Neatly-painted farmhouses dot the countryside of Lancaster County, nearly 65 miles west of Philadelphia. Whitewashed fences outline pastures, and the landscape looks like a patchwork quilt of squares and rectangles. On the back roads the Amish travel in horse-drawn buggies and lead a lifestyle that has been carried on for generations, while a new group of makers and artisans are transforming the downtown areas into buzzy culture hubs.
Here the plain and fancy live side by side. You can glimpse what rural life was like 100 years ago, because whole communities of the "Plain" people—as members of the Old Order Amish are called—shun telephones, electricity, and the entire world of American gadgetry. Clinging to a centuries-old way of life, the Amish, one of the most conservative of the Pennsylvania Dutch sects, eschew the amenities of modern civilization, using kerosene or gas lamps instead of electric lighting, and horse-drawn carriages instead of automobiles. Ironically, in turning their backs on the modern world, the Amish have attracted its attention.
Today the county's main roads are lined with souvenir shops and sometimes crowded with busloads of tourists. The area's proximity to Philadelphia, Harrisburg, and Baltimore has brought development as non-Amish farmers sell land. In fact, the National Trust for Historic Preservation has put Lancaster County on its list of the nation's most endangered historic places because of rapid suburbanization. But beyond the commercialism and development, general stores, one-room schoolhouses, country lanes, and tidy farms remain. You can find instructive places to learn about the Amish way of life, pretzel factories to tour, quilts to buy, and a host of railroad museums to explore.
When visiting among the Amish, remember to respect their values. They believe that photographs and videos with recognizable reproductions of them violate the biblical commandment against making graven images. Out of respect, you should refrain from photographing them.