We caught a glimpse of North Carolina’s Swartzentruber Amish settlement when someone interviewed a man from this community as he waited at an Alabama Amtrak station. I also previewed the community auction which was to take place in late November.
Amish began moving to the area near Ellenboro, NC (Rutherford County) in 2015. Today this Swartzentruber community sits at about 16 families (apparently two families recently moved out, hopefully not a bad sign for this settlement). UPDATE 2024: Despite some moving in and out, this settlement remains at a solid one-church-district size.
Amish here seem to be mainly from the Ethridge, Tennessee community, plus some from the Pontotoc County, Mississippi settlement. I figured the November auction was a good reason to visit the community, especially since I happened to be in my hometown of Raleigh at the time. That’s just a 3-and-a-half hour drive away, and with my brother Alex along to drive, that would make it even easier.
I found the people we met to be quite friendly. Alex, who had mostly only encountered Amish people from Pennsylvania, found the locals’ thick Southern drawl hard to wrap his head around. Not the “Amish accent” he was used to. The first part of this post will cover the auction, and the second, two Amish businesses and homes we visited.
The event was held at an Amish farm, which as you can tell by the photo below is not the traditional Swartzentruber-style architecture, but had to be a previously English-owned place.
The weather was pretty poor (chilly drizzle). We arrived in the afternoon, after the household items had already been sold off, which happened in the covered auction area you can see on the left of this photo.
Larger outdoor goods like farm implements, wringer washers and the like were being auctioned off.
But first stop was the front porch of the farmhouse, which had been converted to a coffee bar and baked goods stand. I grabbed a styrofoam cup of joe for a dollar.
The caffeine and warmth were equally appreciated on this late November mucky day, and I found myself returning for another a bit later.
This is also where I first caught a look at the unusual buggy markings this community is using, on this buggy tied up to a tree by the road as we pulled in to park.
On to the auction.
As we walked down to the auction area, we noticed the special auctioneer’s pick-up truck.
The truck drove down the line from one item to the next as the auction caller did his work selling off items. You can see here someone came well-equipped with an XL umbrella.
The auctioneer was also in a good spot with the roof over his head; it wasn’t pouring down rain but there was a steady drizzle. You could get by without an umbrella, but over time you were going to slowly absorb H2O.
Apparently earlier in the day there were around 100 people for the covered part of the sale. By the time we got there, I would estimate about 3 dozen remained.
I did notice several items which had been featured on the post on this event: wringer washers and the 25-gallon wash pot, which went for around $700 if I’m remembering right.
On the way out, I stopped back at the front porch for a haul of baked goods and sweets.
I recognized the peanut brittle that you find everywhere in the Ethridge community. In fact several of the treats were peanut-based. That included peanut butter fudge, cookies, and milk and white chocolate-covered dollops of Reese’s-style peanut butter substance. The brittle is my favorite though. Simultaneously chewy and crunchy, with just the right number of peanuts scattered throughout:
They also had several containers of fried pies, each wrapped in a towel with the flavor penned out in cursive script. Dried apple is what Amish bakers would call “snitz”:
I also got a coconut oatmeal pie for $14. Tasty.
Emanuel Gingerich’s Furniture Shop
With the auction wrapping up, we decided to head down the road to one of the addresses I had from Raber’s Almanac. We ended up at a place which advertised furniture and canned goods.
Like the Amish at Ethridge, the people here seem to be quite entrepreneurial, selling homemade items and running small businesses.
On that note, there is not much in the way of traditional dairy farming here, though at least one person who does produce. At the simple metal siding house typical of plainer Amish communities, we met the lady of this home, who showed us around her husband’s attached furniture shop.
I also bought a couple of canned items from her including some muscadine jelly.
Midway through our talk a buggy pulled in – her husband had returned from the auction. I immediately recognized him from the sale, as he stood out from the other Amish in his black minister’s coat.
Emanuel Gingerich is his name. He greeted us warmly and ended up having a good long talk as he smoked what appeared to be a small “Backwoods” style cigar.
Emanuel has a laid-back manner and a light sense of humor. He took us back through the shop and explained more about what he does. The photos are not great, but the quality of his work seemed to be high.
Emanuel told us a bit about ambrosia maple, which he had used in some of the items in the shop at that time (see the gray dresser three photos up).
Being of the plainest Amish church, there’s no phone number where you can reach Emanuel. His customers write him letters or visit him to explain the specifications of their desired furniture pieces.
Before we left, Emanuel paged through a catalog of his previous work. Happy customers take photos of their furniture, and send them to him to show prospective clients.
Emanuel also shared his thoughts on the visibility additions on his community’s buggies, and gave us a couple of business cards of others in the area before we went on our way.
One of them was our next stop, Enos Gingerich’s outdoor furniture place (along with his wife Fannie’s soaps and lotions business).
Enos Gingerich’s Outdoor Furniture (and Soaps)
We pulled up to Enos’s place, window lit by the warm glow of a single lamp. I knocked, and though it was basically dark by then, they were happy to give us a look (they’re officially open til 6pm).
We first visited the soap shop, housed in the home’s basement. We left with a number of soaps which will make nice gifts. These were $2 apiece with a free one thrown in if you buy a certain amount.
I also bought Fannie’s last candle. Apparently she is stopping making those in favor of the soaps and lotions. Here’s a flyer for Fannie’s business. Two things caught my eye here:
Next Enos took us over to show us the outdoor furniture shop. Enos specializes in Adirondack chairs and rockers, and has some other items like tables and ottoman rockers to go along with them.
He took us through the shop explaining the different styles and about the business in general.
I told Enos about this website, and suggested I come back and take better photos for a full post on his business another time. He liked the idea. UPDATE – you can find that post here.
Enos is currently working out, in addition to running this business, but would like to be home full-time. He just needs to sell more chairs. We talked about some channels he had used to sell his furniture.
Either he or Emanuel (I can’t remember which) had been in touch with the state’s other Amish community, the New Order Amish at Union Grove, about selling furniture. But they needed larger production with a faster turn-around than was possible for shops of this size.
If you’re in driving range and in the market for Adirondack-style chairs (Enos does a number of varieties with accessories as well), I’d recommend paying a visit.
Like Emanuel he’s a friendly and talkative person. Enos and Fannie have six children, some of whom help him in the shop.
I’ll be back to visit this community, preferably on a day with less rain and more sunlight. I don’t get the sense that it is a growing community, since it’s five years old and has just 16 families. UPDATE – See the posts on my return visit here and here.
Plus, the two recent departures suggest that people either got homesick, or weren’t making the living they wanted in this corner of western NC. But, hopefully this will be a place Amish call home for a long time. By what I’ve heard from others and the general sense I got from non-Amish attendees at the auction, I think the Amish are welcome and appreciated here.
The fact that this group has made changes to their buggies to improve visibility, something that helps their English neighbors as well – I would also see that as a positive sign.
I like seeing Amish settlements take root in the South, traditionally not a region where they’ve settled in great numbers (though 3/4 of Southern states have at least one Amish settlement, and more seem to be moving in).
If you know something more about this community that I missed, let us know. I plan to return, possibly as early as late winter.