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. 

13 comments:

  1. A few years ago we were in the Lancaster area and enjoyed several nights at the Lancaster Arts Hotel. It was a great experience. You're right about the surrounding countryside being a mix of old and new. Nice place to visit.

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    1. Lancaster is a great place to visit. The farm to table restaurant I mention is in the Lancaster Arts Hotel. Friends owned the building and ran a wholesale business from the building which was gutted and restored into what is now the Arts Hotel.

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  2. It sounds interesting, even if not somewhere I'll schedule to visit any time soon. Your description of the newly renovated town sounds like it will indeed be changing as it moves farther into the 21st century. I hope no more KKK rallies, for sure. :-)

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  3. I was born in Scranton, PA, but I only lived there for three years before my family moved. It has been a long time since I spent any time there.

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    1. I wonder if you would remember much since you were so young. I think a child's perspective of a childhood home and town can be very different from an adult's.

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  4. I grew up in Philly, then the Jersey suburbs.. my family made a yearly pilgrimage to the Pennsylvania Dutch Country /Lancaster every summer! Shoe fly pie! Family style dinners at long tables.Farms, horse and buggies! Memories!

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    1. The pie, family style dinners, farms, horses and buggies are still around, but in addition there is lots more traffic and other businesses.

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  5. I grew up in Philly, then the Jersey suburbs.. my family made a yearly pilgrimage to the Pennsylvania Dutch Country /Lancaster every summer! Shoe fly pie! Family style dinners at long tables.Farms, horse and buggies! Memories!

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  6. You didn't mention that Lancaster, Pa., has also become something of a retirement mecca due to its relatively low cost of living; its many senior care facilities, and its well-regarded hospital system. I know b/c a good friend of the family moved there abt. 15 years ago. She first lived in a very nice and reasonably priced independent care facility, and recently (at age 99!) transferred into assisted living. And now we just found out another (older) friend is moving there, into by all reports an even nicer independent-living facility, that's probably more expensive (but then this woman has the money). So apparently it's got room for people of both modest means and also substantial means.

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    1. You are so right. I will mention that in a follow-up post, which my Lancaster friends insist I do.

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  7. I always think these modern KKK people are so stupid. What began as a benevolent society to help the widows, orphans and disabled fro the south after the civil War turned nasty with the film "The Birth of a Nation." Two factoids: 1/ Nathan Bedford Forrest, founder of the KKK was a former Confederate and direct ancestor of my very Libertarian dentist; He is also depicted as forrest gump's ancestor in the film.

    Although I was once a left-wing Democrat, today, I am a Conservative and in good company. Most of what is said about us by crazy left-wingers isn't true. We are not the yahoos who drive up and down Route 95 in pick-up trucks waving Confederate battle flags. My ancestors (from New Hampshire and Wisconsin) fought in the Revolution and for the Union in the Civil War. One fellow who was wonded four times and returned to continue fighting, led a USCT like the one depicted in the film Glory.

    I suggest to youg people like my granddaughters they not get their information about Conservatism from Saturday Night Live or MSNBC. Try listening to Dr. Ben Carson or Carky Fiorina.

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  8. I think some of the jokers the Republican Party - and more specifically Tea Party folks - voted into office did (and continue to do) a disservice to the Conservative movement you now champion.

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