A First Visit To Amish Ohio (24 Photos)

If you’ve read this site for some time, you’ll know Don Burke has been a long-time contributor here, sharing his visits and top-notch photos from Amish communities around the country. For a few examples, see Don’s trips to Ethridge, Tennessee, inside a Missouri Amish home, or at an “Amish-ish” wedding.

Today Don tells us the story of how he happened to first visit the Amish, in 2010. Don is joined by his wife Pam, who as you’ll learn is a vital part of the story, to narrate the journey.

This was the first part of a two-stop Amish trip (with the 2nd part(s) on Lancaster County to come). Those of you who have visited Holmes County, Ohio might recognize some of the places in today’s post.

Don: Nine years ago. That was when we made our first Amish trip – saw and visited with our first Amish people – had our first Amish buggy ride. And for me, it was on that trip nine years ago that I had my very first interest in Amish anything. But for my wife Pam…well, her interest began long before that, and that interest was what made this story possible.

Pam: Sometime back in the mid-1990s I began reading Amish fiction and became fascinated with the Amish lifestyle, which was totally new to me. As I remember, that is when I first told Don that I wanted to go to Lancaster County, Pennsylvania.

Don: And I assure you, that wouldn’t be the last time that I would hear those words! <ha>

Pam: I’m not sure what I expected to find or do, but I wanted to somehow experience some of the culture of the Amish.

As the years went on and I continued my reading, my dream to visit Lancaster County remained just a dream I felt would likely never happen. Who knew that a slight error would lead to that dream coming true!

In May of 2010, while on a road trip with Don I started yet another Amish book, and once again commented that I wanted to visit Lancaster County. Just to make conversation he asked how long a drive it was to Lancaster, and I (mistakenly) said it was about 8 or 9 hours.

Since that was not much farther than our trips to visit family in southern Arkansas, he just made an off-hand comment that maybe we could go one day. “Maybe” – with that one word the seed of hope was planted! On our next stop a few miles down the road, I bought a road atlas and added up mileage and time. Oops! Instead of 8 or 9 hours it was more like a 15- to 16-hour drive. But still he had said “maybe,” and even nearly doubling the length of the trip couldn’t undo that.

For me planning a trip is a big part of the fun, so I went to the internet to see what all we might want to do. As I looked for places to visit and things to see, I noticed some information about Holmes County, Ohio, and realized that it would be another great Amish place to visit. In fact, since we needed an overnight stop somewhere between Missouri and Pennsylvania, Millersburg, in Holmes County, seemed to fit the bill.

Don: And the short version is that on the morning of June 14, 2010 — just short of three weeks after “maybe” — we left our home near St. Louis heading out to see the Amish for the first time.

Pam: After a long day of driving across Illinois and Indiana, I can still remember the surge of adrenaline when I saw my first real-life horse and buggy as we entered Holmes County. I was actually in Amish country!

We got into Millersburg sort of late and went looking for a place to eat supper, stopping at Farmstead Restaurant in Berlin. After we ate and were getting ready to leave, I had the chance to speak to a teenage Amish girl, Sara, who was just getting off work at the restaurant.

When I asked Sara for ideas of what to see in our short time in Holmes County, she asked if we had ever had a buggy ride. Sara and her father had a side business giving buggy rides to tourists. So we drove Sara to her home, and she and her younger sister drove us through the countryside around Berlin and Charm.

We enjoyed some beautiful scenery, including several Amish homes and businesses, and it also gave us the chance to ask lots of questions to the first Amish person we had ever talked to. We began to see that all the stereotypical ideas about the Amish were not necessarily true.

For instance Sara had a cell phone which she could keep until she joined the church, and at that time she would pass it down to a younger sibling. We also found that ideas regarding photography vary from area to area, even person to person. The family had no problem with our taking photos of the girls (because they were not church members) after the buggy ride.

