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Top 13 Amish Communities in America : Culture Guide

Amish on Coach
Written by Town & Tourist

Amish – Origins, Culture, Religion in America.

The Amish people in the U.S.A are a historic and traditional religious group. Also known as the “Pennsylvania Dutch” they are direct descendants of the Anabaptists of sixteenth century Europe they follow a very traditional devout Christian lifestyle.

The amish lifestyle is family centric with many rules on everything from Clothes, hair style, work and even technology! The religious and culturally traditions of The Amish people have long since fascinated outsiders. However, these strict traditions can also cause many issues, for example, during a recent abduction of two New York Amish girls the Police were forced to use a sketch artist, to get a suitable image of the girls as the religious sect had banned photos.

Amish Family Structure:

The family is the most important social unit in the Amish sect. They have large families with an average of 7-10 children. The chores are divided traditionally between males and females. With the men usually working the farm and the women doing the washing, cleaning, cooking and household chores. Usually the father is considered the head of the household.

Amish Family Photo By: Shinyasuzuki Flickr

How did the Amish Sect Form?

This devout religious sect came from a rift in the Anabaptist church during the late 17th century. This split in the church was caused  by followers of Jakob Amman. Jakob Amman was a devout Christian traditionalist from Switzerland, who believed that Christians should follow the teachings of Christ & the apostles at a more traditional level than some other members of the Church. From Jakob Ammans name was derived the word Amish.

Why did the Amish Settle in America?

Due to religious persecution in 18th Century Europe, many Amish fled to America in the hope of finding salvation and to work the farm land of the U.S.A. Source.

Amish Religious Beliefs:

The Amish separate themselves from other parts of society for a variety of religious reasons. They are often cite the following Bible verses in support of their beliefs:

“Be not unequally yoked with unbelievers. For what do righteousness and wickedness have in common? Or what fellowship can light have with darkness?” (II Corinthians 6:14)

“Come out from among them and be ye separate, saith the Lord.” (II Corinthians 6:17)
“And be ye not conformed to this world, but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God.” (Romans 12:2)

Due to their religious beliefs, the Amish try to segregate themselves from outsiders and other parts of society , in an effort to avoid temptations and sin. Instead they rely on themselves and other members of the Amish Sect to help support themselves and be self sufficient. Due to their self sufficient nature, stemming from farming and working the land.

Amish Farming Traditions

Amish Farming Traditions

In addition, to traditional farming, many Amish have begun to be involved in many other business ventures from carpentry, to RV’s, Workshops and even forming construction crews to build houses and other buildings for non amish.

Do Amish pay taxes?

The Amish also do not pay or accept any Social Security or other forms of government assistance. The Amish were actual exempt by Congress in 1965, from social security because the Amish viewed it as a form of commercial insurance. Many even don’t have bank accounts.

Do Amish Vote?

Contrary to popular belief, some Amish orders do vote, and many have been courted by national parties as potential swing voters. As their pacifism and social conscience cause some of them to be left centric politicians, their generally conservative outlook causes most to favor the right wing.

Amish and Military Service:

Also, do to their “belief” in non resistance they are exempt from military service and law, enforcement.

Why is the Amish Population Exploding in America?

The Amish population has exploded massively in recent years going from only 5,000 in the 1920’s to approaching 300,000 today! According to a study b Ohio state University, there are 251,000 Amish people in America and Canada.

The Amish population has more than doubled in size compared to their estimated population in 1989 of just 100,000 people. With the Amish Population set to double again to over half a million within the next 20 years.

Amish on Coach

Amish Disembarking in Portland. We took the same trains twice, with a 5 day break in-between. (What are the chances?) They didn’t want to pose for a photo, but said I could “catch” them if I wanted.
Photo by Amish Flickr

According to the Young Center for Anabaptist Studies at Elizabethtown College in Lancaster, Pa. The Amish community has one of the fastest-growing populations in America.  The explosion in population is due to their very large family sizes (an average of seven children) and high Amish church member retention rate of 80%. The large number of children are organised, disciplined and put to work on the farmland to help further excel the Amish community.

