Though it borders two heavily-Amish states, few Amish live in West Virginia
Mountainous West Virginia shares long borders with both Pennsylvania and Ohio, home of the highest concentrations of Amish in the country. However few Amish have chosen to settle in West Virginia. Today the state is home to 3 small Amish settlements.
Amish in West Virginia
Amish are currently found in three locations in West Virginia. The oldest West Virginia Amish settlement is near the community of Letart in Mason County. This settlement is a single church district in size, and was founded in 1996. Another settlement is found in Summers County, near Forest Hill. This community was founded in 2006.
Altogether, there are roughly 200 Amish living in West Virginia. Despite neighboring heavily-Amish Ohio and Pennsylvania, few Amish have ever chosen to settle in the Mountain state. Amish-made furniture can be found in WV in a handful of locations.
Former Amish settlement in Preston County, WV
Though their presence today is limited, Amish first settled West Virginia over 150 years ago. Historian David Luthy explains that the settlement at Aurora in Preston County was founded before the civil war in 1850, in what was then Virginia, as West Virginia was not yet a state. The Aurora settlement was actually paired with another group of Amish across the state line located in Garrett County, Maryland. The two sides were considered to be a single congregation despite a distance of about ten miles between them (Luthy, Settlements that Failed, p. 489).
The Amish had a difficult time during the Civil War, being harassed and robbed by both Union and Confederate soldiers. Luthy notes that this experience is commonly given as a reason that the settlement eventually failed. “The frightening events during the Civil War caused the West Virginia settlers to think of moving elsewhere. No new settlers were attracted and gradually it lost its older ones through migration and death,” explains Luthy. By the early 1900s only two families remained (Settlements, p. 490-1).
Eventually only three unmarried children of the settlement’s former bishop remained in Preston County, sharing a farmstead. They continued to commune with the congregation at Oakland in Garrett County across the border in Maryland. For a number of years, church was held annually at this last West Virginia Amish household (Settlements, p. 494).
Eventually the remaining two sisters sold their home farm and moved to the Oakland community in 1943, bringing the Preston County settlement to an end (Settlements, p. 495). Today, the small Oakland, Maryland Amish settlement still exists, a single church district in size.
For further information, see:
The Amish in America: Settlements That Failed 1840-1960, David Luthy
Amish Settlements Across America: 2008, David Luthy
The New American Almanac 2011, Raber’s Bookstore (Baltic, Ohio), Ben J. Raber
“Amish Population by State (2010)” Young Center for Anabaptist and Pietist Studies, Elizabethtown College(http://www2.etown.edu/amishstudies/Population_by_State_2010.asp)
WVA horse and buggy photo credit: David Cornwell
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