Friday, January 11, 2019

Daytripping in Historic Lancaster

I'm always amazed at people who enjoy winter. To me, there's not much to like, from the frigid temps, to the all-too-short days, to the fact that many historic destinations close down for months. I often feel like I'm racing against the clock as fall winds down.

Just a few months ago, a friend and I made plans to visit the Hans Herr House and Rockford Plantation and it crossed my mind that they may have already closed for the season. Thankfully, they had not and we were able to arrange a quick tour of each historic property, plus visit a few other places as well.

Had they been closed, we would have had no trouble filling the time with other pursuits. Downtown Lancaster is chockablock with boutique shops, restaurants and galleries which you can count on being open just about any time of the year.

The Hans Herr House
The first stop on our itinerary was the "Hans Herr House." The 1.5 story sandstone dwelling is not only the oldest home in Lancaster, but also as the oldest Mennonite meetinghouse in America. This well-preserved abode turns 300 this year and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Germanic dwelling
The Hans Herr House is known as the oldest dwelling in Lancaster and the oldest Mennonite meetinghouse in America.
Built in 1719, the structure is purported to have been the home of Hans Herr and his wife Elizabeth. What's known for certain is that Christian Herr, his wife Anna and their children lived there. Both Hans and Christian served as Bishops in the Mennonite church. Several generations of the Herr family would call this their home until the early 1900s when it was relegated to use as a barn and storage shed. In the 1970s, the Germanic structure was restored to its original colonial-era appearance and is now part of a museum complex, which is operated by the Lancaster Mennonite Historical Society. The complex is comprised of a gift shop, an agricultural implement shed, a blacksmith shop, a smokehouse and bake oven, a Native American longhouse and a "Faith and Furrow" exhibit, which offers information on the rural life of the Mennonites.
My friend Craig coaxes water from a pump located steps away from the Hans Herr House.
During our visit, a group of school children arrived and we were summoned inside and asked to take a seat on the long benches provided to hear a presentation on life in the colonial era.
The inside of the Hans Herr House.
The gentlemen who addressed the group shared stories with details on how children of the era dressed and lived, peppering his tales with enough humor to keep the kids interested and amused. Afterward, we gathered in the kitchen to learn more about kitchen life in the days of yore.

colonial kitchen
A volunteer demonstrates how people cooked in colonial days.
colonial window
A window looks out on the fields of Lancaster County.
After leaving the house, we wandered over to the beehive oven and the smokehouse to watch demonstrations on food preservation before continuing on a self-guided tour to the various outbuildings.
squirrel tale oven
Beehive oven and smokehouse.

colonial outbuilding
The Blacksmith shop

The agricultural implement shed 
The Native American Longhouse was my favorite structure on the property and is also the newest, constructed in 2013. Located a short walk from the main property across a secondary road, it is intended to give both young and old an idea of what life was like for Native Americans. The dimensions and materials used in construction reflect that which has been discovered through archaeological research done in Lancaster County, making it an accurate representation of what sort of dwelling European settlers would have encountered in the area. The Native American guide who greeted us said that he grew up on a reservation and showed us around the structure, giving us tidbits of information on how Native Americans lived. He told us he spent a few nights in the longhouse during the summer months and had encountered several curious critters. "The raccoons and skunks sniffed every inch of the place," he said. I asked him if he was concerned about the skunks and he replied, "Nah, they get a bad rap," which gave me a chuckle.
The Native American Longhouse is a replica of what European settlers would have encountered in the area.
Native American longhouse
The interior of the Native American longhouse.
After touring the property, guests exit through the museum gift shop, which was built in 1892 and served as a farmhouse until the late 1960s. Items for sale include books, crafts and merchandise related to colonial and Native American history. This wood and coal stove, which is situated among the book for sale, dates back to 1890 and was used by a descendant of the Herr family.
old stove
A Bengal wood and coal stove circa 1890 was used by a descendant of the Herr family.
The Hans Herr House and Museum is located minutes from downtown Lancaster at 1849 Hans Herr Drive, Willow Street, Pa and is open April 1 through November 30.

