Summer in Ohio's Amish Country

Photo by Beth Miller

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Explore Walnut Creek, Ohio

Looking out over Goose Bottom Valley, it's easy to believe that God smiles on honest labor and rewards with simple pleasures. Trim Amish farms tucked into the fertile hillsides hum with activity. Country roads-as crooked as a snake in a hurry-lead to rustic-sounding places like Troyer's Hollow or Peeper Bog. Hedgerows stitch woods, wetlands, pastures, and fields into a pretty quilt populated with wildlife.

Amish children sledding
Photo by Beth Miller

In the heart of this charming rural landscape lies the village of Walnut Creek, Ohio. Settled in the early nineteenth century, the town perches on a gentle hillside between two of Holmes County's most beautiful and productive valleys.

Here, at the meeting of Goose Creek and Walnut Creek, Jonas Stutzman, an Amish man moving west with his family in 1809, saw the perfect spot to settle down. Today, Walnut Creek and the surrounding villages are part of the largest Amish community in the world and home to many of their "cousins," the Mennonites.

A Day in Town

On weekdays and Saturdays, Walnut Creek's compact business area bustles with friendly, busy people-but the pace of the place feels more deliberate and unhurried than most. Clapboard buildings with shops, restaurants, offices, and inns line its main thoroughfare and side streets. There's a shady front porch with an inviting bench or hickory rocker on nearly all of them.

Take a seat and look around. It won't take long to notice the signs of a more measured way of life.

Outside the bank on the corner of Olde Pump Street, horse-drawn buggies are tied to a hitching rail by the "Drive-Up" sign. At the market, Englishers and Amish women in long, plain dresses and head coverings shop side by side. Bearded men in wide-brimmed hats heading to the auction or antiques mall raise a hand to all they meet along the road.

What you won't see in Walnut Creek are traffic jams and crowds-unless you count the diners lined up in the summertime outside Der Dutchman Restaurant.

The restaurant has anchored Walnut Street for more than three decades, serving real Amish kitchen cooking to loyal locals and tourists alike. Folks waiting in line who are especially hungry can duck into the attached Der Dutchman Bakery and tide themselves over with a fresh apple fritter or gooey whoopee pie-provided the regulars haven't already snatched them up.

The restaurant and bakery are owned by Dutchman Hospitality, a local family business with offices right in the center of town. Dutchman Hospitality also owns the Carlisle Inn and Carlisle Gifts -two more popular Walnut Creek destinations. In addition, the family operates several more restaurants, bakeries, shops, and inns in Ohio and Indiana - all tied to the talents, traditions, and values of their Amish and Mennonite heritage.

Come and spend some time in Walnut Creek with Dutchman Hospitality. You'll soon begin to appreciate life as the Amish live it-with genuine simplicity.

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Natural Beauty

While life moves at a more tranquil pace in this little corner of the world, nature is always busy mounting a noisy, vivid, fragrant, and new display.

Sounds

Listen carefully and you'll hear a lovely pastoral symphony. The clip-clop of horses and the sounds of hard work set the tempo. Dozens of different songbirds trill the melody lines, as a seasonal chorus of natural vocalizers, like tree frogs, owls, spring peepers, cicadas, ducks, and wild turkeys, chimes in.

Wildflowers to look for:
Bluebells
Yellow coltsfoot
Jewelweed
Evening primrose
Joe-pye weed
Black-eyed Susans
Ironweed
Quaker ladies
Hepatica
Trillium
Spring beauties
Queen Anne's lace
Jack-in-the-pulpits
Violets
Lady-slippers
Wild geranium

Sights

Fall's glorious colors and harvest activities usually get top billing, but every season in this part of the Appalachian Plateau is picture postcard pretty-with a living landscape that is constantly changing.

In warmer weather, the hills and valleys are blessed with birds in every color of the rainbow-scarlet tanagers, Baltimore orioles, yellow warblers, green herons, bluebirds, indigo buntings, purple martins-and every beautiful hue in between. They compete for air space with fireflies, dragonflies, ladybugs, damselflies, butterflies, and busy honeybees.

Other feathered friends are year-round residents or cold-weather visitors. Black-capped chickadees, bluejays, cardinals, and goldfinches often add a dash of color to a winter snowscape.

Of course, not all the wildlife around these parts likes to show off. It's best to venture out in the early morning if you want to catch a glimpse of some the area's more reticent, but no less interesting, residents-like white-tailed deer, wild turkeys, beavers, red and gray foxes, woodchucks, and cottontail rabbits.

Smells

It's true that barnyard aromas may waft across the countryside from time to time, but the air is often filled with more pleasing smells. In spring, it might be the sweet smell of new-mown hay. Summer breezes carry honeysuckle and sun-ripe strawberries. As the homey fragrance of fall apple harvest fades, winter brings the spicy scent of pine and wood smoke.

