish community, and much of your writing matches my observations that I see here. One of your post mentioned how the Amish and old order Mennonites will surprise you with their knowledge of other religions. Just this past weekend I spent about an hour discussing/debating christian denominations with a older man from the old order Mennonites. Some are very curious of my catholic faith, but are very respectful giving the history they have with Catholicism. They like to do the interviewing in some ways. Just this weekend I told them I will bring them a copy of the Catechism on my next visit. I guess my next visit after that will be very interesting.

      1. Paul A. B.

        Hope to have a similar experience

        I am also Catholic, but with a lifelong admiration for the Amish / Mennonite form of witness. It is my hope to one day have a similar conversation as yours with people from these faith communities.

    19. Do Amish judge other religions?

      I have found that Amish in particular are generally non-judgmental about other religions. In a way it makes sense when you consider how important the value of humility is. Amish I’ve spoken with have come across a lot more enlightened than you might expect going by the typical media portrayal of them (ie “backward”, “reclusive”, etc).

      Btw Tom-Welcome aboard–and glad you found us!

      By the way, this past summer I had the chance to visit 3 communities in Kentucky. Really enjoyed it–in fact I did a post on the Munfordville community which you may have come across–

      Also there was another one recently on Amish in Graves County KY-

      Glad you took the time to comment Tom, and I do think you will have a pretty interesting discussion next visit.

    20. In addition to smaller hat brims, the beards probably have gotten a tad smaller overall, on the younger generation anyways.
      Hey, Erik, if you ever run across documented reasons for the shaved mustache, let me know. I have been keeping my eyes open for years wondering where it got started, and the best I have found is that is was a reaction to French militarism in the time of Napoleon. But that is always a “they say …” with no indication who the original “they” is. No one seems to know when it got started, and why. Early Anabaptist writings make no mention of it as an issue. And since they eschewed art and images, of course there are very, very few paintings of the early Swiss brethren.

    21. Richard

      Well another cold night in lebanon county, and more snow is on the way. sounds kind of like a country song in the making.Good night folks…….. Richard,Penn

    22. Richard

      Lets start a new topic, how about lancaster 40 years ago,lol. I tried Erik……….. Richard.

    23. Appreciate it Richard! I think a lot of folks will be digging themselves out of snow this week.

      Will let you know if I do Mike. Don’t recall I’ve seen where that originates either. Though it is often given as a reason. Have also heard hygiene.

      I’ll add that I guess my comment yesterday on preserving farms was more the head talking. But the heart would agree.

    24. Richard

      Im just trying to help Erik, doing the heavy lifting seems to be my trademark,lol. Im kidding Erik, and yes we did get alittle snow last night here, im more worried about the ice we are supposed to get for the morning.Im running out of places to put the snow from my driveway, maybe Alice could take some of it,lol. good night folks. Richard, penn

    25. Richard don’t forget the roof..!

    26. DJ

      Love the older photographs….nice of him to post & share 🙂

    27. Bob Rosier

      I agree with Robin about Lincoln Highway (Route 30). Lost a lot of charm, and a big portion of “The Amish Homestead” is now a Target and a row of businesses. The back roads are still beautiful, especially Route 896 going thru Strasburg and out into the farm lands. Wal-Mart has bought land out there along the Strasburg Railroad, but so far they have kept them from building. That steam engine route has beautiful farm land….I just can’t imagine seeing a Wal-Mart along the train route.

    28. Robin Miller

      Oh please, no WalMart in Strasburg! My husband and I love Strasburg and hope to retire there some day. We like staying at Hershey Farm when we visit the area. It’s so pretty and quiet. We also like the road between Bird In Hand and Intercourse as well as the back roads of Gap and Paradise. I’m thinking the Amish Homestead stood in the area where they built the new shopping center with the Christmas Tree Shops. I remember it was on the right hand side, up and across from Dutch Wonderland. I think the farm you’re referring to Bob is the Amish Farm & House? The one with the covered bridge? I did notice the Target, right next door … makes no sense.

    29. Charlotte Holtry

      grew up there

      I have really enjoyed this site although it makes me homesick. When I was growing up, the Amish were very respected and we did not even think of exploiting them in any way. They were Christian brothers and sisters in our community and were just part of our landscape.

      How many people these days could do something like a barn raising ? We need to learn from them !