About 90 minutes south of Cleveland, Holmes County has the largest Amish and Mennonite population in the world. Stop time for a day or two and see how this religious group maintains a simple life, separate from the modern world. And, while you’re there, shop their handcrafted foods and artisan products.
Amish traditions started in 1693 with Mennonite leader Jakob Amman’s interpretation of scripture — specifically, Romans 12:2: “And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God.”
Amman interpreted “not conformed” as meaning “don’t change with the world.” Thus many Amish of today still dress plainly and disregard modern conveniences. They live “off the grid” with no utility lines connecting them to the outside world.
Look a little closer and you’ll see the rules aren’t so straightforward. Varying practices exist within the faith. The strictest Amish, the Swartzentruber, adhere to historic norms. They avoid stuffed furniture in favor of simple wooden benches sans cushions. They have no gas appliances and use ice to chill their refrigerators.
Meanwhile, members of the New Order may have solar panels on house roofs to power electrical appliances while remaining unconnected to the grid. Exactly where a group draws the line between lifestyle and the world depends on their local bishop.
To sort facts from myth, take a three-hour weekday tour with LaVonne DeBois, owner of A Taste of the Backroads. DeBois has been driving the Amish — they do ride in cars — as well as giving tours for nearly three decades. She’s gotten to know families personally. Thus, she has insight and access not easily available to the “English,” the Amish word for non-Amish.
DeBois narrates the “Amish Church Lunch Van Tour” explaining the Case house, Dawdy house, rituals and traditions. Tourists visit home business operators such as a broom maker, candlemaker, basket weaver, furniture craftsman and more. A traditional Amish church lunch is provided.
If you prefer a do-it-yourself tour, DeBois sells a tour packet with three unique 27-mile back road routes. The illustrated packets offer turn-by-turn instructions and information about what you’ll see. To buy the packet or schedule a tour, contact LaVonne DeBois at A Taste of the Backroads at 330-340-7343 or atasteofthebackroads.com.
To learn more about history, visit:
Behalt, the Amish and Mennonite Heritage Center
5798 County Road 77, Millersburg
For a place to sleep, consider:
The Barn Inn
6838 County Road 203, Millersburg
For a country-style meal, stop by:
4986 Walnut St., Walnut Creek
For information about shopping, check out:
For a can’t-miss experience:
Go to Lehman’s. This sprawling store is a like an old-fashioned country store on steroids. Plan on a few hours to wander its 35,000 square feet of nooks and crannies. Closed Sundays.
4779 Kidron Road, Dalton
And in Geauga County…
Guide Robin Morris conducts two-hour afternoon tours — about 38 miles roundtrip — from the Red Maple Inn in Burton Village.
Participants visit real homes, an operating one-room school house and retail establishments in southeastern Geauga County. They learn how families eat, study and work. Tickets are $29, or discounted for guests of the Inn. The Red Maple Inn is at 14707 South Cheshire St. in Burton. For more information, call 888-646-2753 or visit redmapleinn.com.
Author Paris Wolfe travels to learn about other cultures, including those close to home.
By Marie Elium
One of Ohio’s major Amish communities — and the fourth largest in the world — is right in our backyard in Geauga County and centered in Middlefield and Burton.
Part of the fun of discovering Amish Country is visiting Amish-owned stores, many identified with small signs in front of sprawling farms. All are closed on Sundays.
Now is a good time to visit Amish greenhouses for choice and affordable annual flowers and vegetable plants. Many of the businesses are run by Amish women. Destinationgeauga.com is a good place to start with its list of Amish bakeries, leather shops and always popular salvage stores for deeply discounted groceries.
Did you know?
The Amish go to church every other Sunday, rotating the hours-long service among church member homes.
Amish hire drivers or take bus tours for vacation. Virginia Beach is a popular spot, as are trips out West. Camping at Cook’s Forest or Pymatuning are also popular with local Amish.
Amish children go to school through the eighth grade. Some attend public schools, but most attend Amish schools and are taught by young, unmarried women.
Many Amish men work in local factories. Those who have their own businesses or work crews use cellphones for their jobs.
Most Amish homes have landline telephones.
Edna Hershberger, 66, has spent most of her life in Geauga County. Her husband, Bert, still works occasionally at a local factory. Edna says the best way to learn about the Amish is to stop at a local business and strike up a conversation.
“The biggest misconception about Amish people is when people talk about shunning,” Hershberger says. “The people who are talking about it are the ones who don’t agree with us or who have turned against us and don’t say anything good about us.
“These people (who have been shunned) can come back. There are just a few restrictions,” she says.
Hershberger recently was at a family funeral out of state and saw several cousins who had left the religion. Everyone was cordial during calling hours and the dinner after. “It’s not the way it’s portrayed,” she says.
Hershberger says another misconception is that Amish aren’t aware of the world around them. While that may be true for both Amish and non-Amish alike, she has a wide-range of interests and reads three newspapers to keep up with politics. “We have all types, just like every other religion or group or family. I don’t consider myself that different from anybody else; I have my life, my religion and my family.”
The Amish are Just Like Us …
Except When They Aren’t
DO NOT stare or point or otherwise be disrespectful of the Amish. If you see an Amish family in town, they are likely there to do some shopping, stop by the bank or do some other errand just like you do with your family.
DO keep an eye out for slow-moving Amish buggies while driving (especially at night), and give them plenty of room when following or passing. Keep headlights on low beam. DO NOT honk your horn. Honking can “spook” or frighten horses and cause a wreck.
DO feel free to stop at an Amish home if you see a sign in the yard inviting you to stop. Many Amish homes will offer crafts, baked goods, groceries and other items for sale to the passerby.
DO NOT enter private property without permission.
Amish DO NOT pose for photographs or videos. However, many Amish don’t minds visitors taking photos of their buggy, or general “landscape shots” from a distance (work being done on the farm, etc.). Just be careful and respectful. If you feel uncomfortable taking the photo, ask permission. The answer may be no, but your polite request will be appreciated and may open the door to a conversation.
DO NOT feed or pet horses that are tied to a hitching rail or harnessed to a buggy. It’s always best to ask permission to touch the animal or buggy.
DO respect their privacy. It is best to avoid approaching the Amish unless they appear open to company. If you are sincerely interested in talking to the Amish to learn more about their culture, your best bet is to patronize an Amish-owned business and talk with the shopkeepers.
- Source: Destination Geauga