A Travellerspoint blog

Day 75 (11.15.07) - Amish Farm, Railroad Museum

We toured a former Amish Farm, then also another Railroad Museum.

rain 45 °F


Miles Driven - 15
Weather - Cold, Rain, Wind
Camped at White Oak RV Park, Strasburg, PA


There are about 39,000 Old Order Amish in Pennsylvania, most in Lancaster County. Several area's have gift shops selling Pennsylvania Dutch or Amish arts & crafts, but I decided to start with visiting something that would tell us more about the Amish. Last night the visitors center had recommended a place called the "Amish Village", so that's where we headed. The name is somewhat incorrect since the Amish live on individual farms, not in Villages, but perhaps the operator's felt calling it a 'village' would attract more tourists. This is typical of the Lancaster County farms we saw:


This had been a working Amish farm until the mid 1900's, but is now run to show tourists how the people lived and provide some background and education about them. The house itself was probably built in the 1840's and was lived in continuously until 1968, mostly as an Amish farm, although the last owner was a Mennonite.


The tour started with some backgound information about the Amish. They were originally part of the 1500's Swiss-German anabaptist movement which became the Mennonite faith. Anabaptists believe that infants cannot be meaningfully baptized as was common in the churches of the era, so one needed to be baptized (or baptized again) as an adult when they could fully understand their decision. However, in the late 1600's, a Mennonite leader named Jacob Amman began pulling away from the Mennonite church which he felt was straying from it's core values. The most serious issue between Jacob Amman's followers (who came to be calle Amish) and other Mennonites was the practice of "shunning" - or shutting out church members who committed an offense. Amman believed this was an essential practice for the truely faithful.

The Amish were persecuted harshly in Europe, at least in part due to the practice of shunning. As a result, many migrated to America in the 1700's and settled in Pennsylvania due to William Penn's promise of religious tolerance.

Their two guiding religious concepts are to reject Hochmut (pride, arrogance and haughtiness), and to place a very high value on Demut (humility). They have chosen to submit to the Will of God by accepting group norms rather than promote individualism which is a predominant American cultural value. This combination of values has created a unique culture of the Old Order Amish community. European Amish eventually reconciled with the Mennonites, as did most later Amish immigrants, so most of the American Old Order Amish decend from the 18th century immigrants.

This is a commonly misunderstood aspect of the Amish. The reason they do not use electricity or motor vehicles is not that they believe their religion forbids it, but because they, as a community, see this as a way to remain humble and avoid the worlds temptations. The communities remain insular, they use services - mostly from friends they trust, but as much as possible stay only within the Amish community. They speak Pennsylvania Dutch at home, which is basically a hybred German/English language. They learn English and old High German at school and use High German for the prayer services. They still avoid buttons, belts and mustashes since persecuting soldiers wore them in the 1600-1700's. They continue to practice norms in dress and appearance related to religious persecution that happened 300 years ago, perhaps at least partly due to their insularity? Of course, fancy clothing adornments would also imply a haughtiness which would be unacceptable. Either way, if the particular group's norm is to dress a particular way and a member doesn't, they might be 'shunned' until they made ammends. Shunning is a very powerful incentive for group members not to stray from the group norm, so these practices remain among the Amish long after the rest of the world has moved on.

So after learning some background, we toured the house. This began in the sitting room. This was fairly large and had long, wooden benches. The Amish don't build churches. Instead, they meet every other week in one of the district members homes in the sitting room. The district owns the benches and takes them from home to home for the services.

In the kitchen, they did have a refridgerator and light - but both were powered by propane. There were a few items displayed on the wall, which is allowed as long as it is for a practical reason - dishes that are frequently used or a pouch to hold sewing sissors - not for display for display purposes.


We then went upstairs, where none of my pictures came out (I keep trying to take pictures in dim light without a flash, ugh). However, we did learn a lot about the clothing styles. Most of the dresses worn by girls and women have at least some parts attached with straight pins, I'm not sure why - our tour guide seemed to think that the Amish would say that it worked, so why change it. Amish girls wear white tops until they marry, then not again until they are buried. (Note, there is no central Amish church organization or authority, so there can be and is variation between the different groups). Several of the beds had nice Amish quilts on them, each was for sale - but a little beyond my price range. I did spring for a nice hotpad later, Mom says this is a 'log cabin' pattern.


A second kitchen/laundry room was in the basement. This was used for canning or in the summer when it was cooler. The wood barrel is a butter churn, but these are rarely used today since they can make more money selling the cream to large dairy's then by using it themselves. The old wringer washers are still used today with a gas motor, so they can still avoid using electricity.


Outside was a typical barn, as well as a water wheel. These are still used by Amish farms to pump water to the farm animals and sometimes also the house - again, avoiding electricity.


Another building was a typical one room school house such as Amish children are still educated in. They only send their childen through the 8th grade. Since many states require education until a child is 16 years old, there was a lawsuit that wasn't decided until 1972 by the Supreme Court - which ruled that freedom of religion is a higher priority then compulsary education, so the Amish are allowed to continue this practice.


This farm also had a blacksmith shop, rather critical since they still use horse & buggy transportation and horse drawn farm implements . There were also other farm buildings that have now been converted to gift shops. So we both bought a few things, not necessarily just Amish things, and moved on. While we enjoyed learning about this unique group of people, we also felt there was a sort of surrealness to their practices. Neither of us felt this is the sort of lifestyle to which the rest of us should aspire.

