Not An Outhouse: The Amish Phone Shack

In today’s guest post, David Arment of discusses those funny little buildings you see here and there in Amish communities.

One thing that seems generally true is that Amish are reluctant to accept technology that connects them to the outside world. We English would say they live “off the grid”.

In our area, phone shacks have sprung up as the answer to the need or desire to have this useful technology while keeping the phone line outside. The phone shack is a central place where church members can go and use the phone. Phone shacks come in different sizes.

Some are about the size of an old-time outhouse and some English people have thought that is what they are. Other phone shacks are bigger. And I’ve seen phone shacks within a few yard of one another.

One could logically tell that phone shacks are not outhouses because some of them are nowhere near a house. And take it from a guy who grew up using an outhouse, when the time comes in the winter to “go” you don’t want to have to walk very far, or stay outside very long when nature calls. These phone shacks can be at the end of a long driveway nearer to the main road, or they can be nearer to the house.

Telephone Shack Northern Indiana
If you’re here for the bathroom, you’re in the wrong place

The phone shacks have recording devices (answering machines) inside. When you call your Amish friend you dial an extension and leave a message on that extension. They then retrieve the message and get back to you later. It’s a combination of the old party line and the old (but not so old) answering machine.

An interesting side note is that many of the phone shacks have doors and windows that look as though they were rejects from the local RV manufacturer. Some have the rounded corners typical of RV openings and black gaskets around the windows that you know would not be something an Amish person would build if left to their own devices. Since many or most of the Amish around here work in the RV factories from VERY early in the morning to early afternoon and then farm the remainder of the day, it is easy to imagine how these doors and windows make it to their phone shacks.

I have an Amish lady that I do business with. She and her husband have a phone in the wood shop where he works. Some bishops now allow phones in places of business. In this case the place of business is about 25 yards from the house. You can call and leave them a message and they get back to you.

One day this Amish lady sent me an email! What a surprise! So we started an email string on the subject at hand. The email string was short as she soon stopped emailing me. Then when I talked to her next she told me she does not have email, but her daughter who is a teenager (too young to have yet joined the church) has a “smart phone” and on that phone is email.

So at times she has asked her daughters to use the phone to send emails, but she told me it is so rare that I should never assume an email gets to her if / when I email here. So the communication by email ended as quickly as it began as it was unreliable in knowing who got what message.

Wide Amish Phone Shanty
“Roomy” version

One Amish man with whom I do business has a phone in his office. He also has a fax machine. I can email him and the software between he and I converts the email to a fax. So he gets my emails as a fax, and I get his faxes as emails. And of course we talk on the phone.

Another acquaintance who “came out of the Amish” told me the story of visiting an Amish business. The phone shack was steps away from the Amish business he went to visit. Inside the office was a fax machine. He said to the Amishman, “Does the bishop know you have a fax machine?” The Amishman answered, “I AM the bishop!”

The younger Amish, the teenagers who have not yet joined the church, have smart phones. You can see them texting away. One day in Shipshewana I saw a young Amish girl in a pony cart driving (I guess the pony was really just following the street) and texting as she went. At other times as with English of the same age you can see them sitting and texting or looking at their phones. Obviously if they decide to join the church they will need to give up their phones, unless the policy on phones changes along the way.

Some people believe that the Amish may accept cell phones better than “hard wired” phones. The reason being, cell phones are not hard wired into a grid or network. I don’t think we have seen that yet, but it will be interesting to keep an eye out to see if cell phones are more acceptable than hard wired phones.

One thing that also will be interesting to see is the acceptance of pictures taken with smart phones. Cameras have been off limits. In our area to capture a person’s face on a camera is not to be done. (However my wife told me of the Amish acquaintance who was out in public at a large event and just happened to get his picture taken. The picture ended up on the newspaper. A clipping of the picture is in the bedroom in a frame in the Amish house.) But I digress yet again…

As you know the smart phones all have cameras in them. So now the young Amish have smart phones and all the phones are cameras. Will they begin (or maybe they already have begun) to take pictures with their phones? Will this open the door to a reinterpretation of capturing images?

So one of the main points I want to impress upon you is that this is a fluid subject. What you read here today may change tomorrow and what is true in one area may be different just down the road where the other Amish church meets.

