Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Appalachian Amish

When someone says the word "Amish," most people think of Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, the familiar "Pennsylvania Dutch" country. With an average of 6.8 children per family, the Amish are one of the fastest-growing populations in the world and are spreading into other states in search of available farm land. We have a couple of communities just across the state line in Kentucky.  Among the most conservative of groups in the Mennonite/Anabaptist movement, their simple lifestyle sets them in sharp contrast to modern America, and sometimes at odds with their neighbors.

The first thing one notices on entering an Amish community is the preponderance of horse-drawn vehicles.

In rejecting ties to the world and temptation to pride, Amish do not own or operate motor vehicles, although they are quite willing to ride in one if need be and if it is driven by a non-Amish. They may even pay an "English" (i.e., non-Amish) neighbor to drive them to visit a doctor or distant family member.

And motor vehicles are common in their communities, driven by neighbors, customers of Amish-owned businesses, and tourists.

Farm implements are horse-drawn, and other machinery may be, as well.

A horse-powered sugar-cane mill

And "Shank's Mare" is still a common form of transportation.

We were there to visit an Amish woodworker. I wish I could have gotten photos inside his shop; it was the envy of all of us who like to make sawdust. He had every piece of woodworking machinery available, and all of it was top quality. But he operated it without electricity. Each machine had been modified to be run off a flexible shaft. A system of clutches sent power to the machine in use. The flexible shaft was driven by a treadmill just outside the shop, which was powered by a mule. He had a brake inside the shop that stopped and started the treadmill, effectively turning the machinery on and off.

And when he wasn't operating his woodworking tools, the shaft could send power to his wife's wringer washing machine, located just outside the shop.

We also have several Mennonite communities in the area, most of which are visibly less conservative than the Amish, driving cars and having electricity and telephones. There is one old-order Mennonite group nearby in Kentucky that to our untrained eyes aren't distinguishable from Amish.  One thing we have learned, however, is that all of them, Amish and Mennonite, are good people and pleasant to do business with.


  1. Don't imagine the stock market crash of 2008 affected them. I respect them for desiring a life based on their faith. They are a light in our world.

  2. The mule-powered wood shop sounds pretty amazing.

  3. A fascinating glimpse into the Amish lifestyle.

  4. Ain't too many folks know about Shank's Mare anymore!