What it Means to Be From the Southern End

The Southern End of Lancaster County stopped being the answer to the question strangers like to ask – “Where are you from?” – the moment my mother locked the front door of the old house, and we pulled out of the driveway and began driving down the road, the patriotic red-white-and-blue “sold” sign radiating in my side mirror one last time.

I was 23 years old. My parents sold the tiny by-level house because, after nearly two decades, they wanted to return to where they’d been from, the bustling suburbs of Cincinnati, Ohio. In the years that followed, my destiny lay in a series of apartments and housemates far removed from the Southern End. I became “from” Manheim, Mount Joy and finally Lancaster City, but by “from,” that only meant the place where I stored my belongings and slept most nights. None of those places, for all of their daytime small-town charm and easily accessed nighttime bars, ever took root inside of me the way the Southern End did.

So then, why am I typing this at a desk in one of the four bedrooms of the house my wife, Alison, and I now own, standing as it does on a small plot of grass and arborvitaes, among dozens of other similar houses with similar yards, which bound together to constitute a neighborhood that’s located on a hillside north of Route 30? If I’m here to color in poetic tones a romanticized version of the Southern End as the place I grew up, if I’m here to extol the benefits of being a kid with farm fields, woods, lakes and meadows to explore, why are we then raising two sons in suburbia?

Perhaps it’s because, as the former Supreme Court Chief Justice Oliver Wendall Holmes Jr. once explained, and I’m paraphrasing here, home is where the heart never leaves. And, perhaps a heart isn’t singular but a multi-faceted construct, a beautiful collage of past, present and hopes for what’s to come. Home to me now is where I can find my wife and children because as I approach the bend in the road that is 40, home becomes something much more than a building of drywall, HVAC and furniture, but where I can find the family to which I belong. That doesn’t mean from time to time I feel the pull of a home from the past, and a need to feel closer to the place I was “from.”

The “Southern End” is quite the nickname. It has its geographical definition, an unfolding landscape of hills and valleys starting southward from Columbia Avenue to the Mason-Dixon and eastward from the Susquehanna River to Octoraro Lake. But, in the name also exists an implied and kind of comical inference to a part of the human anatomy. To illustrate this, place the term into a common phrase of motivation: “Time to light a fire under your Southern End.” I’ve run into a few people in places like, say, certain townships along Route 30, who have considered the Southern End the posterior of our county.

My Penn Manor education, however, proved to be just as good as any other in Lancaster County, the family life just as vibrant, the experience as fulfilling. Yes, the fabric of the Southern End is woven with mud bogs and demolition derbies, rickety boat docks and lime green ponds covered in stagnant algae, where before rain storms the farmers sling some good ol’ “fresh country air,” and a late summer fair in Quarryville that takes itself so seriously, should you ask someone where the amusement rides for children can be found among the show cows and animal stalls, she’ll shake her head and say, “We don’t do that here. You got the wrong fair. You need to be in Etown.” Well, okay then.

The fabric, however, also includes the Pinnacle in autumn splendor; of fishing for sunnies from an aluminum boat at Muddy Run; of tree-filled hollows carpeted with vanilla-colored trillium and purplish bluebells; and endless hills of corn, wheat, soy and more. The whitetail deer with steps as soft as falling snow that wander into the yards, and speaking of snow, our sled- riding hills in terms of size and grade could not be matched. There are Little League fields where white-headed dandelions outnumber the players by at least 100-to-1, but the game is the same as it is anywhere else, and a general store in Mount Nebo that once made, hands-down, no-contest, the single best stromboli, ever. Their secret was anyone’s guess. But, it still has no equal.

And, yet here I am, an hour’s drive from the house my parents had built in Holtwood. Here I speak fondly of the Southern End’s virtues, but I chose not to raise my children there. We are not “from” the Southern End.

My own parents, who “came from” suburban Cincinnati, pretty much threw a dart on the map and landed on Holtwood as a place to build a new house. Dad took a railroad track supervisor’s job, and “down there” in the fall of 1985, when I was just 6, the land was cheap and so was the cost to build a new house. For Dad, the house, as it stood on a ridgeline overlooking a valley of cornfields, where twice barns burned down, prompting my parents both times to invite the neighbors for the view from the back deck and more than a few beers (see, Southern End camaraderie), meant being “nearby” work. And by “nearby,” a person from the Southern End means about an hour away. My wife sometimes wonders how I can endure long vacation drives across the country, cooped up in the car, and my only answer is to say, “Marticville Road, twice a day, an hour each way, to and from school, every day.”

