Final Project-Justin Von Ahnen (Lancaster, PA)

Step 1: Understand and present the history of the place you are currently occupying. (1-2 pages)


The area/community that I currently reside is near Lancaster, Pennsylvania. I chose to study not only the community of Lancaster but also explore the history of Appalachian Pennsylvania as a whole.  Although this region is known as being part of Appalachia, its history is a little unique to that of Virginia, Kentucky, Tennessee, and the Carolinas. Pennsylvania is known as the “Northern Appalachia” region, and is underexplored in context to the other regions of Appalachia. Although it may be a challenge, I will explore the unique history of this amazing region of Appalachia.

The original Appalachians came to settle in the Shenandoah lands in southeastern Pennsylvania in the mid-1600s. The region was seen by European explorers as “the best poor man’s country in the world”. Quickly, the southeastern region of Pennsylvania became a mix of primarily English Quakers, Scotch-Irish, and Germans. Colonists were attracted to the region by William Penn’s guarantees of religious freedom and huge offers of land. This included the settlement of Amish, Mennonites, and Brethren in the region where I currently reside. The Germans were the original dominate population in the Philadelphia area, but as the revolutionary war in America neared, the Scotch-Irish began to also flow in. This is the reason for the large Irish population in both Philadelphia and Wilmington, Delaware.

The economic history of the Northern Appalachian region is similar to the rest of Appalachia, but with some subtle differences. The first people to settle in the Pennsylvania Appalachian region (the English, Germans, and Scotch-Irish), originally migrated to be yeoman farmers. They farmed and lived off the land given to them by William Penn. These farmers resided in scattered lands in the Shenandoah Valley. The rest of western Pennsylvania was populated by Native American tribes, consisting mainly of the Shawnee but also the Iroquois to the north. Trade was a major part of the economy in central Pennsylvania, where Indians would trade goods with one another, allowing the farmers to acquire great commercial and financial power through foreign trade. The Indians would trade fur, handcrafts and fresh game for metal housewares, woven cloth, and guns. The region began to change economically towards the beginning of the 18th century, when war and violence began to erupt around America. Numerous wars such as the King George’s War, the French and Indian War, and the American Revolution destroyed the native population through either death or migration to other lands.

After the end of war and conflict, the rise of industrialization in Appalachian Pennsylvania took place. The region was protected by high tariffs during the 19th century, so industries found favorable markets for coal, iron, and oil while also having a constant supply of immigrant labor into the region. The city of Lancaster became an iron-foundry center. Two of the most common products needed by pioneers to settle in the Frontier and throughout Appalachia were manufactured in Lancaster: the Conestoga wagon and the Pennsylvania long rifle. With this great mining industry of coal, iron, and oil booming, social issues were brought along with it. The Pennsylvania Appalachian region faced the same industrial revolution that the rest of Appalachia endured, including the same progressive battles against labor. The oil, steel, and coal mines took a strong hold in western and northern Pennsylvania. In the face of increasing concentration of power, labor struggled to achieve safer working conditions, higher wages (in the form of unionization), and shorter hours. This industrial power brought bloodshed to the region during the fights between mine owners and the radical “Molly Maguires”. The Molly Maguires were a secret organization of Irish-American in the coal mining districts of Pennsylvania. They dominated the mining industry in Pennsylvania and used violence to achieve their goals. The violence in the mines reached a max in a strike at Homestead in 1892. With even help from Theodore Roosevelt, by 1941 the Congress of Industrial Organizations had succeeded in organizing the steel industry, while the United Mine Workers had acquired increasing strength among the workers in the Pennsylvania coal fields.

As we learned in this course, the advancement of technology caused thousands of miners to lose their jobs. There was a high demand for labor in the upcoming manufacturing industry in the 20th century. This high demand forced the migration of workers away from the mines and to where the factors were, including Lancaster. In Lancaster, the company RCA (later would turn into General Electric) established a development and manufacturing plant. The final shift in the economy of Appalachian Pennsylvania was when thousands of manufacturing jobs were lost in the 1980s. This led the state’s economy to a notable shift to the service sector. In the 21st century, such high-tech industries as biotechnology and pharmaceuticals flourish throughout the region.

