Camp Martin Travels

These entries will be a combination of historical day trips, graduate level travel courses, and just little stops along the way. I have been teaching 8th grade American History for over 25 years. I am also a Civil War Reenactor and have traveled to Germany and Austria with several groups of exchange students and written about our adventures. Please check all my posts by using the monthly Blog Archive tabs shown below. I have posted over 150 Blog Episodes since 2009... Please explore them all!

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Chester County Trail Ride

Sheeder Mill Farm
Family Trail Ride Adventure

Katelyn at LCTR Lesson
As many of you know, my daughter Katelyn has gone through a lot of adversity during her young life. She has survived a cancerous brain tumor she developed when she was eight years old but has some permanent disabilities as a result of surgery, radiation, and chemotherapy treatments.  Katelyn has persevered, is very independent, and just graduated from high school. Over the past three years she has been doing therapeutic riding at Greystone Manor Farm where the Lancaster County Therapeutic Riding program (LCTR) operates, helping many people with various disabilities.  Katelyn has been riding for several years to help improve her balance and self confidence.  The program has done a great deal for her and she wanted to test the horse riding skills she has worked very hard to develop, by riding more independently.  The excellent staff at LCTR suggested she try a trail ride experience at a place called Sheeder Mill Farm about an hours drive near Phoenixville, Pennsylvania.  I decided to check it out at the end of last summer in 2009.  

Happy 70th Birthday Dad!
My father grew up on a small farm outside Lititz on Owl Hill Road, when it was still an unpaved dirt roadway.  He rode horses in his youth and has always loved these large powerful majestic animals.  He sometimes accompanied us when we went to Katelyn's riding lessons and he caught the urge to ride a horse once again.  At the end of last summer, I decided to visit the suggested Sheeder Mill Farm by taking my dad on a surprise ride for his 70th birthday.  It was a beautiful setting in the woods as the two of us set off to spend an hour long guided tour of the surrounding woods and meadows.  It was a beautiful day and a great experience we would never forget.  We both really enjoyed it and hoped we could return again next summer with Katelyn for another ride.  

 Our Posse Passing the Stallion
So this summer we decided we would return to Sheeder Mill Farm to take Katelyn and the whole family on a trail ride in beautiful Chester County, Pennsylvania.  Our scheduled ride would begin at 10:00 AM and we would have to arrive a half hour early to sign some paperwork to exonerate Sheeder Mill Farm of any liability for anything stupid we might do that would lead to physical injury or frivolous lawsuits.  My wife rode horses a couple of times when she was sixteen and wanted to give it a try again.  We also talked my son Tyler into coming along, selling it as a cool new experience he could post on his MySpace wall to impress girls.  He was game.  The real challenge would be to somehow pry Tyler's fingers from his Xbox 360 controller and extract him from his boy cave into the sun filled outside world for a few hours.  It wasn't easy!

 Sheeder Mill Farm
We worked through our regular routine of fighting the kids for an hour to get out of bed and get dressed.  Next we piled into the van, picked up my dad, and headed east from Lancaster County toward Chester County.  We decided to take the scenic route, bypassing the PA Turnpike for the rural routes of 222, 322, and 23.  It was a beautiful drive through the farm belt areas of Weaverland, Blue Ball, Churchtown, toward our destination in Spring City.  This is truly the Bread Basket of the state of Pennsylvania, feeding the bookend cities of Pittsburgh to the west and Philadelphia to the east.  We stopped midway along the route to release our morning coffee and get Tyler some breakfast.  He forgot.  Following a hearty meal of salt and vinegar chips and a Slim Jim, (Breakfast of Not Champions) he was good to go and we piled back in the van to continue on our journey east.  We arrived at the peaceful farm and watched as our horses were prepared for our upcoming trail ride.

 Entering the Trail Area
It was perfect weather for a mid summer's day ride with the heat wave of the previous week recently broken by storms that had rolled through two days earlier.  The temperature on this first day of July was in the mid seventies with a refreshing breeze.  All five of us were mounted our rides with my father on Ivory, Susan on Maude, Katelyn on Summer, Tyler on Shawnee, and myself riding Eve.  Our guide Kelly (I didn't catch the name of her horse) was about Katelyn's age and has been riding horses on the farm since she was seven years old.  She led us onward out of the paddock area and through the pasture.  We rode though a fenced pathway toward the woods and passed by an impressive bay stallion who had quite an impact on the ladies we were riding.  They all got a little excited as we were about to enter a short but steep ravine down into a creek.  Half way down, my wife's horse Maude did a 180 and headed back to the calling stallion, which was not a great way to start things out.  Kelly came back up the ravine to get hold of Maude's reigns to pull her away from her jealous boyfriend.  We got back in line and back on track, passing through a shallow shaded stream.