Holtwood, actually, proved to be, as George Clooney’s character in O Brother Where Art Thou? might describe it, a “geographical oddity.” It seemed our house was 45 minutes from everything – grocery stores, movie theaters, the high school, the homes of classmates, Park City and so on.

My wife and I didn’t want that for our boys, or for ourselves. We chose to be within 15-minutes of all those amenities, and we don’t regret that. We also wanted for them a neighborhood teeming with their peers, kids to ride bikes with or shoot basketball out in the driveway. If, as the narrator of the Wonder Years once said, that growing up is a series of advances and retreats, then our boys will march in a legion of their own peer group.

Loneliness and boredom marked much of growing up in Holtwood, since just a few kids my own age lived within a reasonable bike ride of our house. However, loneliness and boredom proved to a powerful motivator once a kid like me decides he’s had enough of both, which I did the summer I was 13 years old. I couldn’t sit around the house any more. I crossed our road and entered Muddy Run Park, as wild to me then as Yellowstone must’ve been to the first pioneers. I dodged black snakes and copperheads, traversed trails and tall grass meadows, marveled at the views of the lake, surprised and scattered a grazing herd of deer. I felt like a rugged explorer. When I learned to drive, I found Tucquan Glen, then the Pinnacle, and by the time I was in my mid-20s, I was contributing articles and testing gear for my favorite outdoor magazines.

Don’t I want those experiences for my children? Of course, I do. But, I moved to a neighborhood that doesn’t have a Muddy Run Park across the street because, in part, it gives our boys blessings I didn’t have. Neighbors with kids, for one thing. I can’t force them to replicate the experience of my childhood in the Southern End because it belongs to me, and they deserve to have one of their own. The shared experience of this neighborhood will shape our boys and their friends, the way the Southern End did me, and maybe I’ve learned since leaving the Southern End a shared experience is better than a lonely one.

Still, from time to time, I feel the pull of where I was “from.” It’s the need to take a long drive, to turn the GPS off, to turn left instead of right. So, I head south, where I can see the sun turn wheat fields gold, feel the breeze as it waves the corn stalks, touch with bare feet the coolness of the streams, walk backwoods trails, stop at roadside stands and taste the fresh produce. It’s refreshing to once again feel as if I’m 45 minutes from everything, to tap into, as our boys while trying to solve the many puzzles of adolescence seek the guidance of their parents, the experience of where I was “from” and to provide the best perspective I can.

Dave Pidgeon is a writer and photographer who was born in Cincinnati, grew up in Holtwood and now lives with his family in East Hempfield Township. To learn more, visit creativelygenuine.com.

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  1. WOW ! I live in Conestoga on a farm that has been in our family for over 150 years. We are truly Southern End born,bred, raised and proud. This article is very very well written. I think we will always be proud to call you our neighbor.

  2. Your article, which so perfectly captured the unique personality of the Southern End, flooded me with sweet memories of my own three kids growing up in the Southern End in our little house on Marticville Road. They spent long summer days outdoors, playing with their matchbox cars in the sandbox, sitting in the branches of the Japanese maple tree they dubbed the “Snoopy Tree,” and building forts in the woods behind our house. We were lucky: we had neighbors, a girl a year older than my daughter and a boy between my sons’ ages. Our house was the hangout spot. In 1986 we moved 2 miles further north on Marticville Road to the old stone farm house of my dreams. Now, 32 years later, the “kids” have been grown a long time, but my husband and I still live and love life in the Southern End!

    • Hi, Viv:

      I though of you a couple of months ago. Remember the pink birthday party we photographed at Pheasant Run? Anyway, one of your granddaughter’s guests — Alex Drake — was at a fundraising party that was held in March for Lancaster County Field of Hope. Her father, Chef Steve Drake, will be one of the beneficiaries of the proceeds from this year’s farm-to-table dinner.

  3. I was born and raised down here in the southern end….never planning on leaving ❤️I don’t even like to take the drive to the city.

  4. We have very similar memories… I grew up in Holtwood, in Tucquan park Campground… I know all to well the 1 hour bus rides and Marticville road…. I now live in Mt. Nebo and I wouldnt change a thing. You are right, there were some boring days where I longed to live in the “cool” developments, but then I wouldnt have learned to climb trees, go crayfish catching or go paddle boating in the pond… the Southern end really is a place of its own

    • Awesome article I here up in Holtwood and pequea jumped off Bridges walked many paths went into dangerous Dave’s why… For the hell of it, better than sitting on a video game…lol thanks for the walk down memory lane… Now I live in Manheim wishing I was back in pequea

  5. Dave! I found this article on Facebook and read it as I was deep in the throes of packing up mine and my husband’s lives to move across the country to Los Angeles in the next few days. I’ve been feeling so sad about leaving both Philly and it’s proximity to Lancaster, and your article let me really feel all that sadness and nostalgia while also making me feel like it’s ok to move on. I can’t tell you how much that means to me right now. Tell the family I said hi and you all always have a place to stay in Los Angeles if you ever want to visit. And in the meantime, I’ll be making whoopie pies and chicken corn soup in Bel Air.