One thing is for sure the use of phones is being accepted and that acceptance seems to be at an increasing rate. Along with that acceptance comes new technology. Fax is one technology that seems to be “okay”. The acceptance of all the others is in question.

Call me if you have any questions, leave a message, and I’ll get back to you from the phone shack.

David Arment’s photography can be found at, and at the Arment Gallery Facebook page. If you’re in Shipshewana, Indiana, you’ll find the Arment Gallery at 125 Morton Street. Drop in and give them a hello from Amish America.

Get the Amish in your inbox

Join 15,000 email subscribers. No spam. 100% free

    Join the Amish America Patreon for bonus videos & more!

    Similar Posts

    Leave a Reply

    Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


    1. Diane Paulson

      Really Off the Grid?

      I guess the Amish ignore or don’t yet know that cell phones can be tracked. That is NOT being off the grid, that is to say, they can be found and thus under control, government control, etc. Maybe some of them are aware and need to pass the word around. I live in Silicon Valley and one of the reasons I don’t have a cell phone is because of this. It surprises me everytime I read about those that so want to be separate, really, because of cell phones, now aren’t.

    2. Anne

      How do they charge their phones? If truly off the grid then they would not be able to use them for long!

      When Ruth was expecting baby to arrive in early March of this year (one of the worst winters MN has ever had), we sent them a “Red Cross” emergency cell phone. We could imagine a blizzard that would make getting out in a horse and buggy in the wee hours just too dangerous. This cell phone doesn’t use electricity; you just wind it by hand! But would they use it? No!!! Weather conditions were terrible as we’d feared but baby cooperated and waited for the midwife to get there. I think her labor was less than two hours from start to finish. Ed has told us some things are ok to use in an urgent situation. I clearly don’t know what qualifies as “urgent”!

      1. Mark - Holmes Co.

        I’m guessing Ed’s community does not have phone shacks. Our phone is in a storage building about 15 yards from our back door. It has a solar battery light, a desk, and a chair and our phone plan has voice-mail, call waiting, caller ID, unlimited calling, etc. We can often hear the phone ring, but even so, someone checks messages a few times a day. In an emergency, it’s close enough to use in a hurry. In our area, most Old Order families have their own phone or might share it with a neighbor.
        One problem is our Dan Church neighbors are not allowed to have phones, so they use ours. It’s a bit frustrating to find the phone shack occupied by a neighbor whose church won’t allow him to have his own, although that no longer happens to us.
        Our phone is a landline, but more & more use “black box” phones that can be moved around. A friend of ours carried his phone inside for his wife every morning when their “due date” got closer.

        1. Anne

          Yes, Ed’s community has a phone but it’s about 2 miles from where they live. The nearer phone is in town, less than 1 mile. The community phone does not have an answering machine either. They only use it to call out.

          Must be frustrating to have others using your phone because their community doesn’t allow them to have a phone!

          I must say that I think it’s a sad thing for Amish communities to let cell phones in. Especially smart phones! They become addictive and disrupt wholesome relating: something the Amish do best!

          1. Mark - Holmes Co.

            Two miles is a long way in an emergency…

            I’m glad there are non-Amish people who agree with many of us about the dangers of the Smart-phone, Anne & Debbie H.

            1. OldKat

              I'm one

              I have a “smart phone”, but only because it was literally the cheapest phone available when my old one drowned (Well I kind of murdered it. Forgot it was in the pocket of my pants when I threw them in to wash!)

              I have the very smallest internet bundle available for it & never come even close to using all of that. I do not check email on it, do not surf the web on it and do not use it for “social” media. I may checlk the weather if I am outside for an extended period of time doing something that is weather sensitive.

              About the most un-social thing I can think of is someone whipping out their phone and checking Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc while they are supposedly having a conversation with someone else. If I don’t use it for those purposes I can’t be tempted to be rude while using the thing. You kind of have to think: What is the purpose of this thing & how am I actually using it. Since I only wanted it for voice communication (and very limited texting) that is how I use it.

              I’d like to thank Plain communities everywhere for giving me this insight via Amish America, of course!

      2. MKJ

        Handcrank cellphone - please provide link

        I just went to the Red Cross website, there is no handcrank cellphone there I their online store of items, can you tell us please where or how you got it, it would be a very useful item to have.