An important group in backcountry society that is often ignored are the African Americans. Slavery was legal in the original British colonies prior to the American Revolution, so colonial Pennsylvania had a firmly established slave labor system. Eventually slavery was frequently and profitability practiced in the more fertile valleys of the mountains. Although slavery existed, antislavery sentiment appeared early in the Appalachian backcountry and was commonly tied to religious beliefs. Strong antislavery sentiment developed in the Shenandoah Valley through the efforts of the Amish Mennonites and Pennsylvania Quaker John Woolman. The eventual surrender of slavery was a minor disruption to most Pennsylvanians lives. Slavery in Lancaster and other parts of Pennsylvania had economically died off long before the Quaker people morally shifted against it. Despite a spike in slavery in the 1760s, there were never enough critical mass of slaveholdings to produce a slave-based agricultural economy like the south did. The lack of support structure, thanks to antislavery preachers such as John Woolman, prevented slavery from catching on, even during peak slave importation.

A major institution that strives to preserve and explore the history of Appalachia is Indiana University of Pennsylvania, located in Indiana, Pennsylvania. IUP is located in central, western Pennsylvania and recently they held the Appalachian Studies Conference at their campus. This conference is huge for Appalachian studies, with over 540 people presenting on subjects such as mountaintop removal, race, sexual identity, folklore, and regional history. Another major institution that studies northern Appalachian history is Saint Vincent College, located in Latrobe, Pennsylvania and closer to Lancaster. Saint Vincent College work in collecting, preserving, relating, and interpreting their pasts and experiences. Saint Vincent College has released several publications on history of northern Appalachia including topics such as World War II oral histories and aviation in Western Pennsylvania.

This leads to a unique unseen history within the northern Appalachian history, although it is away from Lancaster. In western Pennsylvania, near the city of Pittsburg, an aviation industry developed. The leader of this aviation industry was George R. Hahn. Hahn played a major role in the industrialized aviation industry in the 1920s, one that even caught Wall Street’s interest as a great investment opportunity.  After graduating from Yale, Hahn began his career refinancing the Fairchild Aviation Corporation in New York. Fairchild gave way to investments in a variety of aeronautical interests, one being Pittsburg Aviation Industries Corporation (which would actually be founded by George R. Hahn himself). During Hahn’s long aviation career, his significant contribution in 1948 was his role in the company Capital Airlines. Capital Airlines was created through the merger multiple other airlines. It was named to accurately reflect its main route structure, which was through Washington D.C., and into lucrative markets of the time such as Miami. Hahn managed financial and managerial aspects of the business, including serving as chairman of the board. As chairman, he advocated and helped advise for the airline’s merger with United Airlines. This is the same United Airlines that exists today. It is amazing to see how history can relate to what we know in the real world currently.

Within Lancaster and the northern Appalachian region there have been many influential people. William Penn was one of the first. He was a major factor in northern Appalachia being as diverse as it was. Penn let anyone have land in the area and gave religious freedom to anyone as long as they believed in God. Political activist Thaddeus Stevens, who was one of the most powerful members of the United States House of Representatives, lived in Lancaster. Stevens practiced law there, but was also a Radical Republican who fought for abolitionism. Also, the industrial revolution created some of the most influential people in American history. The industrial revolution allowed some people to head large companies and gain tremendous wealth in Appalachian Pennsylvania. Steel was the basic industry that was most popular in the region, using iron ore from the Lehigh Valley and the Lancaster area and the native Pennsylvania coal. Under the power of men such as Andrew Carnegie, Pennsylvania quickly became one of the leading steel producers for the United States.

Step 2: Get involved! Attend a community event in your immediate community.


