Friday, May 27, 2011


Susanne and I have decided to plan one activity each week to widen our horizons, as they say. Today we took a first step toward that by driving north in our own county to places we have never seen before.

Dauphin County was created in 1785 out of Lancaster County. Today 256,000 people live here, most of them, I would imagine, in the region around Harrisburg. What we saw today was a beautiful area of mountains and rolling hills, dotted with farms, and some small towns. Everything seemed to be going at a leisurely pace. We very much enjoyed the vistas from the roads across the fields with the mountains in the distance.

The Box, all gassed up and ready to get underway, sat idly as we waited for Susanne to emerge from the house, toting all sorts of stuff, mysterious things that women need, like shopping bags, hand cream, sunglasses, hand sanitizer, bottled water, and cell phone. Finally, we got started and headed out to I-81, then north on US 322 (well, west, actually), then onto Pa. 225 north of Dauphin Borough. Now we were in the country!

Peter Allen House.
The scenery changed, with fewer and fewer dwellings and businesses. We passed the famous Peter Allen House (1726) as we climbed Peter's Mountain. It's the oldest house in Dauphin County and now a venue for weddings and other events.

Soon we reached the summit of the mountain, with a spectacular view of the valley below tempered by the care one must exercise to negotiate a dangerous curve to the left, followed by a rapid descent toward the town of Matamoras. The name came from a Mexican town along the Rio Grande River. It was here in May of 1846 during the Mexican War that Gen. Zachary Taylor was victorious in taking the town Matamoras, Mexico. This battle gained the attention of the whole country, so this little settlement without a name decided upon it for its name.

We continued on to Halifax, where the road curved eastward toward Elizabethville (1817), Berrysburg (population 354) and Gratz (1815). Near Elizabethville, we searched in vain for a plaque memorializing the ancestral home of President Dwight D. Eisenhower. At Berrysburg, we were enchanted with the Victorian mansions in varying states of repair on the town square. There we turned right onto Pa. 25.

Soon we came to the Gratz Farmers Market and Auction, which we had read about in the local paper's review of area farmer's markets. It operates only on Fridays, so the place was packed. We found a parking spot and mosied inside, where we were greeted by stands selling meat, vegetables, fruits, baked goods, and lots of other "stuff." You'll see some of it below.

We walked the whole way around the market and Susanne finally chose the vegetable stand that would get her business. She made her purchases, filling her recycled bags with goodies. We also bought some baked goods, including something called "Dutch cake" from a plain woman. She also had a case full of donuts, bear claws, éclairs, "stickie buns" ("shtiggy bunce" as they said in Kutztown when I was in school), and shoofly pies.

We carried our purchases to the Box, leaving us free to stuff our faces with a hot sausage sandwich, some French fries (from the vendor we see at the Farm Show farmers' market) and a diet soda. We stood at the counter,eating and watching a woman heating the sausage, hot dogs, and hamburgers, and then dropping them into buns presented by the waiters.

Two boxes, one with a horse
Before leaving the market, Susanne bought some herbs and spices from an Amish girl, who just happened to be selling whoopie pies, too! I know -- what are the chances of an Amish girl selling whoopie pies? After eying the choices,  I asked her to add one -- just one -- to our bill, which she gladly did. I slipped it into the slot on the driver's side door for later consumption.

Now we headed further east on Rt. 25 to the town of Gratz. What a pleasant surprise! I guess I was imagining it to be like some of the gritty and depressed coal towns further to the east. Instead, it was a pleasant country town, lined with mostly frame houses, close to the street. There was a median of grass separating the two lanes of traffic, and trees lined the streets.

We pulled over in front of the Gratz Historical Society, and I climbed out to look in the display windows of the headquarters, which includes an 1889 house and store. They have items from 1850-1960 and some outbuildings housing other exhibits. I hope to go back up there some Wednesday, the only day they are open for visitors.

Who says a fancy showroom is required?
Just off the main street, we stopped to photograph an old church and a gravestone dealership that proves that 'presentation' is not always necessary, then headed homeward, stopping to take some pictures in Berrysburg and at another church and cemetery nearby.

As we exited the cemetery, a man jumped from his car and hailed us, asking if we knew who was in charge of placing flags on the graves. I told him we were just driving by, but he regaled us with the story of his frustration getting a flag placed for his brother or uncle, I forget which.

The church, by the way, had a sort of "fantasy" setting on a small rise at the head of a long tree-lined lane. On the right was a beautifully cared-for picnic pavilion, and on the left the parsonage. The cemetery surrounded the church on three sides, and from the church one could see quite a distance across the fields. It was like something right out of the past. As we surveyed the horizon, a horse-drawn Amish buggy passed before our eyes, providing a nice picture.

Entrance to the 1922 Sycamore Allée.
Finally reaching Halifax again, we turned right on Pa. 147, an alternate route to crossing over Peter's Mountain again. In a moment or two we entered the famous Sycamore Allée, planted in the early 1920s as a living memorial to the World War I veterans. These trees are now on the National Register of Historic Places. We continued our drive through this tree-shaded stretch of road, descending gradually to the Susquehanna Rover, where we merged on US 322 east toward Harrisburg.

We stopped in a perilous place along the river, and as cars and trucks roared by, we took some pictures of the region's own Statue of Liberty, a 25 foot tall replica sitting on the ruins of the late Marysville bridge platform (or pier) in the Dauphin Narrows of the river. The replica was built by a local activist Gene Stilp on July 2, 1986; it was made of venetian blinds and stood 18 feet tall. Six years later, after it was destroyed in a windstorm, it was rebuilt of wood, metal, glass and fiberglass by Stilp and other local citizens.

And so ended our first planned foray into regions unknown to us. There is so much to see close to home, nice people to meet, good food to eat! I can't wait to see where we'll end up next week! If you know of somewhere special, let us know!

You can click on any photo to enlarge it! 

 The first thing we noticed at the Gratz farmers market
was the fashion sense of the market goers.

 The tomatoes were red and ripe!

Top: Powdered donuts
l to r: Bear claw, shoofly, sticky buns, Dutch cake

Exquisite crafts were offered.

A basket o'kittens.

The honey and broom shop. We forgot to buy a broom!

Outside a plain lady was selling petunias...

....and coleus.

The obligatory whoopie pie photo.

For the beanie baby collectors among us.

Can you smell this from where you are?

 The Box, an Amish box, and
a whoopie pie. An incredible

Across the street from the market, an Amish
farm wife dries the laundry on a washline.

A few miles past the market, we found the town of
Gratz and its historical society.  Enlarge for details.

A house and storefront in Gratz.

A brick house in Gratz. Most were wooden.

A Victorian beauty -- just add paint.

The Lutheran Church in Gratz.

More Victorian houses, clustered in Berrysburg.
Enlarge for detail.

This must be how they fly
their flags in Berrysburg.

St. John Lutheran Church outside Berrysburg.
Enlarge for detail.

 A farm seen from the church cemetery.

Our Amish neighbors.

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