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History of
The Lebanon Valley
of Pennsylvania

(and a list of things to do and places to visit.)

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There's more to the Lebanon Valley than meets the eye.

Explore America's early history at Colonial homesteads, marvelous museums, important industrial sites, and quaint communities. Choose from natural attractions ranging from underground caverns to lush gardens, from wildlife preserves to spring-fed trout streams. Hike, bike, camp, hunt, fish, canoe, and ride horseback in the great outdoors. Sample local specialties such as our world-famous Lebanon Bologna and Pennsylvania Dutch delicacies. Play a round of championship golf on one of several area golf courses and thrill to the excitement of thoroughbred horse racing or championship equestrian competition. Enjoy classical concerts or professional theatrical presentations. Shop till you drop at area outlets, antique shops, and friendly farmers' markets. Spend the night in an historic bed & breakfast and attend lively ethnic festivals. Chances are you'll be surprised by just how much fun you can pack into your visit to the Lebanon Valley.

Old-Fashioned Hospitality

In a modern world where tradition often takes a back seat to technology, it's refreshing to discover a place where old-fashioned hospitality and time-honored customs continue to play important roles in everyday life. South-central Pennsylvania's Lebanon Valley is just such a place. While conveniently close to major northeastern metropolitan areas, the Lebanon Valley nevertheless is well isolated from the hectic pace of city life. It's winning combination of friendly folks, charming traditions, easy accessibility and relaxed recreation never ceases to impress visitors and keep them coming back for more.

The Lebanon Valley's history can be traced to early Colonial times when German settlers came to the area seeking religious and political freedom. They brought customs and beliefs of their forefathers, guiding principles that helped ensure strong family and community bonds. They built small farming communities and simple churches, some of which survive today. Yet the Pennsylvania Dutch, as they have come to be known, built far more than homes and places to worship; they constructed a complete cultural framework by which to live. Today the primary reason travelers visit the Lebanon Valley is to experience an authentic taste of an era that's past but not forgotten.






Get To Know The Pennsylvania Dutch

The Pennsylvania Dutch name actually is something of a misnomer, since it derives from the German word " Deutsche." The Lebanon Valley's first Pennsylvania Dutch settlers emigrated in the eighteenth century from what is now Germany, where they had been persecuted because of their religious beliefs. Over time, other groups arrived, each contributing to the religious landscape. Today Pennsylvania Dutch communities are divided roughly into "plain" and "fancy" sects. The former still adhere closely to their ancestors' customs, shunning modern ways and avoiding anything that might be considered worldly or vain. "Fancy" groups have adopted some of the trappings of contemporary society, yet remain faithful to their guiding religious principles. They operate many of the craft shops and home-style restaurants that visitors find alluring.

The most traditional of plain people, the Amish, follow customs that date back more than two centuries. Their traditions focus on faith, family and an agrarian way of life; principles that have enabled them to survive virtually unchanged. On a typical day you will see our Amish neighbors dressed in simple clothing traveling to market in horse-drawn buggies. With all the conveniences we take for granted, it's easy to admire their steadfast devotion to a traditional way of life.

Visitors quickly discover that the Lebanon Valley offers an unspoiled look at Pennsylvania Dutch Country, where the Amish are viewed as neighbors, not as tourist attractions. Here you will find Amish farms with small signs hanging by the road sides, offering produce and home baked goodies or special services. These signs are invitations for visitors to stop, shop and chat with these gentle people. It's a genuine interaction that takes place in a truly uncommercialized atmosphere, giving you an unspoiled view of our Pennsylvania Dutch neighbors. But, please, we ask that you respect their beliefs and right to privacy. Amish tradition specifically forbids posing for photographs, so it's best to refrain from taking snapshots in favor of returning home with lasting memories, tasty treats, and keepsake crafts.

Over 200 Years Of History

Boasting a rich history spanning more than two centuries, the Lebanon Valley is a treasure trove of important historical sites and cozy Colonial communities. Be sure to take time out to explore some of these fascinating attractions.

