5 Vintage Amish Postcard Scenes

I really enjoy looking at old postcards. I came across five interesting vintage Amish postcards on Flickr to share with you. Several of these are from the Lancaster County area. One or two have a touch of humor to them. Let’s have a look.


1. Greetings From The Pennsylvania Dutch Country

This is a card with classic “PA Dutch” iconogaphy and lettering. Lancaster Amish Country was already being marketed to the public way back in the 1930s, via tourist booklets and magazine articles.

Source: upnorthmemories

I’d say this card isn’t quite that old, but by the time it appeared the tourist industry had already gotten off to a strong start. The story of the growth of Amish tourism is told by Amish historian David Luthy in Chapter 7 of The Amish Struggle With Modernity.

This postcard is not dated, but if I had to guess, it looks to me like early-mid 1960s. Lancaster County wasn’t nearly so developed then, and the Amish population numbered tens of thousands fewer souls than it does today.


2. Looking North. Topeka, Indiana

We see what appears to be an Amish buggy in this very old image. Topeka is one of the main “Amish towns” in the large northern Indiana settlement, where Amish residents of the area can be seen doing business at local shops, and a good number even live in town.

Source: upnorthmemories

This is the view north from what looks like the main intersection of what would be Lake Street and Main Street. Today there is a hardware store on the southwest corner of this intersection, and a pharmacy and bulk food store on the north side of Lake Street. And the streets, of course, are paved now as well.

Notice there is no Slow Moving Vehicle safety triangle on the buggy. Those didn’t start becoming widely used until the 1960s and 70s. This scene is dated by the uploader as 1907.


3. School Boys

A nice shot of ten Amish school boys lined up for a photo in what must be Lancaster County. Someone local with a better eye for buildings might be able to tell the location going by the brick structure in the background, which appears to be a church.

Source: Thomas Hawk

This is undated, but I suspect this photo is also circa 1960s. If so, that means these smiling kids are grandpas and great-grandpas today. I wonder if any remember this shot being taken, or are aware they happen to be on a vintage postcard.


4. How We Do Things At Orono, Michigan

This is what looks like could be an Amish farmer, with a wagon containing some “photoshopped” winter squash made to look extra-extra-large. A whimsical bit of agricultural braggadocio courtesy of the good folks of Orono, Michigan. How they do things is they grow ’em big.

Source: upnorthmemories

Orono is in Osceola County. That county has proven quite attractive for the Amish; there are half a dozen distinct Amish settlements there today. None of them would have been around when this photo was taken, however.

Also, checking David Luthy’s Settlements That Failed, there is no indication of an Amish community existing in the area at the time this was taken. So maybe the image was lifted from a different source by the creator, or maybe our proud squash farmer is not in fact Amish.

This card dates all the way back to 1912. As we see here, funny fake images are not a novelty of the internet era.


5. Turnpike Break

A father pulls the buggy over and stops for a break with his children on a Pennsylvania Turnpike overpass. Going by the color of the buggy (and what I can make out of the clothing), this actually looks like an Old Order Mennonite family, who use black-topped buggies, as opposed to the Amish gray seen in the top postcard.

Source: upnorthmemories

The Turnpike cuts across the northern section of Lancaster County, where the local Old Order or “Team” Mennonite population lives. Looking at a Google Map showing Turnpike overpasses, this might be in the area of Fivepointsville or Bowmansville.

“America’s First Superhighway” first opened in 1940, though the section passing through Lancaster County wasn’t ready until a decade later. What a contrast in transportation styles. An era when the world had really begun to accelerate thanks to superhighways and jetliners…while this Plain family keeps clopping along at the same pace.

One thing I wonder is how this photo was taken, given the high angle of the shot. A ladder? From atop a large truck? The photo is described as “circa 1960s“.

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    10 Comments

    1. Very interesting article, Erik.

      In the not-that-it-matters-but-since-I-noticed-it category…

      * In the first picture it strikes me that buggies have undergone some design update between that time and when I was first in Lancaster 10 years ago. (Or maybe it’s just a different group.) I don’t recall seeing the totally open cab front like this.

      * Also in the first picture, I take it that this is either the spring or fall for at least the wife and maybe the husband is/are utilizing the lap blanket (so it’s cool), but not wearing any kind of coat (so doesn’t appear to be the freezing cold of winter).

      * The thing that strikes me in Pic 3 is the lack of uniformity in the kids’ appearances. Suspender styles appear pretty consistent, but colors vary. Not sure if the pants styles are 100% consistent; one guy has a brown hat instead of black. These catch my eye, but none of these are of particular significance. But the differences in shirts really catch my eye. Colors are not all that different from what might be seen today, but some of these button all the way up, some button half way, some 1/3 the way. And really striking is that at least three of them have white needlework around the collars and the area of the buttons. Seems uncharacteristic for the Amish to have something quite that showy, not to mention all the additional needlework that would be required if these were made by hand.

