Flower gardens in Amish Country

Explore Sugarcreek

Colorful threads of history run through the fabric of daily life in this tranquil valley. Wagon tracks of early settlers are woven into the country roads traveled by buggies and cars. Corduroy furrows made by horse-drawn plows still criss-cross the farm fields. As each new day unfolds, it feels as welcome and familiar as an heirloom quilt.

Photo by Doyle Yoder

A Piece of America's Patchwork

Reportedly settled in the spot where two well-worn Indian trails once crossed, Sugarcreek remains a place where natural beauty and rich tradition intersect. For most visitors, it's also the gateway to Amish Country.

As you leave the hurry of the highway behind and slow to the rhythm of Brandywine Valley, you'll certainly sense why the Amish families that arrived in the 1800s found this place as appealing as the sun after a storm.

The fertile Ohio countryside promised both the freedom to practice their faith-based way of life and the providence to farm as their forefathers had before them. Using traditional methods rooted in reverence and stewardship, many industrious Amish farmers still put shoulder to harness, sowing and harvesting crops behind teams of hard-working draft horses.

Hospitality, Peace & Comfort

If you're driving east toward Sugarcreek on Old Scenic Route 39, you'll discover a cluster of clapboard buildings known as Dutch Valley. Once a working farm owned by the Lorenz family, today it is an oasis of hospitality from which to enjoy Amish Country.

Dutch Valley is owned and operated by Dutchman Hospitality Group, a local family-owned business. More than 30 years ago, the original Lorenz farm-along with a restaurant that had been built right on the grounds-was purchased by Dutchman Hospitality.

The company began to develop the acreage around the farm to reflect the talents, traditions, and values of his Amish-Mennonite heritage. The restaurant began serving Amish Kitchen Cooking based on the foods prepared and served in Amish homes. Over time, the farm's outbuildings were converted into shops and an inn was built where guests can share quality time together in peace and comfort.

A Trip into Town

From Dutch Valley, it's a quick trip into the village. Many of the town's storefronts are decorated in the alpine style that helped Sugarcreek earn its nickname-"The Little Switzerland of Ohio." For the Swiss immigrants who arrived in the 1830s, Sugarcreek provided a place to ply their native trade and open small cheese factories.

Today, several local descendants of the area's original cheese-makers carry on the legacy. Using milk produced on local dairy farms, they turn out wheels of creamy Swiss cheese as round and pale as a full moon.

In tribute to this heritage, Sugarcreek hosts the Ohio Swiss Festival each fall, complete with a parade, residents in lederhosen, and authentic Swiss food. Yodelers, polka bands, and alpine sporting events also take the stage.

Someplace Special

Ever since the first Amish settlers encountered its natural bounty and beauty, Sugarcreek has occupied a unique-and in many ways unchanged-piece of the American patchwork. Seasons, traditions, faith, and farming are the enduring threads that still bind this tranquil tapestry together.

Spend some time at Dutch Valley and discover the peace and comfort of this special place for yourself.

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Country Senses

Amish Quilt
Photo by Doyle Yoder

According to country wisdom, after spending time in a city, you need to "get to where your senses are put back in order." Sugarcreek is definitely that kind of place-starting with the sense of sight.

Without the distractions of tall buildings and traffic, its rural landscape lays claim to more beautiful colors than a new box of crayons. Bank barns are as red as ripe apples. Ripening crops are as green as a grasshopper. Tiny blue flowers are called "quaker ladies." Streaky white clouds become "mare's tails" racing across the wide-open sky.

Such homey language seems just right to describe the way even familiar things feel different in a place like Sugarcreek. Mornings might smell as clean as boiled water. A swig of cider tastes like pie in a cup. Horses don't trot, they clip-clop down the road.

In Sugarcreek, there are many interesting things for you to see with fresh eyes, appreciate with sharpened senses, and rediscover for the first time! Here are just a few:

Follow the Yellow Brick

Visitors often notice that a distinctive, gold-toned brick forms the foundations and chimneys of most of the white frame houses on Amish farms. You can probably follow some of that yellow brick all the way back to the industrialists who settled in Brandywine Valley in the 1800s, attracted by the extensive clay and coal deposits in the area.

Sugarcreek is the only Ohio town around with such a longstanding, world-famous brick and tile industry. Early on, enterprises like Finzer Brothers Clay Company, the Shepfer & Moomas Brothers, and Sugarcreek Clay Product Company, mined the clay, building tall, beehive-shaped kilns to fire the bricks. The yellow brick found on many of the older farmhouses in Amish Country were likely made in these kilns. Many fine homes and buildings in the eastern U.S. were built with Sugarcreek brick, as well.

The local clay plants now belong to Belden Brick Company of Canton, including an ultra-modern facility in Sugarcreek. The old-fashioned beehive kilns are rare today, but not extinct. Belden still fires up some of the original kilns to make bricks with distinct historical colors and aesthetic effects that they just can't produce in their more modern tunnel kilns.

Read Between the Lines

Did you know that Sugarcreek's newspaper, The Budget, has an international circulation? First printed in 1890, the popular, 75-cent weekly reports on the "work place, market place, and the church and on the English and the Plain People." It's one of the most-read papers in Amish Country.

