New York has the fastest-growing Amish population, and 5th-largest overall
The Empire State first saw Amish settlers in 1831, and has had a significant Amish presence since the 1970s.
In recent years New York’s Amish population has grown by leaps and bounds, with over a dozen new settlements having been founded since 2000.
Amish settlements in New York include:
- Conewango Valley-the largest and oldest settlement in New York. Founded by “Troyer Amish” in 1949; roughly 1,500 Amish live here today
- Heuvelton-a highly conservative Swartzentruber Amish community near the Canadian border. The second-largest in NY, with 11 church districts as of 2010
- Clymer-settled by Amish from Geauga County, Ohio in the 1970s, this is one of the most significant Amish communities in Western New York
- Mohawk Valley-the Mohawk Valley in central NY is home to five distinct Amish settlements
- Mayville and Lowville-These 2 settlements were founded by Amish from Pennsylvania
New York Amish origins
As described in David Luthy’s The Amish in America: Settlements that Failed, 1840-1960, the first Amish settlers to New York arrived in 1831. These pioneer Amish settled in Lewis County near the town of Croghan in upstate New York.
This settlement grew during the 1830s and 1840s, attracting settlers from Alsace-Lorraine in Europe. Eventually the settlers in this original group assimilated with more progressive churches, and by the 1950s the descendants identified themselves as Mennonite.
The next New York Amish community was not founded until 1949, in the Conewango Valley of Cattaraugus and Chautauqua Counties. The Conewango Valley settlement is currently the largest in New York, with 13 church districts as of 2008.
Amish in the Conewango Valley
The Conewango Valley is home to the oldest and largest Amish settlement in New York today. In New York Amish: Life in the Plain Communities of the Empire State, Karen Johnson-Weiner outlines the founding of this settlement. The first group to arrive, coming from Pennsylvania and Ohio, consisted of members of the highly conservative Troyer Amish group.
Members of this group were motivated to come to the Empire State in order to acquire farmland and maintain an agricultural tradition.
Additionally, Johnson-Weiner notes that the move to New York allowed the new settlers to avoid ongoing church dissension in the Holmes County Ohio settlement, which had earlier resulted in the formation of the Swartzentruber Amish affiliation.
The Troyer group itself formed in Holmes County in 1932 over conflict concerning excommunication. Moving to New York allowed these Ohio Amish to preserve homogeneity and start anew, away from threats in other communities.
Today the Conewango settlement is one of the most conservative in New York. Johnson-Weiner describes Troyer Amish homes as lacking “linoleum floors, carpeting, sofas, and other upholstered furniture. There are no indoor toilets, and homes are lit with oil lamps instead of gas or battery powered lamps.” (New York Amish, Johnson-Weiner, p35).
Amish in this settlement have maintained a strong agricultural lifestyle, producing milk for a local cheese factory. Amish in the area are also involved in small industry, with businesses including basket-making, furniture production, harness, and sawmills. Amish here are conservative in outlook, but practically oriented to the public in many of the enterprises they run, selling products to local New Yorkers and tourist visitors alike.
The area of Heuvelton, in St. Lawrence County in upstate New York, is also home to a highly conservative group of Amish.
This Swartzentruber Amish community was founded in 1974. Johnson-Weiner explains that the motivation for the move, like that of many Amish migrants, was affordable farmland. Similarly to the Troyer Amish migrants to Conewango Valley, New York also offered these Amish settlers refuge from conflict and threats from more progressive Amish groups in their home settlement of Holmes and Wayne Counties in Ohio.
Like other Amish, Swartzentruber life is dictated by the Ordnung, a set of guidelines for daily living. The Ordnungs of Swartzentruber Amish groups are particularly strict. The hair of Swartzentruber men is longer than that of other Amish, and women’s clothing is heavier. Homes are typically sparsely decorated, and follow a standard design plan. Swartzentruber buggies lack a slow-moving vehicle triangle, electric lighting, windshields, and mirrors.