    3. Rich Stevick

      Thanks, David, for your entry today on the latest telephone scene

      Most of the Amish parents and ministers I talk with say that the use of smart phones and the Internet are the biggest challenge facing their people today. A thoughtful Amish acquaintance who is reading my book on Amish youth confirmed this for me just yesterday, fearing that these technologies are opening worldly influences that will lead to the downfall of their way of life. I’m not ready to jump on that bandwagon yet, but the more I observe, the more I wonder if one can return to “plain and simple” after spending several years on the Internet. I have found in my research that more than a thousand youth in each of the three large settlements are on Facebook. And they certainly are not reluctant to upload on to YouTube and other places videos of parties that they have attended. TWT, as we text. Rich BTW, their concerns for their youth likely apply to us and our youth.

      1. You Tube

        I am not much of a “you tube” person, but I’m now tempted to go and see if I can find any postings by Amish.

        One of the men I do business with has a business that revolves around art. He sometimes goes into town to get onto the internet to search for images. (All he has to do is come and see me!!!) He told me that he isn’t sure he can do that anymore as too many things come up that he isn’t wanting to see and isn’t prepared for.

        The technology is overwhelming (as I see your book recounts).

        Thanks for your comment. I need to read your book. I’ll buy it for myself for Chrismas.

      2. Mark - Holmes Co.

        As an Amish church member and parent of teens, I would agree with the technology being the biggest problem we face today. Our church does not allow cell-phones, but we do see unbatized youth who buy them with or without parents’ permission. You can often tell who has one and who doesn’t — there is a difference in attitude and outlook. I don’t have a cell phone, never did, have no interest in getting one, and hope they never become accepted in our church. It becomes harder & harder to draw the line when we see smart phone usage creeping into some churches. Try telling your 16 year old son it could be a harmful influence when he sees a middle-aged Amish guy talking or texting on his cell-phone at an auction…

    4. Shipshe and phones

      A couple of years ago we were researching for a book in Shipshewana, IN. I noticed that quite a few of the teens had cell phones. When I asked how they charged the phones, the answer was “At the Subway Sandwich shop or at their place of employment!” As you mentioned, they do give up the phones once they join the church.

      1. Mark - Holmes Co.

        Cell Phone Charging

        Some will use an inverter that changes 12 volt battery power to household electric. A solar panel is often used to recharge the battery.

        1. Jerry

          I often visit the Amish and Old Order Mennonite communities in Synder and Union Counties. Last year in Beavertown I noticed that nearly all the young boys had smart phones. Much better than what I own. At the Buffalo Valley charity auction last summer I observed many using cell phones but most were the older “flip phones”. I still see several phone “booths” on the Old Order farms in Synder County. I first thought they were outhouses or bus stop shelters. That was very wrong. I asked at my favorite farm if they used phones and she told me that the church allows them but mostly they used “walkie – talkies” and I saw evidence of that. I also have photos of Amish and Old Order phone shacks at several farms. Solor chargers are common in the area for the required batteries for buggy lights and cell phone power.

          Two months ago on a late Saturday afternoon I saw about 15 Amish boys waiting at the end of a lane. I stopped to chat and they told me that they were waiting for a van to take them to a bowling alley in Mifflinburg. It was not a church weekend so I guess they were out for some entertainment. All of them had cell phones. Some appeared to be texting. That was in Winfield. They were almost all smoking hand rolled cigarettes. Tobacco farming is popular here.

          It’s confusing to me why they would use or need this technology but it is what it is. I wish it was back to the way it used to be but once the box is open there is not turning back.

          1. Do Amish use walkie-talkies?

            Thanks for this local report Jerry. Funny, I don’t think I’ve ever heard of walkie-talkies being used by Amish as a standard means of communication (maybe you were referring to Mennonites, or both groups here, I couldn’t tell by the wording of your comment).

            I guess the range is limited compared to a phone but it could be handy in a limited area. I checked and was surprised to see they have published ranges of 10 or more miles.

    5. Debbie H

      Cell Phones and Cameras

      I thought the reason the Amish didn’t allow phones was because it would take away from family time and work. They don’t want teenagers or women to spend a lot of time on the phone. When my children were teenagers I had to limit how long they were on the phone otherwise they would be on it all day and all night. Now my grandchildren, and sometimes their parents, have their nose stuck in the smartphone the whole time they are visiting.

