Sunday, August 9, 2015

Revisiting My Hometown

Déjà vu.

My feeling returning to the small city where I lived for over 30 years. Actually I lived in the suburbs because when we – hub and I – moved to the area in the early 1970’s few white folks of middle class means lived downtown.

Entering Lancaster as a young bride of 21 proved somewhat of a culture shock.

Lancaster County was a beacon and a shining light of conservatism (note the sarcasm). It was not too much of a stretch when people described the state as Philadelphia on one side of the state, Pittsburgh on the other with Alabama in between.

Rolling farmlands covered with fields of corn, grazing cows and horses greeted visitors, and the lush green land continues to amaze. Amish farms and small towns peppered the landscape. Homemade signs promoted fresh eggs, root beer, and handcrafted furniture. Churches of various faiths appeared around every bend in the road, many denominations unknown beyond the local geographic area.

Lancaster city, home to a liberal arts college situated across the street from a theological seminary, anchored one section of the city. We ventured downtown to see shows at the Fulton Opera House, a beautiful restored theater dating from the 19th century, and to shop at the farmer’s market. We discovered the only Chinese restaurant, but ate there only once. It was horrible; so bad I still remember the experience. Most of the time we remained in the suburbs, driving on two lane roads that each year got more congested as shopping centers, restaurants, convenience stores, businesses and housing developments sprouted around the city.

Driving out of the county felt like we were leaving a bubble, a slice of a lifestyle left behind by the frantic pace of late 20th century life. Much of this bucolic life is still visible in the county, but change crops up everywhere.

Franklin and Marshall College remains a city institution. Recent construction including stores, restaurants and dorms revitalize the west side of town.

 Art galleries and retail shops line center city streets. Smoothie and ice cream shops, French and Italian bakeries, coffee shops, ethnic cafes, pubs, breweries and upscale restaurants, many with outdoor seating, entice locals and tourists.

The town excites, attracting people who bring their energy, creativity and talents to the area.

The rest of the world, or at least the region, is discovering Lancaster.

Originally settled in the early 1700’s, rapid development and progress passed the area by decades ago. But there are advantages. A large number of 18th and 19th century buildings survive. Visitors tour restored Colonial homes, museums and enjoy city walking tours.

It is heartening to walk around and observe the transformation. A Marriott hotel, on the site of a department store that closed in 1995, accommodates conventioneers and tourists. A run down hotel a couple of blocks away has been renovated, although I did not go inside and view the changes. An upscale hotel houses a farm to table restaurant and another hotel is planned for center city.

Some things take longer to change. The area is still very much a conservative stronghold. The KKK marched locally in the 21st century.

Perhaps the energy and diversity the city exudes will eventually emit waves that reverberate throughout the county, resulting one day in a less judgmental, more open-minded and tolerant environment.