[ Old PA Dutch Barn ] Now that the Pennsylvania Dutch have become the focus of my work, for a month anyway, what I have found is far from just being quaint. It is not something that has been, or the heritage of some of the people I know. Although some of it has become just tradition (as have hex signs), some of it is very real; not a picture, not a tourist attraction. For some, it is a way of life, a way of being, not just something with which people identify. There is plenty of that, but there is also so much more.

The people that are now called Pennsylvania Dutch came from Germany, not the Netherlands ("Dutch" is a degradation of the word "Deutsch", meaning "German" in German), at a time when religious freedom was drawing people to "Penn's Woods" in the early 1700's. Having a strong agricultural background, these people settled the fertile southeastern lands of what is now Pennsylvania, west of Philadelphia, and have remained since. They brought with them a deep sense of religious ideals, and while farming and the fulfillment of their religious duties left little time for entertainment, the artisan trades were well developed, keeping some of the traditional German characteristics.

[ Squaw Mount Ranch: horse and dog care products ] As I traveled the back roads of Lehigh, Berks, Chester, Lancaster, Bucks and Montgomery Counties, that history has provided ample explanation for what this area is like today. (Northampton, York, Cumberland, Adams, Franklin, and parts of Dauphin and Lebanon Counties make up the rest of what is now considered Pennsylvania Dutch Country)(1). Naturally, those early immigrants through the years developed separate, different, paths, and all adapted to these new lands in their own way.

Though all of Germanic descent, there are stark differences between the groups that now make up the PA Dutch, and most of those differences can be traced back to the development of religious views. Some of the Dutch have taken on more liberal ways, changing with the environment around them, reshaping the rules of their church to accept the changes brought by the passage of time, scientific developments, and interaction with other races. Some have chosen to live "simpler" lives, guided by a strict set of rules that have changed little in the last three hundred years. Others have abandoned religion all together, while some have separated from their major groups to form yet other religious groups, taking some of the old beliefs and adapting them to their "new" ways of life.

Those who have chosen to seemingly ignore the passage of time are probably the ones most known to the rest of the world. They are "visited" by scores of curious tourists every day, and have even become the subject of sociological studies of many kinds. They are looked at as if from the outside of a fish bowl and tourist attractions pop up all around them; few get to actually meet them.

Amish Horse & Buggy I read somewhere the story of a woman who thought these people were payed by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania to man the farms for the benefit of tourism and who complained to a police officer that an Amishman would not have his picture taken with her husband (2). Far from that, the Amish of Lancaster County (and those who have moved to other counties and states) abhor all such attention. They live their lives guided by possibly the strictest set of rules any religion has. They place high value on the worship of God and the rules set forth by the Bible, family, community, and hard work. Their life, far from being "simple", is riddled by having to avoid the advances of science and technology to honor those beliefs. Old Order Amish, those who have kept to the stricter rules, ride in horse drawn buggies, wear dark colored clothing with no adornment, consider photographs objectionable ["Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image," says the Bible (Exodus 20:4)], and do not utilize electricity.

The Mennonites are another group of the "plain people". They, in fact, preceded and encompassed the Amish sect. Differences over the interpretation of the Bible and modern conveniences brought the groups to a parting of ways. They tend to live in the same communities and both follow the Bible, but do not worship together. The Mennonites have accepted modern ammenities. They drive cars, use electricity, send their children to public schools, and do not keep solely to agrarian life. They dress conservatively, but not as strictly as the Amish do, and they see tourism as an opportunity to explain their mission.

Amish farms are responsible for almost a fifth of the entire country's production of milk (2), and, although greatly inconvenienced by the tourist industry and the development of industrial sites and housing areas around them, they sell in roadside stands their wares - quilts, wood pieces, fresh vegetables, etc. - to complement the income generated by their farms.

There are many more religious groups that make up the Pennsylvania Dutch people, and just the Amish could keep me researching and writing for months, if not years. There are also others, perhaps in the majority, whose religious beliefs, or lack thereof, don't make them stand out in a crowd; people for whom being Pennsylvania Dutch means having a strong cultural heritage, the guardians of some customs and traditions that are ever present (if one takes the time to notice).

Pennsylvania Germans, as they are sometimes called to avoid confusion, have brought to this area a certain uniqueness that is unmistakable. In contrast to the plainness in the way of life of their ancestors and to those who have chosen to maintain that way of life, these PA Dutch use very bright colors and fancy designs in their expressions of art. That tendency is ever present in hex signs - signs that were painted on the sides of barns, or sometimes painted in wood or metal pieces and hung on the sides of the barns, to ward off evil spirits. I have also heard that they were used to keep the milk from turning sour. Doves, goldfinches, dandelions, and geometric shapes make up most hex signs; they generally symbolize love, romance, prosperity, and fortune.

[ Route 30,  Lancaster County ] Very noticeable, as I visited different areas of the region and read books about these people all around me, was a certain sense of loss. Tourism and "progress" are making life more and more difficult for the "plain people". The "English" (a term used by the Amish to mean everyone else who isn't Amish, regardless of national origin) are also losing some of their heritage to modern life's fast pace. The younger generations aren't learning the language, farming is becoming a luxury rather than a way of life, and the Pennsylvania country landscape is changing, giving way to strip malls and housing complexes. Although the PA Dutch are very much present here, I wonder if, beyond their cuisine and quaint mementos sold at tourist shops, they won't only be little more than just a heritage in a few decades.

(1) Hoffman, William H., "Going Dutch, A Visitor's Guide to the Pennsylvania Dutch Country", Spring Gardens Piblication Co., Lancaster, PA, 1991.

(2) Testa, Randy-Michael, "After the Fire, The Destruction of the Lancaster County Amish", University Press of New England, Hanover, N.H., 1992.

Denlinger, A. Martha, "Real People, Amish and Mennonites in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania", Herald Press, Scottsdale, PA, 1993

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