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by Bob Brooke



Neatly painted farmsteads dot the countryside. Near most is a windmill, its spinning wheel a contrast to the angular fields of corn and alfalfa. No electric wires run to the houses, barns, or tobacco sheds standing crisp in the morning light. White wooden fences outline pastures and the land around looks like a giant quilt of neat rectangles in earthen tones. A gray-covered buggy, pulled by a horse, clip-clopping against the macadam, breaks the morning stillness. Though it's the twentieth century it looks more like the eighteenth, for this is Pennsylvania's Amish Country, a place where time stands still but tourism repeats itself.

Just who are the Amish? Just as the purple martins that fill the multi-roomed bird houses in their front yards, so the Amish are a communal people. But the Amish aren't the only "plain folk" that live in Amish country.

About 16,000 Old Order Amish live in the area around Lancaster, Pennsylvania. They represent the oldest Amish settlements in twenty U.S. states and one Canadian province, migrating here from Germany and Switzerland in the 1720's to take part in William Penn's "Holy Experiment" of religious freedom. Originally called Anabaptists, due to their tradition of baptizing in adulthood, they changed their name to Amish after their founder, Jacob Amman.

Originally, all the Anabaptists were members of one group under Dutch Catholic priest, Menno Simons, and became known as Mennonites. It was not until 150 years later that Amman, also a Dutch Mennonite, decided to form his own group to adhere more to the founding beliefs and practices.

The differences between the seven Amish, twenty-one Mennonite and nine Brethren groups are their interpretations of the Bible, their use of modern technology, the value they place on education, their use of English and their degrees of interaction with outsiders. Brethren and Mennonite groups make use of modern conveniences more than Old Order Mennonites and Amish sects, particularly the Old Order Amish, who shun modern technology.

The Amish can be recognized by their clothing. The clothing they wear today is similar to that worn by their ancestors during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Men wear several different styles of hats, black ones in winter and straw ones in summer, which distinguish different ages, status in the community and the group of Amish to which they belong. In addition, they must begin to grow a beard when they are married. Women wear full-length dresses, capes and aprons. Those that are baptized wear white organdy caps and do not cut their hair.

And speaking of traditional treats, don't forget shoo-fly pie. This delicious pastry made with a wet bottom of molasses and a crumb topping is an Amish favorite. They are especially plentiful in summer, when they are sold at roadside stands throughout the area. Also available are whoopie pies, a confectionary treat made of two cake-like cookies held together with a fluffy white icing.

A high growth rate and the soaring price of land around them have forced the Amish to look for income alternatives to farming. Many have taken to opening small cottage industries that make carriages, clocks, batteries, silos, cabinetry, toys and quilts. To the Amish, beauty is its own ornament. A good example of this is the quilt. A quilt begins as a way for frugal housewives to use leftover scraps of cloth, and ends as an expression of happiness and a work of art. But it was not always an Amish tradition. Adopted from their "English" neighbors in the nineteenth century, Amish women have pieced together their patchwork designs on treadle sewing machines ever since. Certain patterns became standard, but each maker varies the colors and the border to make her own unique design.

Harvest time is a time for agricultural fairs and Lancaster County is filled with them. There is one just about every week through October. These aren't the usual honky-tonk type fairs but educational farm fairs featuring all sorts of exhibits, beautiful livestock, and wholesome homemade food at dirt-cheap prices. Most are three days long and run from Wednesday to Friday, during which time there are shows, contests, and demonstrations.

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