Often called "the Amish newspaper," The Budget is a community paper in the purest sense of the term. Local pages are filled with timely news stories, human-interest features, high school sports scores, and inspirational messages from area pastors and their congregations. But in addition to the paper's faithful readers in Holmes, Tuscarawas, Wayne, and Coshocton counties, people all over the world eagerly await the arrival of its National Edition every week.

The Budget's National Edition publishes a much-anticipated section of "Letters" written by a legion of dedicated scribes. The scribes represent Amish and Mennonite communities throughout the United States, as well as Canada, Central and South America, and overseas. Scribes are not paid, but they are provided with free pads of lined paper on which to write about the news and views of their communities. Look for a copy of The Budget at Sugarcreek restaurants and shops.

Living on the Land

Tastes of Amish Country
peanut butter cream pie
fried cornmeal mush
Trail bologna
Apple butter
Biscuits with sausage gravy
Noodles and mashed potatoes
Amish peanut butter spread
Country cured ham
Snickerdoodles
Cinnamon Rolls
Rhubarb pie

Learning how to protect and sustain the land as a source of life became critical for the Amish when they fled into the countryside to avoid religious persecution in 16th century Switzerland. They brought this reverence for God's creation with them to the hills of Ohio. They also brought a talent for turning the fruits of their labor into some of the most delicious foods you've ever tasted.

Amish Country orchards and berry patches produce strawberries, raspberries, gooseberries, elderberries, blueberries, cherries, grapes, pears, peaches, and apples. In their kitchens, this beautiful bounty might be transformed into mouthwatering cobblers, dumplings, turnovers, compotes, sauces, jams, fruit butters, and pies.

A colorful variety of vegetables grow in many kitchen gardens-from purple cabbage to deep green zucchini. Such abundance often finds it way into slaws, salads, soups, stews, side dishes, and casseroles. Produce is canned, pickles and relishes are put up to eat all winter, and tomatoes are turned into ketchup and sauce.

Some of the grains they grow become flour for bread. Dairy cows produce clover-sweet milk that's churned into butter or made into cheese. Butchered meats can be cured and preserved as sausages. Even extra eggs from the chickens are often pickled in beet juice or brine.

There's a little taste of tradition in almost every bite of Amish food. So, you'll definitely want to try some new dishes and regional specialties during your stay.

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An Amish Farmhouse

The Amish chose a simple, separate way of life in order to remain true to their beliefs, so life on many of Sugarcreek's farms looks a lot like the way everybody lived a little over a century ago. Some Amish farmers still use only draft horses to plow, plant, and harvest; to bale hay; spread manure; and gather wood. Practical windmills and old-fashioned hand pumps are common fixtures in the farmyards.

To the casual observer, their neat white frame houses look much like the homes of the English, but often they are kept without benefit of electricity. The tools many Amish women use to cook and clean may resemble the common household items most country folks used in earlier eras. Wood or coal stoves might heat the rooms. Kerosene or clear gas lamps often provide light.

Meals might be prepared on cook stoves powered by propane, kerosene, or wood, in kitchens equipped with iceboxes or gas-powered refrigerators, butter churns, and apple peelers. Most Amish women typically feed about ten people, three times a day, and that's just one of their jobs around the farm. They're also likely to supervise the children, tend the garden and flowerbeds, clean the house, sew the family's clothing, preserve fruits and vegetables, wash and hang the laundry, help out in the fields, and do chores in the barn.

With all this work-and without the aid of the latest high-tech appliances-most Amish women don't spend a lot of time cooking fancy, fussy meals. They prefer to concentrate on classic country dishes and favorites passed down from their Swiss or German ancestors-food that is simple and centered around the family.

Recipes are usually basic and made with easy-to-get ingredients that can be successfully cooked in large quantities. Many of the vegetables and fruits are grown in their gardens and orchards. Meat often comes from the animals they butcher on the farm. Herbs are used sparingly, if at all.

But the Amish see no reason that eating should not be a pleasure. Food is one of their most beloved methods of celebration, and sharing a meal or a snack is one of their favorite ways to fellowship. Known for having a sweet tooth, a homemade dessert-or two-often appears on their supper table as well.

Even without the benefit of labor-saving kitchen conveniences, most busy Amish women still try to get the family to sit down together for meals. Breakfast is served after the milking is done and before the children leave for school. Eggs, fried potatoes, and fried cornmeal mush with maple syrup might be on the menu, finished with cereal and fruit.

To fuel the hard work that keeps the farm running, the midday meal is usually the main meal of the day. Platters of meat or chicken, accompanied by mashed potatoes, noodles, gravy, buttered vegetables, and applesauce sustain everyone through the rest of the day's labors.

Farmhouses usually are furnished with simple wooden furniture-straight-backed chairs, sturdy beds, hutches, stools, and hickory rockers-often made by the local Amish craftsmen who are noted for their excellent woodworking skills. Typically, upholstered pieces are plainly patterned and reflect their modest surroundings. Accessories are usually limited to rag rugs, hand-woven baskets, quilts, and wall calendars.

You're not likely to find a telephone, radio, or television in most Amish homes. The children entertain themselves with games and books. In the summer, they might play outside after dinner or chase fireflies that glow like tiny lamps around the yard. Of necessity, bedtime is usually early, because the cycle of honest labor begins again each morning when the rooster crows.

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