So moving on, one of the other things we saw as we drove around was a sign for a Doll Store. This was Mom's cup of tea, not mine. However I went on inside more out of curiousity than interest. I did find the newborn dolls awfully tempting - they almost look a little too much like the real thing. Mom, of course, enjoyed the whole store quite a bit:


We had already visited a railroad museum in Danbury, CT, but when we left the Amish farm, we were only a few miles from "The Railroad Museum of Pennsylvania". I thought a museum might be a good idea since it would be dry and warm, whereas it was very cold, windy and rainy outside. However, Mom was sufficiently unhappy with the weather that she refused to go in. I set her up in the RV, which has heat, electricity, food, and whatever else she might need, and proceded to go through the museum. When I got back though she still was fairly unhappy. I guess the weather bothers her whether she's in it or just looking at it. I did try to go through the museum fairly quickly and will not bore you with too many repeats from Danbury I hope (the museums were quite different).

This one is supported by the State of Pennsylvania, so has enough funding to really restore their exhibits. They also have probably the largest building in the country built specifically to house a railroad museum.


They appear to be building up the interior space to also resemble a typical town along the railroad station, but there are only two 'buildings' in use at present. The 'train station' is fairly well appointed, including this ticket master's office:


Another 'building' is set up with lots of interactive exhibits (Lego trains anyone?) and informative displays. One display explains how a freight yard was used to disassemble arriving trains, sort the cars according to destination, then reassemble new trains, a process called 'classification':


Like the Danbury RR museum, this building also had several working model railroads. I guess the same people who like real trains like toy ones also. This one was particularly well done, based on an industrial city from the 1950's.


There were also replica's of a couple of the earliest train engines from the 1800's:


Here is an example of one of the exquisitely restored and/or maintained steam engines. This one was built in 1905 and is of the very common 4-4-0 design (4 small wheels on a truck in front to help steer around curves, and 4 large drive wheels on a separate truck in the back). This particular engine was painted up and used in the movie "Hello Dolly" in 1968 (in case it looks familiar to anybody).


Across the street from the museum is the Strasburg Railroad Station. There are some very nice cars and engines that actually run and can be used to take a nine mile round trip train ride - but only on weekends this time of year, so we just stopped for a couple of pictures. I just included this one since I liked the colors, the train rides are on passenger cars of course.


Since it had been so nasty and cold out today, Mom was pretty much out of sorts. So even though it wasn't very late and we hadn't driven far at all, I found a fairly nice campground that was still open and parked for the night. It continued to rain during the night, but stopped by morning. Mom seems to have recovered after a good nights sleep - so we'll continue on afterall. (I also brought up a map on the internet to show her - this storm seems to be covering the entire country - north Florida was just as cold as where we were! Not sure that's what she wanted to hear though.)

Posted by jl98584 16:35 Archived in USA Tagged family_travel

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Dad would have loved those train museums! Yes, I think people who like real trains also loike model trains. We usually go to the train show @ seattle center this time of year. We sure have been getting the storms! I went kayaking yesterday and paddled into the wind to get back for the last hour. Que

by drque

I don't know whether anyone at the Amish Farm mentioned it, but the film "Witness" was made entirely on location at a Mennonite farm just outside Strasburg. The roles of the Amish were played by Mennonites as well. There is even a "Witness" tour one can take to see all the sites. And one more "did you know" - of course work horses and mules are used on the farm, but the horses pulling the buggies are retired race horses which are purchased at auction. It's certainly a fascinating culture.

by mimio

Yes, Dad would have never made it out of the train museums!

It's probably better I didn't know about the tour of the "Witness" sites, I'd probably have wanted to do it also and Mom would never make it south! I didn't know that tidbit about the retired race horses - very interesting, Thanks!

by jl98584

Don't know if you have given up the Philly idea, but what we do when we visit Philly--even in a car--is park at a commuter rail station (SEPTA) and take the train in. All the major sites are then in walking distance. Probably not for Phyllis, though--you might want to rent a taxi for a few blocks to go from train station to Constitution Hall etc.

by TexasRTJ

For example, Paoli station on the R5 line has 175 parking spaces--get there early if a weekday. The other commuter stations also usually have parking. Here's a system map: http://www.septa.org/maps/click_map.html

by TexasRTJ

You're right, public transit is probably the best way to tour the big cities like Philly (& Boston). I considered that, but don't think I want to put Mom through it. She can barely walk back to the RV sometimes, so the thought of climbing on/off of subways or busses worries me a bit. Probably the best idea would be either to (1) drive in fairly close (park at a shopping mall?) and take a taxi from there, or (2) rent a car (that will fit inside the parking garages that are close to the historic sights, if expensive). I'll probably go with option (3) Go back sometime by plane and use public transit. Mom is already lobbying hard to head south - she tends to sour on things pretty fast once they turn out to be a hassle (as these did) and is also not comfortable with the cold. So Mom has made it clear that she doesn't want to go back. There are so many wonderful things we're finding to do where we can just drive up and park, if we skip the big cities during this trip, we'll still be overloaded with the stuff we can do!

by jl98584

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