Don Burke is back with a visit to another Midwestern Amish community, that of West Plains, Missouri (Howell County).
Don discovered several surprising things in this small and relatively young settlement, two of them having to do with the local Amish transportation.
I hope you enjoy Don’s account and photos below.
In the autumn of 2016 my wife and I decided to take a couple of days to drive through part of the southern Missouri Ozarks, hoping to enjoy some fall foliage and whatever else we might chance to see.
Since our route took us near the Amish community of West Plains, we decided to make a passing visit through there.
The Settling of the Community
According to the Amish Directory for Missouri, this settlement began in August just three years earlier (2013). A minister’s family from Monte Vista, Colorado, moved on to 207 acres “after years of dreaming and talking of living in Missouri where growing seasons are longer and [there are] shorter winters.”
With the help of a nephew from Mountain Grove, Missouri (approximately 50 miles away), this family built a house, then later bought an 80-head herd of beef cows to raise on their farm.
In October their son’s family from Kentucky also moved to West Plains and bought an existing business that made outdoor furnaces.
In late winter and spring other Amish families would join them from Wisconsin, Kentucky and other places, making for a total of seven families in the community that first year.
During those winter months the Amish in this new settlement went to church in Mountain Grove. In March they were able to have their first Sunday school. Then in May, along with “a load from Mountain Grove helping out,” the new community was able to have their own first church service.
The next year additional families joined them (including another family from Colorado), and a second minister was chosen from within the group.
The children were home schooled the first year, but for the next term a basement in one of the homes served as the schoolhouse for the community’s “ten scholars.” Later a proper school building would be set up.
According to the 2016 Directory, West Plains had at that time grown to twelve households. The Amish businesses include a Greenhouse…
…a fabric, notions and variety shop beside someone’s home…
…a couple of produce farms…
…and the outdoor furnace manufacturer.
There are also carpenters and construction workers, welders, horseshoeing, and various types of farmers in the community.
A Blending of Traditions?
In this small West Plains community I noticed something I don’t recall seeing before – two styles of buggies. At one home I noticed a very common type of buggy design [ed. note: this looks like the Ohio style].
But at a couple of the other homes the design looked much more like the style of buggies like I’ve seen in Indiana.
I’m told that typically the local community customs will dictate a single buggy design to be used by everyone in the community, but that is not the case here. Or possibly better stated, it is not yet the case.
My guess is that each family brought to this new community the buggy they already owned, and the style differences I noticed are because the one family came from Wisconsin and the other two came from Colorado.
I would assume that in time the community will settle on its own standard design and all the new buggies from that point will be made to that standard.
A Progressive Community
As most Amish enthusiasts know, not all Amish communities are alike, and the level of acceptance of more modern things can vary a lot from place to place.
It didn’t take long to see that West Plains is not one of the stricter groups, but is clearly on the progressive side of the spectrum.
I noticed solar panels, electric lights on the buggies, and even a flat-bottom boat with large LED lights apparently rigged for gigging and/or bow fishing – all which I feel the more strict groups would not tolerate.
But there was one thing that especially showed how progressive West Plains is – they use tractors!
While there are other such tractor-driving communities – such as Garnett (Kansas), some in Holmes Co. (Ohio), and even Mountain Grove (Missouri) – it is still a bit surprising when you see it.
Whether the West Plains Amish use their tractors solely for on-the-farm use or also for routine daily traveling (like those in Garnett and Mountain Grove do), I do not know.
Here is a tractor with attached trailer.
And a pickup truck bed with added sheet metal sides and roof and automobile bench seat – the perfect way to transport your family behind the tractor.
But even realizing that this group is very progressive, there were still some very unbelievable sights we noticed around some of the Amish homes – like light fixtures (above buggy)…
…large street lights…
…a cable TV wire on the side of the house…
…and power line wires running to the house, transformer, street light, electric meter, and even satellite dish for television.
No Old Order Amish community that I am aware of is so progressive that they would accept all this.
But I found a possible the explanation for these things. The Directory’s account of the Amish settling this community includes not only terms like “built,” but also “bought,” “rented” and “leased.”
Since some bought existing places and others rented or leased English homes, there would be pre-existing modern features that the Amish wouldn’t use.
And in come cases (e.g. for those renting or leasing) they may not even be able to remove them.
While West Plains was a very short visit for us, it was an insightful visit where we had the rare opportunity to see a fledging community as it continues to establish itself.
Thanks to Don for sharing his visit with us. You can check out more of his photos, of Amish, nature, and more on Flickr.