If you’ve read this site for some time, you’ll know Don Burke has been a long-time contributor here, sharing his visits and top-notch photos from Amish communities around the country. For a few examples, see Don’s trips to Ethridge, Tennessee, inside a Missouri Amish home, or at an “Amish-ish” wedding.
Today Don tells us the story of how he happened to first visit the Amish, in 2010. Don is joined by his wife Pam, who as you’ll learn is a vital part of the story, to narrate the journey.
This was the first part of a two-stop Amish trip (with the 2nd part(s) on Lancaster County to come). Those of you who have visited Holmes County, Ohio might recognize some of the places in today’s post.
Don: Nine years ago. That was when we made our first Amish trip – saw and visited with our first Amish people – had our first Amish buggy ride. And for me, it was on that trip nine years ago that I had my very first interest in Amish anything. But for my wife Pam…well, her interest began long before that, and that interest was what made this story possible.
Pam: Sometime back in the mid-1990s I began reading Amish fiction and became fascinated with the Amish lifestyle, which was totally new to me. As I remember, that is when I first told Don that I wanted to go to Lancaster County, Pennsylvania.
Don: And I assure you, that wouldn’t be the last time that I would hear those words! <ha>
Pam: I’m not sure what I expected to find or do, but I wanted to somehow experience some of the culture of the Amish.
As the years went on and I continued my reading, my dream to visit Lancaster County remained just a dream I felt would likely never happen. Who knew that a slight error would lead to that dream coming true!
In May of 2010, while on a road trip with Don I started yet another Amish book, and once again commented that I wanted to visit Lancaster County. Just to make conversation he asked how long a drive it was to Lancaster, and I (mistakenly) said it was about 8 or 9 hours.
Since that was not much farther than our trips to visit family in southern Arkansas, he just made an off-hand comment that maybe we could go one day. “Maybe” – with that one word the seed of hope was planted! On our next stop a few miles down the road, I bought a road atlas and added up mileage and time. Oops! Instead of 8 or 9 hours it was more like a 15- to 16-hour drive. But still he had said “maybe,” and even nearly doubling the length of the trip couldn’t undo that.
For me planning a trip is a big part of the fun, so I went to the internet to see what all we might want to do. As I looked for places to visit and things to see, I noticed some information about Holmes County, Ohio, and realized that it would be another great Amish place to visit. In fact, since we needed an overnight stop somewhere between Missouri and Pennsylvania, Millersburg, in Holmes County, seemed to fit the bill.
Don: And the short version is that on the morning of June 14, 2010 — just short of three weeks after “maybe” — we left our home near St. Louis heading out to see the Amish for the first time.
Pam: After a long day of driving across Illinois and Indiana, I can still remember the surge of adrenaline when I saw my first real-life horse and buggy as we entered Holmes County. I was actually in Amish country!
We got into Millersburg sort of late and went looking for a place to eat supper, stopping at Farmstead Restaurant in Berlin. After we ate and were getting ready to leave, I had the chance to speak to a teenage Amish girl, Sara, who was just getting off work at the restaurant.
When I asked Sara for ideas of what to see in our short time in Holmes County, she asked if we had ever had a buggy ride. Sara and her father had a side business giving buggy rides to tourists. So we drove Sara to her home, and she and her younger sister drove us through the countryside around Berlin and Charm.
We enjoyed some beautiful scenery, including several Amish homes and businesses, and it also gave us the chance to ask lots of questions to the first Amish person we had ever talked to. We began to see that all the stereotypical ideas about the Amish were not necessarily true.
For instance Sara had a cell phone which she could keep until she joined the church, and at that time she would pass it down to a younger sibling. We also found that ideas regarding photography vary from area to area, even person to person. The family had no problem with our taking photos of the girls (because they were not church members) after the buggy ride.
Back at their home, we had the chance to continue our visit with Sara, joined by her father, Leroy. He was particularly interested in the fact that we were going to Lancaster County and wanted to hear about our trip. He suggested exchanging cell phone numbers and asked us, “Do you text?” hoping we could send him some information about what we saw there.
Since we only had small flip phones with a very basic cell plan, Don chuckled and replied, “No, we are behind the times and don’t text.” As we got into our car and drove off, I laughed and told Don that I couldn’t believe that we had just told an Amish man that we were behind the times!
Don: “If an Amish man is more tech-savvy than you are…” – yeah, sounds like the beginning of a Jeff Foxworthy “you might be a redneck” joke. <ha>
The next morning we blocked off time to look around the area before getting back on the road for Lancaster County.
The first stop was at WalMart, and while we’ve seen our share of these stores, this one really surprised us as we saw for the first time the special accommodations made for the Amish.
From there we just wanted to drive around and take in the Amish countryside – something that I still enjoy on my visits to Amish communities to this day.
The rolling hills of this area were a sight to behold in themselves, and the presence of Amish homes and barns and buggies and children was exciting beyond words.
We found an Amish school, closed for the summer, up on a hilltop.
From that vantage point we could see buggy traffic on the highway, overlook nearby farms, and see Amish children at play.
Before getting on the road for Pennsylvania we made one last stop for a tour through the Amish and Mennonite Heritage Center.
The 265 ft. long Behalt (“remembrance”) mural and its narrated presentation describing the history of the Anabaptists was the highlight of the stop [note: no photos are permitted of the mural, so you’ll need to see it for yourself!]. The Center has a small store as well, and many Amish and Mennonite items on display.
Pam: One of the interesting pieces of history on the tour was an original Conestoga wagon that had been used to bring some of the early Amish settlers from Pennsylvania to Ohio.
Don: Also as part of the Center’s tour we enjoyed a visit through an old refurbished Amish school.
And with that, we said goodbye to Holmes County and started the second leg of the trip to the Amish of Lancaster County.