Being from southeastern Pennsylvania, I chose to attend one of my local farmers market. Southeastern Pennsylvania, specifically Lancaster, is home to the Swiss immigrants named the Amish. The Amish were one of the original settlers in this region and are famous for their local farmers markets. Due to their strict religious beliefs, the farmers markets are only open on Friday and Saturday, as Sunday is seen as a day to be saved for God. I decided to head into the experience with an open mind. There were numerous unique Amish goods such as their fresh produce, homemade pastries, hand-made clothing/cloth, and even wooden furniture available at the market. My first impression of farmers market was the smell. It was a mixed scent consisting of fresh dough from the bakeries and fresh wood from the homemade furniture. It was a pleasant scent and it matched well with the atmosphere of the farmers market. It was quite loud because the market was busy during this Saturday morning. Most of the sounds consisted of orders being shouted at the produce stands and “please” and “thank you” being shouted in return. It was a very pleasant environment to observe.

Farmers Market

While at the event, I spoke to as many Amish workers there that I could. I tried to open them up and attempt to get information about their traditions and history of their culture. I talked briefly to a sweet Amish lady named Elizabeth and seemed to connect with her. She briefly explained to me how strict her culture was with religion. She emphasized how women had no control in the church still and how Sunday was very centered on religion and God. She seemed thrilled that someone had taken so much interest in her culture, as she explained how the Amish in modern Pennsylvania can be “seen as outcasts”. The way Elizabeth spoke to me, her tone and domineer suggested that she took great pride in her history and heritage. This reminded me very much of the film watched during this course, “It’s Good to Be Young in the Mountains”. The body language and tone was extremely similar between Elizabeth and the children in the film.

My experience with Elizabeth as well as my brief conversations with other Amish folks at the farmers market made me change my perception of Appalachia. My original perception was that these people were quiet and reserved, they knew they were outsiders and felt isolated because of it. However, when I stepped out of my comfort zone and spoke with them, I discovered how aware they are of their surroundings. The Amish know that they are seen as outsiders in the region, and they are perfectly okay with that. That attitude that they carry is inspiring. Throughout this course I have seen this same attitude across the entire Appalachian region.

Although I went into the experience with an open mind, there was a slight feeling of awkwardness during my community event. The Amish people that I talked to did not make me feel uncomfortable in any way. I believe the sense of awkwardness came from the different cultural backgrounds. I was wearing khaki shorts with a t-shirt while the Amish were dressed in their traditional long dresses and white caps that cover their head. This difference in clothing caused a slight cultural barrier that I had to cross in order truly get comfortable in conversation with them. This slight awkwardness did disappear however after a few minutes of basic conversation.

The idea that I really wanted to get out of my visit to the local farmers market was the local economy. Being more towards the center of Pennsylvania, local economies are important to understand. This course has taught me so much about the local economies of the Appalachian region and how important they are. So my primary goal was to try and get a firsthand experience of the local economy. Although it was such a small sample size, I believe I did achieve my goal. I was able to sit back and observe the interactions between so many different people. With some large corporations buying land in southern and southeastern Pennsylvania, there was a large population of businessmen spending their hard earned money on food and various goods made by the Amish. The most surprising thing that I realized was that there were actually trades and barters going on all around the farmers market. In informality of the market along with the classical tradition that the Amish have allowed for this to happen. I saw several different pieces of furniture have the price negotiated and sold to local people. I saw groups of women trading hand-made clothing for some cloths and linens that the Amish offered at the market. It surprised me at first, because it was not something I was used to seeing every day in modern America. After remembering the roots of the Amish and how traditional their culture was, it was easy to then perceive the behavior as normal. With the price of goods so low for most of the Amish stores, it brought in a very mixed crowd of people. Both the aforementioned businessmen and the blue color construction worker could be found all throughout the market. It was very cool to see so many different cultures and lifestyles interact as one. My overall experience at my local farmers market was pleasant and I will definitely be returning again to shop and enjoy this market.

Step 3: Map it out.


The community of Lancaster Pennsylvania is fueled by a diverse group of people. The map below shows the city of Lancaster and its geographical shape. The college located within the city, Franklin and Marshall College, is a big contributor to the Lancaster economy.Lancaster

When school is not in session, businesses tend to lose tremendous sales, especially on the western side of town where the college is located. The incredibly large Amish culture live on their farms scattered around the tiny city. The large manufacturing and health care companies provide wealth to the community, producing the businessmen found walking around town. A wealthy nearby town, named Conestoga, brings a lot of business to the region in search for manufactured goods and fresh food.