The Belvedere
Next on our itinerary was a stop for lunch at The Belvedere Inn located just a short drive away in downtown Lancaster. Built in 1869 by Strasburg tobacco dealer John S. Rohrer, the Victorian Italianate mansion has been operating as a restaurant in the area since 1998.
According to their website, the restaurant is so named because Rohrer built a belvedere, meaning "beautiful view," atop the mansion for guests to look down upon the city.
The front of the Belvedere.
The dining room of the Belvedere.

The outdoor space at The Belvedere overlooks the street.

The upstairs jazz lounge at The Belvedere.
 The Belvedere Inn serves lunch Monday through Friday and dinner seven days a week.

The Rock Ford Plantation

Next stop on the tour was the Rock Ford Plantation, home of General Edward Hand, his wife Katherine and their eight children. General Hand was born in Ireland and entered into medical studies at Trinity College in Dublin before enlisting in the British Military service as a surgeon's mate in 1767. He moved to Lancaster in 1774, married Katherine Ewing in 1775 and embarked upon a 25-year military career, which included serving as adjutant to George Washington. Upon returning to civilian life, he practiced medicine and served the public in various capacities.

Hand purchased the Rock Ford Plantation in two transactions: 160 acres in 1785 and 17 acres in 1792. He transformed the place into a working farm where he raised livestock and experimented in horticulture, cultivating a golden plum which still bears his name.

The Georgian-style house lacks a date stone, but it is estimated to have been built between 1791 and 1794. Speculation also has it that Edward and Katherine entertained President Washington there when he visited the area on July 4, 1791.

After the house was sold in 1810, it was owned by a series of absentee landlords and tenant farmers. During this time, few changes were made. In 1947, PPL bought the plantation to use as office space and plumbing and electricity were installed. It was later sold to the Lancaster Area Refuse Authority and was slated to be a trash incineration plant and landfill until historians, aided by the Junior League of Lancaster, stepped in and saved the historical property.  For three years, the groups embarked upon an extensive restoration project to bring the house back to its original splendor, using techniques like paint analysis and archaeological excavation. The house opened to the public in 1960.

Today, Rock Ford sits on 33 acres surrounded by Lancaster County Central Park and is operated by a non-profit foundation. It is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and is known as one of the most important examples of Georgian domestic architecture surviving in Pennsylvania and the most intact building predating 1800 in Lancaster County. More than 90 percent of the shutters, woodwork, glass and floors are intact.

Rooms are decorated according to the inventory taken of the "Goods and Chattels" of Edward Hand after his death in 1802. Those items not directly accounted for in the inventory are based on letters or other details consistent with the Hands' financial and social circumstances.

The Family Parlor
Colonial-era parlor
The family parlor at the Rock Ford Plantation.
The family parlor portrays activities that were common 200 years ago, including sewing, tea drinking and embroidery. The walnut candle stand is a Hand family heirloom. Hanging above the fireplace is a portrait of Hand's middle daughter, Dorothy, painted in 1819 by Lancaster resident Jacob Eicholtz.

The Dining Room 
Colonial dining room
The Dining Room at the Rock Ford Plantation.

dining room

In the 1790s, the dining room was a rather new concept in America. The table in this picture dates to 1790 and is made of mahogany with walnut inlay. The yellow Windsor chairs were in fashion in the 1790s and reflect the Hands' familiarity with the trends of the day.

The Study

The study at the Rock Ford Plantation.

Hand used this room for his study and at the date of his death in 1802 was educating his son Jasper in the medical profession. In this room, visitors can see medical books, instruments and items used by persons working in the medical profession during the era.

The Master Bedchamber
Colonial-era bedroom
The Master Bedchamber at the Rock Ford Plantation.
The Hand Estate inventory lists a dressing table, which was likely similar to the one here, situated by a window to take advantage of the natural light. The four-poster mahogany bed is hung with reproduction printed chintz, similar to that which is listed in the inventory taken upon the death of General Hand.

The Boys' Bedchamber
Colonial-era bedroom
The Boys' Bedchamber.
The three Hand boys occupied this room, which features a mahogany stained poplar high-post bed popular in the Federal period and made in Pennsylvania. A woven, homespun checked mattress bag on the bed was made by grand-daughter Katherine Hand Brien and bears her initials.

A rifle, seen in the corner, was willed to the boys from their uncle. Males were expected to become proficient in shooting both for sport and for food and many began learning how to shoot a gun at the age of 12.