Forging French Creek
We learned quickly that the horses' paycheck for carrying us through the woods was the available fresh greenery that was abundant in all directions.  Any break in the pace was an excuse for the horses to take a quick pit stop to grab a bunch of fresh leaves for a snack.  After a while, we all learned to spur and turn the horses back to the task at hand.  This was only my second time riding a horse but I could pull from my experience last year to feel more at ease and just let the horse do its thing.  It amazed us all how steep, rough, and rocky some of the terrain was we covered but the horses all seemed to know exactly where to step to avoid trouble.  In some parts of the trail the horses feet fell into the same spots as the many that had passed before them, pounding evenly spaced troughs for their shoes to find. When you think about it, horses really can't see where they are stepping, since their feet are always behind and below their eyes.  They must have a sixth sense?  Maybe that's what they mean by Horse Sense?

Emerging into the Meadow
Our guide, Kelly, led us onward through the narrow trail which had many twists and turns through the woods that eventually led to an opening containing a small meadow.  We were able to ride in a variety of areas during our hour-long adventure including roads, meadows, fields, woods, and water.  Susan had her eye on Katelyn and I was watching over Tyler who both did great.  Tyler enjoyed it so much that he asked how soon we could come back again.  My father was bringing up the rear as the most experienced rider in our group.  We came to a steep hillside that looked a little intimidating but the horses knew just what to do and we scaled it in stride before we could really worry about it.  Piece of cake!

Susan and Maude Climb
Like all good things, our trail ride came to an end and we headed down a dirt farm road along side a cornfield, passed a colonial era stone barn, and came within view of our starting point.  Before we dismounted, a staff member took a picture of the five of us together.  Getting five horses to line up for a picture is not the easiest shot.  A special thank you to our guide Kelly, who was really friendly, personable, and PATIENT! On our return trip home, the car was buzzing with recollections of what we had seen and memorable things that happened during our adventure.  It may have only been an hour but seemed a lot longer with all the different places we had been on the trail.  We are already planning to return in October to experience the beautiful foliage colors of fall.

The Fabulous Five Gang

For more information of going on your own trail ride 
please note the following...

Sheeder Mill Farm
12 Sheeder Mill Road
Spring City, PA 19475
(610) 469-9382

 Crossing the Creek


Saturday, September 18, 2010

Amish Farm and House Tour

The Amish Farm and House
Lancaster County, Pennsylvania

The Amish House Tour
Welcome back to another fun filled season of travel and adventure!  This blog season we will begin in my own backyard visiting our curious neighbors who have made Lancaster County a tourist destination the world over.  I have lived in Lancaster County my whole life among the Amish population that outsiders identify as our trademark.  I vividly remember entering college at Bloomsburg University as a freshman in 1985 just after the popular movie Witness had portrayed Harrison Ford as a Philadelphia detective hiding out on the farm of a widowed Amish woman played by Kelly McGillis.  I admit that I really enjoyed the movie and saw it several times.  Who knew that a grain silo could be used as a weapon to take out a corrupt city detective?  Wow! Anyway, my fellow college freshman were fascinated by geographical roots and pummeled me with questions about the Amish including if I was in fact, a participating member of the old older faith.  When I revealed that I was what the Amish would call "English", like the rest of my classmates, they were curious to know if I ever dated an Amish girl.  I will admit if all Amish girls looked like Kelly McGillis... It was a good question!  It would almost be worth shunning the materialistic world for a life of good honest piety and hard physical labor!

Harrison Ford / Kelly McGillis in Witness
 I have always been fascinated by the Amish who have been able to maintain a colonial-like existence in our ever-advancing technological world.  I remember long ago when my grandfather had a hayfield to help feed his pony named Ranger.  The former farm's barn and most of the fields were long gone but the barn was replaced by a large garage that contained a horse stall and small paddock to the rear of the building.  Now without farm equipment, my grandfather had made an arrangement with an Amish neighbor to cut, rake, and bale his hay in exchange for half the harvest. I clearly remember the sturdy team of horses coming up Owl Hill Road pulling the loud metal-rimmed baler, rake, and hay wagon.  A small boy who could barely be seen stood on the baler's tongue, drove the powerful team and pulled the ensemble into the driveway.  I was amazed when the boy, who seemed about seven years old, could guide the team with single command words in German. They needed to hook the hay rake to the team and the small boy uttered an unidentified word and the entire team in unison, all took a single step to the right. A second command and they all took a single step to the rear and the hay rake was in place and the boy then drove the team onto the field.  It was an amazing display to watch.  His older, stronger brothers helped stack the hay on the wagon as the baler machine did its work.  Then, we all took half the bales off the wagon and stacked the sweet hay into the storage area of the garage.  Ranger whinnied a thank you to his larger workhorse cousins.   The arrangement repeated itself several times throughout the year and I always went over to watch the process.

