Ohio’s Amish Country
Visit a place that holds fast to old-fashioned ways
Ohio’s rural eastern region around Holmes County is home to the country’s greatest concentration of Amish settlements. Often misunderstood and romanticised for their culture of peace and simplicity, the Amish are the most conservative of the Anabaptists who fled persecution in Europe and established flourishing farm communities in North America, beginning in the early 18th century.
Following the biblical admonition to “Come out from among them and be ye separate,” they avoid the ways of outsiders—whom they call the ‘English’—including, in varying degrees from group to group, modern technology (although the odd mobile phone is not a complete rarity). Ohio’s Amish country is a rolling pastoral landscape of thriving family farms, one-room schoolhouses (each never more than a three-mile walk for any student), plain dress and black horse-drawn buggies.
The heart of eastern Ohio’s 40,000-strong Amish community is the town of Berlin (accent on the first syllable), where the Amish & Mennonite Heritage Center introduces visitors to the sect’s religious and historical background. The main attraction is Behalt (‘To Remember’), a 10-by-265-foot cyclorama that depicts the course of Amish and Mennonite history, from grisly scenes of martyrdom to bucolic barn-raisings. Not far from town is Yoder’s Amish Home, which offers buggy rides and guided tours of two 19th-century farmhouses, an Amish one-room schoolhouse, and a huge barn rivalling Noah’s Ark in its animal variety. A few miles north, in Kidron, the weekly livestock auction has been drawing English and Amish alike since 1923. After the excitement, drop by Lehman’s, the famous general store that is a sort of Amish one-stop-shopping with a buggies-only section in the parking lot, and shelves inside stocked with high-quality, old-fashioned tools, toys and non-electric appliances (think butter churns, gas refrigerators and oil lamps).
Travellers can follow the 76-mile Amish Country Scenic Byway, a generally east-west route through the centre of the mostly agricultural county, or just head out on their own. In small towns with names like Charm and Mt. Hope, crafts stores, antiques shops and flea markets abound, and plenty of restaurants beckon with hearty, often German-influenced fare.
On the eastern edge of Amish country, and on one of the obscure back roads of American history, is another picturesque village founded by religious separatists. Germans escaping Lutheran persecution founded Zoar in 1817, taking the name from the place where Lot took refuge after fleeing Sodom. After a period of prosperity, the commune disbanded in 1898, and today, Zoar’s population is barely 200, most of the residents’ direct descendants of those first settlers. Many of the fine historic buildings have been preserved as Zoar Village State Memorial, where visitors can take guided tours and costumed interpreters give crafts and cooking demonstrations.
This trip idea can be found in:
Trip idea text ©Patricia Schultz. For contact information about the places mentioned and many more USA trip ideas, see Patricia Schultz's blockbuster book.