I spent a long weekend in a city that was once the capital of the United States, for all of one day. During the American revolution the Continental Congress fled Philadelphia, which had been captured by the British, and on Sept. 27, 1777, the delegates met in this city, before heading farther west, and then in the summer of 1778, moving back to Philadelphia.
The city was home to James Buchanan, 15th president of the United States (1857-61) and the only president in U. S. history who was a bachelor. He was a northern Democrat with southern sympathies, and won the presidency in a three-man race against John C. Fremont (the controversial colonel from California) and ex-president Millard Fillmore (trying to make a political comeback).
In his inaugural speech Buchanan promised not to run again, and his impact in office was so tenuous that nobody tried to get him to change his mind. Even today he is generally considered one of the worst presidents in U. S. history. The Civil War began just a couple of months after he left office (succeeded by Abraham Lincoln), but despite his southern leanings, he supported the Union effort and finally did speak out against slavery.
|President Buchanan's home is called Wheatland|
But all that is history. What about now? The city is home to one of those small private liberal arts colleges that pride themselves in sending their students on to graduate schools and good jobs in Washington and New York.
|The name of this building on campus? I'm guessing: Old Main|
The city saw its heyday in the late 1800s and early 1900s, and features many elegant old buildings erected by the city's prosperous industrialists of the time.
|A now-restored Victorian home built in the late 1800s|
But there is also inner city housing that once served the working class and now provides downtown living with high "walkability" ratings.
Along with some "gentrified" areas that used to house manufacturing plants and railroad yards . . .
And regardless of whatever history the city can boast, the area has now become a mecca for retired people. The city is relatively close to the New York-Washington population axis, but just far enough away to offer much lower prices; plus, it has a culture of caring for people that goes along with a long-established religious tradition. There are several large medical complexes in and around the city, and a number of facilities for people seeking Independent Living, Assisted Living and Nursing Home Care.
|One of the Independent Living facilities in the area|
But the city is surrounded by extremely productive farmland, which means that even doctors and teachers and businessmen boast flourishing gardens, and no parcel of land is left untilled or bare of a vegetable garden or cornfield.
|One of the more ambitious vegetable gardens|
And it's the farmland that attracted its most famous residents, the so-called Plain People who abjure most modern conveniences and practice their religion and their way of life, just the way they've been doing it for 300 years.
The Pennsylvania Dutch are Amish. But they are not Dutch -- they originally emigrated from Germany in the 1700s. And now they attract visitors to the area from all over the country, as tourists come to shop in the farmers' markets, scour the craft shops, buy hand-made furniture, sample Shoofly pie* and other local dishes -- and gawk at the men and women and boys and girls who ride the roads in their black horse-drawn buggies.
Surely, you've guessed by now. I spent the weekend in Lancaster, Pa., a place that in some ways time has forgotten. But the area is well worth visiting, to remind us where we've come from and inspire us to hold onto what's important in our lives.
* P.S. I tried the Shoofly pie -- it's an "acquired taste" as they say.