Grain Silo / Interior View
We often drive by the numerous Amish farms but they are still distant, mysterious, and isolated far from our gaze.  This is why I wanted to tour the Amish Farm and House along Route 30 next to the new Target.  It would be a chance to get close and see behind the walls of the Amish world.  I passed this place thousands of times since childhood without ever taking the tour.  It seemed to be one of the commercial inventions catering to wide-eyed tourists.  Most locals usually stay away from such places.  However, when my wife and daughter recently dragged me kicking and screaming to Target, I took advantage of the opportunity to explore this site, now very out of place next to the "big box" Target complex.  I started out in the gift shop area, my kind of shopping.  Anyone who has ever visited my classroom (AKA: The Museum) can tell I love to explore gift shops and support the local economy of the places I visit.  

An Mid-Afternoon Nap
I bought my ticket for the house tour and had forty-five minutes to kill before the tour began.  I was not worried about my wife and daughter because they could easily spend a week inside Target and never notice my absence.  I took the available time to explore the fifteen-acre farm which included a tobacco barn, one room schoolhouse, spring house, and about twenty other small out buildings.  I took pictures and was impressed by the interior of the school house that was a mix of colonial and modern characteristics.  One of the highlight stops was the gigantic sow pig and her five piglets that looked more like regular sized pigs by this point.  They were all slumbering in the pen in the heat of the middle of the day.  There were a few hokey touristy type displays, such as the life-like cow with rubber utters that you could milk water into a bucket.  Tempted, but watching the clock, I passed!  My forty-five minutes were just about up and I headed back to the house for the last tour of the day.

 Traditional "Horse" Power
Throughout my time touring the farm, I noticed that the majority of visitors were from foreign countries.  A large group of French speaking visitors were on their way out and I was joined on the house tour by a group of German and Dutch accented patrons.  I kept the fact that I was visiting from a few miles away to myself and pondered the possibility of faking an English accent to fit in with the group.  The interior of the house was fascinating to see up close and each room revealed more about the private lives of the local Old Order Amish.  Despite my close physical proximity, I learned a great deal and came away with a revived appreciation and respect for their way of life.

 Active Amish Farm Nearby
The Amish have been in America for the last 300 years, coming to Pennsylvania through a personal invitation by William Penn.  Most originated from Switzerland where they were persecuted by the European population and the military, which has haunted them to the present day.  You will never see an Amishman with a mustache or the color red because both were associated with the soldiers who treated them with brutality in the Old World. They arrived in the port of Philadelphia and walked the distance to Lancaster County where the natural landscape reminded them of the homeland they left behind.  Like ninety percent of the colonial population, they took to farming and many still make a living from the soil. Today the occupations of the Amish are more diverse but remain anchored in trades and crafts.  Woodworking, construction, food services, and carpentry are common work environments outside traditional agriculture.  There are an estimated 125,000 Amish people living in 30 states across the country.  Ohio has the highest population with Pennsylvania a close second.  Some have migrated to Canada and a few back to the Old Country in places like rural Poland. 

The Kitchen / Home Nerve Center
The Amish are most noticed on Sundays when they flock to a neighbor's property for church services.  The Amish do not maintain a physical church building but rotate the service location from farm to farm.  It is a day-long event and one the Amish welcome.  Sundays are a time for the isolated families to come together to worship but also share a meal, conversation and play.  A large wagon called the bench wagon delivers the church benches to the selected farm a few days in advance.  The home's parlor is cleared of all furniture to make room for the temporary pew benches.  The prayers, service message and chant-like hymns are all done in traditional German.  The meal that follows is usually simple cold cuts and canned vegetables followed by fruit pies, cakes, and homemade ice cream.  The meal is the same service to service by design to prevent competition.  As little work as possible is to be done on the Sabbath so a simple cold meal is considered best.  Surprisingly, the Amish only hold worship services every other week.  The alternate Sundays during the month are spent traveling to visit distant friends and relatives. 

 The Girls' Bedroom
The interior of the home was simple in design, practical, and functional.  It reminded me a lot of the farmhouse where my father grew up, the old Martin homestead on Owl Hill Road. Decorative rules are often constant by county or region.  In Lancaster County homes have dark green blinds and white lace accents.  This trait designates the house as a family of the faith to fellow Amish travelers.  The interior walls were full of color, similar to the pastel colors prevalent in their clothing.  The Amish preference of colors is taken from those found in nature with blue and green being the most popular.  Most homes have been passed down through the generations and being old, the house is void of built in closets.  As a result, wooden pegs line the walls and clothing is hung on hangers displayed across the room.  Black polished shoes are lined up on top of bedding trunks in neat, straight rows.   Wooden beds, dressers, and nightstands compliment the storage found in each bedroom.   

