North Carolina Amish Barn Raising

Actually, it’s a “workshop and equipment shed” raising, but that’s not quite as catchy, is it?  Either way, the Amish of Union Grove, North Carolina have been busy on a construction project the past few days.

The proprietors of Hickory Nut Gap Farm, a business which sells specialty beef and pork near Asheville, opted for the services of the state’s only Amish community, hiring a crew of 60 men to complete the work.

The idea to hire the Amish came about when the barn of John Hostetler burned down last year.  Hostetler’s business, Wholesome Country Creamery, supplies Hickory Nut Gap Farm with milk.  After members of the Union Grove community restored Hofstetter’s operation within four days, Hickory Nut Gap decided to hire them to expand their own business.

Unlike the way they are often depicted, this is not a one-day affair (in fact, even the one-day barn raising is a misconception of sorts).  Construction has been ongoing since Wednesday and was expected to conclude today.

NC Amish Construction
North Carolina Amish workers busy with construction. Photo by Hickory Nut Gap Farm

Union Grove Amish Church

Since I’m from central NC, I tend to think of the Union Grove Amish as “my local Amish community” even though they are around two hours’ drive away.  Nearly 30 years old, the Union Grove community is still just a single congregation in size.  By comparison, two other communities around 2 hours from me, in Halifax County and Charlotte County, Virginia, were founded in 2005 and 1997 respectively, and both are up to 2 church districts.

Like the Oakland, Maryland community, the Union Grove Amish are considered an “electric” New Order settlement.  Due to their community’s small size and low profile, you don’t hear much about North Carolina’s Amish in the media.  I have only visited once, despite basically passing by on every trip to Ohio.   You can read more on Union Grove and the unusual, now-defunct community at Yanceyville, NC, here.

Amish first ventured to settle the Tar Heel State in 1918, when Amish from Pennsylvania, Ohio, and other Midwestern states founded a community on reclaimed land in the Dismal Swamp.  That settlement lasted for nearly 3 decades before coming to an end in 1944.  You can read the interesting history in David Luthy’s The Amish in America: Settlements That Failed 1840-1960, or read a summary here.

Update: A pair of videos have been posted online. The first, by the Asheville Citizen-Times, features footage of the workers and a short interview with Hickory Nut Gap Farm owner Amy Ager

Here’s an interesting excerpt from the accompanying article, explaining how such jobs work:

“We try to be organized and have a lot of help, a lot of crew,” said Ben Luthy, the foreman for the group.

Luthy said money raised from such building projects goes straight to the Union Grove community. “We use it for our medical and our school,” he said.

According to Luthy, the team works between four and six projects a year, the longest of which could take ten days. “That seems to be what we get,” he said. The group, said Luthy, doesn’t push for more work, instead relying solely on requests from farmers.

The second is a time lapse video showing 3 days’ of construction in a little over a minute:

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    21 Comments

    1. Slightly-Handled-Order-Man

      I imagine this will draw a number of people in to ask “can they build me a building too?”, which is natural.

      None the less, do communities, according to stereotype perception, build their own buildings to their own standards or do they use these sorts of in house work crews to do the job according to Ordnug and State/Province[Canad]/Federal Regulation?

      1. Amish home construction

        Amish families will hire Amish construction crews to build their homes. Those who have construction skills may do at least some of the work themselves. They are supposed to be built to code but as we’ve seen in some examples in more traditional communities that is not always the case (related to things like window size, plumbing).

        On a related tangent, it’s interesting that Amish often get experience in a variety of trades, so you may be a full-time farmer but have a few years of carpentry under your belt. You might run a market stand but have furniture business experience. A friend of mine recently “retired” from farming, and his newly-married son has taken over the dairy. Now the father gets to return to his first and probably true love of woodworking in his “retirement”.

        The occupation choice for an Amish person is not just based on personal preference. Factors such as availability of a farm and your birth order influence what you end up doing. A son who loves dairy but marries before a farming father is ready to hang up the pitchfork will have to find something else to do. A son later down the line who happens to be setting up house around the time father is ready to stop farming may be the one who ends up taking over.

        I have been thinking about this a little lately…another example of deferring one’s own will to family and community. That said like anywhere else if you really dislike one occupation or have a strong love for another that’s going to influence your work choice too.

    2. Nancy @ A Rural Journal

      No matter the size of their community, their hearts are in the right place. xo

    3. Jack Mitchell

      Great wooden buildings!

      I love wooden buildings and to see wood-working craftsmanship! I wish more wooden houses were built here in the UK because I’m sure it’s cheaper, environmentally friendlier and quicker to complete a house/building than bricks and mortar!
      In the village where I live, two houses are being build…they started last summer and are still building!

      1. Jack, my impression is that wood construction is a lot more common in the US than in Europe. In the UK do you think that reflects price, preference, or something else? European homes often seem more solid and even over-built. Probably hold up better in a tornado though.

