Pennsylania Amishman John Stoltzfus has agreed to answer some reader questions.  Last week’s concerned Amish medical care and use of vaccinations. As before, John notes that he will take a general approach to his answers, keeping in mind that communities differ.

Today’s question is on Amish migration:

How do settlements get started? Is it just people from previous settlements moving and starting them in other places or can anyone start one up? Do they not settle in the South because of the harsher weather conditions and more drought conditions?

John responds:

Starting a settlement takes a lot of travel searching for an open agricultural community, while keeping in mind that if the community grows that it’s not blocked in by a large mountain, a large river or a large city, rather any obstacle that could prohibit its growth.

I have a step brother-in-law Abe, that helped start one of the Kentucky settlements and I asked him what made him choose this area. Abe mentioned that now there is a realty firm that actually searches out different areas.  So in Abe’s story, there were a few different areas that the Realtor had picked out, including an area in Ohio, (if I remember correctly), just south of Route 70. I don’t remember the exact reason for not selecting the Ohio area, however they traveled on and ended up in Kentucky.

Most of the decisions are based on land prices, milk markets, land quality, climate and is lured along by pioneer spirit. Farmers can sell a Lancaster County farm and buy two or three in another settlement; as the plain population grows, the prices climb. People that like the cold climates end up in Wisconsin, warm blooded people pick the southern climates. There is a drawback with farming in the warm climates; temperatures reaching 100 degrees is tough for the horses and mules.

The success of the settlement seems to be higher if the decision is based on land prices.  The settlement has a bigger chance of failure, if the decision is for doing it “Our Own Way”, or rather moving away from one’s troubles.

The other thing that they keep in mind is distance from the “Home” community. The three-well known settlements are Holmes County, Ohio – Lancaster County, Pennsylvania – Northern Indiana (Goshen, Shipshewana & Topeka areas).  All the breakout settlements have strong ties to the parent community. The most important tie is the Ministry and secondly the merchandise that is produced in the “Home” community.


John Stoltzfus is a father of five and member of a Pennsylvania Old Order Amish community. John works in product design for a local farm supply company. In his spare time he creates computer-generated art, which you can view here.


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