Known for its unusual name, the town of Intercourse in Lancaster County is a charming place to visit for anyone interested in learning about the Amish, Mennonites, and the Pennsylvania Dutch culture.
For better or worse, any discussion of this little town includes an explanation or theory about the name.
Founded in 1754, the original name of the town was Cross Keys. During this time period, a common practice throughout the area was for a new town to take its name from a local business such as a tavern. As it turned out, there was a popular local tavern with a sign above the door that depicted crossed keys.
In 1812, the name changed to "Intercourse" in a real estate scheme to establish a more sizable town. There are different theories on why this particular name was chosen.
The most common explanation is based upon the fact that the town is situated at the intersection -or intercourse- of two important, well-traveled roads, the King's Highway (now Old Philadelphia Pike/Route 340) and the Old Newport Road (now Route 772).
A second theory is that the name derived from the word "Entercourse" which was the local name for a stretch of road that led to a race track just east of town.
A third explanation is that during the early 19th century, the word "intercourse" referred to everyday social interaction and pleasant mutual fellowship. Therefore, the town received it's unique name because it was the center of social life in the area.
During the 1730's, there was very little to be seen in the area that would later be known as Intercourse, Pennsylvania. Situated between Philadelphia and the city of Lancaster, the area served as a convenient resting stop for travelers and horses hauling supplies and freight between the two cities.
The first building was the Cross Keys Tavern, a log tavern constructed in 1754. The tavern was a popular meeting place where weary travelers rested and shared news, gossip and conducted business amongst one another.
As mentioned earlier, the town took it original name from the tavern.
In the early days, there were only five houses including the Cross Keys Inn, and the town grew very slowly. By the 1880's there were still only 54 homes and a population of only 280 people.
Communication between the town and neighboring regions improved with the arrival of a post office and later the telephone.
The first post office was conducted in the Cross Keys Tavern and it is believed that Benjamin Fraim, the town's first postmaster, worked in the tavern as a second job. Later, the post office moved to other locations within the town including private stores and restaurants. Apparently, the owners of these establishments thought business would benefit when residents visited to post their mail.
In addition, the town also benefited when a local stagecoach service started up around 1898. The stagecoach brought essential items from Lancaster City including milk, eggs, and butter for local restaurants. As the the days of the dirt road came to a close, the stagecoach service was replaced by the Rowe Motor Truck service in 1910. In 1923, the Penn Highway Transit Company was created and initiated bus service to and from Lancaster City.
One of the biggest events in the town occurred on Election Day in November of 1892. While townsfolk cast their ballots at the Cross Keys Tavern which was still the social center of the town, a fire broke out in a nearby barn. It is believed it was started by some children playing with matches. Despite efforts by volunteers carrying buckets of water, the wind blew sparks to other building and the fire spread. Sadly, many of the barns, warehouses, stores, and homes burnt down.
Almost 20 years later, the town built the Intercourse Fire Company in 1911.
There have always been a lot of businesses in the town in relation to its small size.
The oldest store in town was Wenger's General Store which was opened in 1833. Comically, it was eventually owned by a family named Worst which led to jokes about it being "the Worst store in Intercourse."
Another old store is Zimmerman and Sons which gained some notoriety when Harrison Ford made a phone call from its porch during the 1980's film, Witness . Traditionally, local farmers would trade hides, home-made butter, and home-made soap in exchange for merchandise. Over the years, the town's first mechanical refrigeration, radio set, and gasoline pump were sold at Zimmerman and Son's .
Nowadays, many visitors come to the town to visit the Kitchen Kettle which began over 50 years ago with a few gas burners and kettles in a garage that were used to cook jams, jellies, and relishes which were later sold. Kitchen Kettle has grown over the decades and is very popular. When you visit, not only will you enjoy watching the preparations of these local favorites, you'll be able to obtain over 70 original recipes for these old-time specialties such as apple butter, pickled beets, chow chow, carrot jam, and peanut butter schmier.
Another popular business in the town is The Old Country Store which stocks thousands of Lancaster County crafts including an extensive collection of quilts made by more than 300 local Amish and Mennonite artisans. Not to be missed is the The People's Place Quilt Museum upstairs.
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Learning about Intercourse, Pennsylvania