painted farmsteads dot the countryside. Near most is a
windmill, its spinning wheel a contrast to the angular fields
of corn and alfalfa. No electric wires run to the houses,
barns, or tobacco sheds standing crisp in the morning light.
White wooden fences outline pastures and the land around looks
like a giant quilt of neat rectangles in earthen tones. A
gray-covered buggy, pulled by a horse, clip-clopping against
the macadam, breaks the morning stillness. Though it's the
twentieth century it looks more like the eighteenth, for this
is Pennsylvania's Amish Country, a place where time stands
still but tourism repeats itself.
Just who are the Amish? Just as the purple martins that fill the
multi-roomed bird houses in their front yards, so the Amish are a communal
people. But the Amish aren't the only "plain folk" that live in
About 16,000 Old Order Amish live in the area around Lancaster,
Pennsylvania. They represent the oldest Amish settlements in twenty U.S.
states and one Canadian province, migrating here from Germany and Switzerland
in the 1720's to take part in William Penn's "Holy Experiment" of
religious freedom. Originally called Anabaptists, due to their tradition of
baptizing in adulthood, they changed their name to Amish after their founder,
Originally, all the Anabaptists were members of one group under Dutch
Catholic priest, Menno Simons, and became known as Mennonites. It was not
until 150 years later that Amman, also a Dutch Mennonite, decided to form his
own group to adhere more to the founding beliefs and practices.
The differences between the seven Amish, twenty-one Mennonite and nine
Brethren groups are their interpretations of the Bible, their use of modern
technology, the value they place on education, their use of English and their
degrees of interaction with outsiders. Brethren and Mennonite groups make use
of modern conveniences more than Old Order Mennonites and Amish sects,
particularly the Old Order Amish, who shun modern technology.
The Amish can be recognized by their clothing. The clothing they wear today
is similar to that worn by their ancestors during the seventeenth and
eighteenth centuries. Men wear several different styles of hats, black ones in
winter and straw ones in summer, which distinguish different ages, status in
the community and the group of Amish to which they belong. In addition, they
must begin to grow a beard when they are married. Women wear full-length
dresses, capes and aprons. Those that are baptized wear white organdy caps and
do not cut their hair.
TRADITIONAL TREATS AND SUCH
And speaking of traditional treats, don't forget shoo-fly pie. This
delicious pastry made with a wet bottom of molasses and a crumb topping is an
Amish favorite. They are especially plentiful in summer, when they are sold at
roadside stands throughout the area. Also available are whoopie pies, a
confectionary treat made of two cake-like cookies held together with a fluffy
A high growth rate and the soaring price of land around them have forced
the Amish to look for income alternatives to farming. Many have taken to
opening small cottage industries that make carriages, clocks, batteries,
silos, cabinetry, toys and quilts. To the Amish, beauty is its own ornament. A
good example of this is the quilt. A quilt begins as a way for frugal
housewives to use leftover scraps of cloth, and ends as an expression of
happiness and a work of art. But it was not always an Amish tradition. Adopted
from their "English" neighbors in the nineteenth century, Amish
women have pieced together their patchwork designs on treadle sewing machines
ever since. Certain patterns became standard, but each maker varies the colors
and the border to make her own unique design.
Harvest time is a time for agricultural fairs and Lancaster County is
filled with them. There is one just about every week through October. These
aren't the usual honky-tonk type fairs but educational farm fairs featuring
all sorts of exhibits, beautiful livestock, and wholesome homemade food at
dirt-cheap prices. Most are three days long and run from Wednesday to Friday,
during which time there are shows, contests, and demonstrations.