Old Order Amish Settlements

"A tractor gets work done more quickly, but horses and the love of hard work keeps us nearer to God." -- Amish bishop





Amish and Mennonite communities are closely related; they share a common history of persecution in Europe as Anabaptists and today, they practice "plain" living, yet they are different from each. Each group takes on many different forms, depending of theological and/or practical matters. In this course, we only examine a few of the more distinctive groups in the U.S. and Canada: Old Order Amish in Indiana and Ohio, Old Order Mennonites, conservative Mennonites, and liberal Mennonites in Ontario.

Amish communities vary from more conservative to more liberal. Look at three tables from Stephen Scott and Kenneth Pellman's Living without Electricity: technology used by various Amish communities, household technology, and farm machinery. Scroll to the bottom of the page for links to several Amish communities in the Midwest.

overall philosophy
  • founder: Jacob Amman
  • 1690s represented one of many Swiss Anabaptist groups who were severely persecuted by the Roman Catholic and Lutheran churches and governments
  • came to PA from Switzerland as early as 1727 (none left in Europe today)
  • practices, technology, and world views: rooted in 18th and 19th centuries
  • William Penn, a Quaker, invited Mennonites and Amish to his Colony
  • God's work must be done in every day life
  • slow changing in material and cultural values
  • cultural and religious stability a virtue
  • strong social conformity: shun or even excommunicate members who don't follow the rules of the group




religion: housing characteristics:
  • lack of formal religious structures (no churches; meet every other Sunday in a member's house)
  • religious hierarchy: bishops, ministers, deacons
  • no full-time, paid clergy
  • Sundays for church and visiting only -- necessary chores, however, are done, such as milking
  • members are don't follow the rules are shunned -- not talked to -- to force them to conform to the group (Mennonites don't shun)
  • single family houses, frequently with a separate house or additions for parents
  • very plain designs
  •  no electricity, telephones, central heating
  • dark (modest) colors (black or blue) for curtains, clothing, carriages


 transportation: gender roles:
  • no vehicles with rubber tires: autos, tractors, wagons
  • although some horse-drawn carriages have rubber coated wheels
  • horses used for all farm work and carriages
  • bicycles are acceptable in some communities, e.g., Indiana
  • Amish can ride in cars driven by non-Amish
  • tractors on blocks are used as a power source; as are internal combustion engines on horse-drawn bailers, for example
  • strong men-women distinctions in social and economic roles: women do housework, gardens, and care for children; men do barn and field work; are leaders in communities
  • no family planning: large families, 8-10m children is common
  • married men have beards but not mustaches as a reaction against the military which wore mustaches; unmarried men are clean shaven
  • hooks and eyes on dress coats, no zippers; others use buttons



schools: relation with outside world:
  • no formal education beyond grade school
  • own schools, without electricity, paid for and operated by the Amish community
  • Amish teachers
  • want to be left alone; no photos of themselves: vanity
  • courts require that they pay property taxes, but not social security taxes
  • pacifists, no military service
  • outsiders are all called "English"
farming: location:
  • subsistence (self-sufficiency) as much as possible
  • with cash crops: tobacco, milk, vegetables, quilts, furniture, and wood working
  • hard work, "free" labor: large families (no family planning)
  • organic farming practices, no monetary expenses
  • pay cash for everything, including land; out bid outsiders for land and farm buildings when they need these
  • church groups must be within horse ride of each other for Sunday worship
  • small communities: 30-40 households

  • Lancaster, PA is the oldest center of the Old Order Amish settlement
  • major concentrations also found in OH, IN, IL, WI, MN, IA
  • 80 percent of all Amish church districts are in PA, OH, IN
  • expensive farmland in the older communities results in new communities being formed in lower value farming areas, such as northern Ontario, Wisconsin, and Minnesota
  • about 250,000 Old Order Amish, who double every 25 years

View a few photos of the Amish in Lancaster County, PA
Visit the Old Order Amish in Indiana, and in Homes County, Ohio
and Amish horse shelter at Walmart
Watch a group of Amish men raise a barn in 10 hours!

Amish in Wiscsonin:
1) Examine data for Amish settlements in Wisconsin: historical trends, family size, and occupational types.
2) Read an article about the Amish in Wisconsin.
3) Visit the Amish community south of Augusta, Wisconsin, and view a map. Also map of spring scenes south of Augusta.
4) A student in Geography 188, who lives among the Amish, documented the Amish cultural landscape in Central Wisconsin.
5) Amish harvesting corn in the winter, near Blair, Wisconsin.
6) Read an article about horse manure and the Amish in Loyal, Wisconsin.
7) Examine a map of Amish farmsteads in and around Loyal.