 The Boy's Bedroom
Amish clothing, like everything else, is simple and is influenced by their past in Europe.  Women's buttons were often decorative and ornate in Europe so all women's clothing to this day if void of any buttons.  Consequently, their clothing is held together by straight pins.  In contrast, men's buttons were always plain and as a result, men's clothing may have buttons.  There are many such double standards based on life 300 years ago, an ocean away.  Men wear straw hats during the work week and black felt hats for dress up occasions, accompanied by black jackets made of wool.  Clothing can also send silent signals to fellow members at various stages of life.  At age sixteen, a young girl can begin to date with parental permission.  She makes this announcement to eligible males by exchanging her white cap for a black one at community events.  Males can send a message they are interested in seeking a wife by curling up the sides of their black dress hat.  As the saying goes... Following marriage, a man's hat settles down and so does he!  When a person's spouse passes away, they must mourn for a full year by wearing all black.  At the conclusion of mourning, they may go back to normal dress, signaling they are available again for marriage.  That didn't happen in the movie Witness but remember, cultural traditions vary region to region. 

One Room School House / Interior
The Amish make connections to the outside world when it comes to healthcare and banking.  Most physicians welcome Amish patients because they always pay up front, in cash.  The Amish do not believe in healthcare coverage because they can not plan for the future due to their belief that they must have faith in God.  The same reason prevents them from investing in the stock market or buying certificates of deposit.  The Amish must pay all the same taxes as everyone else including Social Security Tax but will not collect Social Security payments when they become eligible at age sixty-five. They must also pay school taxes even though they will never use public schools.  The Amish are only required to go to school until the eighth grade.  They are taught by a young unmarried woman who only has an eighth grade education herself, although she would have come recommended and most likely excelled in her studies.  They focus on the classic "old school" basic skills of reading, writing, and arithmetic.

 Rumspringa in the Barnyard
The Amish way of life is hard, especially for young people within the community and the adults are very much aware of this reality.  Teenagers are permitted to experience the outside world before they join the church.  Some listen to rock music, wear fashions of their "English" peers, and may even learn to drive and buy a car.  These brushes with the non-Amish world always took place but were ignored by parents and the church.  Now these practices are more in the open and accepted by adults as a necessary stage in life.  They even have a name for this restless time dubbed rumspringa, translated as "running around".  It is an accepted time of experimentation with the outside, main-stream American culture, free from punishment or judgment from parents and church elders. Perhaps, this openness has helped the Lancaster County Amish community to retain 98% of their membership. 

Ivy Covered Stone Exterior
The tour was a wealth of information that my foreign tour mates and I found fascinating. A series of inquisitive questions were asked and answered by our excellent tour guide during the forty-five minute tour.  I encourage everyone to learn more about our famous yet private neighbors. Why do people come from Europe to come to Lancaster County to experience their existence?  We also need to understand their ways to appreciate their way of life.  So next time you are emptying your bank account at Target, take a break and visit the Amish Farm and House a few steps away!

Did you know...
  • All Amish men who are clean-shaven are unmarried
  • Upon marriage, men must grow a beard and keep it for life
  • The Amish do not wear any jewelry including wedding bands
  • Newly wed couples live with the bride's family for first year
  • The kitchen is often the only heated room inside the house
  • Amish marriage only take place in Nov. and Dec. after the harvest
  • The Amish are subject to all local and state laws and punishments 
  • Amish may use cell phones but may not bring them inside the house
  • Homes may use propane, wind, and solar energy but not electricity
  • Upon death all headstones are the same height to symbolize equality
  • The Church Alms Fund helps families with outstanding medical bills
  • Most Amish are trilingual speaking German, PA Dutch, and English
  • Amish do not like to have posed pictures taken / No graven images
  • Most Amish cannot vote because a photo identification is required
  • Amish women never cut their hair their entire lives wearing it in a bun
  • Bicycles are forbidden but both children and adults ride scooters
  • Adult Amish church members may not drive a car but may ride in one
  • Amish are baptized when they join the church following rumspringa
  • The average Amish family has seven children and 25% have ten or more
  • The small Amish population is highly prone to inbred genetic disorders
  • Lancaster County is the 3rd largest concentrated Amish pop. in America
  • The Amish are Conscientious Objectors exempt from combat roles in war
  • The Amish will not buy a Sunday newspaper to respect the Sabbath
  • Approximately 30,000 Amish people currently live within Lancaster County 
  • With current population trends, that figure is expected to double every 20 years
  • An Amish house in Lancaster County is five times more likely to be burglizied than a residential home at night due to their isolated rural location and dark setting without electric lights.

Please See Additional Photographs of the Amish at...


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