6 Fascinating Historical Amish Photos

I came across some remarkable historical photos on the PBS American Experience site. I believe these were connected with the release of the documentary film “The Amish” in 2012, but I missed them the first time around.

There are a total of 13 shots in the gallery which you can view in full, and in larger sizes, here. I pulled a few of my favorites and shared those below, with a few comments. I found something fascinating about each of these.

This first photo has a ghostly quality. This is the Millcreek School in Stormstown, PA. The year is 1923. Though it appear very similar to a modern-day Amish school, this would be a public school of the time.

The first parochial Amish school was established two years later, in the Dover, Delaware Amish settlement. Looks like the photographer caught the children frolicking at recess, or maybe before the school day began. Photo: Landis Valley Museum.

This one was taken in 1938, just a year before World War II broke out and three years before the US entered the fight. The non-resistant Amish did not fight in the war, but did alternative civilian public service.

It’s from a National Geographic pictorial on the PA Dutch. From the way the items are laid out on the table and the way the boys are standing around, it feels quite artificially staged in a picture-perfect sort of way, almost like something out of a museum or exhibit.

Back to 1927 for another shot from the Millcreek school. This is the school photo, and you can see it is a mixed group of kids, just looking at the clothing and haircuts.

You see ties on some of the non-Amish boys, and the two on the front right must be brothers as they look to be wearing matching plaid shirts. It looks to be about a 50/50 mix of Amish/English children. And look at that, even back in 1927 kids loved making funny faces for the camera.

Amish in some communities attend public schools today. One of the best examples is the East Holmes School District in Holmes County, Ohio, which has heavy Amish attendance. This photo is also from the Landis Valley Museum.

Next we have some Amish men at an auction in Lancaster County in 1942. What caught my attention here was the beard on the fellow on the right (it seems so robust and juts out at such an angle where it appears you could almost set a coffee mug on it). And I also got to wondering what these guys are talking about – milk prices? An upcoming wedding? Or maybe just plows?

You can see that men’s dress is similar today, but the hat brims here seem wider to me. The photo credit here and for the next shot goes to the US Farm Security Administration/Office of War Information, Library of Congress.

Here is a young Amish fellow in a barn, circa 1942. He looks like he’s posing for the shot. Also note the light bulb. Maybe this is not an Amish place. Amish are known not to pose for the camera, but sometimes they do.

Finally, one last school photo, also from National Geographic. This one is from Lancaster County, 1938. The colors in some of these old photos have a dreamlike quality.

The American Experience site caption explains that the children’s Mennonite teacher (or teachers?) stands on the stoop. A game of softball in a heavily-overgrown schoolyard. Don’t they have a sheep that can mow that for them? The game remains popular among Amish schoolchildren today.

Old photos never get old, so to speak. I hope you enjoyed these.

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    12 Comments

    1. Alice Mary

      Thanks for sharing these, Erik. I really enjoy old photos no matter where they originate.

      Your comment about the “dreamlike quality” of some of the color photos (especially the last one) might have to do with them being black and white photos that were “colored in” later. Even my own mother attempted coloring some of her old (1914 + up) B & W photos with her watercolors (her medium of choice). Of course, it could be that the colors weren’t Kodachrome, so they faded? Just a thought! 🙂

      The angular beard on that one guy must have been quite a crumb-catcher!

      Alice Mary

      1. Interesting, I didn’t think about colorization, maybe so. They look real enough to step into the scene,but with an ever so slightly artificial quality. That’s the best I can describe it.

        Old colorized footage or films can have an eerier quality to it than this. Anyway I really like that last school shot and I wonder what became of the building, if it still stands.

    2. Bernard Andrews

      Photos of yesteryear

      Our present Day society needs to remember these good ol’ days and keep them going. Life would be much better. Amen.

    3. Jeff Baker

      Camera Shy?

      The Amish do not seem camera shy in these pictures. Why are they now camera shy?

      1. Good question. I can’t say for certain, but it might have been that in the 1930s and 1940s, photography wasn’t as widespread a technology, and Amish at the time had not formulated as strong opinions on it as they do today in a selfie look-at-me era.

      2. Early 20th century ... photography was an innovation not quite regulated by the Amish code of living yet ...

        Erik’s comment seems right on…
        “30s and ’40s, photography wasn’t as widespread a technology, and Amish at the time had not formulated as strong opinions on it as they do today.”

