By Maggie Hall
Parents and their children will enjoy learning how things are made when they embark on a family trip to the to the Factory Tour Capital of the World in York, Pennsylvania.
The “Made-in-America” label has almost disappeared. But don’t despair — we still make things, particularly in the York region of Pennsylvania where kids can see first hand how things are made. From chips to chocolates, baking trays to bikes, pots and pretzels to paper bags, all of these products bear testimony to the vigorous manufacturing life of the York region. And, a dozen or so of these factories, most still family owned, have the welcome mat out for visitors. This part of Pennsylvania does not boast dramatic scenery (so the two-hour drive from our area can be boring for young kids), but it overly compensates with its “made-here” lure. With its pretty, gentle, undulating countryside, the landscape is anything but typically industrial. The area is drawing an increasing numbers of visitors — thanks to the “You’ve Got It Made” slogan promoting the “Factory Tour Capital of the World.” Visitors respond to the invitation, not just because factory visiting is compelling and educational, but also due to the appeal of the city of York.
York, America’s First Capital
Like the British York it’s named after, this city of York — while tiny compared to the original — is packed with history. The streets offer fascinating glimpses into the very earliest days of colonization. The U.S. Congress set up home here from September 1777 to June 1778 during those first heady days of American independence. The city offers historic landmarks (including houses used as stopovers on the Underground Railroad), over 30 styles of architecture, several museums and downtown access to a 42-mile nature trail For overnight visitors, a huge plus — after a long, hard day of absorbing local history along with the incredible factory skills and artistry on show — is that York has the reputation as one of the nation’s least expensive places to lay a weary head. So, where to start on the real purpose for the visit? And how many factories? It all depends on how much time you have and the interests and ages of those in your party. Plot your course by starting at www.yorkpa.org and clicking on “Factory Tours” to find out what will most interest your family. Potato Chips A few miles west of town, your family can tour a cluster of diverse factories that make potato chips and paper. Witness the swift way that dirt-covered spuds ultimately become transformed into crispy bags of treats.
Martin’s has been making potato chips since 1938. The process is a tantalizing food-processing experience, especially since you may sample several types of chips hot off the conveyer belt. Deciding which one you prefer makes for a delicious quandary. Here’s a presidential fun fact for the kids: Martin’s Chips are served onboard Air Force One! Textiles and a Dairy FarmSoutheast of York sit two very different production sites.
Family Heirloom Weavers is only 20 years old, but it’s carved out a niche as a prime supplier of fine textiles made the old-fashioned way. David Kline, a downsized silk weaver, started the enterprise and now customers include Mount Vernon, Russia’s Hermitage museum and Hollywood. Commissioned fabrics have ended up in many movies, including “Cold Mountain.” A popular specialty item is a monogrammed 1800s-style coverlet.
A little ways down a country road is the Heindel family’s Hope Acres Dairy Farm — one of a handful of robotic farms in the country. Computerized robots milk the 350-strong herd of cows. You can’t even begin to imagine this — it has to be seen to be believed. (They tout Hope Acres as a “spa” for cows!) The specialty of the dairy is the ice cream and visitors get a free scoop. You’d better pack a cooler with ice to get some home because the ice cream is only sold locally.
Motorcycles, Glass and PewterDue east on the outskirts of York is the production plant that sends the name “York” around the world. An icon of American culture, “The Hog,” is made here. Even if motorbikes don’t particularly interest your family, do not miss the Harley-Davidson factory tour. The slickness of the production line is something to behold, as is the workforce. The vast majority of men and women — with their bandanas, tattoos, cutoff jeans and wrestler-vests — look like bikers. That’s because more than 50 percent of them are bikers, with 90 percent of them owning Harleys.
From observing the beautiful brute of the open road in the making, it’s only a short drive to watch the most delicate of factory operations. Susquehanna Glass — run by the Rowen family since 1910 — is the workplace of some of the country’s most skilled and artistic glass hand-etchers and cutters. Watch Sandy Miller carve a rose onto a crystal glass as she chats away, telling you that she does 36 pieces an hour and has done the same for over 30 years. Her work, and that of her colleagues, stocks the shelves of kitchen and department stores from coast to coast. The freezer-to-the-oven-to-the-table dishes of Wilton Armetale, manufactured just a few miles away, also find their way to stores across the country. Another York original and still created by the founding Wilton family, the unique polished-pewter wares have graced dining tables since 1892 and are now in global demand. No two pieces are exactly the same. And you’ll see why after touring the foundry, when you can watch the workers apply finishing touches by hand.
Candyland Don’t miss the handmade chocolates created by Wolfgang Candy. The company dates back to 1921 when Clinton and Maggie Wolfgang made hard candy to sell from their home in downtown York. The home, along with some garage space, was finally converted into a “factory.” The big sellers are the handmade chocolates. Although not widely available in retail outlets outside the area, all Wolfgang products — from the chocolate-covered pretzels to boxed chocolates — are well known by candy lovers. When you’re asked to buy candies for a fundraiser, there’s a good chance that Wolfgang’s made them.
As I “wolfed” down one of Wolfgang’s chocolate-covered, York-made pretzels, I quipped: “I don’t know why you don’t do chocolate-covered chips.” I thought I was being funny. “We do,” came the reply and I brought a bag home with me. I should have bought a hundred. Everyone who tried them, loved them. Since they’re only available in the American factory mecca of York, it’s going to take another trip to get the other 99 bags.Maggie Hall is a freelance travel writer.BEFORE YOU GO Get more information (including full details of all factory tours and overnight packages) from www.yorkpa.org or call 888-858-YORK. Note that if you have time for a longer trip, York is 30 miles from Gettysburg and 25 miles from Lancaster.FACTORY TOURS Check the website or call ahead to find out costs or check tour days and times; note that most factories demand no open-toe or high-heeled shoes. It’s best for children to wear tennis shoes.
Chesapeake Family serves parents and families in Annapolis, Anne Arundel, Calvert, Prince George’s counties and Bowie, Baltimore and the Eastern Shore of Maryland.
Martin’s Potato Chips
5847 Lincoln Highway West, Thomasville, Pa. 800-272-4477 www.martinschips.com
Free; all ages welcome; factory store; reservation required
Family Heirloom Weavers
775 Meadowview Drive, Red Lion, Pa.
717-246-2431 www.familyheirloomweavers.com Free; children must be 8 years or older; outlet store; reservation required
Hope Acres Farm
2680 Delta Road, Brogue, Pa.
Admission fee; all ages welcome; market store; reservation required
Harley-Davidson Motor Co.
1425 Eden Road, York, Pa.
Free; children under 12 not permitted; souvenir shop; reservation required
731 Avenue H, Columbia, Pa.
Free; all ages welcome; retail store; reservation required
Plumb & Square streets, Mount Joy, Pa.
Free; ages 12 and up; factory store; reservation required
50 East Fourth Avenue, York, Pa.
Free; ages 6 and up; gift shop; walk-in tours