The Amish community at Ethridge is one of a handful in Tennessee, and at ten church districts, the largest Amish settlement in the South. The Amish here are of the Swartzentruber “lineage”, meaning low levels of technology, numerous farms, and buggies lacking the Slow Moving Vehicle triangle. Ethridge is unusual as a sizeable and long-established Southern community, with most Amish settlements in the South being of only a church district or two in size and relatively young.
The Ethridge community is about an hour and a half below Nashville, and is bisected by a quite busy four-lane highway. On a recent visit, I noticed few of the characteristic yellow horse-and-buggy roadside warning signs, with perhaps one on the main drag only. The terrain is mostly flat with some hills here and there, and quite rural. Ethridge itself is not much more than a post office, hair salon, and a few streets of homes, with most of the business life happening on nearby US highway 43.
Tennessee Amish Tourism
Before visiting this community, I didn’t expect there to be much of a tourist industry, given the fact that the Ethridge Amish are among the most conservative. At the same time, given its age and position as largest in the South, it probably shouldn’t have surprised me that the Ethridge settlement features its own version of an Intercourse or Shipshewana–though a much scaled-down one.
Mainly comprising a side road off the main highway, there are a modest number of tourist venues, including buggy ride operations, an “Amish Cafe”, and furniture outlets. One of the shops, an “Amish Welcome Center”, gives out a map listing 57 Amish homes which operate businesses as well as the products and services they offer (molasses, china cabinets, clock repair, braided rugs, squirrel corn, and so on).
There is one area, however, in which Ethridge outdoes Lancaster County and perhaps all other Amish communities–and that’s in its industrial-strength tourist carriages. In fact, these wagons are really closer to horse-drawn buses, as you can see from the photo. They set off from a number of venues on the “Amish strip”, and trundle a route around the community which takes them near the local produce auction and by numerous Amish businesses.
For that matter, there are a surprising number of tourist-oriented businesses in the community, with simple hand-lettered signs advertising them everywhere. I dropped in on a few, one of which was a candle seller. In addition to a number of standard candles in Mason jars, they had on offer an array of soaps, environmentally-friendly “soy” candles, and car fresheners made up of small beads tied up in fishnets bags. Having a special someone in mind, I asked what the owner, a young Amishman with a blue paisley bandanna tied around his head, Rambo-style, thought that “the ladies” might like in the way of candles.
A common sight in the Ethridge Amish community
He immediately suggested “Love Spell”–carefully guiding me away from “Love Potion”, the first one that caught my eye (apparently there’s a niche in “amorous” candles the Ethridge Amish are pursuing here). Having taken a sniff of Love Spell, and finding it not so lovely (I can’t attest to any other alleged properties it may or may not have), as well as a few others including “Blueberry Pie”, I decided on the more conservative Cinnamon as well as the peculiarly-named but pleasantly-scented “Kudzu”. A vanilla car freshener completed my purchase and I was on the way, equipped for any surprise power outages and with a fresh-smelling truck to boot.
I also stopped in to see a furniture maker, whose shop featured two catalogs packed with full-color photos of various styles and pieces of furniture. “Your Satisfaction is Our Goal”, a hand-scrawled slip of paper inside the front cover of one announced. The owner’s wife, who was friendly but generally avoided making eye contact, helpfully informed me that they could produce just about anything, as long as it doesn’t take computers to make. The shop, pictured on the left in the photo below (silver-roofed building), was located quite close to the home, connected by a walkway.
Ethridge Amish furniture shop and home
I bought a dollar bag of peanut brittle which they happened to also sell (peanut brittle seems to be everywhere in Ethridge) and picked up one of the owner’s business cards on my way out–consisting of his name, job description (“Custom Build Furniture”) and address hand-penned on a cut-out piece of business-card-sized stiff paper. No telephone number, images of any sort, or fancy printing here.
Ethridge Amish meet the world
Not a tourist wagon
Ethridge is an interesting community–sizeable but off the beaten path, home to a conservative group of Amish but in some ways open to the “outside”, and one with a distinct Southern twinge (like the Amish of Daviess County, Indiana, Amish here “speak Southern”, which sounds great to these ears).
Ethridge is in no danger of becoming Lancaster County, but offers an example of how one community of Amish is interacting to a limited degree with non-Amish in order to survive. The existence of everything from the Amish business tourist map and numerous business advertisements, to Amish selling products off-the-buggy outside the Welcome Center and thrice weekly at the produce auctions, indicate a pragmatic approach to commerce which one might not expect to such a degree in a Plainer community–but which reflects the reality of Amish life in the 21st century nonetheless.
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