Amish Settlements Increase – Is one coming to a state near you?

Another reason for The Amish population boom is due to the mass increase in the number of settlements. The Amish prefer to live in small settlements of 20-30 families. According to Professor Joseph Donnermeyer, a professor of rural sociology at Ohio state University, he has noticed a pattern of significant growth in the number of these settlements.

In 1990, there were just 179 settlements in the U.S. However, by 2012, Ohio State University counted 456, including a few in Canada. This increase in the number of settlements has increased and thus the geographical reach of the Amish.

Amish Settlements are exploding all over the U.S

Amish Settlements are exploding all over the U.S

According to Ohio State University, the strongest growth has been seen on the east coast. According to Professor Donnermeyer:

“There are five settlements in Maine that are all less than 12 years old,” and “There are 47 in New York, and 18 have been founded since 2009. New York is now the hotspot.”

Wisconsin and Kentucky has also seen a settlement boom, as the Amish by up Buyouts of dairy farms in Wisconsin and tobacco farms in Kentucky. Wisconsin had 17 Amish settlements before 1990. Now it has  to 46. Kentucky’s seen its Amish settlements more than double to 34 since then.

So is this really the rise of the Amish? Are they coming to a state near you?  Well according to Professor Donnermeyer:  “As the older communities get bigger because of this population boom, there’s been a greater and greater emphasis on finding new places to start new settlements” So I guess that’s a yes.

Where do the Amish live?

The Amish have always settled near rural farmland for work and to not be influenced by the modern ways of technology. One of the first groups of Amish to arrive in America settled near Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, in 1730. However, Ohio (now has the Largest amish population) followed by Pennsylvania, and then Indiana. These are three big Amish States cover 80% of the amish population. They are also found in 30 other U.S states and even Canada.

So for your viewing pleasure, at Town and Tourist we have put together the Top 13 Amish Communities in the U.S.A, for now….

 

Top 13 Amish Communities/Settlements in the U.S.A

1. Holmes County, “Amish County” Ohio

Population: 59,000

Church Settlements: 274 

Founded: 1808

Dubbed the Largest Amish Community in the U.S. and even the world. Homes County is an Amish Paradise with vast sections of farmland. Situated in the Northwestern part of Ohio, this area has a large settlement of both the Amish and Mennonite committees.

The main concentrations of Amish are in Millersburg, but areas like Berlin, Charm, Sugarcreek, Dover, Canton and New Philadelphia, are also populated with their ancestors. The Amish are also spread over  , Tuscarawas, Holmes and Coshocton counties.

Recent figures revealed that 42% of the Amish population in the US live in Ohio. Due to the vast concentrations of Amish in the region they have become a popular tourist attraction. Attracting people from all over the world to have an insight into the lives of The Amish and maybe even learn a couple of thing that they can take back into to their own life.

Holmes County Amish

Photo by Kathleen & Ryan Rush FlickrLester and his Horse Joe Taking an Amish Buggy Ride in Holmes County Ohio.”

However, all is not simple at the Ohio settlement of the so called “Plain people”. Ohio is a hub of the “old order” of amish, the more traditionalists who have stricter rules. For example, women must have their heads covered, no deodorant, no make up and you can’t even have buttons on clothes!

Heinis Cheese Chalet. Amish County Ohio. Photo by: Robert Batina

The old traditionalists in Ohio out rank the “new order” 2-1. So if your visiting Ohio expect to bump into a more traditional, disciplined amish. For example, as a tourist they will be happy to see you, you can visit an Amish school house, view a working farm and even take a nice train ride around the community. However, don’t expect any pictures with The Amish from the old order as they have strict rules on this.

Amish County Day Trip, Kauffmans Bakery. Photo by: Robert Batina Flickr

2. Lancaster County, Pennsylvania

Population: 37,000

Church Settlements: 220

Founded: 1760

The second largest & oldest Amish Community in the U.S. Lancaster County, Pennsylvania is the most well known and popular Amish settlement to visit. Lancaster County is a lot more diverse than Holmes County, Ohio. The settlement has a lot more of the “New order” of Amish and is thus the most commercialised.