As with many regions in Pennsylvania, the Lebanon Valley's early growth was fueled by its abundant natural resources, namely iron ore, timber, and limestone. Plentiful supplies of these materials led to the establishment of Cornwall Iron Furnace in 1742 in the southern section of the Lebanon Valley. This massive stone charcoal-burning furnace, stoked by steam-powered blast machinery, operated day and night until 1883. The vast industrial plantation produced pig iron and domestic products, as well as cannons, shot, and shells for George Washington's army during the Revolutionary War. Local mining operations continued until the early 1970s, capitalizing on what are to this day the largest iron-ore deposits east of Lake Superior.

Today the Cornwall Furnace represents one of the world's best-preserved nineteenth-century iron-making facilities. A visit to the site is a trip back in time to the iron industry's heyday, when the furnace supported a complete, self-contained industrial community. Besides the furnace and blast machinery, visitors can view related outbuildings, coal bins, and roasting ovens. Through informative displays, a visitors' center offers insight into mining operations, iron-making techniques, and the daily life of workers. Remnants of the ironmasters' mansions and the workers' homes still dot the surrounding countryside. Administered by the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission, Cornwall Iron Furnace is open every day except Mondays and most holidays.

Colonial history comes alive near Myerstown at Tulpehocken Manor Inn and Plantation, headquarters for the Hanover Rifle Battalion, a re-created Revolutionary War unit. Established in the 1730s by Palatine pilgrim Christopher Ley, the plantation grew from a single stone house to encompass several homes and farm buildings. In 1769, Ley's son Michael built an eight-room Germanic stone house on the property, which was visited by George Washington on three occasions. In addition to the original limestone-arched home built by Christopher Ley, a perfect example of Germanic Swiss bank architecture, and the Michael Ley Mansion, expanded in the mid-1800s to a Victorian manor, visitors can explore the beautiful plantation grounds and view typical Colonial structures such as the old smokehouse, bake house, cob house, and barn at this National Historic Site.

Perhaps nowhere else in the Lebanon Valley is the early German influence more evident than at Fort Zeller Museum in Newmanstown. The present structure originally served as a homestead for the Zeller family, who emigrated in 1710 from present-day Germany. Dating to 1745, the Zeller home functioned as a fort during the French and Indian War. With its mortar-covered limestone exterior, two-and-a-half-foot-thick walls, original embellishments, and massive Queen Anne fireplace, it provides an authentic glimpse at an architectural style that survives today only in Europe's Rhine Basin. Fort Zeller Museum is open year-round by appointment.

Bindnagle Church, three miles north of Palmyra, was built on land donated by Hans Bindnagle in 1753 to the local Evangelical Lutheran congregation, with the 1803 red brick structure replacing a log church that occupied the site. Modeled after classic Greek design, it stands as a fine example of Colonial architecture. Bindnagle Church still serves an active congregation today, nearly two centuries after it was constructed. The sexton cordially welcomes visitors for a tour, which he starts by displaying the hand wrought iron lock and key, dated 1803 made in Lebanon. Call (717) 533-6037 for current tour times and dates.

For an overview of local history, be sure to stop by Stoy Museum and Hauck Memorial Library in Lebanon, headquarters of the Lebanon County Historical Society. Built in 1773 as a home for Dr. William Henry Stoy, a minister and Revolutionary War doctor, the structure later served as Lebanon County's first courthouse when the county was established in 1813. James Buchanan, United States President from 1857 to 1861, practiced law as a young attorney in the upstairs courtrooms.

Dedicated to preserving and displaying Lebanon County history, the Stoy Museum chronicles local life since Colonial times with a series of carefully constructed exhibits showcasing historical artifacts and implements, period clothing, and Pennsylvania Dutch furniture and quilts. Displays include a one-room schoolhouse, old-time drug store, doctor's office, glass and china shop, music store, dress shop, barbershop, and general store. Railroading, firefighting, and World War I memorabilia also are exhibited. Of special interest to baseball fans is the Babe Ruth uniform display. The museum is closed on Saturdays and holidays.

Near the Stoy Museum off State Highway 72 north, the Union Canal Tunnel is noteworthy as America's oldest existing transportation tunnel. Completed in 1827 for the seventy-eight-mile canal linking Reading and Harrisburg, it was designated a National Historic Engineering Landmark in 1970, placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1974, and made a National Historic Landmark in 1994.

