Experience America’s cultural and natural heritage in Virginia

By Maxim LeFleur

Local Amish communities and The Great Dismal Swamp make for a great weekend excursion from McDaniel’s Westminster Campus.





Living and studying in America is an exciting way to meet and interact with traditionalist, low-technology groups such as the Amish. While many students are excited to travel across Europe during their studies at McDaniel College Budapest, studies at the main campus in Westminster, Maryland, grants easy access to America’s Eastern seaboard, and a variety of cultural and natural attractions. A trip by car across the state of Virginia makes for an ideal weekend getaway to experience the America of yore through a tour of Amish country attractions and nationally preserved swamplands.


The Amish are known for their delicious, unprocessed foods, hand crafted goods, textiles, and beautiful wooden furniture, while southern Virginia is famous for its pristine wetlands. Combined together, the activities can comprise a unique vacation for American or foreign students.



Starting in western Virginia, the Pearisburg Amish community in Giles County is known as “unique” and the oldest in the state, according to coverage by website Amish America. This settlement consists of “700-plus acres spanning a valley and parts of two mountainsides,” the article noted. This community blends Old Order and New Order Amish traditions and is said to maintain ties to an Amish community in the state of Michigan. The Pearisburg Amish have a licensed exotic bird and animal breeder, which is popular with commentators on Amish America. Also for visitors, two county stores, a harness and tack shop, a shed building business, and two custom furniture shops provide a wide range of shopping possibilities, noted Amish America. The Pearisburg community is a must-see attraction based on its natural beauty, and a good introduction to the Amish way of life for first time visitors.


Next, travelers can continue from western Virginia to the southern center of the state, where the Chatham Amish community of Pittysylvania County is another attractive destination to purchase Amish goods, said Amish America. The community is an offshoot of the Amish settlement of Union Grove, North Carolina. A new store was opened in Chatham in 2014, the Heritage Hills Country Market, which caters to both members of the Amish community and the public, reported The Roanoke Times. The store is designed with, “an old fashioned ambiance where everyone feels at home,” and, “with lawn chairs sitting out front, Miller [the owner] hopes to invite people to venture out to the country for a fresh sandwich,” the article noted. All the store’s items are GMO-free and organic, and the business operates on, “traditionalist Christian beliefs of honesty and fairness,” the piece stated. The Heritage Hills Country Market is a great place to purchase healthy, fresh food while studying in America.



Lastly, The Great Dismal Swamp National Wildlife Refuge is an excellent destination to take in the unique natural ambiance of a south Virginia swamp, and a great conclusion to a trip around the state before returning north. The park has 112,000 acres of wetlands, the second largest lake in Virginia, Lake Drummond, and more than 200 types of local birds, according to website Visit Chesapeake. The unique Lake Drummond is, “bowl shaped with acid-stained water, due to the organic acids leaching into the water from surrounding swamp and peat soils,” the site noted. Local birds include the barred owl, the wood duck, the prothonotary warbler, and the pileated woodpecker, the article continued. Boating, fishing, and hiking are all possible at The Great Dismal Swamp National Wildlife Refuge, making it suitable for a variety of different tastes in leisure activities.

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