With work keeping me very busy these days, only now have I had the chance to write up my last road trip from 2 weeks ago. The area surrounding Lancaster, PA is perhaps most famous for its Amish and Mennonite residents. My goal, however, was the usual: fun roads, pretty scenery, and interesting historical sites.
My point of departure was Columbia, PA, which is right on the banks of our old friend the Susquehanna River. This town merits a much lengthier visit, as it is steeped in history. The area was originally the home of the Native American Susquehannocks (whose name apparently means "People of the Muddy River"). John Wright settled here in 1726 and started Wright's Ferry. By the early 1830s, Wright's Ferry and its competitors were replaced by a covered bridge that was more than a mile long—the longest in the world, as it happened (and now long gone).
On a rainy morning, the middle of downtown Columbia was not exactly jumping with activity.
The First National Bank of Columbia still stands, although its banking days have been over for many years. It started life as the private resident of John Wright, Jr. in 1814 and later served as a tavern, hotel, and another residence before becoming a bank (founded by Daniel Detwiler). The bank had loaned over $100,000 for the construction of the covered bridge. During Robert E. Lee's march into Pennsylvania in 1863, General Jubal Early tried to capture the bridge—but it was burned by the townspeople of Columbia under orders from Union forces. With his way into Pennsylvania blocked, General Early was forced to detour—and arrived in Gettysburg soon thereafter... The bank, incidentally, never recovered its loss from the Federal government.
I forgot to mention that the weather outlook had been just fine for this particular Sunday, but it was raining from the moment I stepped out of my house. Fortunately, even a wet BMW Z4 makes for a handsome machine.
John Wright's other son, James, built the "Wright's Ferry Mansion" in 1738. It's the oldest building in Columbia and is now a museum.
Outside of Columbia, the Susquehanna was shrouded in mist...
...and numerous abandoned houses beckoned intriguingly.
Even the streams seemed abandoned, and this one offered a word of warning to boaters and fishermen. And remember the original Susquehannocks? As settlers took over the area bordering the Susquehanna, they moved to several small Indian villages near here. Once numbering in the thousands, the last of the tribe was "massacred by the Paxton Boys in December 1763," as a roadside sign stated. The peaceful Native Americans were first attacked in their stream-side villages. Only 14 of them survived, and they were moved by Governor William Penn to protective custody in Lancaster—and were found there by the Paxton Boys, who murdered these remaining few on the spot. Not all U.S. history stirs feelings of pride and patriotism.
Moving closer to Lancaster, I encountered large farms just about everywhere. Most of them were Amish or Mennonite, since farming remains the primary livelihood for people of these denominations.
Eventually, the rain stopped, and the skies tried their best to clear up.
There were very old farms and dwellings all along my route. Some were so scenic that they cried out to be pictured on calendars, postcards, book covers, etc. It would be wonderful to live in such a home ... well, maybe until winter hit!
This imposing barn rose up out of the mist, so I stopped for a picture. It's part of an Amish farm, and, as I took my pictures, a couple of friendly dogs appeared—a large setter and a very small schnauzer or some such. Of course, the Amish don't like to have their picture taken, but I was hoping the owners wouldn't mind if I photographed their roadside barn. No one appeared or asked me to forgo the pictures. However, when I got back into the Z4, the friendly dogs literally got halfway into the car with me—but immediately ran off when I reached for the camera to take their
picture! (Who knew that Amish dogs
Speaking of the Amish, I soon realized that I was on one of their "thoroughfares." When I stopped a little later for another landscape picture, group after group of them bicycled by, all with a friendly wave.
Churchtown, PA lived up to its name. The Bangor Episcopal Church was my favorite. Founded in 1722, the current stone church was built in 1830 and still has services every Sunday.
And what's a church without a scenic graveyard?
Did I mention the historic homes that were dotted all over this area? This is "Chalmers Close Farm" from about 1740.
I didn't have time to tour the Hopewell Furnace National Historic Site (next time!), but I couldn't resist this peculiar-but-thriving tree.
As my path wandered on, I arrived in Birdsboro, PA. I needed a picture of the mighty Schuylkill River, naturally, and I found this one without much trouble:
More interestingly, while crossing the long bridge over the river, I spotted a narrow turn—right off of the bridge. Now I ask you, how often is there a sharp turn
onto another road while you're in the middle of a bridge? Needless to say, I had to investigate. The aptly named "Bridge Road" went approximately to nowhere, but it was more than scenic enough to make the detour worthwhile. (If you want to see this for yourself, go quickly. I don't know how much longer it will remain standing. And be sure to say to yourself, "Follow the yellow brick road.")
Since it was Sunday, I took more church photos than usual. Or was it because there are so many stately old churches in Pennsylvania? This is the Allegheny United Church of Christ.
And what's a church without a scenic, if slightly jumbled, graveyard?
Continuing on, I encountered the Middle Creek Lake...
...and another "Amish thoroughfare." No bicycles, in this case, but buggy after buggy, and a wave from every one.
My friend Neil tells me that these are guinea fowl—and that they're very tasty.
One more church, for good measure: The 1872 Christ Presbyterian Church in Lebanon.
Nearby was this apparent car repair graveyard... Fortunately, I didn't need a flat repaired or any other service.
As I continued to circle around the Lancaster area, I found myself back on the banks of the Susquehanna—and right next to the Three Mile Island nuclear facility. One of my work colleagues remembers very well when he and his family had to evacuate from Harrisburg in 1979 when the infamous accident occurred here. (I checked that night but could not detect that I was glowing anywhere...)
I guess the folks living in this nearby log cabin evacuated and then never came back.
Yet another tiny back road took me, providentially, by Locust Grove and the elegant Haldeman Mansion. Parts of the mansion date from the mid-1700s, although the main part was apparently completed in 1812 by John and Maria Haldeman. Their son, Samuel S. Haldeman (1812-1880), was born here and went on to world acclaim as a (self-taught) scientist.
One more stately mansion came into view before I departed for home. I know nothing about this place—but I want to live there!
And so the sun begins to set on Yr Fthfl Srvnt as he motors back to Maryland. 'Twas a most enjoyable tour (and it only scratched the surface of this beautiful part of Pennsylvania).
All told, the circumnavigation of Lancaster amounted to about 215 miles, plus another 140 miles roundtrip to Columbia. The Z4 ran faultlessly and provided both superb driving entertainment (on wet and dry roads) and an excellent vantage point from which to explore the countryside. But the next time, I want to hire one of the Amish carriages and do the trip right!