Explore Quaint Towns & Villages

Our Lebanon Valley residents take pride in preserving their cultural heritage, as a visit to any of the area's historic communities quickly reveals. One of the region's best-preserved boroughs, Schaefferstown was founded in 1758 by Alexander Schaeffer, credited with establishing North America's oldest public waterworks at the town's present site in 1744. Schaeffer needed the steady water supply for a hotel he built, now the Franklin House restaurant and tavern. It occupies one corner of the old village square. Just north of the square, the Thomas R. Brendle Memorial Library-Museum displays items relating to community history. It's open at selected times, including a May 14 Museum Day, and by appointment.

Schaeffer built his Swiss-bank-style home outside town in 1750. Now operated as the Alexander Schaeffer Farm Museum, it may be toured by appointment and during special events such as the June Cherry Fair, July Tractor Show and Folk Fest, September Harvest Fair and Craft Show and December Christmas Party.

Another Lebanon Valley community with a storied past, Myerstown, was laid out as Tulpehockentown in 1768 by Isaac Meier. The borough has approximately fifty historic structures more than 175 years old. The Isaac Meier Homestead, recently restored, is the town founder's handsome stone mansion. Mystery surrounds Meier's death to this day. A prominent banker and lender, he was shot at a local tavern. Although a reward was offered by Pennsylvania co-proprietor Thomas Penn, the assailant was never apprehended.

Home of Lebanon Valley College, a liberal arts university founded in 1866, Annville boasts an attractive historic district featuring many restored Victorian homes. Each December, the Friends of Old Annville conduct candlelight tours through the district, offering visitors a special opportunity to experience a taste of a bygone era.

Nature At Its Best

The same natural beauty that first attracted settlers to the Lebanon Valley continues to entice travelers today. At the region's state parks and recreational areas, nature lovers enjoy hiking, canoeing, camping, fishing, hunting, horseback riding, and mountain biking. Since the valley is an easy drive from urban centers such as New York, Baltimore, Washington D.C., and Philadelphia, you needn't travel far off the beaten path to savor the great outdoors here. In the Lebanon Valley's "civilized wilderness," the comforts of home are always close at hand.

One of the region's most impressive wildlife areas, the 5,000-acre Middle Creek Wildlife Management Area near Kleinfeltersville offers a host of recreational opportunities. Visitors can hike on nine miles of trails crisscrossing the preserve, or hunt and fish in designated areas. Home to a thriving waterfowl population, Middle Creek is a favorite of duck and goose hunters. A visitors center, open in season, provides an informative overview of the area's ecology, natural history, and wildlife-management techniques. A nearby nature trail spotlights indigenous flora and wildlife habitats.

Lions Lake is located off Jay Street and Route 72 in western North Lebanon Township. This unique 30-acre property and 7 acre lake is owned and operated by North Lebanon Township. Originally known as Light's Dam, the water reserve was constructed in conjunction with the operation of the Old Union Canal, which passes nearby (operated from 1828-1885.) From 1957 to 1972, this small park provided residents with terrific swimming, boating and fishing. In 1972, Hurricane Agnes filled the lake to overflowing but the dam held. By 1981, the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania declared the dam to be unsafe and ordered the dam breast rebuilt. It took eleven years of fund raising and community effort before the dam breast was restored and the lake could be refilled. Now, a visitors center, macadam walkways around the entire lake, park benches, flower beds, volleyball courts and picnic tables and benches have all been installed; making Lion's Lake one of the premier small parks in all of the Lebanon Valley. For information on Lion's Lake, please call 273-7132.

Another great place for a picnic or hike is Memorial Lake State Park. This park features boating and fishing on its eighty-five-acre lake. Canoes, rowboats, sailboards, and sailboats may be rented on site. Similar outdoor options are available at Stoever's Dam Recreational Area in Lebanon. Surrounding a thirty-six-acre lake, the park has a fitness course, nature trail, camping facilities, and picnic tables. Willow Spring Park in Richland offers picnicking, swimming, and scuba diving, while three miles west of Pine Grove on the Schuylkill County border, Swatara State Park attracts hikers, hunters, fishermen, canoeists, and fossil hunters.

For a sure-fire fishing expedition, check out Arrowhead Springs Trout Hatchery in Newmanstown, Limestone Springs Trout Hatchery near Myerstown or Shikellamy Trout Hatchery near Bethel. license are not required on these private hatchery lakes that are plentifully stocked with rainbow trout.