Back at their home, we had the chance to continue our visit with Sara, joined by her father, Leroy. He was particularly interested in the fact that we were going to Lancaster County and wanted to hear about our trip. He suggested exchanging cell phone numbers and asked us, “Do you text?” hoping we could send him some information about what we saw there.

Since we only had small flip phones with a very basic cell plan, Don chuckled and replied, “No, we are behind the times and don’t text.” As we got into our car and drove off, I laughed and told Don that I couldn’t believe that we had just told an Amish man that we were behind the times!

Don: “If an Amish man is more tech-savvy than you are…” – yeah, sounds like the beginning of a Jeff Foxworthy “you might be a redneck” joke. <ha>

The next morning we blocked off time to look around the area before getting back on the road for Lancaster County.

The first stop was at WalMart, and while we’ve seen our share of these stores, this one really surprised us as we saw for the first time the special accommodations made for the Amish.

From there we just wanted to drive around and take in the Amish countryside – something that I still enjoy on my visits to Amish communities to this day.

The rolling hills of this area were a sight to behold in themselves, and the presence of Amish homes and barns and buggies and children was exciting beyond words.


We found an Amish school, closed for the summer, up on a hilltop.

From that vantage point we could see buggy traffic on the highway, overlook nearby farms, and see Amish children at play.

Before getting on the road for Pennsylvania we made one last stop for a tour through the Amish and Mennonite Heritage Center.

The 265 ft. long Behalt (“remembrance”) mural and its narrated presentation describing the history of the Anabaptists was the highlight of the stop [note: no photos are permitted of the mural, so you’ll need to see it for yourself!]. The Center has a small store as well, and many Amish and Mennonite items on display.

Pam: One of the interesting pieces of history on the tour was an original Conestoga wagon that had been used to bring some of the early Amish settlers from Pennsylvania to Ohio.

Don: Also as part of the Center’s tour we enjoyed a visit through an old refurbished Amish school.

And with that, we said goodbye to Holmes County and started the second leg of the trip to the Amish of Lancaster County.

Find more of Don’s photos on Flickr, and his Facebook page. And stay tuned for more from the Lancaster portion of this trip. 

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    1. Lawrence K Roemer


      Looking forward to more pictures of Amish like. In particular from Lancaster Co. I work up that way and would be curious to see it through your lens.
      Thanks for the great candid shots

    2. Kathy Rowe

      Thanks to both of you for sharing this. I always enjoy reading your posts of your travels, Don. Sounds like you had a great time in Holmes County. That is my favorite place to visit.

    3. Kathy Baumbusch

      First Visit to Amish

      Like Pam, I first became interested in the Amish through Christian fiction, and have enjoyed visiting Amish country in Ohio many times. I usually go at least once a year to Holmes County, and also like Pam I remember my excitement when I first actually got to speak to an Amish person – at a fabric store, I believe. I so admire their dedication to family and their devoted Christian lifestyle, and still read any Amish fiction I can get my hands on! (There’s much more Amish fiction to choose from than in the 90s when I began, gladly; however, I would caution that anyone who reads this genre should balance it with some facts about them and not rely on the fiction as the sum of information about the Amish. I recommend any of Donald Kraybill’s works to get an accurate picture of the lifestyle.)

      Berlin is a great place to make one’s first visit to the Amish – I think it is less touristy and crowded than Lancaster, although I’ve been there and love that too. Note – as an example of how much I love Amish things, I own a longarm quilting business which I named ‘The Quilting Frolic’ after the Amish tradition of working ‘parties’. I am glad to carry on the tradition of quilting, even though it’s not by hand as theirs are. Anyway, I hope all readers of this article have an opportunity to make their way to Ohio and Lancaster to visit the wonderful Amish!

    4. Thanks....

      Thanks everyone for the compliments. Kathy, we did have a good time, although I must admit that I was more in a daze through this first few hours in the Amish world. It was hard to soak it all in.

