In the midst of a constantly changing world, one culture remains constant: the Amish.
An Amish community today appears much as it did when the sect originally formed in 1693. The Amish hold onto traditional customs lost to many in the modern world, such as sewing clothes, constructing furniture and living without modern technology.
Ohio has one of the highest populations of Amish in the country. Their communities in the Buckeye State welcome visitors to learn about the Amish lifestyle and values.
Groups can taste Amish homemade meals, shop for handcrafted Amish goods and leave inspired after a tour of Ohio’s Amish communities.
Exploring Holmes County
Why do Amish men grow beards but not mustaches? Do Amish allow people to take their photographs?
The Amish and Mennonite Heritage Center in Holmes County has the answers to these and other questions. The museum introduces visitors to the Amish history and culture with interactive exhibits.
Typically, guides with Amish or Mennonite backgrounds lead the tours to offer an informative experience that includes videos, displays, a Conestoga wagon, a one-room schoolhouse and a gift shop. For a visual representation of Amish history, groups can admire “Behalt,” an imposing 265-foot circular mural that traces the history of the main Anabaptist groups: the Amish, Mennonite and Hutterite people.
Holmes County’s Amish immersion continues at Yoder’s Amish Home, an authentic Amish farm that invites guests to glimpse daily Amish life. Started 20 years ago by a couple with an Amish background, the 116-acre farm offers guided tours of an 1866 Amish home and a barn full of livestock. Groups can ride across the farm in horse-drawn buggies for a way to slowly take in the pastoral scenery.
Beyond Yoder’s, groups can hire a local guide and explore Holmes County’s backroads.
“About 50% of our population are Amish,” said Tiffany Gerber, executive director of the Holmes County Chamber of Commerce and Tourism Bureau. “While we have pockets of typical downtowns, we are mostly rural. In Holmes County, our Amish folks like to share their faith in general. In some cases, they like to work in tourism. I think that makes us an easy place to learn about Amish culture. Our folks are so willing to share their story.”
Landscapes straight out of a Rockwell painting dot the hills interspersed with people working in fields, clothes hanging out to dry and roadside stands selling baskets, chocolates and other handmade items.
“The Amish’s lifestyle is not about living an inconvenient life,” said Gerber. “It is about not letting other things come into the home and interfere with the three tenets of Amish life: faith, family and community.”
In recent months, groups have found safe ways to explore Holmes County, with many vendors coming up with innovative ways to follow health protocols and still offer authentic experiences.
As soon as visitors walk into the Amish Market in Boardman, the heavenly smell of freshly fried doughnuts greets them. Other smells soon mingle in for a sensory experience.
Opened in 2013 as the Valley Marketplace, the attraction is Ohio’s first indoor Amish market. The market became fully Amish owned and operated when various vendors purchased the attraction in 2017. Today, about 15 Amish vendors sell a range of goods from furniture to candy.
The Market Restaurant serves homestyle Amish cooking with original family recipes. Vendors offer additional meal options, for instance, pretzel wrap sandwiches like the Reuben wrap at Miller’s Soft Pretzels and Ice Cream.
Those just looking for a treat can try fresh doughnuts at Aunt Martha’s Donuts, homemade breads at Cora’s Cookies and Such, or Amish fudge at the Candy Corner. Famously built to last, Amish furniture and home goods are in high demand at a couple of the market’s stands.
“The Amish vendors come from outside the area,” said Tara Mady, assistant director of the Mahoning County Convention and Visitors Bureau. “There aren’t any stores like this around. It is a unique stop. Groups can get something to eat there. They have tables set out where people can spread out.”
The Amish Market is open Thursday through Saturday year-round.
The staff at Lehman’s in Kidron never have to worry about mowing the store’s grass. The mowing is taken care of by intrigued customers who want to try out the store’s nonelectric push mower.
“With a modern lawnmower, when it’s not working you probably have to take it to the dealer,” said Glenda Lehman Ervin, vice president of marketing for Lehman’s. “With our mower, if it’s not working, you’re not walking. We make products that help you lead a simpler life.”
Lehman’s feels like the convergence of a shop and a museum. Museum-quality antiques cover the walls, and newly made nonelectric products line the shelves for purchase.
Jay Lehman started the store in 1955 with the intention of selling nonelectric products to the Amish community. The shop now primarily sells to non-Amish customers seeking products from another time. The store employs many Amish craftspeople to create the goods that would otherwise disappear, such as wood-heated stoves.
In the expansive store, guests can view old-fashioned products for cooking, gardening, heating and nonelectric lighting. Groups looking for souvenirs will enjoy the locally made snacks, desserts, meats and pantry items. Hundreds of American-made, nonelectric toys also take up an entire section of the store.
“Because of the pandemic, our products are hugely popular,” said Ervin. “If you are completely reliant on someone else for everything you need, it can be disconcerting. They are seeking what we are selling, which is a simpler way of life.”
Ohio Star Theater
Audience members can laugh and cry with Amish characters at the Ohio Star Theater in Sugarcreek. Part of Dutchman Hospitality Group’s Amish-themed attractions, the theater features original musicals and plays with Amish characters.
“The musicals give a glimpse into Amish life but not in a gimmicky way that pokes fun of the Amish,” said Vicki VanNatta, interim marketing manager for the Dutchman Hospitality Group. “We want everything we offer at our restaurants, shops, inns and theater to be a celebration of the traditions, foods and rural charm of the Amish life.”
The Ohio Star Theater not only produces Amish-themed musicals but also welcomes touring concerts and comedy acts. The production company selects family-friendly acts designed to entertain and enlighten.
The theater follows strict social distancing protocols, including masks, reduced capacity and sanitizing.
Once guests leave the theater, the fun can continue. Within walking distance, the Dutchman Hospitality Group also oversees the Dutch Valley Market with its high-quality traditional Amish foods. For trendier offerings, Dutch Valley Gifts sells home decor and boutique clothing.
Groups can dine Amish-style at Dutch Valley, which serves homestyle meats, noodles, apple pie and other hearty options. The Carlisle Inn combines modern comforts and Amish simplicity with handcrafted beds, jigsaw puzzles and a deluxe continental breakfast for those who wish to linger.
“A motorcoach could easily stay here for five nights,” said VanNatta. “We are still a very rural area. I think that is one of the differences between us and Lancaster, Pennsylvania, which is more urban. Our area is still made of small towns. Even though we now have hotels and restaurants, we don’t have chain restaurants. It is very authentic.”