Wonder What It’s Like To Be A Tourist Attraction?

by Ted Taylor
Chronicle-News Globe
Reprinted with permission

I went to college in Lancaster County and so that area holds a special place in my heart. And each year Cindy and I go up there, at least once, and usually for homecoming.

We stay with Steve and Jamie Shane at the wonderful Apple Bin Inn in Willow Street, just a hop skip and a jump from the old alma mater. Actually, our first stop there was in 2003 — mere weeks after the two former engineers decided to chuck the corporate rat race and join the hospitality one. They declared that we are their longest-term regular customers when we were up a couple of weeks ago.

Since we missed homecoming this year — we were in Florida — we booked our Lancaster visit for the last weekend in October — right before Hurricane Sandy came screaming at us and brought lots of bad things with her.

Our usual Millersville University-related visits always include most of the day on campus going to the always well done parade; enjoying an alumni luncheon (often not so well done) and watching the Marauders traditionally get their doors blown off in the homecoming football game. (Of course they won this fall, we weren’t there.)

This year we decided to be tourists and our host, Steve, drew up a map for us highlighting things he thought we might like to see. Knowing that I am into sports memorabilia he started us off with a few of the larger antiques businesses in the region. Cacklebury Farm, on Route 30, on the way to Intercourse, was one of the largest antiques malls we ever saw. In fact, it was so big as to be overwhelming. But we plodded along anyway, dazzled by all the eclectic stuff for sale there.

Next it was up Belmont Road toward a small covered bridge, which turned out to be closed for repairs, and so we drove down many farm lanes and finally, off to the town of Intercourse, a huge tourist mecca with a suggestive name.

Driving though the farmlands we watched Amish farmers clearing the fields, much as they had been doing for the past couple of centuries. Nothing modern, just horse or mule drawn rigs. The men and the boys were in the fields, the women we saw were working around the farm houses, clearing leaves, pulling weeds. Most houses had long lines of wash hanging to dry, usually on pulleys that are attached to a silo. Lots of horse drawn buggies dotted the roadways.

When we hit Intercourse (we were also in Paradise, Blue Ball and other quaintly-named towns) it struck me that this huge tourist industry basically centers on gawking at the Amish. These very religious people are now prime tourist attractions. Movies have been made about them; souvenir stands up there carry everything Amish.

I wondered what it would be like if, someday, hoards of Amish decided to descend on our area and gawk at us living our daily lives. You know, going to the mall, buying a pizza, cutting the lawn with a power mower — our funny (to them, sometimes even to me) outfits. I think it would be darn uncomfortable.

We went to an Amish farm stand that made homemade pretzels. The pretzels were incredible, their little business was in the middle of farm lands and yet, while we were there, two tourist-laden buses stopped and people climbed out to sample their pretzels and home-made root beer (a taste for which I had developed in college).

Next we went to Lapp Valley Farm, a dairy that sold the best ice cream you’ll ever eat. And while I was devouring a coffee ice cream waffle cone (home-made, of course) an Amish buggy pulled up to the drive-in window and a cute little boy was treated to an ice cream by his bearded father (or grandfather). We then hit a few shops, even bought a piece of Amish-made furniture for our house, and then headed back to the Apple Bin Inn for a to-die-for Hess’s BBQ dinner.

Over dinner I asked Steve if he thought the Amish minded being tourist attractions and he replied, “Yes, I think they do, but they have figured out a way to capitalize on their differences … and they are always willing to make a dollar. In fact many of them are pretty well-off.” That point being clearly evident in their huge, pristine, farm houses and acres and acres of lush bountiful farmland.

I didn’t feel at all guilty about enjoying the area and admiring the Amish and their quaint (to me) way of life. And, yes, they acknowledge being tourist attractions and, yes, it’s equally clear that they don’t mind making a buck off our curiosity. Seems like a win-win situation for all of us in one of our area’s most attractive and interesting regions.