The Amish of Fort Fairfield, Maine

Maine is now home to five Amish settlements, up from three just a few years ago.

Thanks to reader Judy for passing along an excellent article on the Amish of the Fort Fairfield area, in Maine’s northernmost county of Aroostook.

This piece in Down East Magazine traces the path of the 6-year-old community via interviews with the community’s founder, 45-year-old craftsman Noah Yoder, and a few others.

Amish Fort Fairfield Maine Pau Cyr
Fort Fairfield Amish photo by Paul Cyr

Twenty families live in this conservative Amish community, coming from states including New York, Kentucky, Iowa and Ohio.

That is around 140 people total, though only three of them, according to the article, are older than 50.  Among the businesses is an Amish-run store, plus a number of dairies, and two schoolhouses.

I recommend reading the article in full for one of the best depictions I’ve read of life in a relatively new Amish settlement.  A few points which stood out:

  • There is an awareness in fledgling communities that it could all end.  “Some communities start and fail,” observes Noah… “We still could.”
  • “Small creative adaptations” are key to a young community’s survival. There exists a rosy view of Amish interdependence, which I feel for the most part is deserved.  But, “because of their reliance on one another, an Amish settlement can unravel over small obstinacies and personality conflicts. Noah has seen whole communities dissolve over disagreements about whether and how to follow local building codes. What’s more, the burdens of any one family are shared by everyone, meaning that hardships like failed crops, house fires, and medical bills can pose challenges for the whole community.”
  • Some Amish don’t mince opinions on their brethren who live differently: Yoder “uses the term “plastic Amish” to describes communities in Pennsylvania and elsewhere that welcome tour buses and offer buggy rides.”
  • Opinions on Amish fiction vary, among Amish as well.  You won’t find it in the Noah Yoder home: “Well-meaning English friends have given Noah paperback Amish romance novels for his daughters, which he accepts politely and then uses to feed the stove in his workshop.”
  • This is one of the plainer Amish groups, hand milking into buckets and delivering milk by buggy to a central pick-up location.   But they aren’t exactly media-shy.  Witness the photo slideshow accompanying the article, or the fact that this is one of several news articles Amish from Fort Fairfield have participated in. Update: This is a Swartzentruber Amish church, “Joe Troyer” faction.
  • I think that writer Brian Kevin comes up with a good metaphor for the Amish, while putting down a more popular, misleading one: “Contrary to countless lazy narratives about a culture “frozen in time,” a stopped watch makes a lousy metaphor for the Amish. A much better comparison is a finely tuned watch, one that derives its value from the precision performance of all of its parts.”
  • The piece ends with Noah musing about the ways Amish and English life might overlap: “I don’t think you need to change to the way I’m living, and I don’t think I need to change to the way you’re living,”…“But who knows? Maybe we can both pick up little things from each other.”  Does Noah, a member of one of the most tradition-oriented Amish groups, really feel that way? Based on what I’ve read of his community, I’d take that at face value.

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    21 Comments

    1. Beautiful photos! I was amazed to see the Amish boy making a snowman. That is a first for me.
      Tom The Backroads Traveller

      1. Ann

        Fort Fairfield, Maine

        Just catching up while I had some time after Christmas guests left. The article about the Maine community was very interesting. I think the child in the scarf is a boy but in the Ohio community I drive for I have seen quite a few of the older girls wearing sweatpants under their dresses in cold weather or while helping with barn work that requires activities that might expose legs (climbing ladders, driving or unloading hay wagons). Also here the children often make snowmen or “forts” when we have enough snow.

        1. Lorrie Miller

          Lorrie in OH

          I had heard a couple years ago that there were Amish communities in Maine. I live in Ashtabula county in Ohio and we’ve had one heck of a bad winter, but boy you have to be tough to live in Main.
          I too do some driving here in Ohio myself. I live not too far from Middlefield. I’ve seen a few snow men around too, but for the most part it’s been too blasted cold for the kids to go out. Amish and Yankee. I saw a couple of igloos the Amish kids made when the snow got good for packing and the weather cooperated. It’s hard to play in the snow when you have actual temps below zero for days at a time. It’s actually almost too dangerous to let them out when it’s that cold.
          As for the girls wearing sweat pants, yeah I’ve seen that around here too. Hey when it’s -17 and the wind chill is -30 you have to protect yourself.