This is a sharp contrast compared to Ohio where you will be expected to drive 45 minutes to find a branded, retail store. This Amish community includes churches in neighboring York and Chester Counties, with the most common Amish surname here is “Stoltzfus“. A well known event here is the annual mud sales which benefit the local volunteer fire stations.

AMish Villagae

Amish Village, Photo by: YARDEN5 flickr

In Lancaster County, it is possible to use the public school system. However, a lot of the Amish choose to homeschool their children or send them to amish schools. In terms of Photos, expect a more relaxed attitude then Ohio and many Amish will stop, chat and even pose for a photo which is nice.

Amish Buggy Ride at Lancaster County

Amish Buggy Ride at Lancaster County. Photo by: Raindear60

However, don’t expect men to be too friendly to the women as it is frowned upon in their culture. A neighbor town of Lancaster named Strasburg also has a large population of Amish. This area is known for their cabbage farms, corn fields and potatoes.

3.  Adams County, Indiana

Population: 8,600
Church Settlements: 58
Founded: 1840

Adams County, Indiana is know as the largest Amish settlement of “Swiss”. The Swiss Amish have a few different characteristics compared to other Amish, including a different German dialect and even covered buggies which recently appeared in these settlements. Traditionally they had open buggies.

4. Arthur, Illinois

Population: 4410
Church Settlements: 30
Founded: 1864
Arthur, Illinois is the Largest Amish Settlement in Illinois and here you will find many attractions from Amish Roselens Coffee & delights, amongst others.

Amish in Chicago.

Amish in Chicago. Photo by Karen Pilling

5. Allen County, Indiana

Population: 3,200
Church Settlements: 22
Founded: 1852

Another  Swiss Amish community. Allen County has a large number of brick homes, solar and even wind power ,which is a distinguishable and more modern feature compared to other Amish settlements. Popular surnames here include Schwartz, Lengacher and Graber.

6. Smicksburg, Pennsylvania

Population: 2600
Church Settlements: 21
Founded: 1962

 

7.  Seymour, Missouri

Population: 2700
Church Settlements: 16
Founded: 1968
 

A conservative community with Swiss Amish roots. The Seymour Amish recently faced a whooping cough outbreak.

Amish

Amish on the road Photo by: Philip capper.

8. Elkhart & Lagrange Counties (Northern Trail), Indiana

Population: 50,995
Church Settlements: 325
Founded: 1841

Elkhart County or the Northern Trail of Indiana is a popular Amish Community. Which includes areas such as Shipshewana, Wakarusa, Middlebury, Bristol, Nappanee and of course Elkhart. This area has many scenic back roads and attractions, shop, restaurants and plenty of unique things to try. A highlight is being able to take a ride in an Amish Buggy or even have dinner with an Amish family!

Amish farm with windmill in Elkhart, Indiana
On an unpaved county road just outside Middlebury. It’s so clear which farms are Amish (most of them are) when you drive by in the evening. No lights, or maybe just one or two rooms lit by a single lantern. Photo by: Yooperann

Other Popular novelties here include, great baked goods, homemade cakes and quilts.However, due to the harsh winters it’s best to visit in the spring or fall.

The Amish in Northern Indiana are also known for their RV production and progressive approach to living as the home of Connection magazine. Popular activities/attractions here include the Shipshewana Mayfest Buggy Race, and the Pumpkinvine Trail, Botanical gardens and The Amish Acres Round Barn theatre. 

Barn theatre Amish Indiana

Historic roundbarn at Amish Acres. Used as a theatre Nappanee, Indiana Photo by: Tom Gill flickr

9. Geauga County, Ohio

Population: 18650
Church Settlements: 132
Founded: 1886

Geauga County, Ohio is often overlooked due to it’s close proximity to the renowned Holmes County. However, it’s actually the largest community east of Cleveland. Popular Attractions here include, Geauga Amish Historical Library and lots of vintage ice machines found throughout the community.

