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Pennsylvania Dutch Country

July 12, 2012

Birchview Farm Campground, Coatesville, PA

On Monday, we left Gifford Pinchot State Park and drove 64 miles east to Birchview Farm Campground near Coatesville, PA.  US 74 and PA 30 were good roads all the way to Lancaster.  From Lancaster, we took PA 340 east through Smoketown, Bird –In-Hand, Intercourse and White Horse, finally turning onto Sandy Hill Road to Birchview Farm Campground.

Crossing the Susquehanna. Construction narrowed the lanes & a semi passing on the left made for a white-knuckle crossing.

In many small towns, the front porches sit only a few feet from the roadway.

The drive on 340 from Lancaster was like passing through one continuous 25-mile long town.  Beyond the shops and stores and businesses along the highway, one could see green farmland dotted with the white clusters of Amish farms.

Birchview Farm Campground is a decent place to park for a week while seeing the area.  As we find in many older RV parks, it’s about an equal mix of long term residents, seasonal residents, and those passing through, like us.  We’ve got full hookups here (electric, water, sewer), and after a couple of weeks at a state park with electric only, it’s already a pleasure to turn on a water faucet and not have to hear the water pump.  It’s also nice to know we can use our own bathroom without worrying too much about the level in the black water tank, and to wash dishes and take showers without the same concerns over the gray water tank.  We’re obviously not ready for any extended boondocking yet.

Our primary destination in this part of the country is the Brandywine Museum at Chadd’s Ford.  I’ve been a fan of both N.C. Wyeth and Andrew Wyeth for years, and this is an opportunity to see their original work in person and up close.  We’ve made contact with a Facebook Friend who lives near Chadd’s Ford, and we’ll meet up with him on Thursday morning to visit the Brandywine Museum and tour N.C.’s and Andrew’s studios.

On Tuesday, we backtracked to get a better look at the area we drove through on Monday.  We drove back to Intercourse, which was originally founded in 1754 as Cross Keys, named after a local tavern.  Even though the name was changed in 1814, we still saw places using the name “Cross Keys”.  To answer the inevitable question, it’s believed the name “Intercourse” came from the entrance to the old racecourse, called the “Entercourse”.  And yes, the shops sell refrigerator magnets and post cards inscribed with the phrase “I (heart) Intercourse”.

We stopped at a shopping area called Kitchen Kettle Village in Intercourse, with shops selling all kinds of jams, jellies and sauces, quilts, woodwork, meats, bakery goods, etc.

We had a leisurely breakfast at Kling House Restaurant, which was very good.

A buggy parked at a store, and an Amish girl riding by on a foot-powered scooter.

From our window table, we watched a passing parade of Amish people in buggies and on scooters, along with delivery trucks and cars.

These two fellows settled themselves – and their tip jar – in an open area and entertained the passing shoppers with some great bluegrass banjo playing.  They did a rendition of Sweet Georgia Brown that I especially liked.

We drove further west to Bird-In-Hand, another town named for a local tavern.  Here, we found a large market on a hill with the kind of things you expect to find in a tourist shop: plates, woodwork, gifts and souvenirs.  Sadly, many of the items had the familiar little “Made In China” sticker on the back.  As in many places that cater to tourists, one has to be careful to make sure they are buying actual Locally Made items.

More to our liking, and feeding our interest, were a couple of places across the street. The place above was deceiving.  Once inside, it seemed to go on forever…

…and there was an extensive lower level as well.

Next door, we found The Old Village Store Hardware and Antique Market.  As in other places along this drive, one could take a ride in an Amish buggy.

It was another place that went on and on, including a basement… filled with display after display of nostalgia and memories set out on seriously creaking floors.  If you like antiques… or just old junk… these places were gold mines.   There was even a replica of a covered bridge.  Tradition says that to kiss on a covered bridge will bring good luck.  We decided we could use all the luck we could get.

We stopped at a small, local grocery store to stock up on a few things, and further up the road we found a vegetable stand at an Amish farm right next to the highway.  The little boy who was minding the store was polite, friendly, and well-spoken.  And he was well-practiced in using a hand-held calculator and making change.  Nell commented on the size of the house, and at her question, he volunteered that he thinks there are 10 “sleeping rooms”.  It takes a big family to operate one of these farms.

And it takes a lot of laundry.  On Wednesday, we ventured back out to see more, taking different routes through the countryside.  Every day, there were clothes drying on long clotheslines that ran from pulleys attached to poles, resembling signal flags on Navy ships.

The highlight of Wednesday was the Mascot Roller Mills and the Ressler Family Home next door.  Originally built in the 1730s, the mill has been added to and modified, and milling was in continuous operation until 1977.  In 1906 and 1909, the two big wooden overshot water wheels and millstone were replaced with water driven turbines and chilled iron roller mills.  The equipment still works, and a tour guide actually operates the mill in demonstrations during the tour.

The Resslers wanted to put a post office in the mill.  The Postal Service said the place had to have a name.  In their travels, Mrs. Ressler had seen a movie that had a dog in it named “Mascot”.  Thus the little town of Mascot got its name.

We also got a tour of The Ressler House, home to three generations of the family that owned the mill.  The house is preserved exactly as it was when the last family members lived there, and is an interesting view into early American life.

Over the course of two days, we travelled on three different highways in different directions, and on a number of back country roads, winding our way between farms with huge houses and barns, taking in the beauty and character of the Pennsylvania Dutch countryside.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. William R Moore permalink
    July 13, 2012 1:10 pm

    Thanks Ralph, I enjoyed the pictures and your commentary. Never been to PA, but take it to be a very interesting, beautiful and picturesque state.

  2. July 13, 2012 1:49 pm

    You’re having a great time Ralph. Wish I was able to visit the area.

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