One of the region's more unusual natural wonders, Indian Echo Caverns -- just west of Hershey -- ushers you into fascinating underground realms during a forty-five-minute guided tour. Visitors are dwarfed by spectacular limestone formations in several chambers, including the Indian Ballroom with its fifty-foot-high ceiling. Back on the surface, there's a ten-acre picnic and recreation area, gift shop, and replica gem mill where you can pan for gemstones. Nearby, the Hershey Gardens at the Hotel Hershey feature spectacular seasonal floral displays, including one of this country's largest rose gardens, on twenty-three manicured acres.

Several local outfitters stand ready to assist outdoor-lovers interested in canoeing, horseback riding, and mountain biking. Annville's Union Canal Canoe Rentals supplies canoes and equipment for float trips on scenic Swatara Creek. Pickup and delivery service is available for trips of varying length along fifty-eight miles of "the Swatty." Our famous equestrian attraction, the Quentin Riding Club, is a private-membership organization that hosts numerous horse shows during the summer season, many of which are open to the public; call (717) 273-1151 for details.

Year-round camping is available at local family campgrounds, including Hershey Highmeadow Campground. Options range from full-service camping resorts with RV hookups to cozy shaded groves where you can pitch a tent. Whatever your outdoor pleasure, the civilized wilderness in the Lebanon Valley delivers!

Lebanon Valley Specialties

For many visitors, the first taste of Lebanon County comes in the form of our mouth-watering, world-famous Lebanon Bologna. Since the early 1800's local residents of German descent have produced this tasty sweet-and-spicy bologna using carefully guarded recipes handed down for generations. Today nearly all of the Lebanon Bologna produced in America comes from the Lebanon Valley.

Visitors can sample the smoked bologna and see the bologna-making process in action at two local factories. Established in 1885, the Daniel Weaver Company in Lebanon produces Weaver's Famous Lebanon Bologna and Baum's Bologna using a cold-smoke process in authentic outdoor smokehouses. Tours are free. Seltzer's - Bomberger's Lebanon Bologna Company, also offering free tours, has produced Lebanon bologna at its Palmyra facility since 1902. Kutztown Bologna Company is located north of Myerstown. Kutztown Bologna Company earned a Guinness world record in 1989 for its 61-foot, 1,202-pound Lebanon Bologna.

For a time that's sure to be sweet, there's no better place than Hershey --   "The Sweetest Place on Earth." At Chocolate World, "chocoholics" will think they're in paradise. Visitors also can take a thrilling roller-coaster ride at Hersheypark, view indigenous wildlife at ZooAmerica North American Wildlife Park, and learn about local history at the Hershey Museum. A popular time to visit is during the annual Christmas in Hershey celebration, held mid-November through December.

The Lebanon Valley might seem an unlikely place to hear clashing broadswords and clanking armor, but that's exactly what you'll encounter at the Pennsylvania Renaissance Faire. This regional medieval fair features a re-created Tudor hamlet complete with jousting knights in shining armor, magicians, storytellers, craftsmen, and costumed performers. While at the estate, be sure to tour the opulent Victorian mansion, formerly the home of a local ironmaster.

Visitors thrill to the action and excitement of thoroughbred horse racing year-round at Penn National Race Course, just north of exit 28 on Interstate 81 in Grantville. Hosting ten races daily on Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday nights as well as Sunday and selected Monday afternoons, the track offers grandstand or clubhouse seating for nominal fees. Visitors can bet on a live race, or wager on any number of simulcast harness-racing events.

If you have a taste for culture, there's no shortage of artistic events in the Lebanon Valley. The woods in Mount Gretna come alive with musical presentation, including chamber music and a special summertime jazz series from Music at Gretna.

Theater takes center stage each summer at the Gretna Theater. The Lebanon Community Theater features quality plays at affordable prices during spring, summer, and fall, as well as a summer concert series. And if you're in the Lebanon Valley area in summer, be sure to check out the annual August Mt. Gretna Outdoor Art Show, when nationally recognized artists assemble their finest during an art-filled weekend.

At two Lebanon Valley establishments you can enjoy a fine meal followed by an entertaining theatrical performance. The Timbers Dinner Theatre in Mt. Gretna serves up lively musical reviews from June 13 through September 2. The Lantern Lodge in Myerstown presents a summer and winter series of plays put on in the Lantern Playhouse.

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