Maryland‘s three Amish communities are scattered to its far corners – one in the eastern upper corner of the state, another in the Appalachians of the far west, and the largest in St. Mary’s County in the southern Chesapeake Bay area. In recent years the state has also seen “spillover” settlement by Amish from the neighboring Lancaster County, PA community.
However, unlike neighboring states (such as Virginia or West Virginia), the Old Line State has attracted relatively little new Amish settlement over the past two decades. As of 2023, the estimated Amish population in Maryland is over 1,800 people, most of whom live in the sizeable St. Mary’s County settlement.
Amish communities in Maryland
- St. Mary’s County – Located near the town of Mechanicsville, this community of about 1,600 Amish was founded by Lancaster Amish transplants in 1940
- Oakland – By far the oldest present-day Amish community in the state, Oakland in Garrett County is home to “electric New Order” Amish
- Cecilton – A small community of just one church district is found in Cecil County on the state’s Delmarva peninsula.
- Lancaster County Amish in Maryland – A significant number of Amish have settled over the border in Maryland from neighboring Lancaster County, Pennsylvania
- Maryland Amish Markets – For several days each week, Amish from outside the state operate stands at suburban and city markets (Baltimore-area and other locations)
A community of Amish have lived in the highly-populated area south of Washington, DC since 1940. The St. Mary’s County settlement was founded by Amish from Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, in response to pressures over schooling.
Schools in Lancaster County were being consolidated at the time, and a group of Amish from the community decided to found a new settlement a couple hours south in Maryland. Amish objected to the wider trend towards larger schools removed from their local communities. In Maryland, they hoped to escape conflict over their children’s education.
Today (2023) the St. Mary’s County community numbers 10 church districts, with an estimated population of 1,575 Amish people (see Young Center 2023 Amish Population by County and State). Amish here maintain ties with Lancaster County Amish, and drive similar distinctive grey-topped buggies.
Related communities can be found in neighboring Virginia (Charlotte County) as well as at Athens, Wisconsin and Johnsonville, Illinois, among other places. Like their counterparts in Lancaster County, Amish here maintain dairy farms, raise produce, and operate numerous small businesses.
And like a few other eastern seaboard settlements such as those in Lancaster County and at Dover, Delaware, Amish in St. Mary’s County have experienced pressures due to the growing population in the region.
St. Mary’s County is also home to a community of Old Order Mennonites (Old Order Mennonites bear similarities to Amish, including use of the horse-and-buggy). While the Amish live mainly in the northern part of the county, Old Order Mennonites can be found further south near Loveville. Read more on the Amish in St. Mary’s County, MD.
The oldest Amish community in Maryland also belongs to one of the more unusual groups in all of Amish society. Amish at Oakland in Garrett County (the state’s westernmost county) are considered part of the “electric” New Order Amish affiliation.
Electric New Order Amish are perhaps the most progressive when it comes to technology allowed. Crossing a line which most Amish avoid, Amish at Oakland permit the use of public electricity in the home. They stand in contrast to the “nonelectric” New Order churches, which do not.
Despite this allowance, they are still considered Amish by other Amish churches. They use the horse-and-buggy, wear plain clothing, and adhere to many of the same cultural traditions and beliefs as other Amish people.
The Oakland community is quite old. Founded in 1850, the community later came to be associated with the electric New Order movement, which itself came about in the mid-20th century. Scholar G.C. Waldrep notes, however, that “the older Amish settlements at Hutchinson, Kansas and Oakland, Maryland have electricity and are generally classed with the electric New Orders, but their ministers do not, at last report, participate in the annual minister’s meeting” (Waldrep, p. 399).
For a community of over 170 years in age, Oakland is small, with only one church district. However, as of 2007 the district was twice the size of most, described as having around 70 households (see Waldrep, p. 424). As of 2023, the local Amish population numbers about 170 individuals (large by Amish standard for a single church district). Like some other New Order Amish communities, the settlement at Oakland has attracted some converts to the Amish.
The Cecilton community is Maryland’s “youngest”, founded in 1999 (so not exactly “young” at about a quarter-century old). The community lies in Cecil County, on Maryland’s Delmarva peninsula, about an equal distance from the cities of Dover and Wilmington in Delaware.
The Amish at Cecilton are also just a short distance from the southernmost homes in the Lancaster County settlement (approximately 30 miles away). The settlement itself has grown very slowly despite its close proximity to the Lancaster community, and numbers only around 90 Amish residents today.