      As for cameras? I think more and more Amish are letting that slide. I know that a lot of pictures of Amish people are on websites, in news articles and on TV than I remember in the past. Sherry Gore a cookbook author appears regularly on TV and poses for pictures regular. Yes she is a convert, former English, but she still is a baptized member.

      I personally think that allowing smartphones will signal the end of the Amish. If I was an Amish parent I wouldn’t even allow my children one, even temporarily.

      1. Mark - Holmes Co.

        I agree with you, Debbie, about smartphones signalling the end of our way of life and there are MANY of our people who are very concerned about this issue.

        Sherry Gore joined a Beachy Amish/ Mennonite church which allows electricity, computers, phones, cameras, etc. As for Amish being in news articles, websites, etc., keep in mind Amish are often not asked if they mind being shown. I’m thinking of a DVD sold in the area about Amish barnraisings. The faces of anyone non-Amish has been blurred so they can’t be seen because, I assume, they might not take kindly to being shown on a DVD for sale without their permission, but the Amish people are shown clearly. I was at that barnraising and not very happy about the filming, but no one asked any member of our family if we’d mind being put on a DVD for sale.

      2. Mennonite, not Amish

        Sherry Gore is a Mennonite and they do allow photographs.

    6. Don Curtis

      Belle Center phones

      At Belle Center, Mark tells me that the folks are allowed one land-line phone in the home. No bells or whistles, though. Just a plain phone: no caller I.D., no call waiting, no leave a message. Also, Belle Center doesn’t allow cell phones at all. If unbaptized youth were using them Mark says that their parents would be contacted by the church and changes would be expected. Mark says that if a family has a separate business, they are allowed to have one phone for the business but they must pay for a separate land line. Extension phones are not permitted.

    7. Mark - Holmes Co.

      Erik, I got emails saying there are new comments on here, but when I click on them, they disappear. I’m wondering what Don wrote. 🙂

      1. Sorry about that Mark, still working on that issue.I changed a setting and I think it should be visible to you now. Thanks for the heads-up.

    8. Jonathan Edwards

      I opine...

      As always, I agree with everyone in this virtual community – I too am staunchly opposed to the use of Smartphones…as I punch this message o-n-e l-e-t-t-e-r a-t a t-i-m-e on my Samsung Galaxy S5, squinting to see the result and hoping I won’t need thicker glasses after finishing this post, which will likely fall into obscurity within the next ten minutes, give or take twenty seconds.

      I am also deeply concerned about the steadily increasing prevalence of Internet addiction. In fact, I am considering opening a shelter for Internet addicts…while making sure I have read every single comment posted to the webpage and all blog postings, eBooks, and journal articles related to Amish and Mennonite life, as well as anything else related to the “narrow” subjects of history, geography, or religion.

      In fact, I am opposed to everything that is powered by the evil force of electricity, with the exception of non-smart phones, dish washers, hand mixers, typewriters, water pumps, neon lights, and especially the thumping stereo systems found in some Lancaster County buggies…provided that the not-yet-baptized learn the ABCs of sound systems, that is, are able to differentiate between MOSFET and mouth-fed, ohms and Sherlock Holmes, and are able to distinguish an amplifier’s low-pass crossover from Kobe Bryant’s crossover dribble.

      I am especially worried about the egregious effects that social networking will inflict on tangible (in contrast to ‘virtual’), local communities…as I engage the AA community with this lengthy post.

      And I agree with the essay entitled 4 Amish “Health Habits”; especially the part about eating local foods…as I work hard to free the screen of my Samsung Galaxy S5 from smear marks which resulted from eating a family-sized bag of “low fat” deep-fried potato chips while typing this post. Or at least I am committed to buying the chemical-laden sanitizing pads from my “local” big-box retailer…

      1. OldKat

        Okay ...

        Well Jonathan, you certainly provided a thought provoking post. Glad you shared those concerns with us; all the while with your tongue plant firmly in cheek.

        While it may sound like I am giving you a left-handed compliment, you do bring up a good point. Though possibly not the one that you intended. Yes, there are those that ARE perfectly comfortable with all sorts of technology, anything goes and whatever that results in is literally “the way it is”. I am all good with that if that is what they want FOR THEM. The rub comes in when other people, thinking people at that, don’t see it that way. At what point does the way one group wants to do things have the right to infringe on the way the other group wants to do things?

