About six weeks ago, I came across two Amish homes for sale in the community of Tripp, South Dakota (the only Amish location in the state). It seemed then that it might mean the Amish are leaving. Then just recently, I found a third Amish home for sale in the community. This is in an Amish settlement of just (an estimated) 55 people.
Three homes for sale could represent one-half or more of the community’s population, depending on family sizes. That would suggest this community is in fact on the way out.
As it happens, I spoke with Jason Harward of the Mitchell Republic newspaper last week. He has also been on the story. Jason got out to the community last week, spoke to bishop Rudy Borntreger, and was able to find out what is going on. From the article intro (“After a decade, South Dakota’s Amish are moving on”):
TRIPP, S.D. — About two miles west of Tripp, past a yellow warning sign with a horse and buggy and down a dirt road muddied from snow melt, sit a set of red barns and white homes, all with green roofs.
The structures dotting the rolling landscape house South Dakota’s lone Amish community, a nine-family, 60-person settlement that started in 2010, widely believed to be the religious group’s first venture into South Dakota.
But come this summer, they’ll be gone — some of their homes are listed on Zillow, and an auction is scheduled for April 28.
Why are the Amish leaving?
When an Amish community doesn’t work out, the natural question is to ask “why”. Sometimes it has to do with challenges making a living in an area. In some cases, distance plays a part. As for why the Tripp community is coming to a close, here’s an explanation from Rudy Borntreger:
“We wanted there to be an Amish community here, but seems like everybody Amish is more from Ohio or Pennsylvania, where there are more trees,” Rudy Borntreger, the community’s bishop, or elder, explained. “I think it’s so open, nobody wants to join us. Now more people decided to move back to Iowa and Minnesota, so kind of for unity’s sake.”
Though their time in the state will be cut short — and an aversion to technology, deep focus on family and generally reclusive nature limited their socializing potential — they left a lasting impression on the Tripp area and beyond, community members say.
“We love ‘em here,” Marion Ymker, the owner and manager of Ymker Greenhouse and Landscaping in Armour, where some of the Amish have worked for about a decade, said. “We’re disappointed they’re moving.”
That feeling is mutual.
“Good country. Good area. Good friends,” Borntreger said, speaking in a tone of finality on his time in South Dakota, where he’s spent around half of his adult life. “Lot of things change in 13 years. Most businesses in Tripp all changed hands. Old friends passed on.”
When Amish communities “fail”, sometimes there can also be non-public issues going on (e.g., “church troubles”). And according to one non-Amish source cited in the article, there may have been some of that here, as far as church members getting along with the bishop.
Ultimately, this community simply wasn’t able to attract enough other Amish to join them. And issues with ministry might have been a piece of that. If so, was it a bigger piece than what the bishop himself suggests, that is, familiar landscapes and familial ties in other places? That would be hard to determine conclusively, as I suspect it would in many similar cases. In any case, after a 13-year run, it’s time to go back to more familiar pastures.
Most of this community came from the Tomah, Wisconsin settlement. Of the six founding families, Borntreger’s is the only that remained til now, with the community maxing-out in size at around 90 people. According to the article, Borntreger and others plan to re-settle in a different part of Wisconsin.
An Amish goodbye to South Dakota
Assuming they do actually leave, this will mean no Amish live in South Dakota (barring another settlement starting in the meantime). South Dakota will be removed from the list of states with an Amish population (and added to this list instead).
This has of course happened in the past in states with just a small Amish presence. One fairly recent example of a state losing its Amish population would be Washington state, home to a small Amish community from the late 1990s to mid-2000s.
UPDATE: As mentioned as a possibility above, and more concretely commented on by Joe Donnermeyer below, the Amish appear to be establishing themselves in another location in South Dakota, in the area of Burke in Gregory County. In addition to Joe’s comment, I have now come across mentions of this area in two other places as well.
Sometimes it takes awhile for information about a new settlement to become more public. In some cases, a family or two moves to a new area, but fail to attract more to come join. A general guideline for “community” status is three households – or fewer if one of the households contains a member of the ministry (Amish historian David Luthy’s definition). I will post more info if/when it becomes available. But in any case, it may be that South Dakota doesn’t land on the list of states without an Amish community after all.