The Girls' Bedchamber
Colonial-era bedroom
The Girls' Bedchamber at the Rock Ford Plantation.
Both beds pictured here are draped in a reproduction glazed printed fabric. The trundle bed was probably used for young guests and was likely slid under the larger bed during the day and brought out again at night. The "dower" chest that is positioned against the wall is similar to one that boys and girls would receive around the age of 13.

The Kitchen
The Kitchen at the Rock Ford Plantation.
The primary kitchen for the Hand household is located in the basement, but was, by no means, the only space for preparing food. A bake oven, a root cellar and a stone spring house were complements to the kitchen, but are no longer in existence.

The fireplace that you see here was re-opened in 1997 and is in working order. It is pressed into service during special events.

The whetstone for sharpening knives and the iron crane are original to the house and if you look closely, you will see a sugar "cone" on the table. During the Hand era, sugar cane was boiled down and placed in molds, left to harden and then popped out in the shape of a cone. The processing was done in the Caribbean and brought to American ports. What I found particularly interesting is that the cones were generally kept under lock and key due to their high price.

You can learn much more about the Rock Ford Plantation by taking a tour of the property led by knowledgeable docents. The house is open to the public from April through October, Tuesday through Sunday. Tours start at the top of every hour from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.

Historic Accommodations

The Lancaster Arts Hotel

The exterior of the Lancaster Arts Hotel.

sitting area at the Lancaster Arts Hotel
A sitting area in the Lancaster Arts Hotel.

The Lancaster Arts Hotel dates back to 1881 and once served as a warehouse where tobacco was stored. Over the years, tobacco gave way to paper, then twine and finally electronics. The hotel is comprised of 63 rooms and 1,100+ square feet of meeting space.
An antique rocking goat greets guests at the door.

Sitting areas at the Lancaster Arts Hotel.

sitting area

The boutique hotel stands out among its peers with unique furnishings and artwork that you won't see at cookie-cutter hotels. Amenities include free internet access, a complimentary deluxe continental breakfast, Turkish bathrobes and nightly turn-down service.

hotel room

Each room is unique at the Lancaster Arts Hotel. (Room photos courtesy of the Lancaster Arts Hotel)

Located within the hotel is the award-winning John J. Jeffries Restaurant, named for a tobacco inspector who signed and dated one of the beams which was discovered during renovations. The farm-to-table restaurant touts local, organic fare, free from chemicals and hormones.
Another area lodging destination that has been re-purposed from an old warehouse is the Cork Factory Hotel. Located at 480 New Holland Avenue, it is comprised of 77 rooms and was once home to the Armstrong Cork and Kerr Glass companies.
hotel sitting area
The sitting area at the Cork Factory Hotel.
Cork factory hotel
The second-floor piazza where many wedding parties are held.

An onsite spa features a whole host of treatments, from facials to body treatments and bridal hair and makeup.

The Cork Hotel also provides guests with a convenient attractive onsite restaurant. Cork and Cap is known for its Pennsylvania Dutch comfort food prepared with a modern twist.
The bar at the Cork and Cap.

dining room
The dining area of the Cork and Cap.
Both hotels are located within minutes away from the Lancaster County Convention center, Pennsylvania Dutch attractions, shopping and art galleries.

My visit to Lancaster was a short one. There's much more to do and see in the area and I hope to visit again when the weather warms to share with you even more details of the many fascinating destinations located in Pennsylvania Dutch country. If there is anything in Lancaster that I should be visiting, please let me know in the comments.


Sunday, December 2, 2018

8 Reasons to Visit Nemacolin

Nemocolin front
The "Fat Bird" mascot welcomes visitors to Nemacolin Woodlands Resort.
Nestled in Pennsylvania’s Laurel Highlands about 70 miles southeast of Pittsburgh in Fayette County is the Nemacolin Woodlands Resort, a 2,000-acre playground offering an array of amenities to appeal to a wide range of travel tastes.

Chateau Lafayette at the Nemacolin Woodlands Resort (courtesy Nemacolin Woodlands Resort)

This fall, I took advantage of the opportunity to spend some time at the popular resort.  The extraordinary art displayed throughout the property, as well as other interesting features, inspired me to learn more about the destination's history, its founder, its impressive art collection and more.  If you're considering visiting Nemacolin, I hope this article will provide insight on making the most of your time at this unique and special place.