        I see it as sort of like the smoking thing. I personally have no problem with people smoking, if that is what THEY want to do. Do I do it? No way. Would I recommend that anyone take up that habit? Not on your life. Am I going to tell someone that they can’t do it in the privacy of their own home, their car etc? Absolutely not. Am I going to allow them to do it in my car or my home? Absolutely not.
        So if someone wants to smoke in their home, their car or in an open area like a park, I say go for it.

        What about in areas where non-smokers and smokers converge? Well that gets a little more dicey. Though most municipalities have designated certain areas as “No Smoking” it really shouldn’t have had to come to that, but it did, because there were no guidelines in place for what was or was not acceptable behavior. Same with the use of technology. Ever sat in a nice, quiet restaurant enjoying the company of a friend or family member and some clown is talking on his cell phone at the top of his lungs? I have. Kind of ruins the moment if you know what I mean. Ever been walking into an office building or shopping area and have someone that is walking along texting or surfing the web on their smart phone nearly run into you? And then look at you as if YOU are crazy or negligent? I have. Don’t even get me started on people that do these things while driving.

        Ever seen a large group of teenagers out for an evening and, if you watch closely, you realize that they are not communicating with EACH OTHER, but with OTHER PEOPLE that are not even present? That is rude, no matter how you slice it. Ever seen someone take a picture of a group like this and see two teenagers (usually female) paste on these big phony smiles, lean their heads together while the picture is being snapped and then promptly go back to totally ignoring each other? I have and that is about the most artificial thing that I have ever seen.

        While these ar e annoying, they are all MINOR points. There are many, many more that are far more disturbing and far more dangerous. So if anyone is concerned about where technology is taking us I am certainly willing to let them voice their concerns. I am not going to be dismissive of their concerns. Anymore than I would be dismissive of anyone that doesn’t share those concerns.

        Ironically, some of the very technologies that were designed to increase communication and have been touted as being on the cutting edge of educational and societal advancement are now being eyed by some as contributing to a breakdown in the ability of some young people to communicate, the stagnation in education and a degeneration of societal mores. Not that I necessarily agree with those that see it that way, but I have seen enough to know that I don’t want to stand up and claim that they are all off target either. I don’t blame the Amish for being skeptical of some technologies; I am, too and my job is immersed in technology.

        1. Jonathan Edwards



          I enjoyed reading your whatever-handed post and was glad you realized it was written with tongue firmly planted in cheek, as has been the case each time I posted here, with the exception of the Buchanan County thread. I wasn’t sure if anyone caught my attempt at humor in the Allen County manure-throwing thread–for example, Eric didn’t respond to my joke about editing a collected set of essays and seems to have blocked my second post to appear–so I tried to make it unavoidably obvious in this post.

          You briefly speculated about the purpose/point/goal of my post. A writer’s intentions are always (to some extent) shrouded in mystery, even to the author himself. And especially if the writer is trying to craft something that we call ‘literature.’ Poets are the worst. It is something of a game to keep readers guessing at what the author is trying to say. But it does translate into job security for a certain cross-section of school teachers.

          But my purpose was a bit more straightforward–to try to add a bit of humor to the thread. I did not expect anyone to take offense at my feeble attempt at humor because it applies to me as well, even if I only post a few times and quickly return to a state of self-imposed electronic exile. Yes, it is ironic that people who laud the Amish for being largely free of the influences of the mainstream media, entertainment industry, and social networking do so on a blog. But I agree with (most of) your post–people can benefit from the conversation even if they do not draw the same lines.

          In fact, many of the Amish would say this is the ideal outcome. Many do not encourage outsiders to join them. Instead, they would encourage them to make a positive difference where they grew up. However, some would also say that if a person knows what they should do but is not willing to pay the price then their religion is not of too much value. I am not sure these tendencies can be easily reconciled.

