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Visiting the Amish

The Amish are known for their privacy and self-sufficiency. In a perfect world, the Amish would rarely interact with non-Amish people. But, alas, the world is not perfect. Shifting sociological sands have forced the Amish and English into closer and closer contact. This has resulted in some creative compromises. The Amish have found innovative ways to interact with the English, while still maintaining an arms length distance between the two societies.

Farming, once the mainstay of the Amish economy, has become less and less of a viable way to earn a living as land prices have risen and profits fallen. This has forced the Amish to earn wages in other ways, often catering to the English.

Most Amish dont mind a degree of tourism. Tourists can pump much-needed money into their bakeries, shops, and quilt businesses. What they DONT like are disrespectful, nosy people who treat them as if they are zoo exhibits. Ive heard horror stories of strangers trampling flower beds, hiding in cornfields to snap photos, or simply showing up at an Amish familys door expecting a home-cooked meal. Such puzzling behavior defies the bounds of basic etiquette.

But patronizing Amish-owned businesses, respectfully chatting with them, and approaching their culture with a sincere curiosity, can result in some rewarding interaction and experiences. Most Amish people enjoy talking with outsiders, if they dont feel like they are being studied in a petri dish. Without television, the Amish hold the simple art of conversation in high esteem. When visiting Amish communities, follow The Golden Rule. Following is a sampling of Amish communities that are interesting to visit and offer opportunities for outsiders to interact and explore the Pennsylvania Dutch way of life.

Ive been to all the places listed below, but they arent necessarily my favorite places to go to experience Amish solitude. Ill have my list of editors picks tomorrow. And following that, Ill share some basic, common-sense etiquette to follow when visiting Amish areas.

YODER, KANSAS

The second farthest west Amish settlement in the country is quietly growing on the edge of the Great Plains. There is an Amish community tucked away in the mountains of Montana. For many Amish, however, Yoder is the end of the line.

Yoder is an unincorporated crossroads with approximately 60 residents. The Amish outnumber English in the area. Close to eighty percent of the children in the local public school are Amish. ( Because of the large Amish population, change comes slowly to the Yoder area.

"Some of them are going from steel wheels to rubber tires on their buggies," says Tom Egli. Egli is non-Amish a member of the local merchants council. I interviewed Egli back in the mid-90s.

One thing I have seen through the years, is that the younger families have finding out that it is difficult to raise a family the way their parents did, depending just on farming," Egli says, adding that the price of land in the area has forced some Amish to seek jobs in non-traditional areas like crafts and factory work.

Yoder provides many opportunities for outsiders to experience Amish culture:
Bontrager Harness Shop: With horses still providing the chief mode of transportation for the Amish, several harness shops dot the area. Bontrager's is one of the larger ones. Complete line of leather harnesses from miniature to heavy draft horses showcase the importance of the horse to the Amish way of life.

Sunflower Buggy Shop: Makes custom-built buggies for private and commercial use. People can see the different models of buggies available from two-seaters to full-family.

Dutch Mill Bakery: Fresh breads, cinnamon rolls, cookies, pies, cakes, and cobblers provide visitors with a taste of Amish country.

GETTING THERE: Yoder is easily accessible from I-70 which traverses Kansas and from Wichita and Kansas City. Kansas State Route 96 passes through Yoder. Take exit 13 off of Interstate 235 which loops around Wichita. Travel northwest 25 miles on SR 96.

For more information about Yoder, call the Hutchinson, Kansas Chamber of Commerce at 316-662 3391.

ARTHUR, ILLINOIS

Almost in the shadow of Chicago, the Amish of Arthur are flourishing.
Downtown in the Dutch Oven restaurant during lunch rush, Old Order Amish carpenters eat side-by-side with the English. Hitching posts are as a common sight on the streets of downtown Arthur as parking meters are in most other towns.

With land becoming increasingly expensive, many Amish are finding it difficult to make economic ends meet by farming alone. Yet with only an eighth-grade education and a pledge to resist modernization, the Amish have been forced to adapt. Nowherehas a more harmonious compromise between old and new been struck than in Arthur. A sort of Amish "shop culture" has evolved. Amish artisans craft handmade furniture that attracts clientele from through the Midwest.