When it comes to technology, battery-powered flashlights are permitted in Swartzentruber districts, but most other forms of power, including hydraulic and air power, are not.
Swartzentruber shops are typically operated using a diesel engine which turns a crankshaft running underneath the floor. Belts emerge from the floor in various places along the shaft to power saws and other equipment. This method of generating power is common among the most conservative Amish groups, for example being seen amongt the tradition-minded Amish of Big Valley in Pennsylvania.
Despite the restrictions of the Ordnung, the Swartzentruber Amish of New York participate in local economies. In addition to agriculture, the Amish of Heuvelton are active in cottage industry.
Johnson-Weiner notes that “in New York’s North Country, the women quilt much more, and the majority of the quilts they make are for sale outside the community” (New York Amish, Johnson-Weiner, p 71). Adolescent girls are involved in quilting, and quilts are purchased by tourists and vacationers. Some quilts are also assembled by Swartzentruber locals for eventual sale by Lancaster County Amish. Johnson-Weiner notes that Amish women in the area produce a variety of goods for sale that they themselves would not use, including Christmas tree skirts and toaster covers.
Other businesses in the area include those that cater to Amish, including harness makers and buggy shops, as well as bulk food stores. Men operate businesses commonly found in Amish communities with restrictive Ordnungs, such as sawmills.
Recently, Swartzentruber churches decided to allow the use of bulk tank milk dumping stations, following the closing of a local cheese house which had previously supplied product for stores across New York, providing a market for Swartzentruber Amish dairy farmers.
This allowance has permitted Swartzentruber Amish continued access to a market for their milk, as unrefrigerated Swartzentruber milk could previously only be sold for cheese making. This decision to change testifies to the fact that the rules and guidelines of an Amish community are not static, with change happening even among the most conservative groups.
Johnson-Weiner observes that as the Heuvelton community continues to grow, an influx of outsiders, many from outside New York, has added pressure to the Heuvelton settlement. Land prices have risen and competition among local Amish has increased. Today, the Heuvelton Amish community is the second-largest in New York, with 11 church districts.
The Clymer Amish settlement
The Amish of Clymer originate from Geauga County, Ohio. Like other Amish immigrants to the state, land pressures motivated Amish in Geauga County to seek land in New York in 1976.
Clymer Amish are relatively progressive compared to other Amish in the state, including the nearby settlements at Mayville and the Conewango Valley. Amish businesses in Clymer create harnesses, sell housewares, and do carpentry work. They also operate a number of tourist-oriented businesses.
Clymer Amish have fewer technological restrictions than many nearby New York settlements, evidenced in the style of buggies they drive, the allowance of telephones in phone shanties, as well as the types of businesses they run. Clymer Amish also follow a more moderate approach to social shunning.
Amish of Mohawk Valley
In the valley of the Mohawk River in central New York, a number of Amish groups have established settlements since the 1980s. Karen Johnson-Weiner outlines the diversity of settlement in this area, which includes Old Order, Swartzentruber, Byler, and Andy Weaver Amish.
The Byler Amish settlement, at Fort Plain, was the first established (1986) and has grown to be the largest in the area, with 5 church districts. The newest, a Swartzentruber settlement at Poland in Herkimer County, was founded in a location previously occupied by an unrelated Amish settlement.
The two Old Order group, both found in Otsego County, originate from Delaware and Geauga County, Ohio. Though they are both considered Old Order affiliations, they live by different church standards and so are considered different settlements.
Andy Weaver Amish settled in Montgomery County near the towns of Glen and Fultonville. The Andy Weaver affiliation originates in Ohio. Settlers to this part of New York left their home community at Ashland, Ohio largely due to long-standing concerns over behavioral standards among youth in the settlement.