    2. Homesick!

      As Erik knows, I grew up just a few miles from Fort Fairfield. The Amish have been welcomed into the Aroostook community, where good farm and neighbor habits are appreciated. I live in Chicago now, and the photos made me terribly homesick!

      1. Sorry about that Magdalena. Unintended consequence 🙂 I’ve never visited Maine, actually never been further into New England than Massachusetts. I admire their gumption in starting a new settlement so far off the beaten path.

    3. Christine T

      I didnt know there were Amish there! We have spent vacations outside of Ft Kent. Love that area!

    4. Sandra Kathleen

      How interesting and informative the whole article was! The area is beautiful…maybe a place to visit someday.

      I was curious about one of the pictures — I think of a very young girl and boy walking toward a quonset hut sort of building…The girl (at least I think it’s a girl given the scarf that is worn) looks like she has jeans/pants on. Is this acceptable wear for girls and women under certain circumstances, e.g., sub-freezing weather?

      1. Amish girl in trousers

        I missed that first time through Sandra. Have never seen it myself but I have heard that young girls may wear this in work situations, not sure if it has to do with temperature as well. See the bottom photo here for another example, and also the comments section: https://amishamerica.com/bowling-green-missouri-amish/

        1. Leanna

          I very much doubt that is a little amish girl in pants. It is not unusual for the little boys to wear a scarf, which is better ear protection than the hat. If a little girl would wear pants it would be under her dress, and even that is unusual.

    5. Wondercat

      Well, that made good reading

      …and I should never have seen it if not for you. Thank you.

    6. Joan Sheldon

      Fort Fairfield Amish

      Many thanks for posting this, Erik. The article is very well written, and very accurate as far as I can tell. I only know the communities in Unity, Smyrna and Hodgdon. I live 6 miles from the Unity one and am one of their drivers for doctors and trips to the thrift stores, and to take them to sell at some farmer’s markets. They have helped me be a better person. I subscribe to their Pathways publications and especially like Family Life, and Beside Still Waters.

      1. Thanks Joan, great to hear from a local 🙂 If you haven’t seen it already, you might like this reader account of the Unity settlement, I bet you might know the folks/businesses mentioned: https://amishamerica.com/unity-maine-amish-settlement/

        1. Joan Sheldon

          reply to Erik

          Yes, thanks Erik, I saw that article and made copies of it for the Community. It must have been written about 2 years ago. The Community Market is finished and has expanded quite a bit. The Living Grains Bakery that the flier shows is closing as of Dec 20 and the Community Market will take over some of the baking that Katie was doing. Kenneth will continue with his wood working. I do indeed know most of the members of the community quite well.

    7. Alice Mary

      Another interesting, thought-provoking article. Thank you, Erik!

      The mention of cutting ice in the winter resonates with me, being a member of our local Historical Society. Our town grew up on the banks of the Fox River, and we have photos of ice-cutting operations that went on here, back in the late 19th/early 20th century. It’s so interesting to see photos of horses and wooden sleds and men hauling huge blocks of ice from the frozen river to shore. More amazing (to me) is how that ice kept well into the following summer, allowing families to keep their milk (etc.) cool in their iceboxes.

      That first photo of the horse pulling an open (brrrrr!) buggy really spelled “C-C-C-COLD!” to me!

      I wish these “Amish pioneers” much luck and prosperity. It’ll be interesting to see how fast they grow (and I sure hope the community DOES grow!)

      Alice Mary

      Alice Mary

    8. Al in Ky

      In the article from the Down East Magazine, it says that the settlement is of the Troyer affiliation. I was wondering what affiliations the members of the community were part of before they moved to Fort Fairfield. Were they all of the Troyer affiliation or different ones? The pictures and information in the article remind me so much of Swartzentruber Amish. Is the Troyer affiliation an offshoot of the Swartzentrubers, vice versa or neither?

