Ask an Amishman: How do settlements get started?

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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    1. Tom in Kentucky

      I am really enjoying these interviews with John Stoltzfus. I find his comment about the pioneer spirit to be interesting. I never really considered some Amish blazing new trails as being pioneers, but I guess in someways they really are.

    2. Carolyn B

      I’m still marveling at the thought of an Old Order Amish man working with computer-generated art. Art and technology seem such a polar opposite concept for the Amish life.

      Thanks for contributing to this blog, John S.

      1. John is actually in Florida right now, he was invited to a conference put on by the maker of the software he uses to create his art. He wrote about his trip some here:

        1. John


          Returned last evening around 8:45pm

          1. Welcome back John, I think you weren’t sad for going 🙂

      2. John

        Carolyn B

        You’re Welcome ….

    3. Dody

      Thank you for answering our questions

      Please tell Mr. Stoltzfus thank you for answering our questions. I imagine it must be difficult to strike the right balance in answering our questions. My family appreciates his willingness to explain things.

      1. OldKat

        I agree

        Yes, thanks John. Erik, is he possibly going out on a limb with his district for answering these questions?

        1. John


          The answer is “No” ….

      2. John


        You’re welcome Dody

    4. D Moore

      I am a mayor of a small town in South Jersey and we would love to have an Amish settlement here. Can someone tell me the name of the realtor mentioned in the store? Our area has lots of land for sale, is very rural and quiet, and has many farms.

      1. John

        D Moore

        The best place to check for the realtors is in the Lancaster Farming


    5. Slightly-handled-Order-man

      chances of failure

      “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.”

      This comment stood out to me mainly because a “doing it our own way” split is, at least the way I am reading the history, how the Amish came to be, separate from Mennonites and other Anabaptists.

      From what we’ve read here on Amish America, sometimes a new community can start if a small number of families move together to another location, on another entry there was even talk of church groups beginning because of pressures stemming from in-laws, or is that touched on in the “or rather moving away from our troubles”?

    6. Al in Ky.

      I enjoyed the information in this post. I am reading the small
      book by David Luthy entitled “Why Some Amish Communities Fail:
      Extinct Settlements 1961-2007” (Pathway Publishers). It’s interesting comparing information regarding reasons why communities
      fail, with reasons for new communities getting started.

      1. If you enjoy that one I recommend the original book-sized volume Al. There are over 100 failed settlement histories in that one. A lot of work went into reconstructing these extinct communities’ stories using letters, Budget correspondence, and other sources.

    7. Erin

      This was interesting from the Amish perspective. There is a newer Amish community in Central MN (Mora, MN) that started about 18 months ago. Most of them moved from WI, MO, and Canada. One gentleman kindly answered many of my questions, even though I could clearly see he was busy unloading the preaching benches. He told me that they choose that area because the property was half woods and half farming land. I’m not sure if they hired a realtor to assist them or if they even looked at the land prior to moving. He did tell me that they hired semi drivers to move their things. There are also a few small lakes between their homes that they enjoy canoeing on. Most of them are related but there is one family from Ontario and I asked how they ended up in MN and he said that the women all have a circle letter and invited them to join the others. He said he has family in Canada that is making plans to move to MN as well. The local newspaper has done several articles about them and what they have to offer. They did state that they didn’t want to draw attention to themselves, but that they wanted to thank the community for welcoming them. I’m so glad they re-located.

      1. Lattice

        That’s sweet, Erin. It’s nice to have good neighbors, isn’t it?

    8. Stacia Simmons

      Funerals and blessings

      I guess it is kind of odd that I would comment on “how Amish settlements get started” and mention a funeral. An Amish settlement in Christian County, KY was part of a message for me from God at a sad time. My mother’s family had a small farm outside of Pembroke, Ky. My great grandfather had a little over two hundred acres that he cared for. The house on the farm was built for his bride in the 1890’s. The farm house changed a little over the years (not as much as the world changed). Electricity, and propane heat made the fire places decorative rather than functional, porches added on, indoor plumbing. I can close my eyes and walk through the rooms of the house. I slid down the banisters of the stairs. Granddaddy’s desk was on the landing upstairs. It still had a dirt cellar that was used for the vegetables that were harvested from the kitchen garden that my grandfather kept. I loved visiting the farm when I was a girl. We lived close enough when I was young to spend holidays and summer vacations there. I thought every kid had a place like that. It is still a precious memory. My parents moved to California and I missed my grandparents and the farm so much. When my great grandfather died, my great aunt pressured the family to sell the farm. My grandparents were no longer physically able to maintain the property. It was getting run down. I hoped I would someday meet someone who would want to make a life with me at the farm. It wasn’t meant to be. The farm was sold. Nobody lived in the farmhouse and it was getting so run down and was in danger of being torn down. My grandmother passed away and our family brought her back to Pembroke. Her funeral was held in the Baptist church she was married in and she was buried beside her husband, her sister, her parents and many other family members in Rosedale cemetery. The funeral had many gifts in moments with friends and relatives, and a family friend offered to take us for a little drive to see how the area had changed in the years we had been away. I didn’t really want to see the farm where I could no longer play in the attic, take a walk past the barn, hear doves calling in the trees or smell the freshly cut hay. I knew “secrets” on that farm. There was a sinkhole that had an old car in it. Rivers ran under the farm and one day “swallowed” the pond. There was a brick ruins of an old house back on the lot. I knew where a tobacco barn had been blown down by a tornado. I knew there were more “secrets” to be discovered if i had just had the time. I was so sad that the farm was out of my reach forever. Our friend drove us by the “Cross farm” which had been bought by an Amish family. They had also moved Grandpap’s house to their land and were carefully restoring it. A home for their family to make new memories. It was a powerful message of resurrection. My grandmother wasn’t gone, she had changed. Yes and that was a house that had been full of love from one family. It was changing hands, given a new life, new beauty in a new way. It healed me a little bit. I miss the farm but I was given so many gifts in return. I don’t know who the family is that bought the farm and took a broken down old house and gave it new life. I sure would like to thank them using this post.