      * The angle on #5 (as you mentioned) has me really scratching my head. At first I tried to make this a telephoto shot from some 4-5 story building on the side of the road, but the lines on the leftmost side of the road indicate to me that the camera was actually above the road itself. The buggy looks way too small to be from the cab of a typical big rig; on the other hand, a wide-angle lens could give this effect, but I’m not seeing spacial distortion in the rest of the picture I would expect with such a lens. Is it possible that there is a double-decker tour bus in the area? 😉

      1. Interesting observations there Don. Here’s what I can say:

        To add to what Yoder wrote below, the closed buggy front actually would have predated 10 years ago in Lancaster County and would be the main type you would see there now. I’ll try to check when they started being adopted because you’ve got me wondering now as well. You can still see that open front in plainer groups, like the white-topper Nebraska Amish people in Big Valley.

        You noticed more details as far as clothing differences on the children than I did. The main thing that caught my eye were the different hat styles, in particular the brownish looking hat on one boy, and the brown band on the darker hat of the fellow next to him.

        On the last photo angle – a semi was the only thing I could think of, but even then it seemed to be taken from higher up than that. Meanwhile the picture itself seems like a casual shot, and not staged. I don’t know what kind of photography technology was around in this era, but I think we can safely rule out drones:)

        1. Thank for your insights, too, Erik. I don’t know if you feel this way as much as you have been around the Amish, but as “yesteryear” as it seems Amish ways are, it’s easy for me to forget that sometimes there are “upgrades” (such as enclosing the buggies) that are allowed within a community.

          And yes I have visited some of those more conservative settlements were the fully open front buggy cabs are still in use. The Nebraska Amish of Big Valley as you mention, their cousins over in eastern OH, and the settle in Clark, MO come to mind.

          Yeah, the idea of a drone had flitted through my mind for about a half-second — but not exactly a contemporary of the stated time period. I suppose aerial photography of some sort isn’t out of the question. But I’m just not settling in on anything that makes me feel like “that’s it.”

        2. Yoder in Ohio

          Yes, the enclosed front carriage is the most common vehicle in Lancaster type communities, but it remains the tradition for an ordained man to use an open-front carriage for church etc. Some Lancaster daughter settlements, such as Romulus, NY, remain where everyone drives an open-front carriage to church though they might still have an enclosed one for daily use. This is not limited to Lancaster churches. The Renno church in Big Valley who have black buggies allow an enclosed carriage for daily use but still require a carriage without the windshields & sliding doors for Sunday use, weddings, funerals, etc.

    2. Yoder in Ohio

      You have a good eye for detail!

      The open front carriages are still seen in Lancaster Co., though more on Sundays, weddings days, etc. Ordained men do not drive the enclosed market-wagon or carriage to worship services. “Dusters” or lap robes are often used in an open front carriage to help protects from dust etc.

      Black wool hats that are older and faded can appear brown or even purple-ish. The old style shirt that only opened part-way down has long been replaced by the open-all-the-way shirts. Some of these boys might have older shirts or more likely, mothers who were not in a hurry to adapt the new style. The white-needle work is probably simply a matter of the sewer using white-thread to sew the shirt on a sewing machine rather than matching the color. That was more common at one time.

      That’s my two-cent’s worth. 🙂

      1. Really interesting Yoder, thanks. You satisfied my curiosity somewhat on the hats. The dark hat with the brownish band is the one I still wonder about, perhaps the material types are different and one faded before the other, or perhaps it is lighting.

        1. Yoder in Ohio

          The hat band is of a different material. I think it’s properly called “grossgrain ribbon?? On my black wool hats, it’s the first thing to fade and it starts to look purplish and will eventually turn a rusty brown. The banding on the edge of the hat brim on many hats is the same material. (Some churches do not allow that banding on the brim.) Exposure to rain & sweat will make it turn color faster.

    3. Thanks Yoder! Any degree of “eye for detail” is probably due to being an analyst by nature combined with three-and-a-half decades of scrutinizing pictures as a freelance photographer. As TV detective Monk used to say, it’s a gift…, and a curse. lol

      I have been in Lancaster Co. on two different Sundays, but I must admit that I was so overwhelmed with the experience of attending Amish services that noticing the nature of the buggies on that day did escape my attention. {ha} (And considering that when they found out I am a pastor they put me front-center in minister-row, yeah, I was more than a little overwhelmed at the time. {ha})

      And thanks for the other insights, too. Makes so much more sense when you know the whys behind the whats.

    4. Aj

      I like the second picture. I will show that to the next person who thinks streets and vehicles are only for English in big trucks, and that Amish buggies should not drive on roads which they have always drove on just because some English cannot driver safely and sober.

    5. J.O.B.

      Picture #3: Can anybody identify the type of car in the background? That might help identify when the picture was taken.

      Picture #5: This picture might be staged. To show the contrast between modern and the past.

      The plain people are on the side of the road…looking like they are broken down. A modern truck drives away. As if leaving them behind.

      The high position of the camera helps indicate this. A ladder truck may have been used for the cameraman to get that shot.

      Even the horse is looking in that direction to see what’s going on.

      There is no building in that spot as they are directly over the turnpike. Another indication that a ladder truck was brought in.

      I remember studying photographs like this in college. An attempt to manipulate people into thinking this progress is good and join in or be left behind.

      Obviously, not all progress is good.