Amish have extensive history in Ohio

Most people would be surprised to know that in parts of Ohio there are still many one-room schoolhouses. This has come about because of the high number of Amish and Mennonite people who have settled in Holmes County, Ohio.

Much of the time that I was in the Amish country, I was with a man named Mark, who is an Amish teacher who works summers as a tour guide. He teaches in one of the 155 Amish one-room schools that are in Holmes County. He has about 25 students who range from first grade to eighth grade. He liked the fact that he had the same students each year. Many years, he has an assistant who he is training to be a teacher in one of the other schools.

Mark W. Dewalt, in the Journal of Research in Rural Education (Fall, 2001), described an Amish one-room school. “The school ... is nestled in a wedge of land between two dirt roads. The white clapboard building ... has a combination wood/coal stove, unpainted wood floors, and four sets of large single pane windows on each side of the school. The unheated porch serves as a site to place personal belongings such as boots, coats, and lunch pails. Four rows of desks face the front of the classroom and the teacher’s desk. The one-room school has no electricity. ... The school is similar ... to that of many one-room schools in the united States in the early 1900s.”

Holmes County is considered to have the largest population of Amish in the United States. While there, I learned much about the Amish and how they have been able to continue to exist with their very simple and basic beliefs.

They were part of the Reformation movement that originated in Switzerland that produced the Anabaptist movement. They do not believe in infant baptism but do practice baptism of adults and advocate for religious and social reforms. They refuse to take oaths, oppose military service and the acceptance of public office. Part of their lifestyle includes hard work and very plain living and dress.

Early Amish came to Ohio by way of Pennsylvania. There are many different Amish communities in Holmes County and the nearby counties. They have differing ideas about the use of today’s modern conveniences, such as electricity, the telephone and the tractor. For instance, some use no electricity, while others have their own generator that helps them with some of the farm work, and others have their houses connected to the power company’s lines.

One study found that there were 43 communities of Old Order Amish, one Beachy Amish, two Conservative Amish, six Mennonite congregations, and one General Conference congregation, all of whom descended from the original Amish settlers. The Holmes County community has experienced a greater amount of factionism than is found in most Amish settlements.

The different groups are identified by variations of dress, modes of transportation, or degree of modernity. The location of windows on the sides and backs of their buggies are an indication of what community they belong to. Most buggies seen around Holmes County are black, but different colors of buggies are also used to identify different groups.

Once, farming was the main economic driver of the area, but today small manufacturing and tourism is more important. Much of the farming is still done manually or with horses. Sometimes horse pulled equipment is working next to tractors or a truck. Horses are very important to the Amish and much time is spent in training and caring for them. The weekly horse auction is an event that most Amish men attend.

We saw what is reported as the largest horse in the county. It is a beautiful Belgian that was born in May 2002. It stood over 19 hands high and weighted 2850 pounds. There was another large Belgian in the barn that is used on the farm to pull farm equipment. Other breeds of horses are raised to pull buggies and pony carts that are used for every day transportation.

A pony cart is a fast way to get somewhere and an idea devise for teaching children how to drive. Stores and homes have hitching posts located in front of them. Most families, even those living in town have two horses.

Families are large. The children start working and learning their chores at an early age. It takes a number of people to plant, harvest and maintain their farms. Several generations live on a farm and often a second house has been built next to the original house. This is for the older generation.

Amish women never cut their hair and they wear bonnets - with black meaning they are married and white indicating they are single. Married men always have a beard. All Amish wear plain clothing. Some continue to use hook and eyes instead of buttons and may use pins in their capes or aprons.

The Amish have retained their lifestyle for many years and their populations are increasing.