    • I too grew up in the southern end, Fulton township. I now live in Arizona, but the southern end calls me back to visit family there most every summer.

  6. Thanks, Dave! I grew up in Quarryville in the 60s and 70s, where my brothers and I had a pack of peer friends and a run of the town for outdoor games, bike rides, fort building, and indoor and especially outdoor sleepovers in the summer. We would ride our bikes to swim in the creek at Black Rock when we needed to get out of town.

    So my Southern End experience was as a “townie”. Yet I have raised my own sons in suburban Boston, and they know nothing of the kind of rambling feeedom we enjoyed in those days, cutting through dozens of yards without fences as shortcuts to our next adventure. The highlight of the year was always the Fair, and before and after, we climbed all over the old canvas tent tops at night…because we could.

  7. Dave, beautiful article:) I was on that bus 15 min longer than you everyday. But now that 40 is upon us, I fondly reflect on the many mornings of peaceful contemplation that eludes us today. But somewhere in our hearts, our Southern End childhood is alive and well, to be recalled whenever we need it❤️

  8. I was raised in the southern end of lancaster county, moved away for 20+ years, and returned when my father died- to raise my kids in the home I grew up in. Just last night we watched, as a family (My husband and I have two teenagers) watched oh brother where art thou- and my oldest said that same thing… that is where we are- a geographical oddity- 40 min from everything. 🙂 thanks for sharing D.P. Don’t think I know you- but feel like I should

  9. i miss martic forge. id rather be there now even with a store and a bank and a school across the street now.

  10. Thank you so much! Ive always said im a southern end girl and wouldnt change it or the memories for anything.

  11. Hi David! I remember boy scouts at your house and little league at the Holtwood ball field and your huge glove playing center field. Great read! Thank you!

  12. I live in the southern end and drive 50 minutes every day to work yes it’s horrible however for some reason I wouldn’t change it for the world. It’s hard to explain to someone who lives north of kendig square (apparently where Lancaster drops off the map). I really enjoyed this article and you captured most memories very well. Please don’t be afraid to share you memories with your family I’m sure they could grow to understand the value of the southern end the same way you do. Very good read and thanks for sharing

  13. Dave, thanks for writing such a great article about the Southern End. I was born and raised in Southern End…. the very Southern End – the Little Britain/ Wrightsdale Area. That will always be home. I have moved away to different areas of the county and country but have always returned home. I currently live in the Hanover area and I tell everyone there where I from and many don’t even know about the area. They all think that only Amish lives in the Southern End and I just laugh and saynope. It’s our Eden… our little Paradise for those of us who are from the area.

  14. I grew up in Mt. Nebo and still live in the southern end of Lancaster County, New Providence.PA. Loved your article, thanks for sharing…whenever I introduce my husband to someone they are usually from Mt. Nebo and my husband always says for being a small “town” there sure are alot of people that I know that live/lived there.

  15. I was born and raised in the southern end. Town of Rawlinsville. I wont trade the quiet life, family close by and being able to walk the countryside and not have fears of getting picked up. Left when i was 15. Still live in the country,not far from Quarryville.

  16. This captures Holtwood and the southern end perfectly. Yet I am old enough to remember when there used to be a pool in Holtwood (before everything was torn down). Being able to skip the RR tracks and fish the Holtwood tail race and walk the rocks below the dam. Many great childhood memories.

  17. we grew up in the Southern End. I lived in Drumore just a stones throw from the river and my husband grew up in Quarryville, he was a townie! The farm is still in the family and of that I am glad! It is good to have a touchstone like the Southern End.

  18. Awesome article I here up in Holtwood and pequea jumped off Bridges walked many paths went into dangerous Dave’s why… For the hell of it, better than sitting on a video game…lol thanks for the walk down memory lane… Now I live in Manheim wishing I was back in pequea

  19. Hey Dave! Enjoyed your article. I was in Martic PTO with your Mom. You and Mandy were in track together Good memories

  20. This article sums up the southern end I live in Peach Bottom little town of Wakefield. I have lived here almost my entire life grew up on Cherryhill Rd. Love living here the rolling hills and farms are like no other. Great article thanks for giving the Southern end recognition it deserves we are not bad people just good country folk.