"" Writer's Wanderings: A Return to Ohio's Amish Country

Monday, September 01, 2014

A Return to Ohio's Amish Country

Last week we met with family in Holmes County, Ohio, halfway between our home and theirs, to explore some more of Ohio's Amish country. Holmes County has the highest population of Amish in the state. We stayed at a place called The Barn Inn in Millersburg. The place appears to be a converted barn and is rustic and homey all at the same time. It is a bed and breakfast with quite a spread in the morning but the real charm lies in the proprietor, Loretta. She welcomes the visitors at breakfast and once everyone is just about finished with breakfast, she gives background and stories of the Amish in the area and information about where to go and who to see. She knows them well. She used to be one of them until her mother and father joined the Mennonite church. She still has relatives that have stayed with the Amish community.

Beautiful peaceful countryside.
On our first night we had dinner in an Amish home. At first glance you wouldn't  notice much difference from a regular home other than its residents being garbed in the style of the Amish dress and the dad sporting the iconic Amish beard. They were a welcoming family and I felt a little bad that our hostess had slaved over a hot stove all day to prepare our dinner of roast beef, chicken, mashed potatoes with gravy, noodles, green beans, homemade bread with peanut butter spread and two kinds of pie, raspberry and peanut butter. She said she had been tempted to turn on a fan that sat on the floor and when asked, said the electricity to run it would have to come from a gasoline powered generator.

Notably there was a refrigerator in the kitchen as well. I thought maybe it ran on natural gas like the stove but when we visited the Lehman Hardware store in Kidron the next day, we saw a similar refrigerator that ran on kerosene. Esther explained that the family shared an "ice house" with four other families. It is a small storage structure that houses freezers and is run by electricity from one of the lines that runs along the roadside. Except for looking above our heads to see gas lights, the home wasn't notably that different from any other. The people were.

Our hostess' day starts early. Her husband is up at five and gets a ride to work in a van with a hired driver that picks him up. He is a woodworker and makes changing tables and dressers. She sews (again, sewing machine runs on electricity supplied by a gas generator). The children walk to their Amish school. The oldest was in the fifth grade and will only be in school until she completes the eighth grade. She and her brother sang to us from their school songbook full of songs that told Bible stories. Their youngest brother had been excused to enjoy the pony cart the neighbor kids were driving up and down the long lane between the houses.

The alternative to horse and buggy.
There were eight of us around the table plus the tour guide, Harriet, from Amish Heartland Tours who had arranged the dinner. She had toured with the other four guests taking them to various places where they got a buggy ride, saw basket making, and other Amish activities.

Our other notable stop this time in Amish country was at the Amish & Mennonite Heritage Center in Berlin. While it's been in operation for 28 years, it has only been in its present location since 2002. The Center is home to a mural painted by Heinz Gaugel. The mural is 10 feet high by 265 feet long and fills the walls of a round room. It starts on one end with a portrait of Jesus and from there moves through history depicting the origin of the Anabaptists and how the Mennonites, the Amish, and the Hutterites came to be. The guided tour is $8 ($7.50 for AAA discount) but is well worth the price. The mural is amazing. Our Amish guide was well versed and we learned so much more about how these unusual sects came to be.

Horse powered vehicles of all sorts share a parking lot.
It was two days of peaceful countryside, the clippity clop of horses, and a time to catch up with my brother-and sister-in-law. I'm sure we'll return again.

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