It was good to be back in Amish Country! It was the same time last year that we were exploring the Pennsylvania Amish Country and I was looking forward to seeing the differences between the two places. We had already learned that Ohio has the largest Amish population. The countryside here was just as beautiful as in Pennsylvania and actually seemed a little greener. The first thing I noticed was how hilly it was compared to Pennsylvania. We felt a little bad for the horses pulling those buggies up and down the hills. The other thing I noticed right away is that the Ohio Amish ride bicycles. In Pennsylvania they use foot powered scooters instead of bikes. I was told that the Amish want to stay close to their home and community and a bicycle is faster and can take them further away.
Our campground was located in the small town of Berlin in the heart of Amish Country where we sometimes saw horses and buggies ride by next to our Park. Just as in Pennsylvania, shopping is a popular pastime for tourists with a number of stores and flea markets. We are usually not much for shopping and the stores seemed to carry a large assortment of stuff that is not made locally. One stop at a “flea market” was enough for us. The best shop we visited was for quilt and sewing where we watched four elderly Amish women quilting and also saw a beautiful display of finished quilts. Something was said about me learning to quilt and the women laughed and said I was not nearly old enough. Okay with me as I have never liked sewing!
Eating is another favorite pastime here and we did hit up a couple of buffets which are hard to pass up in Amish Country. At Mrs. Yoder’s Kitchen we were happy to see a favorite Amish specialty, red beet eggs and there was something new for us, pickled banana pepper eggs.
Located on the table of both buffet restaurants was something else new – Amish peanut butter, which is basically a mixture of peanut butter, corn syrup and marshmallow cream. We squeezed it onto their homemade bread. It was good, but a little too sweet for me to make a habit of.
In this land of dairy where there are several cheese companies, we visited Heini’s Cheese Chalet which has been in business since 1935. They have more samples of cheese than any place I have visited in the U.S. You can sample almost every cheese they make and there must be at least 50 different ones although I lost track. One of their specialties is cheese fudge and they have over ten different flavors with interesting ones such as root beer float and rainbow sherbet. On certain days you can watch them making cheese and take a tour of the plant which wasn’t offered the day we visited.
When there is a chocolate shop in the area my driver and I are there as we are chocoholics! Coblentz Chocolate Company has a beautiful store where they make amazing chocolate treats with large viewing windows to watch the process. A signature treat from Ohio is buckeye candy which is peanut butter fudge partially dipped in chocolate that resembles nuts from the buckeye tree. The buckeyes looked great but I went for the dark chocolate toffee.
One day Mark and I made a stop at the Amish & Mennonite Heritage Center which turned out to be a great visit. They have an amazing and very large oil painting completed by one painter in 1992 called the “Behalt” which means “to keep” or “remember.” It measures 10 feet by 265 feet and is a circular painting or cyclorama that wraps around one large room. The Behalt illustrates the heritage of the Amish and Mennonite people from their Anabaptist (believers in adult baptism) beginnings in Zurich, Switzerland in 1525 to the present. Due to persecution in their native country, they were forced to immigrate to America in the early to mid 1700’s. Our guide took us around the room explaining the historical scenes depicted and important people involved. Unfortunately, we were not allowed to take photos of this masterpiece, one of only four cycloramas in the United States (we saw one in Gettysburg). In the photo below, I am standing outside in front of the mural completed by the same cyclorama artist, Heinz Gaugel. This mural is called a sgraffito which is a European art technique where layers of paint are scratched to form the design.
After our Behalt tour we checked out the museum where we saw artifacts and learned more about the Amish/Mennonite lifestyle such as clothing choices. Below, Mark sports an Amish hat with his serious photo face.
The most fascinating part of the museum was the display of Amish song books called “Ausbund.” There were a number of printings going back hundreds of years. There were also Bibles including the one below dating from 1531. In 1750 it came from Germany to America with an Amish immigrant named Johannes Holly. At that time he had a new cover put on the Bible with his name on the back and the year 1740 stamped on the front. Through the years it was passed on to other family members where it traveled from Philadelphia through other Pennsylvania Counties, to Ohio, Kansas and then back to Ohio. It was donated to the Amish Library in 1996. This edition has many illustrations.
While at the Center we also took a guided tour of a typical Amish barn where we learned about a barn raising and how Amish barns are constructed. Community barn raisings are only done when a family doesn’t have one, for example if one was destroyed or if this is a new couple. We also viewed a former Amish school and learned how all children in a district are taught by one teacher in one room. He discussed the curriculum and showed us a few books including one he said would not be seen in a public school – a buggy driver’s manual.
Amish students only attend school through the 8th grade as the prevalent belief is this gives them all the education they need. Our guide told us he felt his 8th grade education prepared him very well for life. He said a Harvard professor evaluated their program and determined the education they receive equals an 11th grade education at public schools. He also said having the different grades together was helpful because students learned from those in the grades above them.
While staying in Ohio Amish country, I found a great walk/bike path. But this is more than a path for feet and bikes as horses and buggies are also allowed. The Holmes County Rails to Trails is 12 paved miles and bills itself as the only dual purpose trail in the U.S. as half of it consists of chipped limestone for horse traffic. I loved walking on this trail because it was beautifully shaded with trees and near water but mostly because it was fun to be on a trail where there were walkers, bicyclists and horse and buggies. I never get tired of watching those horses and their passengers go by!
One family with four or five children passed very close and I was amused to see a little girl holding a McDonalds cup, an interesting blend of the old and the new.
I hope you enjoyed this look at Ohio Amish Country with more coming in my next post when I visit a farm with exotic animals.