      Lawrence, I haven’t picked out pictures for the next post (Lancaster Co.), but I trust we’ll find some you like and possibly even some you recognize. Maybe I can work something out with Erik and we can include a direct link to my online albums from that trip or something.

      1. Don that would be great, let’s make sure we include that in the next one. I often include a general link to your flickr page or Amish albums, but a link to that specific album sounds like it’d be handy.

    5. Mike Sparks

      A First Visit to Amish Ohio

      Don & Pam, thank you for sharing this story and the wonderful pictures. I do recognize many of the shots. I grew up in Wayne County, OH, just one county north of Holmes County. My first Amish experience came 43 years ago, by doing a class project in 6th grade and visiting an Amish school. I too have been to many different communities throughout the US, but am always drawn back to Holmes County.

      Pam, my question to you…having read so many Amish fiction books and then interacting with the Amish for the first time, did you come away disappointed that the experience didn’t meet the way the books portray or did you feel the experience met your expectations? I have read a few fiction books over the years, but much more appreciate non-fiction/autobiography.

      Thanks again for sharing

      1. Pam Burke

        A great question, Mike! No disappointment at all; obvious differences, though, between fiction and reality. I would say the fiction created an appetite that became a doorway to learn about a whole new group of people, and more importantly, to get to know the people themselves. After having now read hundreds of Amish stories and getting to know lots of Amish people, I still have no problem with the differences, just the same as other fiction I read that doesn’t match up with my real world. It was actually in the Lancaster portion of our trip that I had some real takeaways about all this, so I’ll save other comments for that.

    6. Joan Pigon

      A First Visit To Amish Ohio

      I was raised in suburbs of Cleveland, so I saw some Amish on Sunday trips with my family but never knew much about them till I started reading novels about their lifestyle. I have been fascinated ever since. While I was back to Ohio from Colorado for my Aunts 100th birthday party several years ago, I had the opportunity to visit Berlin and surrounding area with my cousins. It was wonderful. It was on my bucket list to visit the Amish more but since I had major back issues I felt I would never make it. Well my son moved to southern Michigan after retiring from the Army. They have recentlyou asked me to move up by them. And so excited, they live right in middle of Amish!
      Don’t give up on God’s plan.

      1. “Don’t give up on God’s plan.”

        I like how you ended your comment Joan. And I hope you make some good acquaintances and friends among the Amish in your new community. Thanks for sharing with us.

    7. A first Visit To Amish Ohio

      loved the story & pictures. Looking forward to more!
      Thank you for sharing your adventure.

    8. Terry from Wisconsin

      Amish back roads

      Where are the Wisconsin Amish stories and pictures? Erik, you need to visit and correct this matter!

      Last Sat was the Amish consignment auction in Marion, WI. How great it was to have it pour rain! NOT! There’s a years worth of planning for the event and it was most unfortunate, and muddy, and put a damper on the day. The sun did peak out later, so the whole day wasn’t a washout. To brighten the mood I had a fry pie with my coffee! 🙂 The only other thing I bought was lunch. That makes the Mrs. happy! 😉

      I noticed a couple and knew they weren’t WI Amish. The Mrs had a back bonnet with the points. The father and son had longer, Dutch bob haircuts and a flat top on their straw hats. I’m assuming they were PA Amish from the looks of them. I am a trained eye for such things! Ha!

      The auction wasn’t the first event to be rained out here. Here it is the 5th of June and our garden isn’t planted. 🙁 The flooding around the country is beyond belief! If my mom was alive she’d have been 101 today and I will use one of her quotes…We dasn’t complain.

      Bonduel, WI had their first auction on Mother’s Day weekend. Their second one for the year is the last Sat in Aug. They had rain and mud for the first one. 🙁 Hoping for better weather in Aug. It really should be dry by then!

      This is off the subject but our sermon last Sunday was on Noah. Our pastor had to chuckle and so did the congregation with all the rain we’ve been having. We thought how appropriate for a sermon title! Ha! The sermon was on Noah’s faith, not the flood so much, and I reminder for all of us that we can stay the course with some help from the Big Guy!