10. Vernon County, Wisconsin

Population: 17,000
Founded: 1974

Vernon County in Wisconsin  is a relatively new settlement founded in the 1970’s. Amish settlements are spread between the areas of Ontario, Cashton, and Hillsboro.

Wisconsin has historically being called  “America’s Breadbasket.” However, growing wheat has proved difficult in recent years due to the soils of this state. So instead The Amish have switched to wine! With approximately 32 vineyards in the Community. In addition, Dairy farms are also popular here with over 13,000 dairy farms around the area!

Wisconsin Amish Barn

Wisconsin Amish Barn Photo by AmishAmerica.com

A large number of the United States organic agriculture comes from this area and they are the second largest provider behind California. A great attraction if visiting here is one of the number of Farmers markets, Both Viroqua and Ferryville have markets are full of many great homemade Amish treats!

Welcome to Viroqua, Wisconsin
Viroqua, the county seat of Vernon County, Wisconsin, is located at the intersections of US Highways 14, 61 & 27 and State Highway 56. Locals call it “one of the most beautiful and unique small cities in Wisconsin, if not in the entire nation.”
Viroqua is the center of a large organic farming region and is noted for its Farmer’s Market. Each Saturday over 50 farmers and vendors, including many Amish, into our downtown to sell their fruits, vegetables, cheeses, nuts and crafts. The Farmers Market opens the last day of May and continues every Saturday until the last Saturday of October. Photo + Caption by : J.Stephen Conn

Another attraction here is the Kickapoo River Valley, which offers a great opportunity to discover nature. Other activities include, canoeing, fishing and of course taking a classic amish horse and buggy ride.

11 . Nappanee, Indiana

Population: 6000
Church Settlements: 43
Founded: 1842

Just outside the Elkhart & Lagrange settlement. This is an amish community settled by many of the old order. RV work is also popular here.

12. Daviess County, Indiana

Population: 5000
Church Settlements: 29
Founded: 1868

Daviess County is a Fusion between Swiss and hillbilly charm. This county has a nice spirit. Popular attractions include Dinky’s auction house on a Friday.

Amish Town

Amish land in the fall Photo by: Kristein Klein

13. “Big Valley”, Pennsylvania

Population: 4000
Church Settlements: 30
Founded: 1791

This Amish community is located in the formally known Kishacoquillas Valley. The 30 mile long and 5 mile wide valley is home to three distinct Amish groups, Byler, Nebraska Amish and Renno. Located in Mifflin County. For more info see Amish America.

Interesting Facts about Amish: Culture, Clothes, Orders, Weddings, Technology and Dating! 

Amish Clothing & Appearance

The Amish or “Plain People” tend to help reinforce their beliefs though their clothing style. With a simple style of clothing, mad from plain fabrics and usually a dark color. The Amish attempt to avoid any excess decoration especially in the “old order” .

Amish Men Clothing Style:

Amish Men, tend to wear  straight-cut suits and plain coats without collars, lapels, or pockets. Trousers are worn with suspenders as belts are forbidden. Other forbidden items include: sweaters, neckties, and gloves.

The Amish Men’s shirts fasten with traditional buttons in most orders, while suit coats and vests fasten with hooks and eyes. Young men are clean-shaven prior to marriage,  then after marriage they are required to let their beards grow, with Mustaches being forbidden.

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Amish Women Clothing Style:

Amish women tend to wear single color dresses with long sleeves and a full skirt, typically covered by a cape and an apron.

The Amish women never cut their hair, and typically wear it in a braid or bun then hide it with a small white cap or black bonnet. Their Clothing is fastened with straight pins , their stockings are made from black cotton, and shoes black. Amish women are not permitted to wear patterned clothing or jewelry. The length of the skirt of an amish women is defined by their specific order.

Amish Language

The Pennsylvania Dutch are not actually Dutch! The word Dutch is a variation of “Deutsch” or German. Due to the Isolation of The Amish sect they speak a different historic dialect compared to todays German. In places like Indiana, a Swiss German dialect is popular.

