My husband and I just got home from a trip to Amish Pennsylvania. We wanted to compare it to the Amish Indiana that we visit so often, and where we plan to retire. I took lots of photos (zoom is my friend when it comes to being unobtrusive!) and I think I’ll have lots to write about. We explored both Mifflin County and Lancaster County while we were there. I’ll write about the more-familiar Lancaster County first.
In many ways the Amish in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania are similar to those in Northern Indiana. Their beliefs are similar, coming from the same roots in 17th-century Europe.
There were lots of cottage industries on the Amish farms. As we drove through the countryside slowly enough to watch for homemade signs, we saw advertisements for soap, honey, cheese, all kinds of produce, baked goods, goat’s milk, quilts, furniture, and preserves, just to name a few.
The clothing styles were similar to norther Indiana—“plain,” as the Amish would describe it. Sturdy, solid clothing, mostly black except for shirts and dresses, and both men and women kept their heads covered. One difference was the women’s white prayer caps – they were heart-shaped, not square-ish like those in northern Indiana.
As in northern Indiana, farming is done without tractors. The machinery is designed to be drawn by draft horses. The horses were beautiful, and fascinating to watch as they worked in the fields.
But there were differences that we noticed right away.
As my husband observed as soon as we began driving around—things looked older in Lancaster County! The Indiana Amish arrived there from Ohio in the 1840s—but the Lancaster County Amish have been in these valleys since the mid-1700s, when William Penn invited them to come to Pennsylvania to find religious freedom instead of the persecution they suffered in Europe. In the towns (especially Strasburg) and in the country, things looked like they have been there for a very long time. Some of the cemeteries looked ancient compared to ours, and there were plaques for “bicentennial farms”—something you don’t see in the Midwest.
Unlike the black buggies found in northern Indiana, the buggies here are gray. Some are closed, some are open, some have a flat bed in the back like a pickup truck. But all the tops are the same shade of gray.
Other differences that I will write about another time:
Firstly, the Amish here grow tobacco. We talked to a local resident about it, and she said that although they grow tobacco as a cash crop, very few Amishmen smoke anymore, “because of the health risks.”
Although we saw lots of buggies, there were some differences in how the Amish in Lancaster County get around. Bicycles are prohibited, but they have found alternatives that work for them that I haven’t seen in Northern Indiana.
One more difference was the presence of lots of tall silos and the huge amounts of corn being grown to fill them. Farms are large here, and nearly every farm is Amish. In Northern Indiana, the presence of the RV factories means that many Amishmen live on small three-acre plots, just big enough to have room to feed and house their buggy horses. But in Lancaster County, I never saw so much corn—huge farms with cornfields stretching to the horizon! As I’ve learned in recent years, only small amounts of Amish corn is grown to eat, or grind, or for seed—the rest becomes silage (winter feed) for the cattle. We watched this process and talked to a farmer or two, and I’ll get back to that topic also.