"It would be better if we could go back to farming, but it is just not possible," said the Old Order Amish owner of Shady Crest Orchard south of Arthur. Shady Crest Orchard features fresh fruit and other homemade taste temptations - like pumpkin butter - which can resuscitate the most stale piece of bread. Other places of interest around Arthur include:

Hillside Bakery: Classic Amish cooking homemade daily. Fresh loaves of bread, all kinds of cookies, doughnuts, and pastries will be sure to please any palate. Amish cooking is renowned for its delicious simplicity. The Hillside Bakery captures this flavor. A selection of Amish cookbooks is also available. The bakery is located on Rural Route 1 outside of Arthur.

For more information about Arthur area Amish activities, call the Arthur Information Center at 1-800-722-6474.

GETTING THERE: Arthur is easily accessible off of Interstate 57. Take exit 203 and travel west on SR 133 10 miles to Arthur.

NAPPANEE, INDIANA

Over 30,000 Old Order Amish inhabit the rolling farmland around Nappanee. For those seeking to learn about Amish culture, Nappanee is the place to come.

Amish Acres is an information center for tourists who wish to learn more about the Pennsylvania Dutch culture. An on-site round barn theater features the play, Plain and Fancy. The play, which enjoyed a Broadway run, is a musical comedy that calls attention to the customs, morals, and dress of the Amish. Amish Acres has daily demonstrations featuring quilting, meat-smoking, baking, and candle-dipping.

South of town, small Amish businesses thrive. A harness shop, a buggy repair store, and Amish run general store are hubs of activity.

Shipshewana is a popular spot for visitors with its open-air flea market and country flavor Amish and English shop side-by-side at the market.

Menno-Hof: A historical center operated by Mennonites, open 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday though Saturday. The interpretive center features history about the lifestyle of the Amish, Mennonites, and Hutterites.

For more information about northern Indiana Amish areas call the Nappanee Tourism Office.

For more information about the Nappanee area call the Nappanee Chamber of Commerce at (219) 773-7812.

GETTING THERE: Exit 92 on Interstate 80/90. Take SR 19 south 20 miles to Nappanee.

HOLMES COUNTY, OHIO

The emerald hills of Holmes County, Ohio are dotted with fairy-tale towns with names like Charm and Berlin. The back-roads which wind through the area provide panoramas that remind one of the Rhine Valley in Europe. It is no accident then that the German-descended Amish settled in this rural region an hour south of Cleveland.

The largest Amish population in the world lives in Holmes and surrounding counties of Ohio. The autumns feature color-splashed scenes with horse-drawn buggies clip-clopping through brisk, crisp orange leaves.
Lorene Raber, a former Old Order Amish church member, owns The Charm General store.

"It would be hard to go back," Raber said. "They lead such a plain life, I think that they are very open to helping one another, they have a real sense of community. I think because of this, there will always be Amish."

The real charm of Holmes County may be off the beaten path. There about 250 miles of roads in Holmes County, many of them one-lane ribbons that weave a tapestry of time through the hills. Apple orchards and clear creeks add the serenity of the county.

One of the best-kept secrets of Holmes County is the Inn at Honey Run, a very quaint lodge just north of Millersburg. It is used as a retreat for state governors and others who just want to escape the cacophony of the city. Room rates are reasonable. Reservations - especially in autumn - are highly recommended.

GETTING THERE: Interstate 77, exit 83. Take SR 39 west to Walnut Creek. Walnut Creek is located in southeastern Holmes County. For more information about Holmes County, call the Millersburg Chamber of Commerce at 216-674-3975.

OTHER SETTLEMENTS

Amish settlements can be found in 23 states from Montana to New York to Florida. Large settlements are in Michigan, Missouri, and Minnesota. Some of the most popular Amish settlements, however, are in other states. These include:

Kalona, Iowa: An hour east of Des Moines, is a large Amish settlement. Bakeries, buggy-shops, and blacksmiths all capture the Amish culture. Easy access of Interstate 80. Call the Kalona Chamber of Commerce at (316) 656-2660 for more information.

Lancaster County, Pa: Centuries old Amish farmhouses dot the hills. The county served as the setting for the Harrison Ford hit, Witness." The best place to sample Amish culture are in the small villages scattered across the countryside. Bird-In-Hand and Intercourse are two of the most popular destinations. Intercourse features The People's Place, an excellent starting point for lay-people to learn about the Amish. A person-to-person heritage center, a three-screen documentary about the Amish, a hands-on museum, and bookshop are among the offerings at The People's Place. For more information call the Pennsylvania Dutch Convention and Visitors Bureau at (717) 299-8901.


Kevin Williams
Executive Editor
Oasis Newsfeatures

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