Out and About in Lancaster County: Winning Hearts and Minds

Our guest bloggers this week are wordsmith Jim Cawley (right in photo below) and photographer Craig Benner of Landis Valley Museum.

Mission: To gather Intelligence from the surrounding community. Destination: Pennsylvania Dutch Country. Time Frame: a few day-off Mondays in June -- for two intrepid PHMC tour guides. The following is a reconnaissance report from the local tourism industry in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, written by two operatives working in the field. It was initiated by several factors, including investigating the recent down-economy/increased-gas-price-induced phenomenon known as "staycations." Our foremost motivation was after having heard a co-worker say to some visitors, "Oh, don't go there -- that's too [Fill-in-the-Blank]...." This event provoked us to ask one another, "Have we at times said something similar?" We took a deep breath and muttered, "Er, ah, hhhmmm, sadly, maybe we have." It is possible the trip became a kind of Redemptive Pilgrimage.

Truth be told, part of the impetus for the exploration was that we were looking for ways to better serve our visitors to Landis Valley Museum. Many, many times we are asked for recommendations for everything from places to eat, to other attractions to visit. So, uniformed in Landis Valley Museum polo shirts, your Adventurous Authors equipped themselves for the expedition with our passports to a "foreign land," the Pennsylvania Dutch Convention and Visitors Bureau Hospitality Books and set out to seek truth and enlightenment -- or a reasonable facsimile. Oh, what a nice perk the Hospitality Books turned out to be. (For those of you unfamiliar with this perk, they are small booklets with spaces for all the participating members in the Bureau. Employees are given them in late Spring and encouraged to visit other sites or businesses for free, or to be given a free sample of product.)

Craig and I were surprised at the very warm reception by other folks working in the tourism industry -- after telling hosts at the sites we visited where we worked. Several told us, "Thanks for visiting us. We will definitely recommend Landis Valley to our guests!" THAT made us feel like our time was well spent. To borrow an old phrase, maybe we won some "hearts and minds."

Among the significant "historic" sites that we visited were The Amish Experience, The Amish Farm, The Amish Village, Hans Herr House, and The Mennonite Information Center. www.mennoniteinfoctr.com/ Of course as amateur anthropologists we also dined on some local fare with the discounts offered in the PDCVB Hospitality Books. We must be truthful, though maybe a bit biased... NONE can beat the cooking of Landis Valley's food guru Tom Martin! (Tom is the author of the recently re-issued Landis Valley Cookbook.)

Jim looking at a chest dated 1737 at Hans Herr House.
We had both visited Hans Herr House in the past, but feel the need to re-fresh ourselves occasionally at "ground zero," if you will. As an aside, 2010 marks the 300th anniversary of the first Mennonites to the area that would become Lancaster County. The Hans Herr House dates to 1719! The site is owned and operated by the Lancaster Mennonite Historical Society. Herr House's staff continue to do a great job of telling the story of this important immigrant group to the region and interpreting a wonderful still-standing piece of the past. We assured our hosts that we always recommend their site to our visitors, especially to those who seem truly curious, have a keen interest in the past, or would appreciate hearing about a distinctive Lancaster group in "their own voice."

In all fairness, The Amish Village and The Amish Farm tell a different story than we do at LVM, but we observed closely the other visitors on the tours; they seemed to find it interesting and clearly a need was filled. At one site the guide pulled us aside at tour's end and asked us, "How did I do? I'd really like your input." We were gracious and told him all seemed fine and that we appreciated his efforts, and his asking for our input. In essence, we felt "proud" that Landis Valley's reputation is such as to have warranted his request.

We believe that some Lancaster County visitors might find it difficult to find “one stop shopping” place that describes differences, or subtleties in the cultural and theological aspects of the county's religious denominations. As historians, if you will, and since Craig is a photographer, both of us were very impressed with the two films shown at the Mennonite Information Center at Millstream Road and U.S. Route 30 (or as we like to say to our visitors, "If you pass the Starbucks you've gone too far."). These wonderful multi-media presentations offer a very good introduction to the spiritual communities in a simple and aesthetically pleasing manner. Craig found the photography absolutely first rate. This place is now at the top of our list of recommendations.

In closing, we agreed that the PHMC's Landis Valley Museum certainly is an outstanding value. The other sites fill a narrow niche, but Landis Valley Museum offers a comprehensive Pennsylvania Dutch experience. Through this travel we gained more confidence in providing answers and guidance to our visitors, and are also now better tourism industry "citizens" and team members. Oh, and we had fun, too!

P.S. Our trip concluded in June. Very recently a German man and his family came to visit Landis Valley (not an uncommon summer occurrence!). He saw Craig (a German university trained speaker, former High School language teacher and long-time student of Pennsylvania German) and asked in his native tongue, "Are you Craig?" As it turns out, the fellow mentioned above that had requested our input regarding his interpretation had kept Craig's business card and when this family visited him he strongly urged them to take a trip to Landis Valley Museum. Upon arrival our supervisor told the family where to find Craig. So, it appears that the "good neighbor policy" put into action by Craig and I has borne some beautiful fruit.


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