It Touts a Rich History

I learned that the resort takes its name from a Delaware Indian chief by the name of Nemacolin, who, in the mid-1700s, helped settlers blaze a trail westward along what is now Route 40. The bucolic area was once home to a private game resort, owned by Pittsburgh industrialist Willard Rockwell, who would invite associates for deer, bear and fox hunting, as well as fishing in the trout-stocked Beaver Creek. The businessman eventually added an airstrip, lodge and golf course to the property to accommodate an even wider range of guests.

It wasn't until the late 1980s that the property changed hands when Rockwell’s son Kent, (who was operating an inn on the property at the time), suffered some financial setbacks. Nemacolin went up for auction and was purchased by 84 Lumber Founder Joseph Hardy III, who set the wheels in motion to upgrade it to a world-class destination.

Today, Hardy’s daughter Maggie Hardy Magerko oversees operations at the AAA Four-Diamond Resort.

Comfortable Accommodations

My room at the Chateau Lafayette was beautiful, spacious and comfortable.

A variety of room options are available at the resort. During my stay, I enjoyed a spacious and elegantly appointed room at the Chateau Lafayette. Inspired by the Ritz Paris, the Chateau Lafayette was designed as an homage to the grand hotels of Europe, featuring vaulted ceilings, crystal chandeliers and marble bathrooms.

Additional accommodations created to cradle guests in the lap of luxury are at Nemacolin’s Falling Rock. The boutique hotel is the only Forbes Five Star, AAA Five Diamond property in Pennsylvania and includes 24-hour butler service.

Guests can also stay in the original resort known as The Lodge, which resembles an English country inn and is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year.

Nemacolin caters to the multi-generational travel trend by offering luxury vacation homes to larger groups. And for those who are loathe to leave their four-legged friends at home when they go on vacation, there is a select area of townhomes on the property where pets are welcome.

World Class Golf

Golf enthusiasts will be "in the zone" with Nemacolin's award-winning courses.

For the seasoned golfers, there's Mystic Rock, which earns top honors from Golf Magazine and Golf Digest and ranks number one in Golfweek’s “Best Courses in Pennsylvania.” Designed by Pete Dye, Mystic Rock was featured on the PGA Tour and has challenged such golf legends as Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson and Vijay Singh.

Shepherd’s Rock, also located on the Nemacolin property, is another option. Rated number five in Golfweek’s “Best Courses in Pennsylvania,” it offers an outing that is both fun and challenging for golfers of all levels.

Additional Outdoor Activities

Nemacolin offers a range of activities designed to get the blood pumping. The area is popular for biking, hiking, miniature golf and tennis.

Guests interested in a little friendly competition can race each other on the 3,000-foot zipline known as the Fatbird Superflyer, or challenge themselves on a ropes course, scramble their way up to the top of a 50-foot, freestanding climbing wall, or hone their paintball skills in a makeshift town equipped with an array of targets.

One activity that is fun and fascinating for all ages is the Safari Tour, which transports guests to the wildlife preserve where a chain-link fence is the only barrier between humans and animals. Lions, tigers and bears romp freely over the expanse of land, often responding to human voices and venturing towards the guests for an up-close-and personal visit.
Animals that can be seen on the Safari tour. 

While I was visiting, a few intrepid members of our group opted to tackle 20 miles of rugged off-road terrain in a Jeep Rubicon, after a short lesson from a seasoned instructor. I chose, instead, to take part in something a little less adventurous. I'd share the landscape I painted in the art class conducted on site, but I'd rather you use your imagination to envision burnt scrub brush, because that's a pretty accurate description of how it turned out. Unlike Bob Ross, none of my artistic accidents are happy ones.
Guests take part in the off-road Jeep experience. (Photo courtesy of Nemacolin Woodland Resorts)
Additional activities, such as top-rated sport clay shooting and seasonal bird hunts, are available at the Nemacolin Field Club Complex, which spans 140 acres of woodlands and touts some of the finest fishing streams and creeks in the eastern United States.

During the colder months, guests can tube, ski and snowboard on Nemacolin’s very own Mystic Mountain, which features six slopes ranging from beginner to expert.

