While many people conjure up images of quilts and Amish buggies when they think of Lancaster County, Pa., the city of Lancaster offers an alternative to those stereotypes with its eclectic shops, museums and restaurants.
Both the city and county, named after Lancashire, England, have their share of historical highlights, the most prominent of which date a bit farther back than 1985, when Harrison Ford and Kelly McGillis starred in the film Witness. The movie, which featured a reportedly honest portrayal of the Amish, was shot in Lancaster County.
In September 1777, Lancaster city served as the nation's capital for a day, when Colonial officials, fleeing Philadelphia in the face of invading British troops, stopped on their way to setting up a temporary capital in York.
James Buchanan, the only Pennsylvanian and the only bachelor to serve as president of the United States, was born in Lancaster County. And two of the country's top entrepreneurs, Woolworth's 5 & 10 founder Frank W. Woolworth and chocolate magnate Milton S. Hershey, opened their respective businesses in the county.
Although the Lancaster area is commonly called Pennsylvania Dutch country, there is nothing Dutch about the Amish and Mennonites who live their simple lives there. Instead, the two religious sects share a German background, and the word "Dutch" is an Anglicization of the German word Deutsch.
In the late 1700s, Lancaster city was America's largest inland town. Today, it is a hybrid of tradition and modernization, where 200-year-old churches and a historic and popular farmers' market stand amid parking garages and gleaming office buildings. But old bricks and mortar are only part of the story.
"What I like about Lancaster County, first and foremost, is the people," said Fulton Financial Corp. chairman and CEO Rufus Fulton Jr., who moved to the area in 1941 from Dallas and whose bank, the county's biggest, is based in downtown Lancaster. "They're genuine, no-airs type people. What you see is what you get. They're very caring people."
Locals and visitors convene three days a week at Lancaster Central Market -- known simply as "market" by regulars -- to buy and sell a wide range of home-grown food.
"Any day I'm in Lancaster for lunch, I walk over to market and take back something to my desk to eat," Fulton said. "Literally 100 of our employees go there every day it's open."
Open Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays, Lancaster Central Market is one of the oldest continuously operating public farmers' markets in the nation. Since the 1730s, Lancaster residents have visited the central market square area to buy soups, meat, fish, turkey sausage, turnips, cinnamon bread and other food from local farmers and butchers.
The building used for the market, called the Central Markethouse, was built in 1889. It is located just off the city's Penn Square.
Nearby, the Heritage Museum at Penn Square has a revolving collection of artifacts and furniture, most of it made in Lancaster County.
Still need your fill of the Amish and quilts? You can get both soon. The museum recently acquired a collection of Amish quilts valued at $1 million and plans to put them on display in a separate museum early next year, said Laura Wakely, chairwoman of Lancaster city's investment district authority, which oversees revitalization of a 12-square-block area around Penn Square.
The historic district includes landmark churches that are part of a self-guided walking tour. The Trinity Lutheran Church, built in 1729, sports a steeple that was, until 1800, the nation's tallest structure west of Philadelphia.
For the rest of the month, particularly on weekends, Lancaster city will have a holiday glow. The city's Christmas tree is decorated and lighted, Santa is ready at the museum, and horse and carriage rides are available.
For more holiday fun, check out the Fulton Opera House (12 North Prince St., 717-397-7425), a block west of Penn Square. A Christmas Carol, featuring a Lancaster interpretation based on the original story by Charles Dickens, will continue through Dec. 28.
Where to shop
Heritage Center Museum store (5 W. King St., 717-393-3364): Items include candles, books and reproductions of Pennsylvania antiques.
Details (30 N. Queen St., 717-397-5366): Features a variety of giftware, including stationery and gardening decorations.
Zap & Co (315 N. Queen St., 717-397-7405): Want vintage clothing, accessories and jewelry? This is the place.
Art & Glassworks of Lancaster (319 N. Queen St., 717-394-4133): Stained glass and more.
Where to eat
Lancaster Dispensing Co. (33-35 N. Market St., 717-299-4602): Popular among locals for more than 25 years. Casual foods and spirits, with entertainment.
The Pressroom Restaurant (26 W. King St., 717-399-5400): Casual dining serving everything from burgers and gourmet pizzas to veal morels. Serves lunch and dinner six days a week (closed Sunday).
Belvedere Inn and Restaurant (402 N. Queen St., 717-394-2422): Fine dining in a relaxed atmosphere. Nice architecture and a piano bar.
Jethro's Restaurant and Bar (First and Ruby streets, 717-299-1700): Nothing fancy. Just plenty of excellent food.
Carr's Restaurant (50 W. Grant St., 717-299-7090): Fine dining, with everything from Continental cuisine to sushi.
On the Web
From Baltimore, take I-83 north to U.S. 30 east in York, Pa. In Lancaster, take Fruitville Pike exit. Fruitville Pike turns into Prince Street. Continue on Prince Street to King Street and make a left. Go one block and look for the Soldiers and Sailors Monument in the middle of Penn Square. Parking is available in nearby garages. Lancaster city is 75 miles northeast of Baltimore.
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