The local economy in the city of Lancaster is clearly suffering and is in need of an economic boost. The average median household income is $26,283, which is way below the national average of $56,172. This indicates that a lot of the financial assets of the region are located on the outskirts of Lancaster.  The infrastructure within the city is also in poor condition. A lack of funding from the city has left poorly paved roads and malfunctions traffic lights throughout the entire city. Luckily, there is not too much car traffic in the region due to the large Amish population walking or riding in a horse and buggy.

The city of Lancaster has some tremendous assets. Its unique culture is an asset in itself. Moderate tourism drives up business in the summer, when people travel from all over Pennsylvania to attend to famous farmers markets and boutique shops. The nature that surrounds the city is also beautiful. There are several great public parks and rivers that members of the local community love to hang around. Another great asset the city provides is an overall happy and friendly attitude. The city is not very wealthy, but the people in the city do not seem to mind that. Most of them love the way they live and appreciate life, especially the large Amish population. This allows me to believe that the people of Lancaster are its biggest asset. The community is very close and strong. They are very conversational and are willing to help out with whatever questions you may have for them. This culture may go back to the first settlers in the region, who were a close knit group of farmers who locally grew the economy through their agriculture.

The church is the epicenter of the economy and a primary asset of the region. There are very few churches in the city but there is a very strong religious community. At first this may seem like a negative thing, but I think this may be a main reason behind what keeps this local community so close. Familiar faces are always seen on Sundays at Church. Church is the place where a farmer, local real estate agent, and banker can all see each other and have a conversation. The churches in the city bring in such a diverse socioeconomic population that allows the community to remain connected.




There is a difficulty in improving the city of Lancaster. The city has such a unique culture and tradition that completely urbanizing it would ruin its identity. However, I believe with the right strategy Lancaster could produce growth with development. The city does not need large corporations building in the city in order for it to prosper economically. The local community is run well with a mixture of large institutions as well as small regional shops. What the community truly needs is a kick start, a change that will get the engines moving in the local economy. I believe the key to this kick start is the local college students at Franklin and Marshall College as well as other local schools. These young minds are very entrepreneurial and can create unique business ideas and concepts. These students spend four years in school surrounded by the local economy, allowing them to get to know it fairly well. The investment by the local leaders should be in the young people of the community. After these people are able to put their new, creative business ideas to use, they will generate investments from the outskirts of the city. The wealthy mini-suburb of Conestoga has plenty of money to invest in the Lancaster economy if the opportunity were to present itself. Local government officials should also learn from the mistakes of the governments of central Appalachia, and also invest in infrastructure. Building better roadways and cleaning up the dirty sections of the city can help expansion into those regions, growing the economy even more. Perhaps encouraging students to get involved with the local economy early on in their college career will provide greater interest in helping the city of Lancaster. Also, education of these students and local citizens on their history could help the economy. Opening an Appalachian Studies program at Franklin and Marshall could spark students early on in their college career. The combination of education, improving infrastructure, and new young minds invested in the local economy will surely boost the happiness and economic prosperity of Lancaster.




Barnes, John Henry, and William D. Sevon. The Geological Story of Pennsylvania. The Geological Story of Pennsylvania. William Blackwood and Sons, 2014. Web. 12 Aug. 2016.

Discover Lancaster. “Pennsylvania Amish History & Beliefs | Story of the Plain Amish in Pennsylvania.” Pennsylvania Amish History & Beliefs. N.p., 1 Jan. 2016. Web. 12 Aug. 2016.

Drake, Richard. “A History of Appalachia Reprint Edition.” A History of Appalachia (9780813190600): Richard B. Drake: Books. University Press of Kentucky, 2001. Web. 12 Aug. 2016.

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Williams, Edward G. “George R. Hahn on the Early Aviation History in Pittsburg.” Western Pennsylvania History. 1978. Web. 12 Aug. 2016.


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