August 30, 2011

Amish Move to New York State



Clip clop. Clip clop. Clip clop.

      While I work on my novel the repetitive sounds of horse hooves along the road beside the Sunnyside of Black Lake housekeeping rooms was a pleasant diversion. It was also a sign that the Amish are settling into their relatively new homeland, Northern New York, along the St. Lawrence River.

   The first Amish districts in New York were established in the Conewango Valley in 1949, but in-migration amounted to a trickle until about a decade ago… As recently as 1991, there were just 3,900 Amish in the state.* However, since the beginning of 2010 the Amish have started ten new settlements in New York. Over the past two years, their population growth has reached thirteen thousand. It is the fifth largest Amish population in the nation, lead by Pennsylvania, first (over 61,000), Ohio (400 less), Indiana, and Wisconsin.* As recently as 1991, there were just 3,900 Amish in the state.

     Over the last forty-five years I have visited my husband’s family at least once annually. The last few years I’ve noticed the increased presence of the Amish. We are familiar with their lifestyle from living in Jamestown, Pennsylvania, which is across the border from the Kinsman, Ohio, Amish settlement.

The Amish began arriving in Pennsylvania from Switzerland and Germany nearly 400 years ago, and nearly all descend from a group of about 5,000 a century ago. While their Christian beliefs and practices can vary from settlement to settlement, or from church to church, they were defined for study purposes as people who use horse-and-buggy transportation, and speak a dialect of Pennsylvania German or Swiss German.

     According to Elizabethtown professor Don Kraybill, who directed a study by the Young Center for Anabaptist and Pietist Studies, the Amish movement into New York has been partially fueled by a contagion effect in which families report back on finding productive and underpriced land, and other factors that are conducive to the way they live such as weather, growing season and congenial neighbors and local officials…New York has lower land prices in rural areas than Pennsylvania and Ohio, states that together account for nearly half of the nationwide Amish population of about 261,000. New York also has more areas of rural isolation.

Amish wagon on road at Black Lake, New York

     Karen Johnson-Weiner, author of a book on New York State’s Amish (published last year), reports additional reasons why large Amish families sometimes relocate:

  • to find farmland for the younger generations
  • multigenerational families move together so they can afford to buy several adjacent farms at the same time.
  • a desire to preserve traditional aspects of their family life
  • to resolve disputes about church rules.

     Karen Johnson-Weiner, an anthropology professor at the State University of New York at Potsdam, said The Amish moving to New York are going to be, for the most part, very conservative…That means they’re not going to be so willing to compromise or fit in. This is demonstrated by their women’s fashion, which represents their religious separation from the world…which comes in part from the Bible, which speaks of modesty and avoiding adornments…the main element of which is a long, solid-colored dress, usually pleated.**

     The Amish follow the regulations of the church, believing it is God, church, family, and individually, in that order. The thinking is if you would express yourself individually, it would be hard for the communitarian group to exist, because it would be hard to maintain harmony**.

     Conflict exists between the Ohio Amish communities and what they call the English community: traffic regulations, zoning, involvement in Social Security taxes, etc. This is allegedly happening in New York, too.

     The English must make some adjustments. Monte, like all local drivers, must be cautious whipping around curves, beyond which might be a hidden Amish wagon, and he must be ever vigilant as he drives the highway, keeping an eye out for the black Amish wagons. Photographers should know that the Amish do not like their picture taken, because they consider it a false image of God.

     The Amish can be a beneficial addition to a community. In New York they are bringing to life abandoned farmland. Their beliefs create a strong community within the community. In every community where we lived near the Amish we found them to be polite and interesting. While living in New Castle, Pennsylvania, I shopped at an Amish fabric shop, purchased fresh eggs from their farms, enjoyed their handmade quilts. It was a New Wilmington, Pennsylvania, Amish man who made the kitchen counter and cupboard doors for our Slippery Rock home. They are talented craftsmen, even without using modern day electrical tools. I saw this up close and personal when I wrote a news article on an Amish wainwright (wheelmaker).

     The clip-clop clip-clop of their horses’s hooves is a calming sound that brings awareness that a simpler life is tenable. So while I typed on my laptop on the patio of Sunnyside of Black Lake, I the noise of the horses was calming, reminding me to slow down, pace myself, and seek peace.



**Fashion by Faith: Women choose modest dress that expresses religious beliefs, Greensburg Tribune-Review, May 22, 2011, pp F2



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