Tour the Amish Country in Holmes County

Staff Writer
Columbus Parent

My idea of a good time is to do something I've never done before. Add a learning experience and fantastic food, and I'm loving it. Your idea is probably different, but it might match at least some of my good time-requirements.

So let me tell you about the good time I had a few weeks ago when I took an Amish culture tour called the Progressive Meal Tour. It was a 12-hour day and exceeded my strictest good-time requisites.

La Vonne De Bois is the owner of the tour company in Holmes County and she was our guide. There were 19 of us on the bus, a few of them second- and third-time tourists. After we were given name tags, La Vonne greeted us and we were off to have breakfast in an authentic Amish home.

Our hosts were Melinda and her daughter, Mary Ellen. All of us noticed the rather dark interior of the room where a long table was set. La Vonne explained that the Amish considered the semi-darkness sufficient lighting for breakfast. "Overhead you'll see a gas-lighting fixture that would give us more light," she said, "but it would also give us heat. This is a hot day and the last thing we need is heat." The light (or lack of) made no difference when we were served the incredible meal. There was a breakfast casserole, biscuits with sausage gravy and a fruit concoction called frozen fruit slush, plus juice and coffee. Everyone called the frosted cinnamon rolls the best they ever ate. We discovered the secret ingredient was potatoes. Even the I-never-eat-breakfast folks turned into plate cleaners that morning.

After we ate our fill, we went outside. The yard was beautifully kept. There were flowers everywhere and the family had a huge garden bursting with ripening vegetables. In the carriage house were the buggies. The Amish travel by horse and buggy if their destination is no more than 10 miles. Our first buggy had sliding doors, an upholstered seat, hydraulic brakes and turning lights. On the floor was a small heater. Mary Ellen said it belonged to her teenage brother. In doing my pre-visit research, I read that boys of courting age often drove fancier buggies and some even had high-stepping horses. I was happy to see such a buggy to confirm my reading.

The family had two more buggies that weren't as fancy, but clean and in excellent condition. La Vonne said the family was New Order Amish. "You can tell whether the Amish are New Order or Old Order by their buggies. New Order members have sliding doors and rubber on the wheels. The Old Order has a shade that is rolled up in the summer and pulled down in the winter. They have iron wheels. The buggies are hard on paved roads and the churches collect money every year to give to the federal, state and county governments to help pay for road construction.

Before we took off to visit some cottage industries, La Vonne told us more about the Amish. It was fascinating. "Of course, the Amish are a religious group dating back to 1690. The church tells them what to do and where they must draw the line," she said. "That's a key phrase: draw the line." The Amish split into the Old Order and the New Order in 1960. The former believe God judges them by their work, while the New Order believes they are saved by being "born again."

La Vonne showed us a large book. Issued every four years, it lists all the Amish families in District 212 by the churches to which they belong. There are 25 to 30 churches in the district, corresponding to the number of families in each congregation. She stressed that everything the Amish do must be approved by the church. No Amish home has electricity or gas provided by a public utility. They have gas lighting, gas stoves, and gas refrigerators powered by propane.

We visited an Old Order household for dinner where Alma presided over the family. She is a quilt maker. At the end of the table there was a fan and a sewing machine, both powered by batteries. Alma always makes three quilts for each of her children when they marry.

La Vonne said the Amish may not embellish their clothing in any way. She passed around a prayer cap that all girls and women must wear at all times When a baby is 18 months old, she is fitted with her first cap. The caps come in 22 different sizes. Girls of marrying age wear black caps and married women wear white caps. Younger girls may also wear white caps. No zippers are allowed. Men's clothing is secured with buttons. Because buttons are then considered masculine, the women's dresses are closed only with straight pins.

Mildred Moss has been in journalism for 19 years. A mother and grandmother, Mildred has been writing for Columbus Parent Magazine for two years and is the publication's travel writer.

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Fast facts

Everything you wanted to know about the Amish, but didn't know how to ask.

  • Everything the Amish do is dictated by the church. Each congregation has a bishop and a minister. Both are chosen by drawing lots. The offices are held for life.
  • In 1690, Jacob Aman founded the Amish movement, because he considered the Mennonites too liberal. He selected Bible verses to guide the new denomination.
  • "Do not conform to the world," and "You can't love the things of the world and also love God." These verses are the foundation of Amish life. Aman told his followers "God knows the hearts of all men," and to "be fruitful and multiply.
  • The houses have three stories. The lower level is built of cement blocks, and is used for cooking in the summer. The second level is the living area, and the bedrooms are on the third floor. The upper levels may be made of wood or vinyl.
  • The "plain people," as the Amish call themselves, have named anyone else "the English," regardless of their nationality.
  • On the family land there is a "daughty house." When the children are married, the parents who have occupied the main house, sell or give the big house to one of the children. The parents then move into the daughty house, which is much smaller. Neither house may have hallways, carpet, and no utility wires entering the homestead.
  • The rich farmland in Holmes County Ohio was the original attraction to the Amish. Now, only 10 percent of the people are farmers. Land is very expensive; most costs $60,000 per acre.
  • The Amish are required to go to school only through the 8th grade. The teachers are young women chosen by the church and no one may apply for the job. To do so would be considered "prideful," which is not tolerated in the community. The Bible verse that education is based on is "Wisdom of the world is foolishness to God."
  • Most Amish youngsters marry at an early age. When the boys are of "courting" age, they have their own buggies, which are a little fancier than the family's buggies. The boys "cruise" the neighborhoods. Girls who are ready to marry put a burning candle in a third-floor window; the boys then know there is a likely candidate for his bride in the house.
  • The most conservative Amish group is the Swartzentruber. They are allowed no hot water, no indoor bathroom, no short sleeves, and no upholstered furniture. Men's hats must have a brim exactly four inches wide. No one is allowed to work outside the farm.
  • The fastest-growing "cottage industry" is furniture-making. The quality is unmatched by furniture manufacturers. Each piece is made by hand.