          1. I had trouble interpreting the intent of that comment you’re referencing, especially since I believe it was your first here. Anyway, I am glad for your contributions since. And the image of your smear-marked screen brought a smile. The only reason I don’t have a smear-marked smartphone screen is that I don’t have a smartphone yet…though with the battery failing, probably terminally, on my current dumb-phone, I believe those days are numbered. I do have a smear-marked tablet screen though, so I guess it’s about the same 🙂

            1. Jonathan Edwards


              Thanks, Erik. That is understandable. After all, I was a bit naughty at first. I posted the comment about being glad that no one has tried to immolate me.

              I got such a kick out of it when S-h-O-m said that “I try in small “English ways” to immolate them.” I don’t think I could imagine a more dramatic swap of words, immolate for ‘imitate,’ and in reference to the non-resistant Amish people. So I was a little bit naughty and offered my ‘Thanksgiving Thanks’ that I had not suffered such a fate. And of course spun it quickly toward a more serious subject. So perhaps my naughtiness provided sufficient reason to be a bit skeptical of my intentions. My mother would certainly have rebuked me…

              I don’t have a real email address attached to my “name.” Its a bit like having a phone shanty without voicemail. I’ll “call back” when someone posts a reply here.

              And keep up the good work. This is an interesting place.

              1. Thanks J.E., no worries. I am glad you are here and glad for your contributions. We’ll know how to get in touch with you here in the community shanty 🙂

          2. OldKat

            Well actually ,,,

            I didn’t take any offense whatsoever at your post. It was very interesting. In fact, it was downright thought provoking. So I didn’t see any problem with it in any way.(and yes, I got the humor … I am OLD; I am not DEAD!))

            The only problem I have with any of this whole deal is that in re-reading your post I can’t for the life of me figure out why I went off on the tangent that I did in responding to it. The stimulus doesn’t quite match the response; if you know what I mean.

            At any rate, I hope you stick around. Everyone that posts on here seems to have some special niche where they can contribute. Your understanding of the Buchanan County Amish is obvious and your insight into many of their issues is AMAZING. You clearly didn’t start studying them yesterday. Your humor is pretty good, too.

            BTW: I hate those smudges, smears or whatever on my smart phone screen. I keep eyeglass cleaning towelettes with me just to keep it somewhat tolerable.

            1. Just for the record I was referencing a previous post from about a month or so ago. But that doesn’t matter at this point. I am not the most adept purveyor of humor, but it doesn’t stop me from trying – and appreciating it in others 🙂 And I wholeheartedly agree with your comment about niches. On that note I think of you Oldkat as our resident horse and fossil fuels expert, if not other things.

    9. Alice Mary

      Phone's for you!

      In the last few months, I’ve had the opportunity to deal with Loren Yoder of Silver Star Leather in Shipshewana, IN. He and his wife, Dorcas, designed and produced a very sturdy “wristlet” (ladies wallet with a wrist strap) for me. We spoke by phone a few times over the approx. 3 mos. it took to complete the order. On “his” end, he was #1 on a shared answering machine with about 3 other families/businesses. If we had to communicate via snail mail (yes, we did some of that, too), I’m pretty sure it’d have taken twice as long.

      Speaking of phone booths/shacks/shanies, you can see (& purchase) a puzzle made of photos of Amish phone booths, taken by the founder of Lehman’s in Kidron, Ohio. See it here:

      Alice Mary

      1. Silver Star Leather

        Alice Mary, glad to hear you got this done, and I hope it was worth the wait. From the times I’ve met him Loren seems like a very nice person to deal with, and also someone whose services are in demand, so I can see the time frame being 3 months.

        For anyone who missed it, we featured Loren’s exotic and “regular” leather business here earlier this year:

    10. Slightly-handled-Order-man

      I read some of the harrowing accounts in the replies so far, and wow, I can only imagine what life is like when you don’t own a phone on account of of religion. I own a simple cell phone, but only have it for emergencies and get chastised if I leave it at home on my kitchen table.

      When I first saw the headline for this article, I have to admit that my silly mind began to race with music, but skewed, riffing on a parody of the old 1980s song by the B52s, only it was “Phone shack, baby…” instead of “Love Shack”…

    11. MKJ


      If growing up with access to phones and internet is a worldly or sinful influence, how am I not posting duckface selfies all over the internet and a totally debased person by now . . .

      Amish smoking and running terrible puppy mills, seems they’ve debased themselves with wrong actions easily enough all on their own before and/or despite of communication technology.