      Safe in Christ †,
      PS: Erik, the B&B offer is waiting to be used. 😉

      1. Thanks again Terry, I won’t forget it:) I see you mentioned Bonduel and Marion, actually I asked a question on your favorite WI settlements in my comment below, maybe these two qualify. I always like events which bring together Amish from different communities and you can see the different visual ways of being Amish on display. Recently when eating breakfast with PA Amish friends, they were talking about aspects of the clothing that I usually don’t even notice (kapp strings, material used in dresses, etc) I think because I’m just not attuned to those finer clothing details as much. But they certainly notice them.

    9. Loretta

      Thanks so much

      Thanks so much, Don and Pam, for these wonderful pictures, I enjoyed and loved each one. I haven’t been to Ohio yet, I always go to Lancaster County, maybe one day I’ll make it to Berlin and all the surrounding towns. I enjoyed all the commentary and it took me back to my first time driving into Lancaster and seeing the horses and buggies, amish girls walking, just everything. Now I have long-time friends there and try to go each year. Feels like a second home to me.

      Terry from Wisconsin, I was reading all the nice notes to the Burkes until I came to your post. Right out of the gate you started complaining, hijacked this entire column to do so, never once thanked the Burkes for sharing this, indeed, never mentioned them. The word that kept coming to mind was “ingrate.” I mean, since we’re sharing opinions here, that was mine. And I am very thankful that the Burkes took the time to share with us. This column and the upcoming one are about trips to Ohio and Pennsylvania that contributors are sharing with us; your comments would have been appropriate in a different post.

    10. Hello Loretta....

      Loretta, I am so glad that you enjoyed the post. I have been told innumerable times that sharing our pictures is the only chance that some will ever have to visit these places, and seeing that others enjoy our sharing the experiences just doubles the enjoy for us, too.

      You speak of Lancaster and Holmes Counties. Pam and I have been to both areas more than once, and enjoyed both. But if I’m totally honest, I enjoy the Mt. Hope area in Holmes County more than I have Lancaster. Not a complaint against either one, but Lancaster seems a bit more “polished,” whereas the Mt. Hope area just seems in my mind to be a bit more “Amish in their natural setting” (if that makes sense). My point is simply this: If you get a chance, give Holmes County a try — I’m betting that you’ll like it.

      And just so you know, nothing that Terry said offended me in any way. From the tone of the message it looked like he and Erik have some kind of long-term connection, and sometimes a relationship like that can take on a bit of verbal jabbing that is nothing more than fun between friends. My own father was one who showed whatever affection he had towards someone by “pickin’ at ’em,” as he used to say. But be that as it may, thanks for your concern for our feelings, but there is no hard / no foul as far I personally am concerned.

      Hope you have a great day.

      1. Terry from Wisconsin

        Amish back roads

        I’m sorry if I sounded like an ungrateful viewer. Don, your pictures are always enjoyed by all, and keep up the good work! 🙂

        Erik and I have been friends for a number of years and I’m hoping one of these years he comes to visit our Wisc Amish settlements.

        Many of our Wisc Amish don’t have places like they do in PA! In fact some Amish, like many English, are very poor stewards. When you go through the hills and valleys in south western Wisc you’d be shocked at how some live. Often times people think that all Amish are like the ones they read about in books, and that’s just not so!.

        Until next time…

        1. No Problem...

          Terry, no problem. I didn’t take anything you said as offensive in any way. As they say, no harm, no foul.

          And if it makes you feel any better, I’ve tried to talk Erik into coming to MO to see some of the many Amish communities here, too. For some reason he acts like it’s like half-a-continent away, or something.

          Yeah, I’m not sure that there is any place that replicated the setting of Lancaster Co (at least of the dozens of places I’ve been). Even worlds of difference between there and other places in PA. For every high-touristy place (Lancaster Co., Holmes Co., Shipshewana) there are lots more of the Seymour (MO) and Clark (MO) and other plain-to-poor settlements.