      1. Troyer Amish in Maine

        Al this was one of a couple of details in the article which I wasn’t sure about. There are 2 or 3 Amish groups in St. Lawrence County, NY (where Potsdam is located). One is a large Swartzentruber community. It’s possible this may be a Joe Troyer church they are referring to. This piece explains more about the divisions within the Swartzentrubers: https://amishamerica.com/an-amish-america-q-and-a-with-professor-karen-johnson-weiner-part-two/

        Or perhaps another of the communities in vicinity of Potsdam is Troyer Amish. Troyer Amish are very plain but do now use the SMV triangle (vehicles in included photos do not have the triangle; I’m assuming these are all photos from the Fort Fairfield community). There is a large Troyer Amish commmunity in Conewango Valley which is a different part of the state: https://amishamerica.com/new-york-amish/#conewango

        However the description of the community they left behind in NY(“some two hundred families”) doesn’t seem to fit the expected size of the communities listed (smaller than the Swartzentruber at 12 districts, larger than the other 2 at one or two church districts).

        1. Al in Ky

          Thanks for your reply, Erik. This weekend, I’m going to visit one of my friends who is a Swartz. bishop and I’m going to take a copy of the article along and see if he has any insight on the affiliations/settlements. Your comment about the slow moving vehicle sign reminded me how much I have enjoyed your quizzes where you challenge us to guess what communities the pictures are from. I hope you’ll have another one of those quizzes sometime — maybe from pictures from you took during your Amish travels this summer?

          1. Joe Troyer Amish in Maine

            Al I passed your question along to the go-to person on this subject, Karen Johnson-Weiner. Karen kindly replied with the following:

            “They are, indeed, Joe Troyer folks. There are two Maine settlements with North Country roots, one is Andy Weaver and the other is Joe Troyer. There were some folks from the Nicholville/Hopkinton area (which also has Potsdam addresses) that went up there–this settlement, which was a Mose Miller group, schismed when the Miller schism occurred a few years ago, and one large segment went Joe Troyer (the other affiliated with the Isaac Keim faction–lost yet?).”

            She also says the “200 families” reference is including an area far larger than Potsdam.

            I’d love to do another one of those photo quiz posts, I’ll need to find some good photos for it though. A good photo has enough of a hint but is not too obvious…sometimes hard to find. Readers are welcome to send in candidates.

      2. Linda

        Paul Cyr Photography

        “A second Maine Amish community can be found near the town of Fort Fairfield, also in Aroostock County. Karen Johnson-Weiner notes that a group of conservative “Joe Troyer” Swartzentruber Amish left the Heuvelton, NY Amish settlement in 2007 in order to found a settlement in Maine (see New York Amish, p. 60).” per Erik! from https://amishamerica.com/amish-maine/

        Photographer Paul Cyr has 4 lovely pictures featuring the Amish and the aurora or northern lights in Easton, Maine, in October. Easton and Fort Fairfield are both in Aroostook County.
        http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sciencetech/article-2442531/Solar-flare-causes-Northern-Lights-US-Kansas-Maine-Donegal.html

        Photography by Paul Cyr
        http://www.flickr.com/photos/paulcyr/

        More photos by Paul Cyr https://www.facebook.com/CrownOfMaine/photos_stream

    9. Matt from CT

      >That first photo of the horse pulling an open (brrrrr!) buggy really
      >spelled “C-C-C-COLD!” to me!

      Have a friend who retired to northern New Hampshire…it was low single digits and snowed for the first time over the weekend. And they had a horse that came from Georgia this summer who was just bewildered 😀

      Posted a video of their other horse, used to winter in the far north of New England, having to coax him out of the barn to go play in the snow.

    10. Linda

      Amish Unbroken in Smyrna Mills

      May I also recommend 20 photos that Lottie Hedley took in Smyrna Mills, Maine? Is Smyrna Mills the same as Smyrna? Smyrna is located in Aroostook County. I think it’s titled “Unbroken” because the Hilty family is not breaking the faith. Some photos were taken in 2011 and 2012.

      http://npac.ca/2012/09/unbroken-lottie-hedley/