When I was growing up, sometimes my father would decree a long Sunday car ride. And soon we would be off, driving through a rich and magical land.
It was a land of trim farms, some with "hex signs" painted on the barns. We passed cows grazing in green meadows, and orchards in flower, in fruit, or in between. Corn marching in orderly lines across the hills, and available for sale in season at roadside stands. Spring water directed through pipes and down roadside banks--water cold, pure, and safe to drink, available for all who wanted to fill jugs and take it home with them.
That was the Pennsylvania Dutch Country of my childhood.
And now? Now not so much. In fact, visitors to Pennsylvania might miss the remnants if they don't know where to look. The springs have been closed because they might be carrying poisonous runoff, and what used to be fertile farmland is littered with acres of new housing, much of it esthetically unpleasing and vacant to boot.
In an effort to find places where readers might go to get an idea of what the old Pennsylvania Dutch landscape --and life--might have been like, I am doing some research. And here is what seems likely to be an excellent destination:
The Pennsylvania German Heritage Center at Kutztown University, west of Allentown. Situated on a large farm, tilled in the old-fashioned way by a local group who could be called agricultural reenactors, the Center features a traditional farmhouse which is the site of a museum and a Swiss bank-style barn, plus the traditional one-room Freyberger School.
This is a place where, if you like, you can get a full Pennsylvania Dutch-oriented education, with classes in the Pennsylvania Dutch dialect, in arts and crafts, agricultural practices, and much more. But these details are being kept in mind for future posts; THIS post is only to whet your curiosity.
For now, if you just want to look around the place, tours are run Monday through Friday from 10 a.m. to noon, and from 1 to 4 p.m. Prices are $5 for adults, $3 for children. Also, check the web site at email@example.com to learn about the many festive weekend events in the Pennsylvania Dutch tradition, scheduled throughout the year.
For additional information, or to reserve tours, call (610) 683-1589.
(NOTE: In an earlier post I have explained that I understand "Pennsylvania German" is a more accurate term than "Pennsylvania Dutch". However, among our acquaintances we referred to ourselves as "Pennsylvania Dutch", and I intend to continue to use the term as often as I can.)