Andy Weaver Amish are more conservative than mainstream Old Order affiliations, but less so than Swartzentruber Amish. Andy Weaver churches typically permit more limited technology than Old Order congregations, and adhere to strict shunning.
Amish in the Mohawk Valley of New York exhibit the wide range of diversity found in Amish society. Ranging from more progressive Old Orders to conservative Swartzentruber Amish, a variety of cultural practices and technological allowances are seen among local Amish.
The different approaches of the Amish groups in this part of New York have led to differing interactions with non-Amish residents. They have also led to different ways of making a living, ranging from traditional dairies to tourist-oriented enterprises.
Pennsylvania Amish settlers to New York
Perhaps unsurprisingly (due to its proximity), a number of New York Amish communities have been started by settlers from Pennsylvania. The settlement at Mayville (1976, 2 church districts) was started by Amish from New Wilmington, Pennsylvania. Like the Amish in the parent settlement at New Wilmington, these settlers to New York (known as Byler Amish) are easily distinguished by their brown-topped buggies.
This group of Amish also follows a restrictive Ordnung in comparison to most Amish. Amish here follow a strict interpretation of shunning (Meidung). Though they do use the SMV triangle and lighting, buggies lack a front windshield. Clothing is plainer in this community, and wagons are equipped with steel-rimmed wheels.
Homes of Byler Amish lack indoor plumbing and gas lamps. At the same time, Johnson-Weiner notes that visitors to this region of New York are guided to local Amish-run businesses by a helpful map, indicating that some Amish make ends meet operating businesses patronized by non-Amish clientele.
Another New York Amish community founded by settlers from the Keystone State is found at Lowville (1 district), in Lewis County, home of the original Amish immigrants to New York. Settlers from Path Valley (Franklin County, PA) arrived in this region of upstate New York in 1999, and were joined by Amish settlers from the Lancaster County daughter settlement in St. Mary’s County, Maryland.
As with many other Amish migrants to New York, relatively inexpensive farmland was a big draw for the Lowville newcomers. Settlers left behind high prices for acreage in both Pennsylvania and Maryland and set up dairies in this less-populated region of New York. Farming is common here, and local Amish are able to provide higher-grade milk thanks to bulk dumping stations, reminiscent of the arrangement found in the Swartzentruber Amish community at Heuvelton, (NY).
Lowville Amish maintain a stricter Ordnung than that common in Lancaster County, with its entrepreneurial orientation. Johnson-Weiner reports that “The Lowville settlement has yet to permit telephones in shops or even to put up a phone booth for use by community members” (New York Amish, Johnson-Weiner, p89). This stands in stark contrast to the Pennsylvania and Maryland communities, where cell phones and phone shanties are common.
New York Amish diversity
New York is home to two dozen Amish settlements. The Amish of these varying communities, spread across the state, come from a variety of different backgrounds and follow widely differing Ordnungs. Diversity has implications for life within Amish society. The closeness of one community’s Ordnung to that of another may dictate whether two Amish groups interact.
In addition to the Swartzentruber, Byler, Old Order, and Andy Weaver groups detailed here, New York is also home to Swiss Amish settlements, in the upper north part of the state (Norfolk, 1974, 1 district), as well as at Clyde (1997, 1 district) and Prattsburgh (1979, 1 district) to the West. Diverse approaches to Amish life impact everything from the way one makes a living, which other Amish groups one interacts with, as well as relations with the non-Amish public.
Controversy and conflict in the Empire State
Some Amish have been well-received by local New Yorkers. Karen Johnson-Weiner points out that Amish arrivals to Lowville in Lewis County were greeted with open arms. Locals saw in the Amish immigrants the arrival of positive values and economic revitalization. More progressive Amish in other areas of New York also may host benefit suppers open to the public, which fosters ties and promotes cooperation.
In other areas, however, the relationship between Amish and non-Amish New Yorkers has not been so sunny. Conflicts have occurred over horse manure and building codes. Some of these conflicts have been elevated to legal battles in which Amish religious rights have been pitted against local regulations.