Indoor activities are available as well. For the younger set, there’s the three-foot-deep Kidz pool and the Hardy Girls Gymnasium complete with foam pit, balance beams, a trampoline and more. If that’s not enough, there’s also the Kidz Klub Arcade, which features a variety of arcade games to keep the little ones entertained for hours. Another favorite kids spot is P.J.'s for ice cream, pizza, milkshakes and more.
Kid's especially enjoy P.J.'s for ice cream, milkshakes and pizza.

50s diner

A booth made from an antique car at P.J.'s
Five-Diamond Dining 
Lautrec has earned a AAA-Five Diamond award and a Five-Star award from Forbes.

Among the dining options available at Nemacolin is Lautrec—a restaurant so excellent and well regarded that it received not only a AAA Five-Diamond award, but also a Five-Star award from Forbes. The European-influenced restaurant is one of only 30 in the world to hold both designations for more than a decade.

Executive Chef Kristin Butterworth proves herself worthy of the distinction with each meal she prepares and guests walk away with an understanding of why Lautrec maintains its reputation as one of the finest restaurants in Pennsylvania. Outstanding food, white-glove service and a beautiful d├ęcor, (which includes six original Toulouse Lautrec lithographs), all add up to a one-of-a-kind experience that is far beyond the ordinary.

Plenty of Shopping Opportunities

Shopping opportunities are plentiful at Nemacolin, with 17 stores and boutiques offering everything from art and apparel, to jewelry, cigars and golf clubs.

My favorite is the Chateau Signature Shoppe located in the Chateau Lafayette. There you’ll find a selection of candles, gifts and apparel featuring designers like Ted Baker, John Varvators, Peter Millar and my favorite Samuel Dong, whose joyful designs seem to elicit a smile from everyone I encounter. I can never resist his fashions and ended up splurging on a spring coat that appeared to be lifted directly from a watercolor painting, decorated in happy hues of chartreuse, purples, pinks, greens and blues.

A Great Place to Unwind
The Woodlands Spa offers a hot stone massage. (photo courtesy Nemacolin Woodlands Resort)
If you are feeling a little stressed, The Woodlands Spa is designed to help you unwind with an array of services from facials, to body scrubs, manicures and pedicures. Unique signature services include a Water Path treatment designed to stimulate circulation using alternating water temperatures along a pebbled pathway to improve blood and lymph flow, the Shirodhara, which is designed to increase blood circulation and improve sleep, and the Dream Catcher, which is a blend of Native American and Hawaiian Lomi Lomi healing techniques.

An Extensive Art Collection

If you’re an art lover, you’ll feel as though your head is on a swivel as you take in the staggering display of art on display both inside and out. You’ll see works by renowned artists ranging from Alexander Calder, to Frederic Remington, Louis Comfort Tiffany, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, J.J. Audubon and more.
heart art
"Heart Grenade" is just one of many art works at Nemacolin.

"Old Man and Dog," bronze. Glenna Goodacre

One work that appears in numerous places on the property is “Fat Bird,” a bronze created by Barney Boller. “Fat Bird” was personally selected by Maggie, who oversees operation. “The Fat Bird is fun and whimsical, much like the expectations of our guests,” she said.
"A Rare Bird Indeed" Barney Boller.
When I saw something that piqued my interest during the day, I took the time to do a little research in my room later that evening.  For example, I learned about the incredible amount of work it takes to make each one of the framed Hermes scarves I passed while walking through a long hallway to breakfast each day. This information gave me a renewed appreciation for the iconic Hermes brand. Fun fact: Hermes ensures the finest quality of silk by providing silkworms with a fortified diet of mulberries.
Hermes silk scarves festoon the walls in a hallway at Nemacolin.


Guests who fail to explore the outside of the resort may miss quite a bit of art, so be sure to jump in the car and drive around the grounds. Below are a few examples of the many pieces located around the property.
Bronze by J. Seward Johnson, Jr.
Shaping Up, Bronze. J. Seward Johnson, Jr. 1986
A Buddha sits outside a chapel built for reflection.
Sculpture by Prince Monyo
"Oh Happy Day." Bronze, Prince Monyo
Another item of note is this section of the Berlin Wall located on Lafayette Drive, which was donated by Lord Peter Palumbo to inspire future generations to diligently safeguard liberty.

Peter Palumbo

I hope these few highlights are useful should you decide to venture out to Farmington, Pennsylvania to experience this interesting destination.