        Here is a source that says basically the same thing …
        https://www.thevintagenews.com/2018/11/06/amish/

        …”in the late 19th and early 20th century, while photography was an innovation not quite regulated by the Amish code of living, some people agreed to have their pictures taken.”

    4. Amish man posing in a shop

      That gentleman who was posing looks like he was working in a buggy shop. I have been in some with no electricity. I am sure this shop may have some electric tools or welding equipment

    5. Debbie Halcomb

      old photos

      Thanks for sharing these. I agree that old color photos get erier looking with age. I have some from the 70s of my children that have a strange look. Done by professionals as well.

      My mother used add color to pictures for photography studios. I am not sure of the kind of paint but she applied it with cotton balls, then shaded and highlighted with more cotton palls and cotton wrapped around a pointed orange stick for details. I would sit for hours watching her.

      Thanks again gor Sharing.

      1. The thing I can’t figure out, is if the photos themselves change, or our perception of them is what changes? Maybe these colors and tones are what looked normal at the time, and as quality has changed and improved, they take on that “eerie” look.

    6. JC Johnsong

      Found a source for one of the photos here to shed some more light on it...

      You can find the photo of the young manin the barn withthe hanging light bulb also at this site…
      https://www.thevintagenews.com/2018/11/06/amish/
      with a little more information…
      “This beardless unmarried man, not yet a member of the church, may have posed for this photograph while he was working in the barn. March, 1942”
      They claim he was not yet a member of the church
      ANOTHER photo on the same web page…
      “Honey Brook, Pennsylvania (vicinity). Amish farmland dipping harness in oil”
      … looks like it might be of the same fellow.
      Anyway … maybe he was engaged to be married to an Amish girl and was in the process of learning the ways and converting.
      I thought you’d enjoy the other photos here as well (I like the OLD GULF gas station photo (also from 1942).
      I thought you’d like a link to the page as there are several interesting photos that go well with the ones on this page (two of the photos are on both pages)

    7. Photo: 'Zook farm' -- Honey Brook, Pennsylvania (vicinity)

      MORE important information on the boy in the barn with the electric light…
      https://picryl.com/media/honey-brook-pennsylvania-vicinity-amish-farmland-mending-harness-on-the-zook
      This site says that…
      “Electric light overhead has been disconnected for religious reasons”

      Here is another photo of the boy in the barn…
      https://picryl.com/media/honey-brook-pennsylvania-vicinity-amish-boy-on-zook-farm-hanging-up-harness
      and…
      http://photogrammar.yale.edu/records/index.php?record=fsa2000053455/PP
      and…
      https://picryl.com/media/honey-brook-pennsylvania-vicinity-amish-farmhand-mending-harness-on-the-zook
      (these were all taken by a photographer in 1942 by the name of John Colier).

      This link searches for all the photos of Honey Brook…
      https://picryl.com/topics/honey+brook
      The photos it finds (the ones that were taken by John Collier) appear to all be from the same farm in Honey Brook, Pennsylvania (vicinity) — the farm field of Morris Zook, Jr., Amish FSA (Farm Security Administration) client.
      So maybe the young man eventually married into the Morris Zook, Jr family and became Amish.

      Here is an interview with the photographer John Collier …
      who says it was for a photography assignment of documenting the Amish in Pennsylvania in 1942…
      https://www.americansuburbx.com/2011/10/interview-interview-with-john-collier-1965.html
      And some links showing his work as a photographer…

      https://historyinphotos.blogspot.com/2012/07/john-collier.html?m=1

    8. Finding more John Collier's collection of Amish & Mennonite photos from 1942...

      If you look up on Google Image …
      John Collier & Amish you will find many many more photos…
      Inside a Mennonite school house…
      https://www.flickr.com/photos/johncollierjr/344497149/

      https://fineartamerica.com/featured/amish-carriage-1942-granger.html

      https://www.facebook.com/LancasterOnline/posts/happy-throwback-thursday-heres-a-portrait-of-an-amish-boy-in-lancaster-county-ci/10154876623086395/

      When I search for Amish it doesn’t show all of them so try this link instead (even though other non-Amish photos from 1942 taken in the Pennsylvania area will also come up…
      https://www.flickr.com/search/?user_id=70882784%40N00&view_all=1&text=pennsylvania%201942