        As for the building pace in your village, maybe you should print this article out and casually leave a few copies in the vicinity of the worksites? 🙂

        1. OldKat

          Resources ...

          Maybe it has to do with the fact that North America has historically had a far larger resource of standing timber than does most of Europe.

          1. I’d think that would have something to do with it. By the way, have just updated this post with a couple of videos of the barn raising. One is a time lapse showing 3 days of work in under 90 seconds.

    4. Don Curtis

      Mark at barn raisings

      I asked my son, Mark, who joined the Amish if he’s ever participated at a barn raising. He said that he’s participated in several, most in his own community and once at a barn raising in Holmes County, Ohio. He said that he limits his participation to what he can do from the ground or on a step ladder. As he said to me: “Dad, I know my limits. With my arthritis, if I tried clambering around on roof trusses and such it wouldn’t take long before they’d be scraping me off the cement floor with a scoop shovel.” I understand. With my limitations at 91 I’d be lucky if I could get myself and my walker to the barn site.

    5. Don Curtis

      Union Grove Amish

      I asked Mark if he knows any of the folks at Union Grove. He said that he knows of some and has met the bishop. He said that Belle Center and Union Grove are in partial fellowship. He said that because Union Grove has electricity and tractor farming, those are considered too advanced by Belle Center to be in full fellowship. Belle Center would allow Union Grove preachers to preach at a regular church service. But a Union Grove bishop would not be allowed to officiate at a Belle Center communion service. I don’t understand all of the whys and wherefores but Mark does. But, then again, I’m not Amish and he is. So there you go.

      1. Fellowship lines

        Keeping all the fellowship lines straight seems like it could be a full-time job. But it’s always interesting to hear who is with who and to what degree.

    6. My Father-in-law had his barn build by Amish. His job was to go around and pick up milk from all the local dairies, which were mostly Amish, and take the milk cans to the processing plant. Because of this he knew many Amish families.

      I was there during construction and it was amazing how fast they worked and how everyone seemed to know what their job was without asking.

      My wife also was hired to drive families to vacation places, and also to drive many to the chiropractor. She often commented that it was always the men even though she felt that the women worked hard too & must have needed a chiropractor from time to time 🙂

      This was in Delaware. I wonder if visiting a chiropractor is common in other Amish communities?

      1. Amish use of chiropractors

        It is pretty common Bob, I have driven Amish to the chiropractor as well in a couple of communities. Some make house calls. I think word of mouth works well in these cases.

    7. Naomi Wilson

      I believe the Union Grove community has deliberately held their size to a single church district, and that they now have a daughter community in VA. I think the Smyrna and Unity, ME Amish follow this pattern as well. I’m not certain I have my facts straight though.

      1. If true about deliberately restricting that is interesting. I have asked outside the community why it has never grown and never gotten a conclusive answer. Some of the “para-Amish” churches intentionally limited their size and if this is the case in Union Grove perhaps there is a similar line of thinking at work.

        1. Don Curtis

          church size

          I asked my son, Mark, about this. He said that church district size can be misleading. He wasn’t sure about Union Grove but he was pretty sure that they have a church house (sometimes called a community building). If an Amish community has a church house, they can accommodate a much larger congregation and don’t need to split into additional districts as would happen in Amish communities where they hold church services in the homes.

          1. That’s helpful to know Don. Give Mark our thanks. I believe they do have a meetinghouse which might suggest an answer to the question.

            Also I came across an account of a recent visit to the community by a student from Winthrop University:

            http://melaniehicks.tumblr.com/post/46866943434/amishfieldtrip

    8. Sandra Kathleen

      Current knowledge of building practices and Rammed Earth Construction

      I have two questions.

      1. Do those in the Amish who work construction on a regular basis, are they trained in how new products are applied; e.g., Hardie board siding?

      2. I’ve just been reading up on rammed earth construction. It’s labor intensive, which makes it pretty high-priced when using regular contractors; however, with the potential man-power available among this community, it may be something to think about. Mother Earth News had a few articles about how it’s done…fairly straight forward, but, as noted, a lot of manual labor. Nonetheless, the building last for hundreds of years — the Alhambra and The Great Wall of China (portions) are still standing.

    9. Christopher

      Help in Barn Raising

      Is it possible to assist in helping the men raise a barn? I am wanting to offer my help for no charge, just to help a needing family, church or bishop. How can I find out more about being a part or doing whatever is necessary to help someone?

    10. Stacy Dunn

      Need garage built at my home in Mooresville, NC apron 30x30

      Not in a hurry, but looking for Amish builder for building approximately 30×30 detached garage at my home in Mooresville, NC.

    11. Western North Carolina Amish Products

      From other comments it seems many are readying this article because they are interested in Amish products and services. We’re neighbors of the Swartzentruber Amish in Rutherforton and Cleveland counties. We’re looking at feasibility for helping them with online sales. You can help by telling us what handcrafted products you would find useful.

    12. Betty J Givens

      Barn

      Need pole barn built near new hill, nc. Need before january 2022.