Dating (Rumspringa) in the Amish Sect 

No “netflix and chill” or going out for a Movie. The Amish social life and dating scene is done in a different way. Between the ages of 18-21,  the young men and women are introduced to one another in a period called “Rumspringa” or “running around” .

During “Rumspringa” The Amish youths are given a certain amount of disregard and experimentation is permitted or overlooked. At this time many Amish teenagers use the relaxed rules for a chance at courting and other fun. Some even  may dress “English,” talk on cell phones, smoke or drive around in automobiles.

Rumspringa amish dating

Amish Dating period is commonly known as Rumspringa. Photo by historyplex.com.

At the end of Rumspringa, The Amish youth must decide if they will be baptised join the church, and be married or leave The Amish community.  One reason the Amish practice adult baptism rather than infant baptism, is because they believe only adults can informed decisions about their own salvation and commitment to the Amish church.

Amish Orders

All parts of the Amish life are decided by a list of rules, known as the “Order” or Ordnung  in German. These rules outline the basics rules of the Amish faith and specific rules to follow during for their Amish lifestyle. This rules are dictate everything from clothes style, hair and even farming techniques.

The “Order” of The Amish varies from state to state for example Ohio has a majority of Amish from the “old order” whom are more traditional and isolated. Whereas, Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, has more of the “new order” amish resulting in a slightly more commercialised and tourist friendly community.

Amish County Virginia.

Amish County Virginia. Photo by Kim Davis Flickr

Number of Amish Orders:

Some groups have estimated there is up to eight different Amish orders including: : Old Order Amish, New Order Amish, Andy Weaver Amish, Swartzentruber Amish and Beachy Amish. With the Old Order Amish the largest community and Swartzentruber Amish of a similar more conservative Amish style.

These variety of orders explains where you will see some Amish, using Cars, Solar Power, and having photos with tourists. While others will not even use electricity for lighting!

Photos are banned in the old order because they are believed to cultivate personal vanity, which contradicts the church’s prohibition of “hochmut,” a word meaning arrogance. Who would have thought it with todays Instagram and a world of selfies, maybe The Amish were on to something! Let us know your thoughts in the comments below.

Amish & Technology

The Amish are against many types of technology and true traditionalists. They believe technology leads to temptation, sin and weakens the family structure. Televisions, phones, internet and even electricity are considered to lead members of The Amish community down the wrong path.

According to the Young Center, The Amish fear “Mass media technology would introduce foreign values into their culture,”and . “By bringing greater mobility, cars would pull the community apart, eroding local ties” .

For farming, most amish use traditional horse drawn machinery and use horse drawn buggies for transport instead of cars. Many Amish communities do allow the use of a telephone but not cell phones. Many Amish families with share a single telephone in a wooden box near the farm.

Amish Girl, using traditional transport, Ohio Amish County.

Amish Girl, using traditional transport, Ohio Amish County.

Order Differences when it comes to Technology:

The variation in the use of technology is typically dictated by which “Order” The Amish community is in. For example,

The Andy Weaver Amish and Swartzentruber Amish are very conservative when it comes to technology and do not even allow the use of battery lights. However, the Old Order Amish are allowed to ride in planes and automobiles from outsiders or “English” as they are called.

However, they not allowed to own car or other motorised vehicles. Whereas the New Order Amish permit the use of electricity,  modern farming machines ,ownership of automobiles and telephones in the home.

Amish Education

The Amish are strong advocates of education, however only provide formal education through the eighth grade and only in their own private schools. Due to a 1972 U.S Supreme Court ruling The Amish are exempt from state compulsory attendance beyond the eighth grade at the age of 14, based on religious principles.

Amish schools are one operated by The Amish Parents and teach basic reading, writing, math, and geography, along with vocational training and socialization in Amish history and values. Farming and home making skills are a large part of the education of The Amish youth.

Young Amish Girl.

Young Amish Girl. Photo by Bob Jagendorf Flickr

Amish Ceremonies and Traditions -Weddings, Funerals.

