Today’s photos were all (except for the first two) recently taken by a reader in the Holmes and Wayne County area. By last count there are 238 church districts in this settlement, more than any other Amish location, with over 30,000 Amish people living here.
The Holmes County community is a sprawling settlement, spanning 20-some miles, as the crow flies, from north to south and east to west. It would actually take you about an hour to drive from its northernmost point to its southernmost, given the windy rural roads predominant in the area.
The “Holmes County” settlement we all think of is actually not the only Amish presence within Holmes County. Head further west in Holmes County and you’ll come to communities at Loudonville and Brinkhaven, technically lying at least partially in Holmes County but considered separate settlements. One day they may be met and absorbed by the main community.
The main Holmes County community was founded in 1808 by Amish pioneers from Somerset and Mifflin counties in Pennsylvania, including “White” Jonas Stutzman, whose original homestead is marked by a plaque just off of Highway 39.
You’ll hear his story and see his painted image if you visit the Behalt cyclorama at the Amish & Mennonite Heritage Center. Did those first settlers have any idea what an impact their decision to move from Pennsylvania would have on the area over time? There’s no way they could have.
And no one can know what 200 more years might bring. If the Holmes County Amish were to somehow maintain the growth rate commonly given for the Amish as a whole (doubling every 20 years or so), there would be something like 33 million Amish residents here.
Of course, that will never happen. For one, the larger Amish communities shed individuals who go on to form new churches elsewhere were land is cheaper and elbow room more plentiful. Thirty-three million Amish in the Holmes County area would mean an Amish megalopolis of highrises and apartment buildings and not scenes like the one below. But in 200 years there might be dozens of “Holmes Counties” scattered across North America.
Returning to reality, the Holmes County settlement is arguably the most diverse Amish community. The Amish here are united by a common faith though their ways of living can differ drastically, from the plain, change-resistant ways of the Swartzentruber congregations to much more adaptive Old Order and New Order churches.
While Amish-owned businesses are abundant in the community, farming remains a part, though generally a small part, of Amish life. In a study reported in An Amish Paradox, approximately 10% of Amish sampled were estimated to be farmers as of 2005. That varies among the different Amish affiliations, however. The lowest tally is found among the Andy Weaver Amish, at just 6%, while the “vast majority” of Swartzentruber Amish were found to be farmers (p. 197).
The black buggy is characteristic of this settlement, as it is with most Midwestern Amish communities. The most traditional Amish in this settlement omit the orange SMV triangle and use lanterns instead of electric lighting.
Sometimes an SMV triangle is not visible for other reasons.
Rolling hills. The photo below gives you a good look at the types of roads you find in the Holmes County community. One of the county’s main thoroughfares, Holmes County Road 77, running from the Berlin area through Bunker Hill and on to Mt. Hope, has been called the “Amish roller coaster” for its dips and rises.
If you are driving through the area, be careful when cresting hills. Now you see it, in a minute you might not.
The settlement flattens out significantly to the north when you get into Wayne County. Not quite sure which direction we’re looking in here.
Businesses abound in the Holmes-Wayne County area. Simple signs like these are all the advertising some Amish do.
Some businesses are larger than others. With produce supplies low, young boys sell what looks to be apple cider (cider partially visible on left, boys not visible at all) at this plain stand.
How many buggy shops are needed to keep 238 church districts supplied?
Many businesses are Amish owned, others are not.
No, you’re not suddenly in Switzerland. The Guggisberg Cheese Factory and Store, just north of Charm.
Animal life is everywhere in the Holmes County settlement.
Speaking of which, here’s another type of business: raising deer. Deer farming has been controversial and not all Amish approve of the practice. The authors of An Amish Paradox observe that deer farming can be less taxing on farmland, more profitable than traditional farming, and provide a means of working at home (pp. 201-202).
You’ve got snow, might as well use it.
There are more than 200 Amish schools in the Holmes County settlement (An Amish Paradox, p. 119).
Not everyone has time for fun.
I hope you enjoyed this virtual visit to the Amish community in Holmes County, Ohio. The best book if you’d like to learn more on the Holmes County community is the one I referenced above, An Amish Paradox by Charles Hurst and David McConnell. Thanks again to our photo contributor.
Berlin postcard photo: public domain, author unknown