Southeastern Pennsylvania brings to mind
Amish country, but it is just as much Pennsylvania Dutch
country. The German word for “German’ is Deutsch and from that
is how the Pennsylvania Germans came to be called the
Pennsylvania Dutch. The late 1600s and 1700s was a time of
European turmoil and waves of German-speaking immigrants came to
the region, making up 40% of its population by the late 1700s.
Around places like Lancaster the German-speaking population was
about 70%. Today, Lancaster is one of the best places in the
country to learn about the Pennsylvania Dutch culture and
|Sketch of a single house-powered
treadmill built in 1888. To use the power created by
the horse walking on the treadmill, the farmer attached
a long, heavy belt from its wooden flywheel to the
pulley of any machine he wished to operate.
| The actual treadmill that the
horse exercised on.
That culture was formed from an agricultural fabric. This area
of Pennsylvania was some of the most productive land in the
country, becoming the “American breadbasket.”
The American population was 90% farmers and Pennsylvania
was the largest food producing colony. The agricultural economy
supported many craftsmen and businessmen, like tinsmiths,
weavers, blacksmiths, gunsmiths, and even broommakers. These are
all skills that can be observed in the area if you know where to
One of the best places to get a feel for the history of the
Pennsylvania German, their culture, and their agricultural,
village, and industrial life is the Landis Valley Village and
Farm Museum located near Lancaster, Pennsylvania.
Landis Valley was a crossroads community in the center of
German Dutch country and is preserved today as a living history
museum. The crossroads was important enough to justify a large
hotel in 1856 named the Landis Valley House, giving the area its
|Landis Valley House Hotel, built
in 1856 and furnished to depict 1900.
We’ve seen most of what’s here before, just without the German
Dutch perspective. However, I don’t recall any single other
place with the breadth of craft demonstrations, early farm
operations, and historical exhibits. Williamsburg has craftsmen,
but there are more here. There are plenty of living history
farms, though few will be as extensive as this. Country stores,
schoolhouses, firehouses, and blacksmith shops are scattered
around the square and we’ve seen lots of those. But not in one
place. The farm/village tour is a “walk back in time.” The range
of experiences covers 200 years, from the 1700s to the very
early 1900s. Its living history, so you’ll meet costumed
Pennsylvania Dutch farmers, craftsmen, tradesmen, and merchants.
You gain a perspective on how the German-and English-speaking
cultures comingled to form one of the nation’s regional
sub-cultures. The museum store has a wide selection of
Pennsylvania Dutch crafts and goods, and provides an opportunity
to purchase products made by the village’s own craftsmen.
The Visitor Center is a large brick building constructed in 1959
to resemble an eighteenth century market house. There is a small
museum there and a theater with a quarter-hour orientation video
on the history of the Pennsylvania Dutch culture.
From there you have to
decide on whether to start with craftsmen, the farm, or the
museum. It is all
close together, walking is involved (actually horse-drawn wagons
can also provide transportation), and it is up to you on how to
choose between museums, the farm, the village, and craftsmen.
The name says farm museum, but there
are farm buildings on the property. The log farm is a
representation of a late eighteenth century Pennsylvania German
farmstead. The custom was to build the two main farm buildings,
the house and barn, from logs. The barn was often the only farm
building and would provide shelter for the farm animals in bad
weather and serve as a place to store hay and farm equipment.
Large farms would have several other outbuildings and the log
farm has a wide range of
type outbuildings, like a springhouse (used to cool foods),
bakehouse, and smokehouse. The farm supports herds of Lineback
cows and Tunis sheep, plus some very interesting gardens.
farm is full of
19th century technology.
|Inside one of the
log farm buildings.
Near the log farm is the brick
farmstead, dating from the early nineteenth century. It is
typical of what a high-end farm house would have looked like.
Next to it is the “Grossmutter House,” or Grandmother House
built about 1850. It
is a very small one and a half story brick house built as a
retirement home for the prior occupants of the farmstead. The
German custom was for the extended family to share labor and the
small house conveniently allowed the oldest generations of a
farm family to continue to live on the farm. The house is
furnished as it was in mid-nineteenth century when Elizabeth and
Jacob Landis lived there. Both the log farm and brick farmstead
have interesting gardens.
|The village is dusty roads and
many old buildings.
|| Throughout the farm and
village are gardens
with all varieties of
The village is a mixture of typical village buildings and many
trade shops. There is a country or general store that would have
served as the social center of the village, especially since
there was a small post office in the rear of the store.
