Arkansas is home to few Amish
Arkansas has seen just a few attempts at Amish settlement, with the first settlers arriving in the 1920s. Today, there is a small Amish presence in the state found in a pair of communities. Updated November 2021
Amish communities in Arkansas
By its nickname, the “Natural State” seems like it would be a great location for Amish. However, few have ever attempted to settle Arkansas and few are found there today. In contrast, Arkansas’s neighbor to the north, Missouri, has seen much greater Amish settlement (the 7th-largest population in America).
A buggy in the community at Salem. Image by Don Burke
Reasons for little Arkansas Amish settlement likely include climate and proximity to other communities. Relatively few Amish are found in the Southern states (read more on Amish in the South).
According to the Young Center for Anabaptist and Pietist Studies, Arkansas is home to two Amish settlements as of 2021 (since 2010, the state lost one settlement, the community near Rector in Clay County). Amish communities can be found near Salem in Fulton County on the Missouri border (founded 2008) and in the area of Siloam Springs and Gentry in Benton County (founded 2013).
Settlers to the Fulton County community originated from the Tennessee Amish settlement at McKenzie. In a 2009 news piece on Amish produce, Fulton County settler and former horseshoer Vernon Borntreger explained that before his move, Tennessee neighbors had told him “growing produce is as hard on your back as shoeing horses. I told them that might be, but I didn’t have to worry about getting kicked by the produce” (see “Vernon’s First Year Garden Produces the Produce”). The community is a single church district in size though has grown over time from just a handful of families. For a closer look at the Fulton County settlement, see this post.
The settlement in Benton County is slightly larger at two church districts in size.
Historical Amish settlements in Arkansas
In their nearly 3 centuries in North America, Amish have settled many states, with varying success. Arkansas attracted its first Amish pioneers in the 1920s. Settlers from the Centreville Amish community in St. Joseph County, Michigan began arriving in Arkansas County in 1927, settling on farms in the vicinity of the town of Stuttgart. A total of seven families made up this community.
As Amish historian David Luthy explains, the Stuttgart community faced challenges from the warm weather and heavy moisture, which complicated rice irrigation and harvesting, and generally made life uncomfortable. The community faced setbacks including the sudden death of its bishop as well as financial losses due to bank failure during the Great Depression. By 1938, all Amish had left the area (see The Amish in America: Settlements that Failed 1840-1960, pp 35-36).
Not all Amish left the state, however. In 1932, a single family from the Stuttgart community set up farming in Craighead County near Nettleton, today a township on the outskirts of the city of Jonesboro. Two families from Mississippi Amish settlements joined the lone pioneer family later in the year. However, this community came to a quick end with all families having departed by 1934 (Settlements that Failed pp. 36-37).
Later Arkansas Amish settlement includes the community at Vilonia in Faulkner County, founded by Amish from Iowa in 1959, and lasting until 1965. John Heide writes that “Most members of this group were related to each other, which, along with several years of bad crops and the lack of eligible young people for marriage, resulted in most of the families moving back to Iowa” (see Encyclopedia of Arkansas History and Culture).
The now-defunct Rector community (Clay County)
The settlement at Rector in Clay County in northeastern Arkansas began in 2009, but had gone extinct five years later. Amish moved here from communities in Indiana, Tennessee, and Illinois, and set up farms and small businesses, including a bakery and a greenhouse.
Amish used a community building as a one-room schoolhouse and in the 2010-2011 school year, had eight pupils (or “scholars” as the Amish call them).
However, despite the initial attraction of the area, the community failed to grow. Photographer Don Burke, who visited the area after the Amish had left, shares this account:
According to a pastor friend who lives nearby and who was a patron of the bakery there, the Amish opted to leave because their anticipated plans for other Amish to join them didn’t materialize.
This was especially a problem in that it left their children without other Amish their age to marry. It seems the individual families went differing ways – some moving back where they came from, others to be with family elsewhere, and at least one who moved to Illinois to be close to a hospital where their child was receiving extended treatment.
My pastor friend tells me that the last known Amish resident of Rector was one of the Hochstetlers [the community’s bishop or part of his family], who was simply waiting for his farm to sell before moving.
In his photos on this page, you can see some remnants of this short-lived Amish settlement. Read a longer account and view more photos of the now-extinct Rector community here.
For further information, see:
The New American Almanac 2021, Raber’s Bookstore (Baltic, Ohio), Ben J. Raber
“Amish Population in the United States by State and County, 2021” Young Center for Anabaptist and Pietist Studies, Elizabethtown College (https://groups.etown.edu/amishstudies/files/2021/08/Amish-Pop-2021_by-state-and-county.pdf)
The Amish in America: Settlements That Failed 1840-1960, David Luthy
“Vernon’s First Year Garden Produces the Produce”, Erma Harris, Villager Journal, September 2, 2009. Online at http://www.areawidenews.com/story/1567141.html
“The Amish Settlement at Vilonia”, John J. Heide, Faulkner Facts and Fiddlings 41 (Spring/Summer 1999): 23–29
Encyclopedia of Arkansas History and Culture, “Amish”, John J. Heide, online at http://www.encyclopediaofarkansas.net/encyclopedia/entry-detail.aspx?entryID=4717
The Amish Settlement at Vilonia, Arkansas; Lester F. Graber
“The Quaint and the Devout: A Study of the Amish at Vilonia, Arkansas”, Ruth McKnight, Arkansas Historical Quarterly 23 (Winter 1964): 314–328.
Amish Furniture-Arkansas–a guide to Arkansas Amish furniture sellers
You might also like: