Raising the Stoltzfus Barn, Horse-and-buggy Mennonites, and a 6th NY Amish funeral

I just got back from Poland, all in one piece.  Hey, it’s hot here!  As we were landing, the captain came on the intercom to let us know the temp awaiting us below in Raleigh: 100 degrees.

That brought a few gasps from my cabin-mates, but I think I smiled a little.  If you just spent most of July in a hooded sweater, toting an umbrella, triple digit temps sound pretty good.  Maybe I’ll be singing a different tune in a couple of days, though.

There are a few stories I wanted to bring to your attention.  The first, I’m afraid, is a sad one:

6th NY Amish funeral today

Victims of last week’s crash in New York were buried last Friday and Saturday.  Since then a sixth person has died, 39-year-old Elva Hershberger.  Her funeral will be held today.  Elva’s husband Melvin died in the original wreck.  With Elva’s death, the couple leave behind 13 children.  It’s unclear what will become of the orphans.  More on that here.

Amish are known for their strong support networks.   But the townspeople of Jasper have been doing their part, preparing food and trying to do what they can to show support to the Amish community.

Here’s a report that the Jasper High School gym has been turned into a makeshift camp, with 200 cots for Amish funeral attendees.  Many Amish are expected,  from as far away as Illinois, Kentucky, and Wisconsin.  So the extra beds may come in handy.  One quote from the piece:

Robert Mattison of Jasper Ambulance says the families want to thank the thousands of people who have reached out to them.

“Amish men come with tears in their eyes, saying they don’t know how they can repay the community,” said Mattison.

I’ve seen a number of similar responses from Amish reported in other news outlets.  For those that wish to send cards or donations, here is an address:

Amish Relief Fund

Community National Bank

P.O. Box 123

Woodhull, N.Y. 14898

The Stoltzfus House gets a barn

We’ve covered the Stoltzfus House here a number of times.  The Reading, PA home is an early residence of Nicholas Stoltzfus, 18th-century ancestor of 98% of Lancaster Amish.  Stoltzfus’s descendants, Amish and non-Amish, have taken a strong interest in preserving the structure, which had in recent years fallen into disrepair.

stoltzfus house readingI visited the Stoltzfus House last summer while assisting a crew working on the recent History Channel “How the States Got their Shapes” series.  The footage they shot at the house apparently wasn’t used in the final cut, but the visit itself was quite enjoyable, despite everyone getting attacked by roving swarms of bugs (I wonder if they had anything like bug spray in Nicholas’ time).

The Stoltzfus House restoration project has sought to preserve the home, plus add on a barn which will serve as facilities and a heritage center.   After first getting the funds raised, a replica barn has now been raised as well.

It looks like another film crew managed to record the event.  National Geographic was on the scene, so you’ll probably be able to watch an Amish barn-raising in process in a future edition of one of their Amish series videos.   You can read about the new barn, as well as some old-timers’ barn-raising recollections, here.

Horse and Buggy Mennonites

If you’re interested in horse and buggy Mennonites, the University of Winnipeg is the place to be in October, where the conference “Anti-Modern Pathways: ‘Horse and Buggy’ Mennonites in Canada, Belize, and Latin America” will take place.

horse buggy mennonite conference winnipeg“Horse and buggy Mennonites” would include both what are known as Old Order or Team Mennonites, found in Lancaster County, Ontario, northern Indiana, and a number of other places.

The “horse and buggy” label also includes the Old Colony Mennonites, found primarily in Mexico and South America.  The Old Colony people are actually the second largest Plain Anabaptist group, following the Amish.

The conference will be held October 21-22;  our friend and occasional Amish America interviewee Donald Kraybill will be giving the keynote address in what looks like a schedule packed with interesting talks.

Here’s some more info from the University of Winnipeg:

A great deal of scholarly attention has been directed to Amish farm communities, mostly located in the United States. These ‘horse and buggy’ people are held up as models of anti-modernity, a people close to nature, rooted in large families and close-knit communities, emphasizing humility, discipleship, forgiveness and other spiritual values. They have their share of social problems, but they are known especially for their communitarian faith, simple lifestyle, plain dress, dependence on animals and traditional technologies. They especially learn from wisdom passed down through the generations.

Canada too has its ‘horse and buggy’ traditionalists. Some 4000 so-called ‘horse and buggy’ Old Order Mennonites live in southern Ontario. An additional 70,000 similarly traditionalist, Canadian-descendant Old Colony Mennonites have settled in Central and South America. They live in close-knit agrarian communities in English-speaking Belize and Spanish-speaking Mexico, Paraguay, Bolivia and Argentina. Both the Old Order and the Old Colony people practice anti-modern pathways, but they are the subjects of much less attention than the Amish, and often they are either misunderstood or ignored.

This academic conference examines the culture of both the Old Order Mennonites of southern Ontario and the most traditionalist of the Old Colony Mennonites of the Americas. It seeks to understand their ways, their perspectives, their relationships, and their religious faith in historical context. This history conference asks how it has been possible for these anti-modern people to survive in the modern world. It examines both the accomplishments and the social problems associated with anti-modern pathways.

The conference highlights studies by scholars from throughout Canada and Europe who have recently analyzed the ways of the Old Order and Old Colony Mennonites.

More info on the conference can be found here.

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    1. Alice Aber


      Welcome home Erik!! Glad it was a safe trip for you.

      Thank you for posting more on the accident and a place to send cards and donations. My prayers go out for the victims and their familiies. This is such a sad and heart wrenching thing. I pray especially for the 13 children who lost both their parents.

      Both the Stoltzfus House and the conference sound very interesting. As always you have a great post.

      Blessings, Alice

      1. Thank you Alice, I’m always glad when the planes land 🙂

        And that story is just a heart breaker. The reporter who wrote the piece at the first link apparently knew both Melvin and Elva. I recommend reading that one in particular.

        What more can you say.

    2. Richard

      regarding another local landmark

      I love historic homes Erik, so id like to drive over to Reading again and look for The Stoltzfus House. Another important home at least to Lebanon county residents anyway is the The Alexander Schaeffer House built in 1736 and named after the towns founder. A colonial-era structure in Lebanon County it is among four new National Historic Landmarks announced Wednesday by U.S. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar. The Alexander Schaeffer House in Schaefferstown, Heidelberg Township, is a rare intact example of a colonial-era building in the Pennsylvania German architectural tradition, according to the Department of the Interior and the National Park Service. Preservation officials said it might be the nation’s only surviving Weinbauernhaus, a building that served as both a residence and a distillery. So I’m proud to be living in an area with so much history and culture. Richard from http://www.Amishstorys.com

      1. Zook historic home

        I enjoy them too, thanks for sharing on this Richard. PA has an abundance of historic sites; NC doesn’t do too poorly but is nowhere near what can be found in the Keystone state.

        In Chester County there is an early Zook home that one of my Zook friends has been wanting to visit, has anyone been there?

        There are apparently two Zook homes near one another, the Jacob Zook house and what looks like the just plain Zook house, so not sure if he meant one or both. I hope we’ll get to go on my next visit.

        Just was on the phone to PA this morning, planning my trip up in September 🙂

        1. Lissa Holder

          Hi Erik! Glad your trip went well! And yes I always feel better when the wheels touch the ground too. Nice place and very informative! Lissa

    3. No Bug Spray

      Sometimes a skilled practitioner would distill essential oils from cedar and other aromatic plants to use as insect repellents, but no, there were no chemical insect repellents 150 years ago! I can’t use them myself, or sunscreens, so I have to resort to the old-fashioned protection of long sleeves and a veil.

      I lived not too far from the horse and buggy Mennonite community in Ontario. I would be nervous taking a horse out onto roads where buses and trucks regularly travel.

      1. Magdalena, here I am asking only a half-serious question, and you come through with an answer, or at least the beginning of one! Very interesting to hear, thank you. At the risk of returning to the theme of our flying horse conversation earlier in the week, I wonder just what aromas repel insects 🙂

    4. Alice Aber

      Natural Herbs repel insects

      Erik, I can at least answer part of that quesiton, LOL. Several herbs can repel insects and a lot of people have some growing in their gardens. Lavendar, Mint, and lemon balm are just a few. Although I think the lemon balm might not repel bees. Mint repels about any kind of insect if I remember my studies correctly. I even use it on my dog to keep fleas and ticks away. He doens’t much like it when it first goes on though, LOL.

      Blessings, Alice

      1. So the basic rule is: things that smell good=repel insects, things that smell bad=attract 🙂

      2. Paul

        Those darn bugs

        While getting attacked by flying bugs at a fourth of July fireworks display, an Amish friend suggested using peppermint extract. He presented a small vial and offered some to me. I does seem to be effective but don’t get it in your eyes!

    5. BethR

      Glad you’re home safely! Thanks for sharing the address for sending help to the New York families. It truly is the worst helpless feeling when something so major happens and all you can do is read about it. We have some horse & buggy Mennonites about 2 hours from St. Louis (right outside Jefferson City). I always thought they were Amish until we actually went there and talked to them. I asked if there were any Amish in the area and they were like, “Not around here.” They have car-driving Mennonites and horse & buggy Mennonites in their town.

      1. My thanks for the kind wishes Beth. And you may actually be closer to Amish than you think, as they are all over Missouri. It has been a popular growth state for Amish over the last decade or so.

    6. Richard

      Will you be going to Lancaster Erik ?

      September is a great month to be in Pennsylvania Erik, and the weather starts to cool down a bit. Will you be going to Lancaster, and if you would have a little time drop over to Lebanon county’s Amish community as i think you would find it refreshing and tourist free. Lots of great places to snap pictures, and if you would like to go to a Amish buggy shop in Lebanon just let me know, i was just there and met with its Amish owners a few days ago. Very nice folks and let me take as many images as i wanted for my story. Richard from http://www.Amishstorys.com

      1. Richard, that really sounds like a nice trip. I will be in Lancaster late September, and might just make it to Lebanon. Will keep you posted, and thanks for thinking of me!

    7. Alice Mary

      Welcome back,, Erik! Yes, it’s been an “over-the-top” (weather-wise) summer in the states, from drought in Texas to the rainiest July in recorded weather history (since 1871) in my area of Illinois. (Can’t wait to see what Autumn brings! It’s my favorite time of year.)

      I, too, want to thank you for the Amish relief fund info. My heart goes out to those children, and to all who have been personally impacted by the accident. Hopefully, we “English” can help relieve some of the financial burden, if not the emotional kind. Time (and prayer) will ultimately bring the only real relief we can hope for on this “earthly plane”.

      The Stoltzfus house is certainly sturdy-looking! There was a similar-looking stone house in the Naperville/Plainfield area, not far from where I used to live…built from stones found on the property. I loved it and wished I could have saved it (and lived in it), but “development” doomed it.

      If anyone hears about when the Nat’l Geographic program (with the barn-raising) will air, I hope you’ll share that with us on this blog.

      Oh, Erik—if you could get some photos (on your upcoming trip to PA) of those “moveable walls” in Amish homes, I’d be happy as a ‘skeeter in my neighbor’s stagnant pool! (Hey, are there many mosquitoes in Poland?)


      Alice Mary

      1. Thank you Alice Mary, I will try to keep an eye out for the Nat Geo program. I am not sure the overall subject matter so the barn raising may just be a portion of it.

        And if I get a chance to snap a few photos of moveable walls somewhere, I’ll certainly do that and share here. Would make an interesting post, and who wouldn’t want to make someone happy as a skeeter in a pool if they could?

        Not too many skeeters in Poland, but there are a few in places, enough to keep you hopping 🙂

    8. Kevin Lindsey

      Welcome back, Eric! I am also fascinated by historic properties (we live in one here in Michigan-an 1850 farmhouse)So Im always happy to see things about preservation. Thanks for publishing it. The conference sounds great too, but we wont be able to attend that. Finally, as sad, and maddening, as the tragedy in New York was, it is heartening to see the outporing of both Amish and English communities to the victims and their families!

      1. Thanks Kevin! I’ll admit I’m a bit envious, sounds like you live in a very interesting place. I appreciate places with character, though I know older places aren’t always the most comfortable in some ways.

        Still, I’d love to one day live in something like you have, an old farm house or something with history. Now I am in a small apartment in Poland–it does have a bit of history to it–but lately I’ve been coming to the conclusion that humans aren’t meant to live in boxes stacked on top of each other!

        1. Kevin Lindsey

          Thanks Eric. We have always loved history so when we ran across this house we jumped at it. It needed a lot of work, which weve done mostly ourselves, and it is sometimes not as convenient as something modern (for example, we cant always just run to the hardware store to get a replacement item!) but we strongly believe that the pro’s greatly outweight the con’s, and are grateful every day that we have the opportunity to be stewards of the house for our turn-(weve been here 20 odd years!)

    9. Richard

      No problem for the thought Erik........

      I’ve been known in my time to think of other folks Erik, maybe I’m just trying to help make the world a better place,lol. But don’t spread that around as it will ruin my reputation, if i had a reputation that is. Richard from http://www.Amishstorys.com

    10. Alice Aber


      Richard my dear, you definitely have a reputation,, ya NUT!!LOL

      Love ya anyway,

    11. Eli

      Zook house

      I grew up just down the road from the Zook house at Exton mall. I remember going in briefly when I was very young, I believe that at least part of it was turned into offices for the mall at one point. I spent the first 20 years of my life walking past it and wondering why there was an old house within about 75′ of the mall entrance. Before they renovated and expanded the mall the Zook house was in this nice shady area with some waking paths leading from the parking lot one of the mall entrances.

      When I was about three or four I snuck away from my mom at the mall. She ran around everywhere trying to find me and when she was about to give up and go crazy, there I was, sitting in the large (oak?) tree in the front “yard” of the Zook house, playing with my stuffed bird.

      I actually came across a photo of the house online about a month ago after the mall expansion. Surrounded by pavement, roads and concrete. Not nearly as pretty as it used to be. Of course even back then it was sitting between the mall and the parking lot but it looked more like a park. I couldn’t find the tree in the photo 🙂

      I didn’t know the house was a way point for Amish/Mennonites traveling west in the 1700s till I came across that photo recently.

    12. Eli


      Erik, I talked to my uncle and should be getting a copy of the poem from the barn wall regarding hat brim sizes and the Old Order/Swartzentruber split in the mail soon. I’ll post it in the Swartzentruber entry comments.

      1. Thanks Eli for the info on Zook house, and I remember about the poem-will look forward to it.

    13. Slightly-handled-Order-man

      Campfire smoke honestly works well as repellants, but it seems hard to harness it practically unless you’re the guys on shows like “Survivor Man” or some of the British fellows who do the same thing. But there is all the coughing people do in the smoke too.
      I won’t be able to go, but I think it would be neat to see the University of Winnipeg show done at the University of Waterloo in Southern Ontario, near the hotbed of OO activity in the province, not that I want to deny there isn’t significant Hutterite and Mennonites in Manitoba, there is. There is at least one form of Mennonite church in the Niagara Peninsula on this side of the boarder that I’ve seen, the one I’ve noticed is a striking church building actually.

    14. Matthew

      Apparently, bugs are attracted to us in part because of our breath, so I read in a recent article anyway. If you check out the July/August edition of BackHome magazine it offers various non-chemical solutions for making your own bug repellent.

      1. So Matthew you’re saying maybe breath mints would work?? I’m partial to Altoids 😉

    15. Richard

      Hey Alice.............

      Well Alice, are you trying to say I’m a little crazy, why if i weren’t so nuts that one would have really hurt,lol. Richard from http://www.Amishstorys.com

    16. Alice Aber


      Not at all Richard, I am saying your NUTS!! LOL And I said I loved you too, inspite of your zanyness, LOL.


    17. Mona

      Welcome back too Erik…..
      What about flys??? ( I think people here call them HORSE FLIES) wow they are so big…..as hard as they hit against your windows,you’d think it would kill them….does anyone know what to do about them ???? Especially at my daughter’s street, she is only 12 miles from me and they have so many, would be impossible to eat outside…..would appreciate any ideas….

      1. Ellie

        Mona, those horseflies are always awful! Around here, the theory is you just put up with them for the couple weeks theyre around, and hope the horse you’re riding doesn’t get bitten! Not sure if it’s true they’re only out for a short time, but it was the prevailing theory where I used to ride. We’d try to shoo them away from our horses with our hands if we saw them. I have no idea if they respond to citronella or anything else! Seems like there’d have to be something they didn’t like. Good luck!!

    18. Ellie

      Welcome back to the (very hot) States, Erik 🙂 thanks for posting the address for the Amish Relief fund, as well as for all the interesting information. The house looks like one I remember seeing when I was “into” researching my family’s genealogy about 10 years ago, but as far as I remember, my only link to Amish was a Beiler who married a Fisher, whose children all left the Amish long ago! Now I’ll have to double check that. There is a group of Old Order German Baptists ( if I have the name right ) near me, who still use horses & buggies. A teenage boy was killed in an accident on his way home from Wal-Mart a few months ago – so sad! To think, in the accident you described, 13 orphaned children! Definitely a tragedy. The sheer number of those attending the funeral is hard to imagine – I’ve read that sometimes a funeral is held in 2 adjacent locations when there are a lot of attendees (eg, one service in a home, one in a barn) — does this really happen? Hope you had a nice weekend back on this side of the Atlantic!

    19. Marilyn

      So glad to hear you made it back safely to the USA, Erik!

      I’d be interested in a more specific address for the Zook House you have mentioned. Thanks, and be it known, I always enjoy your posts!

      1. Zook house address

        Thanks Marilyn, I’m having trouble finding an exact address, but it is apparently on the property of the Exton Square Mall, so if you Google that. Here is a page with some more info: