In “The Growth of Amish and Plain Anabaptist Communities in Kentucky” (see latest issue of JAPAS), Joseph Donnemeyer and Corey Anderson examine the development of Amish and other Anabaptist communities in the Bluegrass State.

Amish Settlement In KentuckyThey also touch on Amish settlement (or lack thereof) in the southern states.

I pulled some interesting points from the article to share with you below.

Amish-Mennonites in Kentucky

One thing to be aware of is that the authors use “Amish” in the text to apply to both horse-and-buggy and Beachy Amish/Amish-Mennonite groups. They give 53 as the total number of churches in these two categories, and if my math is correct 16 of those would be considered Amish-Mennonite.

If you’re wondering who Amish-Mennonites are, they explain that in the text as well. These are churches which emerged from three separate paths out of the Old Order Amish to form more formalized, technologically-open, evangelical Protestantism-influenced religious groups. Today they include the Beachy Amish churches, which, despite the changes, “still identified as Amish.”

Kentucky has greater Amish-Mennonite diversity than any other state, with six subgroups, and is fourth behind Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Indiana for total number of members and churches.

Facts about Old Order Amish in Kentucky

Leaving aside Amish-Mennonite churches, there are 37 horse-and-buggy Amish communities in Kentucky, including Old Order, New Order, and Swartzentruber Amish churches.

  • Kentucky’s “most Amish” county is Hart County, containing parts of two settlements–Munfordville/Horse Cave, and Hardyville/Three Springs. About one in eleven Hart County residents is Amish.
  • Compared to other largish-Amish population states, Amish came relatively late to Kentucky, first settling at Guthrie in 1958.
  • Kentucky’s two biggest settlements are Munfordville/Horse Cave (13 church districts) and Hopkinsville/Pembroke (6 districts). Both were founded in 1989.
  • There is little Amish settlement in the mountainous eastern counties of the state.

Settlement Struggles in the South

Why aren’t there more Amish in the South? The authors describe Kentucky as being unusual as a southern state with a significant Amish population, while Amish settlement in the South has generally lagged.

The earliest Amish southern-state settlement attempts, in the 1890s, failed due in part to being too far from other Old Order communities. The South remains more difficult for Old Order Amish to settle:

Even today, the Old Orders have been less able to plant permanent settlements in many regions of the South, despite rapid growth into regions of Midwestern states in which the Old Orders have never gone before,
such as Minnesota and Nebraska. Kentucky is the exception, bordering large Amish populations in Ohio and Indiana.

Missouri, which straddles regions, could also be considered Southern (at least in part). The Show Me State has a significant Amish population, even larger than Kentucky’s.

Leaving Kentucky and Missouri aside, Donnemeyer and Anderson note that settlement attempts in the South since 1990 have failed at a much higher rate (nearly 1/3 failed) than any other region in North America.

Other Plain Anabaptist Groups in KY

Besides horse-and-buggy Amish and Amish-Mennonites, there are 33 other plain Anabaptist congregations in the Bluegrass State. These include Old Order Mennonites (who also use the horse-and-buggy) and groups labeled as “Conservative Mennonite”.

  • Non-Amish Plain Anabaptists in Kentucky include the Apostolic Christian Church, Church of God in Christ – Mennonite (Holdeman), and “Intentional Churches”.
  • In contrast to the Amish, conservative Mennonites “who seek to establish a community witness in a non-Anabaptist area” have made their homes in the eastern Appalachia end of the state.
  • Kentucky, along with Tennessee, “[have] become notorious for picking up experimental plain Anabaptist churches”, such as the Hoover Mennonites of Scottsville, KY, or the Christian Community churches, founded by former Ontario Amish bishop Elmo Stoll.

Concerning the Old Order Amish, the article includes examples of how quickly settlements can grow and motivations for moving.

There are also detailed charts at the end listing both the individual Kentucky Amish and Amish-Mennonite settlements, and population by county.

Read the article in full here.

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