Happy Trails-- Landis Valley Village and Farm Museum

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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 history.  

 horse powered treadmill at Landis Valley Village and Farm Museum located near Lancaste
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 look.

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 name.

Landis Valley Hotel located near Lancaste
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 Farm

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.

Hay rick  at Landis Valley Village and Farm Museum located near Lancaste Kitchen in farm building  at Landis Valley Village and Farm Museum located near Lancaste  Round smokehouse at Landis Valley Village and Farm Museum located near Lancaste
The log farm is full of
19th century technology.
Inside one of the
log farm buildings.
The round smokehouse.


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

Landis Valley Village and Farm Museum located near Lancaste Gardens  at Landis Valley Village and Farm Museum located near Lancaste
The village is dusty roads and many old buildings.
   Throughout the farm and village are gardens
with all varieties of interesting plants.

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.

 Schoool room at Landis Valley Village and Farm Museum located near Lancaste Tin shop  at Landis Valley Village and Farm Museum located near Lancaste
Inside of school house. Inside of tin shop.
Gun collection  at Landis Valley Village and Farm Museum located near Lancaste Blacksmith's shop  at Landis Valley Village and Farm Museum located near Lancaste
A small part of gun collection in gun shop.
Inside of blacksmith shop.
Exhibit of tools at  at Landis Valley Village and Farm Museum located near Lancaste
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 are offered.

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 newspapers.  The 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.

Broom maker  at Landis Valley Village and Farm Museum located near Lancaste Textile worker with quilt  at Landis Valley Village and Farm Museum located near Lancaste
   A broom maker at work. His brooms were
for sale at the museum store and are
interesting enough to be displayed.
 At the craft barn a volunteer will take
time to explain the textile manufacturing
process and the uses of the many tools.
Gun smith at gunshop  at Landis Valley Village and Farm Museum located near Lancaste Leather worker  at Landis Valley Village and Farm Museum located near Lancaste
   At the gun shop a gun smith describes
how gun barrels were manufactured. 
The shop houses a firearms collection with
hunting 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.

The Museum

Farm machinery at  Landis Valley Village and Farm Museum located near Lancaste
As you'd expect, there is much farm machinery.

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 road.

Museum  at Landis Valley Village and Farm Museum located near Lancaste
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 millstone  at Landis Valley Village and Farm Museum located near Lancaste Leather fire bucket  at Landis Valley Village and Farm Museum located near Lancaste
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 fine.         

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 at Landis Valley Village and Farm Museum located near Lancaste
The 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 markets.    

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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