The Arthur Amish community occupies a special place with me. This was where I first really got to know something about Amish people.
As an outsider who knew nothing about them, I never intended to “study the Amish”. I could scarcely have had any idea where things might lead when I knocked on that first Amish farmhouse door ten years ago.
As I tell in the foreword of my Amish business book, I first met the Amish while selling books in Moultrie County, Illinois in 2004.
I spent about three weeks in the Arthur community that summer. Over that time the Amish went from strange to familiar pretty quickly.
With a population of 2,288, the village of Arthur is similar in size to Kalona, Iowa. As in that community, you’ll find Amish living in just about any direction you go from town.
The Arthur Amish settlement was also founded around the same time as the Kalona Amish settlement, in 1864.
Unlike Kalona, however, Arthur is much larger today, at 29 church districts (around 4,000 people) versus 10 in Kalona. There is also a modest Amish tourism industry in the village.
Early settlers to the Arthur community came from states including Pennsylvania, Indiana, and Iowa. Also like the Kalona community, the Amish showed up here before the town did.
Arthur itself emerged in the early 1870s, developing as a settlement centered around a railroad switch track in swampy territory between Arcola and Decatur.
“Swampy” is not how I’d describe the lands surrounding the town today, covered by fields of corn and soybeans and dotted with Amish homes for miles.
According to the village website, the settlement eventually took the name of the railroad owner’s favorite brother.
The photos today were taken by contributor ShipshewanaIndiana, who visited Arthur last weekend and is quite familiar with the community.
You find some Amish family names here that aren’t often seen elsewhere, such as Otto, Jess, and Diener.
Schrock is not one of them though. That’s a fairly common Amish surname.
In terms of population growth, the Arthur community has lagged.
According to data in The Amish, the Arthur affiliation only increased in size by 66% from 1991-2010 (see p. 153).
This compares to an 88% growth rate in the Elkhart/Lagrange affiliation, 102% for the Lancaster communities, and 171% for the Swartzentruber Amish.
One reason may be smaller families.
Also in The Amish, we learn that Arthur families average 5.9 children, versus 7.0 for Elkhart/Lagrange, 7.2 for Lancaster, and 9.3 for Swartzentruber churches. They’re near the bottom of the 16 groups surveyed (p. 157).
Any guesses why that might be?
Small businesses abound in the Arthur community. Here are two food shops.
I spoke with an Amishman in central NY last week who shared a pretty common sentiment. We were talking about how some in his community had moved into business.
He said something like “they make people faster than they make land.” Can’t dispute that.
Arthur’s in a pretty good place for business. It’s 2.5-3 hours to Chicago, Indianapolis, or St. Louis.
We don’t have any photos of them here today, but wood businesses are common in Arthur.
These buggies are pretty reflector-heavy, don’t you think? These may look like something youth might drive, but that’s not necessarily the case in this community.
About the buggies, our photographer says:
Those are buggies driven by church members. I did see one rumspringa buggy driven by a male youth that had a dream catcher in the window.
Varied sequences of reflectors were the norm on buggies when we lived there. Reflectors are in Arthur what LEDs are in Elkhart-Lagrange.
I once asked my neighbor in Arthur how he picked his buggy out of a parking lot full of buggies and he said he recognized it by the reflector pattern. I can see how reflectors are the first thing to which your eye is drawn.
Two more examples:
This view brought back memories for some reason. I think it’s the jog in the road.
A simple lighting solution. But one without a switch.
I’m not sure anyone lives here. In fact there might be a few unintended skylights in that roof.
Another business. The sign below confused me a bit. Closed on Sunday and religious holidays. But only open Thursday-Saturday?
Maybe Monday through Wednesday are “flex” days.
We’ve seen an Amish stove shop here before.
Amish businesses do take credit cards. Some of them do, anyway.
Puppies are another business you sometimes see. The reputation of Amish dog breeders has been stained by some truly awful puppy mill stories. Though it’s been a while since I’ve seen one of those in the news.
I wonder if these folks have gotten any grief for their business. The sign sure looks friendly (is that the Disney font they’re using?), but who knows much beyond that. Of course it goes without saying that not every breeder is a puppy miller.
Including “family dogs” in the description suggests they might be sensitive towards common complaints against the mills. Maybe this business is oriented towards raising dogs like family pets rather than livestock?
Recreation comes in many forms. We see a few of the recreation options for Amish at Arthur below.
This business has two points of focus: bikes and hunting. Is their clientele more English or Amish? I don’t know much else about this shop, but I’d guess Amish.
Volleyball is a youth favorite.
We’ll finish with what for me is the most puzzling photo of the batch.
Do my eyes deceive me or is this an old antenna rolling down the road to destination unknown? Hmmm. Could possibly also classify this pic under “recreational activities”.
Also, do you notice anything odd about the buggy itself?
I hope you enjoyed this glimpse of Illinois’ largest and oldest Amish settlement.