What do Amish think about tourism?

Sightseers and vacationers flood Amish communities every summer

amish tourismAmish get a lot of attention from non-Amish America, with communities like Lancaster County and Holmes County, Ohio seeing millions of tourists yearly. Tourists bring clogged roads and often unwanted attention. They also bring dollars.

One would think that the Amish would universally dislike the avalanche of visitors to their communities. In fact, there are varying opinions among Amish on the tourist industry.

Drawbacks of Amish tourism

Amish people do see minuses in tourism. In the Lancaster County settlement in particular, roads are busy with traffic under normal circumstances, and the tourist season only amplifies the congestion. Amish dislike being treated as exhibits, to be photographed and stared at by city dwellers.

amish tourism businesses
Amish tourist signs in Ethridge, Tennessee

Tourists sometimes cross bounds, even trespassing on school property, prompting some Amish schools to display No Trespassing signs. Some Amish businesses post “No Photos” or “No Tourists” signs.  Amish in certain settlements must adjust to “the world” invading their lives in the form of tourism.

Benefits of Amish Tourism

At the same time, Amish benefit from tourism. Tourist traffic means more money flowing into the local economy. This benefits Amish businesses, as well as non-Amish businesses who sell their products.

Some Amish even run tourist-oriented businesses in towns such as Intercourse in Lancaster County and Berlin in Holmes County, Ohio. Quilt makers, food sellers, and furniture makers benefit from tourist interest in their communities.  Tourism is a big draw, and Amish rightly recognize that the good comes with the bad.

It has been noted by scholars that all the outside attention can even have a positive effect on Amish society, strengthening the Amish sense of identity. Visitors marvel at Amish ways and may by their questions point out favorable aspects of Amish society that Amish might take for granted.  In this way Amish may gain a greater appreciation for their own way of living.

Typical Amish tourist activities

There are numerous tourist activities in places like Shipshewana, Indiana, or Lancaster County. Many communities feature exhibits that outsiders can visit in order to get a simulated feel for Amish life.  These include Amish Acres in Nappanee, Indiana, and The Amish Farm and House near Lancaster city.

amish menno hof
Menno-hof, an Amish and Mennonite information center in Shipshewana, Indiana

Buggy rides and tours are another popular tourist pastime.  Patrons typically ride in an oversized buggy, often guided by an Amish person, who shares information on Amish life.  Such tours often include stops at Amish farms and homes, a touch of authenticity and often an opportunity to purchase Amish-produced goods.

Some venues, such as Menno-Hof in Shipshewana, Indiana, and The Amish and Mennonite Heritage Center at Berlin, Ohio, seek to provide an educational experience to visitors, and place emphasis on explaining Anabaptist beliefs and history.

Amish participate in some tourist businesses

As mentioned above, some Amish themselves participate in tourist activities.  Some Amish in communities such as Arthur, Illinois and Lancaster County offer an opportunity to visit an Amish home for a meal, and in some cases even to stay overnight.  Such activities are geared towards giving outsiders a taste of the Amish lifestyle.  Authenticity is valued by many visitors, thus actual Amish involvement is a plus.

amish tourist baskets
A conservative Amish woman sells baskets to tourists on the roadside in Ohio

Other businesses specifically cater to the tourist trade, such as roadside stands selling a variety of goods, from root beer to produce to homemade baskets.  Certain businesses, such as quilt shops, produce goods primarily for the tourist industry.  One Amish-operated business even offers horse-drawn tours of an exotic animal farm located among the dairies of rural Ohio.

Tourism: An Amish Person’s View

Most Amish have a fairly healthy attitude toward tourism – and tourists can mean different things to different Amish. Tourists are a slight annoyance for some, a significant profit source for others, and a chance for an interesting conversation for another bunch.

As we’ve already discussed, Lancaster Amish by far have the most to deal with when it comes to visitors – though if you get out of the heavily-trafficked areas such as Amish tourism capital Intercourse, or nearby towns such as Bird-in-Hand, and Strasburg, it calms down quite a bit.

Having a little laugh at Amish Country tourists

Donald Kraybill writes that one release valve for the pressure of constant attention from outsiders is to make some light fun of the situation. From the sounds of it, the tourists aren’t doing themselves too many favors.  And one summer I had a chance to witness what Kraybill meant – when speaking to an Amishman in a heavily-touristed community.

On one of my first visits to Lancaster County, an Amish lawn-lighthouse builder ran through some amusing comments made by out-of-towners with me. Many revolve around some city-folk’s ignorance of the true origins of what they buy in the supermarket.

There is of course the standard “Holstein cows give white milk, and the brown Jersey ones give chocolate” joke Amish dairymen like to tell. And apparently one visitor to an Amish farm some years back asked how long it takes for the flesh to grow back after the cows are butchered(!). You can be sure that one made the rounds.

This same fellow mentioned that tourism that summer was probably worse than the average. He’d heard it was a result of the publicity over the Nickel Mines incident. That was the first I’d heard mention of the prior October’s tragedy from any of the 500+ Amish families I’d met by that time.

At the same time, numerous Amish have struck up meaningful relationships with vacationers. A handful have told me of friendships going back years and including many exchanged visits with natives of my home state, North Carolina. And I can say I’ve been lucky to experience the same over the past 15+ years.

Amish tourism: a double-edged sword

At first look, it may seem as if Amish would be against tourism in their communities. In some of the more conservative, off-the-beaten-path communities, this may well be the case.  But in the larger communities especially, Amish participate (to varying degrees) in tourism, and draw economic and other benefits from it.

When asking Amish for their opinions on tourism, the response you hear from a given person often varies depending on the individual’s occupation. A farmer, for example, is less likely to view tourism favorably, compared to a business owner producing products for the tourist market.

It’s not right to say that tourism is necessarily “bad” or “good” for the Amish. As with so many other issues in Amish society, there are a variety of Amish opinions on tourism. Tourism has its benefits and drawbacks.

Amish tourism is a relatively recent phenomenon, arising in the early-to-mid 20th century. Amish have adapted to attention from the tourist industry – just as they have adapted to numerous other challenges and changes over several centuries of existence in Europe and America.

For more, see:

  • The Amish in the American Imagination, David Weaver-Zercher
  • “Heritage versus History: Amish Tourism in Two Ohio Towns”, Susan Biesecker, The Amish and the Media, eds. Diane Zimmerman Umble and David L. Weaver-Zercher

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    3 Comments

    1. Deirdre Mohan

      I would like to stay with an Amish family for a week or even five days. Is there a website or some way of getting in touch with some one to see if it can be arranged? Also my husband and 14 year old son might come as well. Thank you

      1. Hi Deirdre, I’m afraid there is no web site for that…there are a few Amish guest houses in places like OH, PA, IN, which you should be able to find with a Google search. Amish generally don’t do these types of home stays, though you can always do it the old-fashioned way and visit and make friends with someone.

    2. Brie holt

      Experience

      I’d like to live and experience the Amish culture or life. Maybe for a week. I’d follow all rules and understand as we’ll as respect their views and libe their way. How do I go about doing So? It’s amazing how dedicated they are to God and ignore the world Because there is so much evil in the world.