Wednesday, February 15, 2012

A Living History Museum – Landis Valley Pennsylvania

Still moving along on our late summer/early fall 2011 road trip up through New York State, Pennsylvania and Virginia…

We spent a couple of days in Lancaster County Virginia and we covered a lot of ground…visiting several attractions and just cruising through the countryside.  One of the key attractions in the area is the Landis Valley Museum.  The museum is a living history village of Pennsylvania Dutch life containing roughly 100,000 items depicting rural America.

In the 1920’s George and Henry Landis started a small museum on the grounds of their Landis Valley homestead.  Their German ancestors had settled in Lancaster County during the early 1700’s.  Recognizing the importance of their culture and wanting to preserve their traditions, they pulled together a collection of 75,000 objects including decorative arts, pottery, day to day utensils, tools, furniture and farm equipment.

Pennsylvania acquired the Landis Brother’s museum in 1953.  Since then, the museum has grown from a handful of buildings to a ‘gathering’ of many structures, some original to the valley, some ‘new’ or ‘recreated’ as well as others that have been relocated to the site.  In effect, the museum has been transformed into a crossroads village with adjoining farmsteads with historical breeds of animals and heirloom plants.

This is a view inside the Tavern.  This building is a ‘recreated’ or new structure that was built back in 1941.  It’s been equipped as a tavern might have been back in the early 1800’s.  On most days, a demonstration of hearth cooking is offered. 

The Landis Valley Museum collects, conserves, exhibits and interprets Pennsylvania German material culture and heritage between 1750 and 1940.  The museum promotes education, research, programs and events for the benefit and enjoyment of its visitors and the surrounding community. 

This is another view in the Tavern…this time of the hearth area with some produce and a bit of cooking underway. 

To the visitor, this seems to be a simpler, gentler way of life.  Farmers plowed, planted and harvested, shoemakers made shoes, tinsmiths made household products, weavers wove cloth, etc.  Life certainly wasn’t easier but each person’s work role may have been clearer and easier to comprehend.  Close knit families and communities became interdependent.  Gender usually determined the assigned tasks.  Men tended the fields and animals, mended fences, cleaned stables, cared for the orchard, repaired farm equipment, etc.  Women raised the children, prepared food, made and washed clothing, made soap, made butter, took care of the poultry, etc.  Even young children were expected to help…everyone had a job to do…

This is one of the interpreters working in the village…in this case, in the tavern.  He was quite knowledgeable, friendly and very helpful.  He’d been in the job for more than 10 years. 

Costumed guides or interpreters were posted in several buildings throughout the museum.  Even though it was September when we visited, we encountered several of them…all very helpful, some skilled at a particular craft…as we wandered through the ‘settlement’. 

In addition to the various buildings, the museum grounds include a number of ‘kitchen gardens’ for growing herbs, vegetables, flowers and fruits.  Many plants were also being cultivated for ‘medicinal’ purposes.  Some of the vegetables grown here include Lazy Wife beans, Deacon Dan beets and Deertongue lettuce. 

Seeds of antique plants are available through the museum’s Heirloom Seed Project, created to preserve these rare varieties.  For more on these heirloom seeds and/or to place an order, go to

One exhibit building focused on textiles, especially wool along with its preparation and of course, various manual looms for weaving.  An interpreter walked us through the process.  This large new building, the craft barn, is also one of the buildings used for special programs and demonstrations.  

There were a few sheep in a nearby field as well as a scattering of other livestock around the settlement, this was despite the fact that it was past the end of the summer tourist season.  

This old blacksmith shop was relocated to the museum property.  It reflects the blacksmithing trade back in the late 1800’s.  Unfortunately, the blacksmith had the day off…

Some of the other buildings on premises include the late 1800’s Maple Grove School; a pottery shop, a large 1930’s chicken coop; a German ‘Bank type’ barn for the horses, a steam engine building, and; a firehouse.

This is an old Conestoga Wagon that was exhibited in the Farm Machinery and Tool Barn.  This building was full of large and small equipment and tools from the 1700’s through the early part of the 20th century.  One could spend a good 45 – 60 minutes in this exhibit if they looked at everything.

This was one of the happiest sights we saw on our foot tour of the Landis Valley Museum.  This young lade stopped and picked us up, giving us a ride throughout the ‘settlement’, telling us about her great job here…and just giving our feet a break!  The horses are beautiful too…

This is the Landis Brothers House and Stable.  It is the original Victorian homestead of the museum’s founders.  It was built in the 1870’s and it was furnished to reflect c.1900 when the brothers began their most active period of collecting.

There was also a Gun Shop that included a display of Pennsylvania rifles, handguns and gunsmithing tools.  The hand cranked equipment shown above was used to provide rifling grooves in the barrels of the long rifles. 

The Tin Shop is actually a reconstruction of a tollhouse.  There were quite a few antique tin products on display around the walls of the shop…but in this instance only, the interpreter was friendly enough but less than well informed than the others we encountered...he didn’t know what some of the items were for…

This is the handsome Landis Valley House Hotel.  It was built c.1856 at the crossroads of the Landis Valley and is furnished to represent the late 1800’s.  There are more than 2 dozen buildings contained in the museum or village… 

The Jacob Landis Farmhouse is the original brick farmhouse for the property.  It is set up to portray the home life of a Mennonite farming blacksmith family in the first half of the 1800’s. 

In addition to this home, there is a log farm; the mid-1800’s Grossmutter House, and; the Erisman House, a 1700’s log house that was relocated to the site from downtown Lancaster.
All in all, this was a nice easygoing walk through the past.  There were no crowds with just a few other visitors while we were at the museum.  The staff was friendly and for the most part, very informative.  It was a great way to spend the morning!
The Landis Valley Museum is administered by the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission.  The museum is open year around…but there is a lot more going on in the summer time…more crowds too.  It is located at 2451 Kissel Hill Road in Lancaster.  Phone: 717-569-0401.  Website:
Just click on any photo to enlarge it…
Thanks for stopping by for a visit!
Take Care, Big Daddy Dave 


  1. This trip you two took is absolutely amazing. I want to go to so many of the places you visited. Dave, you do a fantastic job taking us through all of the museums you visited.

  2. Dear Dave, I just love places like this. I have not been to them but I know I would love it. Blessings to you and Laurie, Catherine

  3. What a find. No grass grows under your feet my friend :-). Are you guys ever home :-)? I love the photos and always enjoy my visits here. I hope you have a great day. Blessings...Mary