I ran across a fabulous collection of old postcards from Lancaster County today–a bygone Lancaster County. Not the real Lancaster County that my distant Mennonite ancestors settled, fleeing persecution; nor the modern Lancaster County Route 30, home of strip malls, outlet malls, and the occasional Amish farm, but something in between. Yes, this is the Lancaster County Route 30 that I remember as a child through the 70s and early 80s–the National Wax Museum, Dutch Wonderland, the motels, the Willows (where my mother worked as a cook in the 1960s), the Dutch Haven. Even Miller’s Smorgasbord.
But the one that really hit me square between the ears with nostalgia was this:
Lengacher’s Swiss Cheese, aka the Cheese House. You drove maybe 10 miles east on Route 30 from Dutch Wonderland, past Paradise, toward Gap, and it was on the top of a small hill on the left hand side. The office was at the left in the back. They made cheese on the right hand side, right behind those windows, in big stainless steel and copper vessels. The center part was the store, where they sold imported European treats (like Ricola–back in the late 70s they weren’t widely available–and Toblerone) alongside local food products like honey in plastic bears, and their cheeses.
And I can still remember the cheese. If you’ve ever had locally, freshly made “Swiss” cheese you know how good it can be, and this was outstanding stuff. We would stop at the beginning or end of a visit to my grandparents and stock up, and say hi–and frequently collect my grandmother, who worked behind the counter (I think she ran the register or maybe helped them with bookkeeping–my memory is a little shaky on this score see below). Sometimes during visits she would watch us at the store. I remember napping in the little office on the green couch, and playing with elaborate marble racetrack toys for hours there.
The store, alas, closed in the 1990s–Art and Martha Lengacher, the Helvetian founders, having retired around the same time that the cheese production was kiboshed by tighter Pennsylvania food regulations–and both founders are now gone (Martha passed away in 2002, and I don’t know about Art). But the place gave me a deep love for locally produced food and is an important part of my memory of my grandmother. I was thrilled to find the postcard; it’s the only photo I’ve seen of the place as I remember it.
Update: My mother, whose memory for this sort of detail is naturally better, corrects a few items in the post:
Your grandmother worked not only under the Lenachers but also the Laderachs who owned it first. I went to school with their daugher Jane, and had my first pizza in their upstairs home (before they built the home to the west of the shop.) Your grandmother made sandwiches and served truckers and locals who came in for the signature ham and cheese sandwich. No one before or since has made such a big one! The Lenacher’s son, Artie, did try to run the shop for awhile after Art and Martha retired, but soon gave it up. Too bad!
The pictures of the Willows bring back many memories. I started there in the summer of 1959 as a dish washer/ pot scrubber, and worked my way up from there… I spent most of my time in the summers of ’60 – ’62 as a salad preparer. Only at the very end of my stay did I get to serve up orders from behind the steam table. Never was I a cook. Mrs. Neuber would have a fit if she heard me called that as she was the cook. Your grandmother was the pastry chef for a time (cannot remember how long). Yes, she did everything.