Driving through Pennsylvania Countryside: or, I knew I was with the Amish when I saw “Stoltzfus”

I am trying to be more creative with my blog titles during this trip, rather than my tendency to do something like “Day 12: Lancaster.” So I hope you appreciate it, or you at least feel a bit more relaxed as you read.

To explain the title, I know from watching documentaries and informative shows about the Amish (not “Amish in the City” or “Breaking Amish,” though I do watch those too) that a large percentage of the Amish population share the same few family names, due to the inbreeding (technically) which happens in a smaller population of common descendants. It actually puts them at extreme risk of genetic disorders due to the Founder Effect. Actually almost all of the Old Order Amish have one of about 40 surnames, including: Hostetler, King, Smucker, Stoltzfus, and Stutzman. The point is that when I left York and approached the Lancaster area which is associated with Amish, I wasn’t really in the heart of their turf. I was in the tourist base.

Lancaster is actually a fairly large city, with a fairly small amount of Amish/Mennonites/Brethren. It makes sense because Lancaster (pronounced more like “LANK-iss-ter”) is a city and the most orthodox Amish families live on farmland. When I drove through Lancaster for lunch and couldn’t find a spot to park because of all the tourists, I continued on toward Philadelphia. Just a couple miles outside the city, I turned on Hunsecker Road, following directions toward a couple original wooden covered bridges. Hunsecker Road intersected with Mondale Road and I followed that. About five miles of rolling hills, acres of farmland with barns and silos, all white or gray/no colors. There were no cars, only horse buggies just inside the open barn doors. Each home also had the distinct display of (obviously) Amish clothing hanging from long clotheslines, extending from the home up into trees or onto barn rooftops. And when every other property was labeled as “Stoltzfus,” I knew I was in the right place. I did feel uneasy about stopping outside someone’s home and pulling out my camera, so I resisted taking the pictures I wanted to take. So you’ll just have to imagine, look it up, or watch a TV show.

Hunsecker's Mill Covered Bridge

Landis Mill Covered Bridge


Hunsecker’s Mill Bridge

Amish Farmland

Amish Farmland

As I was close to exiting this country road, I passed the school house. The only way I know that is that there was a regular “Entering School Zone” yellow sign on either side of it. It was a plain white building without any signage, and with only a playset and a water pump on the patio. Amish only receive education through eighth grade and distrust what the world calls “education.” School is not to analyze literature, learn calculus, or express one’s self through art. It is to teach the worth of hard work, ethical behavior, and how to be a valuable member of their society.

The Schoolhouse (out the window as I was driving by)

The Schoolhouse (out the window as I was driving by)

As I exited the road and turned on to a main highway, I was shortly into the adjacent cities of Bird-In-Hand and Intercourse. These had a little bit of a tourist feel in that all the stores were on the main highway, however, some seemed gearing toward tourists while others were not. A good image to picture is Sisters, Oregon. It was the same layout and feel of that city. In these cities, I passed Stoltzfus Meats, Stoltzfus Appliances, Stoltzfus Wooden Furniture, and I also passed the “Amish View Hotel,” which seems like it should not have had a large DirectTV dish prominently attached to the front of the building. So unauthentic! In these two cities, I came across several Amish, clearly identifiable by their clothing. These included, a man driving his horse and buggy on the road back toward the rural area, a woman with a shopping bag riding a scooter (the kind you stand on and push by kicking your foot on the ground), a horse and buggy carrying a family – the three younger boys sitting in an uncovered, flatbed attachment cart behind the main buggy, and two boys standing on their front yard selling tomatoes and squash.

As I drove through, my mind processed an internal conversation: I said to myself, “how could anyone live in such a restrictive society as this?” and then I answered myself with a speech on how none of us can say we couldn’t handle it because we have a different reality; we know another way of live, and especially, we haven’t been raised in the Amish lifestyle since our earliest memories. Anyway, those are the kind of deep internal discussions I have when I am running. My thoughts get very lucid and I wish I had someone to discuss my thoughts with.

Fast forward an hour: I stopped by a Starbucks in Exton, PA. There were about 10 cars in the drive-thru and no one in line inside. I made a comment to the cashier and he agreed with the curiosity, stating that in the morning, the drive-thru lines goes out the driveway and very few people park and walk inside.

Big news of the day: my brother flew into Philly and will be joining me for about eight days. I picked him up and we immediately went for cheesesteaks. 20130724_153955I don’t particularly think they’re great, nor do I think a foot long piece of bread stuffed with meat and canned Cheese Whiz is an appropriate meal for anyone. But it’s one of those “When in Philly” experiences. We drove right past Pat’s and Geno’s – the famous competitors just a block apart. We went a few blocks further to Ishkabibble’s, which was highly regarded by a travel magazine and a local food website I read. It was filling and tasty, I guess. Finally, we got to our lodging, a woman’s private residence I had booked on AirBnb. I like this site, mainly because it’s cheaper. It was $60 a night and was a 10 minute walk to the subway which involves a 5 minute ride to downtown. That’s compared to $125+ for a hotel anywhere remotely near downtown, plus parking fees. So, we arrived, dropped off our stuff, and went out to downtown for the evening. We were just there a few hours and stopped by the Visitors’ Center for maps, then walked toward Elfreth’s Abbey, the longest continuously residential street -since 1702. We went over to the waterfront area at Penn’s Landing for a look, and on the way back stopped at the Triumph Brewing Company, a comfortable, casual brewpub. They were offering all their beers at a reduced price this whole month, so along with my Shrimp Po’ Boy and homemade potato chips, I tried some beers. We talked about plans for tomorrow, and headed back to the room for the evening.

Parking Lot Public Mural

Parking Lot Public Mural

Elfreth's Alley

Elfreth’s Alley

On Elfreth's Alley

On Elfreth’s Alley

Don't know what this is.

Don’t know what this is.

Bus Stop

Bus Stop



One thought on “Driving through Pennsylvania Countryside: or, I knew I was with the Amish when I saw “Stoltzfus”

  1. STUTZMAN!!! That’s Ruth’s last name, well, maiden name. LANDIS! That’s one of Ruth’s brothers. 🙂
    Interesting thoughts on the Amish culture. You’re right: from an outsider’s perspective, it seems so odd and restrictive, but when a person has been raised that way, that’s all they know: they might look at your lifestyle and think that you’re wild and unrestrained!
    What a cool alley. I love all the red.

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