Friday, September 17, 2010

Strausburg Pa - Steam Engines in Amish Country

My four year old has the Thomas Train bug and while he's done a lot of rail fan activities with dad, he'd never seen a working steam locomotive. It was time to change that. Labour Day weekend rolled up on me, and being a notorious last minute planner, I had acted too late. No Deep Creek Lake, No Cumberland Md. train ride, No Mountain Cabins - seemed the world was booked.

I have been to York Pa., and Lancaster, the largest city in Amish Country, and one of the first cities founded inland from the Atlantic seaboard, on numerous occasions but never made it into the actual heartland of Dutch Country Pa. which is located in Lancaster County.  This really is the, center of Amish life and a home to a world famous working steam railroad found in Strasburg (about 5 miles outside of Lancaster itself).  Lets not forget all the must see hamlets in the sourrounding country with the interesting, if not oft made fun of names such as Bird in Hand and of course Intercourse - tee hee.

I realized that Strasbourg Pennsylvania would be a great destination and rooms would be available in and around Lancaster. The convenient thing about this rail town is the fact they have trains running every hour from about 11am until 7pm.  The train yard was such a cheerful site - I was as excited as my little man. The town includes the Railroad Museum of Pennsylvania, a museum of toy trains, a working train layout (the Choo Choo Barn) - it surpassed all expectations.

I knew the region was easily accessible via 95 N. to Baltimore, 83 up to York Pa, then 30 East to Lancaster - Strasburg lies just few miles beyond.  Opting for a different route, I decided on Rte. 95 to Baltimore until I crossed the Susquehana River and took the road through Port Deposit Maryland. The payoff was huge.  Port Deposit is similar to old Ellicott City, only instead of being nestled in an valley, this town was built on the narrow strech of flat land between the river shore and steep rocky cliffs.  The town boast a variety of fine dining (think seafood) and enough great early 19th Century Architecture to make this town stop a must.  Seems the bikers like this destination too - I noticed a lot roll through town, their periodic rumblings made more tolerable by the beauty of the day and surroundings.

We pulled into Strasburg just in time for the train - the stress of that near miss quickly evaporated as the train pulled out, the whistle blew and the steam bellowed - we were off and rolling through the tidest assortment of farms I've ever seen, it really was reminecient of the pages from a 1950s children's book.  The Amish waited patiently in their buggys as train snaked through rolling terrain.   The only criticism I had was the duration - I could have ridden for hours but twilight was coming and we didn't have lodging, so it worked out.  Our first choice was the Red Caboose Motel. There were about 50 vintages train cabooses painted out in the regalia of many long gone train lines, but of course it was booked up.  It wasn't long until we came across a vintage motel, picture perfect 1950's with a resplendent neon sign out front - the Dutch Treat Motel.

The following day, we drove around the countryside, paid a visit to the Intercourse Cannery for some fresh applebutter then hit the Choo Choo Barn.  This massive train layout has a reasonable admission rate and the anatromic diarama was first rate, my son was going bananas.  After the obligatory trip to the gift shop, we headed for the Dutch Haven.  This was a personal highlight of the day for me -seeing the first roadside attraction that went up in Amish Country in the 1940s. It was and remains the best site to purchase the Amish favorite - the famous Shoo-Fly Pie.  I love goofy architecture too and this building fit the bill - a large windmill mounted on an octangular shaped building.

We drove back into Lancaster and paid a visit to Franklin & Marshall College which was established in 1787 with a gift of 200 British pounds from Benjamin Franklin. This private college boasts my favorite piece of architecture.  Built in 1853 F&Ms main building is called "Recitation Hall." The distinctive, tall-towered structure, designed in the Gothic Revival style, was constructed on "Gallows Hill," the former site of Lancaster's public executions and the highest point of ground in the city. At the laying of the building's cornerstone in 1853, Henry Harbaugh, a Marshall College graduate and pastor of the Reformed Church of Lancaster noted that the city's lowest point was the location of the Lancaster County Prison. Harbaugh stated: "Thank God! The College stands higher than the jail. Education should be lifted up and let crime sink to the lowest depths!" Recitation Hall came to be known as Old Main and the ground as College Hill.  The distinctive towers of Old Main is now undergoing renovations, much of it dismanteled and sheathed in scaffolding (ugh).  We drove onto York, then South to Baltimore.  We arrived home all in about two hours.  I can't wait to go back - we'll be repeat visitors...

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