PENNSYLVANIA was explored by the Dutch in the early 1600s, settled by the Swedes forty years later, and claimed by the British in 1664. Charles II of England, who owed a debt to the Penn family, rid himself of the potentially troublesome young William Penn, an enthusiastic advocate of religious freedom, by granting him land in the colony in 1682. Penn Jr immediately established a “holy experiment” of “brotherly love” and tolerance, naming the state after his father and setting a good example by signing a peaceful cohabitation treaty with the Native Americans. Most of the early agricultural settlers were religious refugees, Quakers like Penn himself and Mennonites from Germany and Switzerland, to be joined by Irish Catholics during the potato famines of the nineteenth century.
“The Keystone State” was crucial in the development of the United States. Politicians and thinkers like Benjamin Franklin congregated in Philadelphia – home of both the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution – and were prominent in articulating the ideas behind the Revolution. Later, the battle in Gettysburg, in south Pennsylvania, marked a turning point in the Civil War. Pennsylvania was also vital industrially: Pittsburgh, in the west, was the world’s leading steel producer in the nineteenth century, and nearly all the nation’s anthracite coal is still mined here.
The two great urban centres of Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, both lively and vibrant tourist destinations, are at opposite ends of the state. The three hundred miles between them, though predominantly agricultural, are topographically diverse. There are more than one hundred state parks, with green rolling countryside in the east and brooding forests in the west. Lancaster County, home to traditional Amish farmers, the Gettysburg battlefield and the Hershey chocolate factory, minutes away from state capital Harrisburg, draw visitors by the thousands. Finally, in the far northwest, Lake Erie provides the state’s only waterfront, centred upon the eponymous town.Read More
The original capital of the nation, PHILADELPHIA was laid out by William Penn Jr in 1682, on a grid system that was to provide the pattern for most American cities. Just a few blocks away from the noise and crowds of downtown, shady cobbled alleys stand lined with red-brick colonial houses, while the peace and quiet of huge Fairmount Park make it easy to forget you’re in a major metropolis. Settled by Quakers, Philadelphia prospered swiftly on the back of trade and commerce, becoming the second largest city in the British Empire by the 1750s. Economic power fuelled strong revolutionary feeling, and the city was the hub for most of the War of Independence and the US capital until 1800, while Washington DC was being built. The Declaration of Independence was written, signed, and first publicly read here in 1776, as was the US Constitution ten years later. Philadelphia was also a hotbed of new ideas in the arts and sciences, as epitomized by the scientist, philosopher, statesman, inventor and printer Benjamin Franklin.
Philadelphia, which means “City of Brotherly Love” in Greek, is in fact one of the most ethnically mixed US cities, with substantial communities of Italians, Irish, Eastern Europeans and Asians living side-by-side among the large African American population. Many of the city’s black residents are descendants of the migrants who flocked here after the Civil War when Philadelphia was seen as a bastion of tolerance and liberalism. Philly also retains its Quaker heritage, with large “meetings” or congregations of The Society of Friends. Having ditched its erstwhile tag of “Filthydelphia”, Philadelphia’s strength today is its great energy in the face of economic adversity.
Central Philadelphia stretches for about two miles from the Schuylkill (pronounced “school-kill”) River on the west to the Delaware River on the east; the metropolitan area extends for many miles in all directions, but everything you’re likely to want to see is right in the central swath. The city’s central districts are compact, walkable and readily accessible from each other; Penn’s sensibly planned grid system makes for easy sightseeing.
Lancaster County: Pennsylvania Dutch Country
Lancaster County: Pennsylvania Dutch Country
Lancaster County stretches for about 45 miles from Coatesville, which is forty miles west of Philadelphia on US-30, to the Susquehanna River in the west. Although tiny, uncosmopolitan Lancaster, ten miles east of the river, was US capital for a day in September 1777, the region is famed more for its preponderance of agricultural religious communities, known collectively as the Pennsylvania Dutch. They actually have no connection to the Netherlands; the name is a mistaken derivation of Deutsch (German). A touristy place even before it was brought to international fame by the movie Witness, most of Lancaster County has maintained its natural beauty in the face of encroaching commercialization. It is a region of gentle countryside and fertile farmlands, eccentric-sounding place names such as Intercourse, horse-drawn buggies, tiny roadside bakeries and Amish children wending their way between immaculate, flower-filled farmhouses and one-room schoolhouses.
However, attempting to live a simple life away from the pressures of the outside world has proved too much for many Pennsylvania Dutch. A few (mainly Mennonites) have succumbed to commercial need by offering rides in their buggies and meals in their homes, while members of the stricter orders have moved away to communities in less touristic mid-Western states. When visiting, remember that Sunday is a day of rest for the Amish, so many attractions, restaurants and other amenities will be closed.
Though useful for a general overview and historical insight, the attractions that interpret Amish culture tend toward overkill. It’s far more satisfying just to explore the countryside for yourself. Here, among the streams with their covered bridges and fields striped with corn, alfalfa and tobacco, the reality hits you – these aren’t actors recreating an ancient lifestyle, but real people, part of a living, working community.
The appealing ten-block district known as the Golden Triangle, at the heart of downtown PITTSBURGH, stands at the confluence of the Monongahela, Allegheny and Ohio rivers; this area was once bitterly fought over as the gateway to the West. The French built Fort Duquesne on the site in 1754, only for it to be destroyed four years later by the British, who replaced it with Fort Pitt. Industry began with the development of iron foundries in the early 1800s and by the time of the Civil War, Pittsburgh was producing half of the iron and one third of the glass in the US. Soon after, the city became the world’s leading producer of steel, thanks to the vigorous expansion programmes of Andrew Carnegie, who by 1870 was the richest man in the world. Present-day Pittsburgh is dotted with his cultural bequests, along with those of other wealthy forefathers, including the Mellon bankers, the Frick coal merchants and the Heinz food producers.
The city has gradually ditched its Victorian reputation for dirt and pollution since its transformation began in the 1960s and has now established itself as one of America’s most attractive and most liveable cities. The face-lift involved large-scale demolition of abandoned steel mills, which freed up much of the downtown waterfront to make way for sleek skyscrapers and green spaces. Each of Pittsburgh’s close-knit neighbourhoods – the South Side and Mount Washington, across the Monongahela River from the Golden Triangle, the North Side across the Allegheny River and the East End – has a distinct flavour.