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Timeless Traditions

Ohio's natural springs, meandering streams, woodlands, wetlands, and fertile farmlands support an abundance of wildlife, but it is the Amish community's profound sense of stewardship and connection to creation that protects and sustains it.

A Simple Life

The Amish have a deep respect for nature and believe it is their sacred responsibility to take care of both the material and natural resources that pass through their hands. Just as their ancestors did more than three hundred years ago, they cultivate their fields with horse-drawn machinery and use environmentally responsible farming methods.

They live in houses without electricity and do not own gas-powered vehicles. Windmills and solar panels in their farmyards generate energy to pump water and run appliances. Wood or coal stoves heat their homes, while meals are prepared using propane, kerosene, or wood. Clear gas or kerosene lamps provide light.

Their familiar red-painted "bank barns" are built into the sides of the hills for efficiency. The lower foundation level houses the livestock, with easy access to fields and pastures. The wood structure above includes the haymow and the threshing floor. Hay and grain are pitched through a hole in the floor to the livestock on the level below.

The Cycle of the Seasons

Though much of a day's work on an Amish (or any) farm remains constant-milking the cows, mucking the stalls, feeding the livestock-each season also brings its own unique rhythms and routines.

Late Winter/Early Spring

Maple sugaring

Spring/Early Summer

Plowing and harrowing
Turning animals out to pasture
Sowing oats, corn, and clover
Calving, lambing, kidding, foaling
Planting the vegetable garden
Haymaking
Strawberry picking
Jam making
Picking early sweet corn
Sheep shearing

Summer

Wheat harvest-tenting wheat stalks into shocks
Threshing winter barley and wheat
Second hay cutting
Harvesting sauce apples
Gathering new honey
Picking blackberries, raspberries, black-caps
Mowing pastures and wheat stubble
Putting up vegetables, fruits, and pickles
Silo filling

Fall

Corn harvest-shocking cornstalks to dry
Harvesting McIntosh apples
Cider-making
Sowing winter wheat
"Corn-husking Week"-no school so children can help
Wood-cutting and hauling
Cooking apple butter
Gathering walnuts, hickory nuts, butternuts
Moving animals in from the pasture
Butchering and making sausage
Spreading manure in the fields

Families at Work

While the men typically do the heavy work on Amish farmsteads, every member of the family pitches in.

The women tend the summer vegetable garden. Much of its yield gets "put up" to help feed the family through the winter. In their larders and pantries, you can see the beautiful fruits of these and other home labors-clover-sweet milk churned into fine butter and cheeses, quarts of pickles, crocks of sauerkraut, and amber jars of syrup from the spring sugaring.

During the day there is childcare, cooking, baking, cleaning, quilting, ironing, and washing to attend to. Laundry is hung out to dry even in cold weather. On washday, it billows on clotheslines stretched between poles or under the porch roof when it rains.

The woman of the house might get a helping hand from her mother or mother-in-law. Often a "dawdy haus" or grandparent's house is attached to the main house or built on the property for the parents or parents-in-law to live in during their later years. But most help comes from the younger generation.

Amish children are raised to be productive, and chores are assigned at a very early age. Girls help in the kitchen, assist with the laundry, clean up the house, and watch younger siblings. Boys are assigned barn chores, like cleaning out the stalls and feeding the animals. Both sexes may help tend the vegetable garden and sell excess produce at the family's roadside stand.

When big jobs need to be done around the farm, youngsters also are enlisted to help. In July, straw-hatted boys and girls wearing head scarves can be seen in the fields tenting wheat stalks into teepee-shaped shocks and setting them to dry.

Children at School

During the school year, the children's morning chores must be done early. Boys and girls who attend the many one-room Amish parochial schools in the county usually walk to school. Classes are usually limited to two sections-one for the younger children in grades 1 to 4 and one for grades 5 to 8. For Amish children, formal education ends after 8th grade. Most teachers are young Amish women who are just a few years out of school themselves. They serve in the schools for a few years before marrying.

Like all school children, Amish scholars look forward to outdoor recess. Boys and girls playing kick ball or softball with their teacher or pulling the little ones through the snow on sleds are common sights in an Amish schoolyard.

Neighbors Helping Neighbors

By choice and by design, Amish communities are especially close-knit. Communal work parties (called frolics), hymn sings, and potluck suppers often punctuate the seasonal routine. Men and older boys from five or six families form "rings" to help each other with threshing, wood hauling, and harvesting crops. Women get together for quilting bees and apple peelings.

Charged with a duty to help each other in time of need, the whole community rallies for efforts like barn-raisings. As many as 200 men use hand tools to assemble the barn's wooden frame, raise it into place, and enclose it-all in one day. While the hammers pound, the women prepare huge meals to serve on long tables set out in the yard. Children assist however they can.

The Amish choose to live a simple lifestyle that allows them to comfortably and peacefully follow their religious beliefs. A visit to Ohio's Amish Country can help you understand and appreciate how these kind, honest, hard-working people apply their faith to even the smallest acts of daily living.

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