          1. deleted humor marks

            For those reading my previous post, in a couple of place I had put “ha” in less-than / greater-than brackets. But software interface scrubbed those out of what shows up as a reply. The first two paragraphs were said with a degree of humor, but without my humor notations, it’s hard to tell. My apologies.

          2. Actually parts are closer to a third of a continent away so not actually that bad! Glad you brought it up again, I was last in Missouri in the early 2000s before I really got to know the Amish. I spent two summers there (boot heel area and Lake of the Ozarks area), have always found the state one of the more interesting ones. A proper Amish visit is overdue, yes it is true.

        2. Terry I am glad you keep on me about that, and since Don has been pleasantly reminding me about Missouri, maybe it even makes the most sense to do two birds with one stone, since the 2 states aren’t so far from one another (once I’m already out in the Midwest in any case:)). What would you say is your favorite(s) of all the Wisconsin communities to visit? You might have mentioned before but if so would be glad to hear it again! If I came I would probably think about the larger ones like Cashton or Hillsboro but maybe you have some smaller settlements you prefer visiting..

          1. Terry from Wisconsin

            Good morning Erik

            In yesterday’s Budget there is a list of states with the number of settlements, and Wisc currently has 40 with 159 church districts. We visit the Kingston/Dalton settlements the most often because we have friends there, know the area well, and don’t get lost anymore! lol Marion and Bonduel are well known for their auctions and are always a fun time.

            The Hillsboro/LaFarge/Cashton/Ontario/Westby/Viroqua settlements are all neighbors and a good place to get lost in the rolling hills of the Kickapoo valley! (I have a cousin in Viroqua and friends in the Hillsboro community). Unfortunately, due to life, it’s been a while since I was over that way. My cousin in Viroqua has been after me to visit, so it’s on the bucket list.

            My hometown of Whitehall is 7 miles from Blair, but since my mom passed away in 2006, and have no other immediate family there, I don’t have the reason to head that way as often as I used to. The area isn’t quite as hilly as the Cashton area, but you can still get lost! When you get lost in Amish country you stop at someone’s place to ask directions and leave an hour later! Been there, done that too many times to mention, just ask our kids how that works! Ha!

            With 40 settlements to visit Erik, you might have to plan for a long visit! 🙂

            1. This made me smile:

              “We visit the Kingston/Dalton settlements the most often because we have friends there, know the area well, and don’t get lost anymore!”

              3 good reasons to choose that one 😀 Well I certainly wouldn’t plan just a day if I’m all the way out there. I’d also like to swing through Polk County if possible (kind of random, but I lived and worked one summer in that area and would be great to see it again, 15+ years later).

    11. Marlin Gerber

      well done

      from the prospective of an “English” person who grew up living and working among the Amish in Sugarcreek, Ohio–near Berlin and Millersberg you spoke about. My great great grandfather was the first Amish bishop in Holmes County. I grew up Mennonite, worked in missions for Mennonite Central Committee in Europe, spent 37 years as an educator, and now live in Michigan
      as a retiree. I too, think the Amish/Mennonites are pretty cool. 🙂

    12. Andy Miller

      ref amish ohio photos

      Joan Pigon
      what part of Michigan are you living in. I have a younger brother that lives near Vermontville and there is a good sized Amish settlement there.
      I grew up Amish and left at the age of 18 and just had my 80th birthday earlier this week. My brother that lives there is still Amish and three of his married children also live in the community. We will be going up there next week. will be spending atleast a couple nights with nieces and nephews. and then will be going to Topeka, IN. for a Miller family reunion on June 29th. Also for Erik you really do need to make a trip the Amish community in Jamesport, MO. I also have two nephews and there families that live there.
      Don it really was good to see the photos. Blessings

    13. Omar Kassem

      Thank you

      What a delightful article. I look forward to your next one.