A factor in such disagreements is the conflict between Amish ways and local expectations. Due to previous experience with Amish, or pre-existing perceptions, non-Amish New York residents may expect Amish to behave and operate in a specific way. In reality, the practices and orientation of Amish can differ widely among different affiliations.
Some Amish groups in New York also adhere to more restrictive standards, which leaves less room for compromise over an issue such as building codes, and subsequently greater chance for conflict. As the Amish population continues to grow in New York, diverse practice among Amish will factor into relations with non-Amish communities.
Tourism in New York Amish communities
Tourism exists in New York Amish settlements, but to nowhere near the degree it does in better-known Amish communities such as Shipshewana in Indiana or Lancaster County, PA.
In an interview on the Amish America blog, Amish scholar Karen Johnson-Weiner noted that “Some counties have created maps showing the location of Old Order businesses. This is the case in western NY, home to the oldest Amish settlement. Other counties have mentioned Amish settlement in tourist brochures, and there are a number of local shops in areas of Amish settlement that offer Amish-made items for sale.”
Tourist industries in New York may focus on quilt making, producing products for sale to visitors such as baskets and furniture, and even offering services such as buggy rides and homestyle meals (read more on Amish furniture in New York). Though there is no hard and fast rule, the level of tourist development often depends on how conservative a community is, how large and well-established it is, and its proximity to population centers.
Failed Amish settlements in New York
On the whole, Amish have found success in settling in New York. While different Amish settlements grow at a different pace depending on a number of factors, most settlements founded by Amish in New York are still in existence today.
There have been at least three that have gone extinct, however. These include the original settlement at Croghan in Lewis County (1831), which eventually assimilated with more progressive church movements, as well as a settlement at Sinclairville in Chautauqua County in Western New York, which lasted a decade from 1950-1960.
Recently, the Amish settlement at Poland, New York, became extinct after five years in existence (2002-2007). A new community, unrelated to the first, established itself at Poland in 2007.
Smaller communities, and continuing New York settlement
Amish continue to arrive in New York today. The Amish population in New York has been described as the fastest-growing in North America.
In the past ten years, Amish have established over a dozen settlements in New York, many attracted by the prospect of inexpensive farmland and communities more isolated from pressures found in other Amish settlements. These newer settlements typically number just one or two church districts, but prospects for growth in many are good.
As New York continues to offer Amish settlers suitable land and relatively sheltered locations in which to found communities, Amish settlement in the Empire State is likely to continue.
For further information, see:
New York Amish: Life in the Plain Communities of the Empire State, Karen Johnson-Weiner
The Amish in America: Settlements that Failed, 1840-1960, David Luthy
Amish Settlements Across America: 2008, David Luthy
The New American Almanac 2010, Raber’s Bookstore (Baltic, Ohio), Ben J. Raber
New York Amish on the Amish America blog
New York Amish have been featured on the Amish America blog on numerous occasions. In 2008, a reader shared photos from the Byler Amish settlement in Montgomery County, New York. In early 2009, Professor Johnson-Weiner discussed her upcoming book on the New York Amish, and topics such as factors which have caused Amish to move to New York, areas of conflict, and tourism. In a post entitled “Marketing the Amish”, we featured a photo of the Amish Market in New York City.
New York made headlines as one of a number of states with large increases in Amish population in both 2008 and 2009. Warning signs in New York were mentioned in a post examining buggy safety across America. Settlers from New York were among those Amish who helped clean up after Hurricane Wilma hit Florida in 2007.
All posts tagged New York Amish
Photo credits: Amish at farmer’s market-daned; Conewango Valley farm-Mary Woodsen; maple syrup business-Karen Johnson-Weiner; Amish schoolchildren-RL Johnson; Mayville farm and buggy-Brock Zeigler; Lyndonville NY Amish-Ernest Mettendorf
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