If you think of a wagon wheel, you get a picture of how the roads into and out of the city of Lancaster are organized. If you follow them out of the city, in the directions of the hours on the dial of a clock, you will find some wonders that many visitors to Lancaster County never see. We call these hidden gems.
In the hub, or heart of Lancaster County is the city of Lancaster – and at its heart is the Central Market where you can shop amid stand holders who represent all of the best of Lancaster’s history and heritage. If you are going to try sho-fly pie (and we think you should) this is the place to try it. Generations of Lancastrians have frequented the Fulton Opera House for live stage performances. Or if you are lucky the Green Room theatre at Franklin and Marshall will have a theater production going; professional actors Roy Scheider and Treat Williams cut their teeth on this very stage. The most hidden of the hidden gems of Lancaster City is The Horse Inn, on the second floor of an old brick building down an ally in the northeast part of the city. Yes, it looks like you are in the wrong place but do go, for their famous tenderloin tidbits on toast.
At twelve o’clock is the Lititz Pike. Take it northward to the The Landis Valley Museum at Kissel Hill, a living history village and farm, where you can learn firsthand about the culture of the Pennsylvania German rural community from 1740 to 1940. Be sure to stop at Stauffer’s of Kissel Hill for one of the finest produce markets you will find anywhere. If you are hungry for homemade Pennsylvania Dutch style food, you can find it here without any of the tourist hype. Then motor onward to the charming small city of Lititz (say “LIT-its”) where you can have a double whammy of tours of you-can-only-find-it here deliciousness, Wilbur Chocolates and Julius Sturgis pretzels. Stroll the main street for boutiques and shops while in Lititz
At one o’clock is the Oregon Pike. When you are in the “Oregon” area turn right on Jake Landis Road, left on Butter Road and then wind down to the stream at Pinetown Road. This short detour will take you to the first covered bridge rebuilt after the devastating floods of Hurricane Agnes, due to an overwhelming outpouring of county residents who signed a petition to save it. If this bridge captures your heart, why not get a map of the 29 covered bridges of Lancaster County, all of which are historic treasures. You will be near others on these pikes. But for now, continue north on Oregon Pike through suburbs and scenic countryside farmland to Ephrata (say “F-ra-ta”) and the Cloister – a wonderful collection of restored buildings that predate the Revolution, showing life in a utopian community founded on religious values. Enjoy shopping at Ten Thousand Villages for arts and crafts from around the world—proceeds help the families who make these great products in distant lands.
Three o’clock brings you to the Old Philadelphia Pike or US 340 East. It is the most heavily traveled of all of these roads, as it takes you into some of the best known areas of the Pennsylvania Dutch Country. Head for The People’s Place in Intercourse, where you can learn about the three major religious groups who comprise the Plain People who you may be fortunate enough to see in their 17th century attire and their black buggies pulled by gorgeous horses, many of them retired thoroughbreds. Please drive with exceeding care whenever there is a horse with a buggy behind; they have the right of way, not you. You can experience a buggy ride yourself at Abe’s Buggy Rides, offering a private ride through the most fertile farm country in America since 1968.
Between three and four o’clock is US Route 30, The Lincoln Highway, which is congested all year long with tourist traffic. If you like that sort of thing, by all means go, but we suggest you avoid it as much as you are able.
Four o’clock takes you along the Strasburg Pike through Strasburg to the Strasburg Rail Road and the Railroad Museum of Pennsylvania. Both are well worth a lingering visit, as the Strasburg Rail Road is the longest continually operating short line railroad in the nation. Take a ride, in the summer you can ride in the open picnic car they used in “Hello Dolly!” The museum lets you see the iron horses up close and personal. Trivia fact – the authentic vintage station was moved here from East Petersburg, on your Manheim Pike route later. Strasburg is a charming small town worth driving through with its ancient log house along the south side of the main street.
Six o’clock is the Willow Street Pike. Head for Lancaster County Park to tour Historic Rock Ford Plantation – the country seat of Revolutionary War General Edward Hand – a beautiful red brick Georgian mansion that would remind you of some of the finest homes in Williamsburg, Virignia. Nearby along this route is the Hans Herr House, the oldest house in Lancaster County; take a tour of this quaint fieldstone house that looks like it was built for Hansel and Gretel. Hans Herr has many living descendents in the Lancaster area.
Take the Columbia Avenue in the eight o’clock direction to Columbia. Head for the clock tower at the corner of North Fifth and Poplar for the National Watch and Clock Museum, for a fascinating display of timepieces down the ages. Nearby, tucked away at 731 Avenue H, see Susquehanna Glass for a wonderful shop filled with hand etched glass for your table. They will monogram tumblers and goblets personally for you. They do tours every Tuesday and Thursday at 10:30 and again at 1:00.
At nine o’clock as you go westward along Mariette Avenue you can visit a presidential home, “Wheatland”, the home of President James Buchanan. The historic museum next door is also of interest. You may wish to continue all the way to Marietta – a quaint Susquehanna riverside town.
Ten o’clock is The Harrisburg Pike, and you can follow it all the way to the Pennsylvania State Capitol if you wish, but we suggest you head toward Elizabethtown, and then over the hill to the chocolate delights of Hershey not far beyond.
11 o’clock is the Manheim Pike which you will take to the town of Manheim, where a Zion Evangelical Lutheran church celebrates its heritage by giving a direct descendant of Henry William Stiegel one red rose a year as annual “rent”. On the way stop at S. Clyde Weaver’s in East Petersburg for wonderful chesses, hams, breads, and desserts. If it is a Tuesday night, you will enjoy the Roots Country Market and Auction. Further up the pike, take Pinch Road through the Pennsylvania State Game Lands 145, where you can stop to have a wonderful woodland hike, and then drive on to your destination at Mount Gretna, the summer Chautauqua colony, where a visit to The Jigger Shop for a “Jigger” or a hot fudge sundae is in order. Mount Gretna is also home to a lake, a little theatre, a great antique store and one of the nations’ first miniature golf courses, a rustic course worth playing if only for its giant tree obstacles, they were not giants when the course was laid out in the 1920s.
Even though these spokes of the wheel will get you to many a hidden gem, plan ahead with a detailed road map of the county and explore the winding country roads that connect each spoke. If you do, you are sure to find some gems all your own!