The Amish believe traditions bind communities together and help uphold their values through the generations.  Amish weddings are simple, happy occasions which involve the entire Amish community. Traditionally held on Tuesdays and Thursdays in late fall after the final autumn harvest. During an Amish couples engagement, the word is usually kept a secret until just a few weeks before the wedding. An Amish wedding takes place the bride’s parents home with a lengthy ceremony followed by a huge feast for the guests. The Amish bride, will typically create her own dress usually in blue, which she can then use after for other special occasions. A major difference between an Amish Wedding and a wedding common in other parts of U.S society is the simplicity with no rings, flowers, make up or photography. The young newlyweds typically spend their wedding night in the bride’s mother’s home, so they can wake up early the next day and help clean up the home…so no honeymoon then!

Amish Funerals

Funerals are a somber, simple occasion for the Amish. With no eulogy or flowers. The casket are plain wooden boxes made within the local amish community. The funerals are usually held within the home of the deceased, and in most orders embalming of the body is allowed by a local undertaker…but no make up is allowed to be applied. The burial is typically held three days after the passing. With a hand dug grave and a simple gravestone. In some Amish orders the gravestone does not even have a name engraved, just a map which the ministers can identify who is in each plot.

Shunning or Expulsion from The Amish Community! 

Otherwise known as Meidung, this is when an Amish is expelled from the Amish community for breaching religious guidelines such as marrying outside the faith. Shunning is a serious practice and only implemented after many warnings.

If an Amish person is shunned from the settlement he or she must severe all communication ties and leave their friends and family behind. Shunning is one of the main reasons why The Amish broke apart from the Mennonites in 1693.

Amish Girl, riding along. Photo by: Alonso Javier Torres

Difference between Amish and Mennonites:

During this time, a group of devout individuals led by Jakob Ammann broke away from the Swiss Mennonites, due to the lack of strict enforcement of meidung or shunning.  The Mennonites also differed over other matters such as foot washing and the lack of rigid regulation of clothes.

The Mennonite sect is a little more relaxed. They often have cars and electricity in their homes. Common last names heard throughout Amish areas are Yoder, Hochstetler , Troyer, Miller, Schmitt, Hershberger,  and Schrock.

Amish Carriage

Amish Carriage, Photo by Ralf Peter Reimann Flickr

The Amish still share most of the same beliefs as their Mennonite cousins, with a differences been in dress and manner of worship.

Are there any Black Amish?

This is a question which has been widely asked here at town and tourist, I think due to the popular talk show, “Steve” amongst others. Generally, the answer is no however, there have been reports of black amish on very rare occasions.

Generally, Black Amish are not common as most are of German/Swiss descent and live in isolated communities and only tend to breed with other Amish. Thus it would be rare for their to be many black amish.

Black Amish

Screenshot from the Comedy Show “Black Amish” by .Sargas Media

However, it has been noted that there have been a few on rare occasions, According to an an Amish named Jaimeson King on Quora Forum, who has entire amish family. He once saw a old black Amish Man at a Family gathering when he was young. With all the Amish clothing, a long beard and seemed to be following all the traditions. According to Jamieson: 

“I Freaked out, as it was just so rare”

He also goes onto to explain that the Black Amish Turned out to have been adopted from a South American country was risen Amish.

Another example, is Alan Beiler, from the T.V show “Amish Mafia”. Though Alan was raised amish the projections of him on screen is very different to reality and not in line with true Amish Culture.

The last example, of black Amish Stems from the Surname Jones. According to Jaimeson King: Jones is not a popular or common Surname of the Amish. It turns out that this surname entered the Amish community due to 

a young Amish girl became acquaintance with a black farmhand.”

So yes, Black Amish is possible but very, very rare.

For an interesting article on America’s aerial tramways, check out.

Aerial Tramways – Ultimate State by State Guide.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

About the author

Town & Tourist

A travel resource guide that has been carefully crafted and curated by travel bloggers to help you find the best places to travel to in the USA.