Though the state of Maryland has just three “official” Amish communities, these aren’t the only Amish living within the state’s borders. That is because a number of Amish technically belonging to the Lancaster County, PA group have settled over the state border in Maryland. With the growth of the Lancaster settlement (at well over 40,000 Amish people and counting), the community has not only expanded into other Pennsylvania counties, but in this case, a neighboring state.
Amish have settled in northern Cecil County near the Pennsylvania border, notably in the areas of Rising Sun and North East. This would not be considered a part of the Cecilton community, but rather an extension of the Lancaster community. One observer estimates that there are “likely hundreds” of Amish living in this area, which if accurate may boost the official estimate of Amish in Maryland by even 10-20%.
In addition to the state’s permanent Amish residents, Maryland is home to a number of Pennsylvania Dutch Markets (aka Amish Markets), where Amish stand owners (often from communities in Pennsylvania) operate businesses including bakeries, furniture stores, pretzel stands, and cheese and meats outlets.
This form of business is particularly popular among Amish in the highly entrepreneurial Lancaster County, PA community – a way of taking the “Amish experience” to the city or suburbs. Amish markets can be found in the vicinity of Baltimore and in the Washington, DC area. Locations of such markets include Germantown, Laurel, Annapolis, Joppa, Hagerstown, Easton, and others.
While technically (in most cases) not residents of Maryland, these Amish provide a temporary “boost” to the Plain presence in the state. Most Pennsylvania Dutch markets operate three days per week (usually Thursday, Friday, and Saturday). Amish commonly operate the stands as families, involving both parents and children. Some may commute even one to two hours in one direction from home to market and back again. Check out our guide for more on Amish markets in Maryland.
Extinct Maryland Amish Communities
Maryland has seen only a few attempts to settle by Amish. Besides the current communities, however, one other very long-lasting settlement existed just outside present-day Baltimore. The community at Long Green just northeast of Baltimore city was founded in 1833, and lasted for 120 years, before disappearing in the 1950s.
Lying 15 miles outside Baltimore, this community was founded by Lancaster County Amish during the slave era. Historian David Luthy cites this as a reason few Amish ever settled in Long Green. “Most Amishmen in that era viewed the Mason-Dixon line as uncrossable,” notes Luthy. “One descendant of the settlers stated: “Long Green was a rich farming valley and land was cheap. More Lancaster County folks would have come had there been no slavery” (Luthy, Settlements that Failed, p. 169).
This settlement never grew large, and eventually made some progressive adaptions, such as building a meetinghouse in 1899. The community dwindled over time, with the last member dying in 1953 (Luthy, Setlements That Failed, p. 172-173).
Why don’t more Amish settle in Maryland?
Despite its close proximity to Pennsylvania, Maryland has not attracted much settlement by Amish. Only a handful of communities have ever been founded in the Old Line State. And contrary to the trends in surrounding states, Maryland has failed to attract new Amish settlements in recent years.
By comparison, next-door Virginia has added six Amish settlements since 2019, including communities started by Amish from overcrowded Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. So why have Amish found Maryland less attractive to settle, especially with neighboring Pennsylvania having the largest Amish population of any state?
One reason is that the highly-populated Baltimore – DC corridor, consuming much of the state’s land area, prevents much Amish settlement. Amish who do live near this area experience land and population pressures similar to those of Amish in densely-settled Lancaster County. When seeking a fresh start in a new state, it may very well be that places like Virginia or New York offer more opportunities for available farmland, with inactive farms more abundant and easier to acquire.
For this reason, Maryland is unlikely to see the degree of future Amish settlement as other states which offer more attractive conditions for settlement, such as cheaper farmland. Still, with an uninterrupted Amish presence for nearly 200 years, and with its current long-established electric New Order community and Lancaster County daughter settlements, the state is significant to the Amish story.
For further information, see:
- The New American Almanac, Raber’s Bookstore (Baltic, Ohio), Ben J. Raber
- The Amish in America: Settlements that Failed, 1840-1960, David Luthy
- “The New Order Amish and Para-Amish Groups”, G.C. Waldrep, Mennonite Quarterly Review July 2008
- “Amish Population, 2023” Young Center for Anabaptist and Pietist Studies, Elizabethtown College
- “Amish Population in the United States by State, County, and Settlement, 2023” – compiled by Edsel Burdge, Joseph F. Donnermeyer, and Adam Hershberger
- Amish America blog: “The Amish of Mechanicsville, Maryland“