Shelving and the goods on
them are from the 1800’s and a “time machine” back to what
general goods looked like back then. The village is occupied by
costumed guides who interpret and explain the history,
traditions, and folklore; a storekeeper or one of his assistants
is in the country store to explain what some of the more
peculiar goods are.
|Inside of school house.
||Inside of tin shop.
|A small part of gun collection in gun shop.
|Inside of blacksmith shop.
|Tool in the craft
shop related to textiles. Tools are
displayed throughout the village and farm
The 160-year old Landis Valley House Hotel still stands as a
second focus of the old crossroads settlement.
The barroom contains an impressive Victorian-era bar.
Behind the hotel is the 125-year old Maple Grove School. It was
moved to the site and was in use until the 1960s. The
blackboards are original and the desks and other furnishings are
from the period. Near the general store is a replica of an early
rural firehouse and a rural schoolhouse. Of course, there is
also a tavern that includes the sights and aromas of open-hearth
cooking. What has to be
one of the most interesting aspects of the village is an
assortment of scattered trade shops, most occupied by a costumed
tradesperson, with an assortment of products and goods from the
period, and with the ability to explain exactly how the
production process worked.
This area is where the Conestoga wagon and the Pennsylvania long
rifle originated; both are well-represented in the museum and
village. That makes the Gunsmith Shop a highlight. Examples of
the famous Pennsylvania long rife are on exhibit, along with
handguns and period gunsmithing tools.
There are even old bear
traps and historical fishing gear. The gunsmith is there to
describe the skills necessary for the trade and demonstrations
The Print Shop and Leatherworking Shop represent skills that
would have been common in this community in the early 1800s.
There were many printers in the Lancaster area that would have
produced broadsides (posters and announcements), pamphlets, and
print shop is dominated by a Ramage printing press (circa 1826).
The leatherworking shop includes both leatherworking equipment
and leather goods. Except for shoes and boots (made by a
shoemaker), the saddler produced all the goods made from heavy
leather (like saddles, harnesses, and trunks). The shop
contained several leather fire buckets, one of the more
interesting of the unexpected trade products in the village.
| A broom maker at work. His
for sale at the museum store and are
interesting enough to be displayed.
| At the craft barn a volunteer
time to explain the textile manufacturing
process and the uses of the many tools.
| At the gun shop a gun smith
how gun barrels were manufactured.
The shop houses a firearms collection with
equipment. The Pennsylvania
long rifle is prominent
in the displays.
| At the leatherworking
shop a leathersmith explains the various products he
might have produced: shoes, hats, and even fire buckets.
Other trades include blacksmith, tin and pottery shops. We
purchased several brooms that were decorative enough to display
from two costumed broom makers. The products of the craftsmen
and tradesmen are for sale in the museum shop.
|As you'd expect, there is much
The Transportation Building was modeled after the Victorian-era
livestock auction barn that was on the farm. The focus is late
nineteenth century horse-drawn vehicles, including firefighting
equipment and even a hearse.
The range includes children’s vehicles, sleds, and a
Conestoga wagon, the ‘big rig “of its day that was used for
hauling freight. The Conestoga River flows nearby and the wagon
is named for it (as it originated from this region).
The walls are covered
with some of the early signs that might have been along the
|The museum is full
of interesting things.
The farm machinery and tool barn houses a major exhibit of
Pennsylvania German farm machinery and tools from the Colonial
era into the twentieth century. There are steam engines from the
early twentieth century, a kerosene-powered tractor, and even an
old ice wagon. The textile and craft barn features an exhibit of
textile tools, including demonstrations of spinning and weaving
and many facets of early Pennsylvania German cloth making and
dying. A modern
building houses the Landis Collection Gallery that is a
state-of-the-art facility that displays the museum’s decorative
arts collection and allows visitors to view behind-the-scene
curatorial work in progress.
|Tan bark mill stone used to
pulverize oak bark to produce tannin, one of the
ingredients used to tan leather.
|| Leather fire bucket. A quote from a 1744
Charleston, South Carolina newspaper noted that all
inhabitants of the city must provide themselves with one
fire bucket for each fire place or face a heavy
It’s hard to say what you’ll enjoy most. The farm, village, and
museum are linked together to form one experience. It is the
living history that really makes the experience special.
Craftsmen actually working at their trades and common folks that
will explain everyday life. The idea did start out as a museum,
and that aspect is preserved. It is just not your normal kind of
museum; you can touch, feel, and talk to it (and it talks back).
Living history is always special.
Conestoga wagon, not a prairie schooner, but a freight
wagon developed by the |
Pennsylvania German to haul
goods from the lower Susquehanna Valley to urban
Author and Photographer: Tom Straka is a
forestry professor at Clemson University in South Carolina. His
wife, Pat, is a consulting forester. Both have a keen interest
in roadside history.
For more information:
Landis Valley Village and Farm Museum Webpage:
Pennsylvania Historical and museum Commission –
Trails of History:
From Just One Seed …
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