3 posts categorized "North Carolina Amish"

December 10, 2009

North Carolina Amish

North Carolina is my home state, and not one known for having a large Amish population.  Amish have attempted to settle NC in the past, however, and today one settlement does exist, at Union Grove, a hamlet lying some miles west of Winston-Salem.
Union Grove, which began in 1985 as a spinoff of the Guthrie, Kentucky community, is considered a New Order settlement.  Like its mother community (but unlike the vast majority of horse-and-buggy Amish), Union Grove allows the use of public grid electricity.  For that matter, about 1/3 of the 50 or so New Order congregations are considered "electric", with the remainder staying off the grid, including the two dozen New Order churches of Holmes County, Ohio.

An Amish commentator describing the move from Kentucky to NC explains that "it seemed many local people had gone to Pennsylvania to 'Amish Country', and were quite enthused about Amish moving into the area."  He goes on to describe the warm welcome offered by locals happy at the prospect of Plain neighbors--apparently a common sentiment, as recent reportage about Amish forming new communities in "un-Amish" states such as Colorado and Maine has suggested.

Today, a quarter-century later, Union Grove remains a single church district in size.  Oddly, the document I am referencing mentions that the community built a "chuch house" in 1990, which I'm still puzzling over and may need to do a bit more digging on.  The Amish of Somerset County, PA, use church houses, and I thought they were unique in that practice among Amish, but that may not be the case. 

A decade after the settlement's founding, the Union Grove group gave birth to the experimental, and now-defunct community of Yanceyville, NC.

The Yanceyville community, existing from 1994 to 2001, was a rather unique one.  What set Yanceyville apart was the fact that it was a bilingual community, and one inclined to accomodate those wishing to join the Amish.  In fact, it was started by six families from Union Grove described as having "a desire to help some of the many seeking families." 

And such was the case, as a number of individuals of non-Plain background ended up joining this community, and even comprised half the member families at one point.  Preaching at Yanceyville was in English, dress was plain, and the horse and buggy was used.  But apparently due to the influence of an outside church, this community soon ceased to exist as an Amish settlement, and was followed by a short-lived Beachy church.

For whatever reason, North Carolina has not proven as attractive a destination for Amish as states such as Wisconsin, Missouri, or Kentucky, all of which have seen numerous new settlements formed over the past two decades.  Perhaps it has to do with climate, available land, or even building codes, which one Amish commentator notes are apparently stricter in NC when it comes to constructing new school buildings. 

Historically, at least one other Amish settlement has existed in North Carolina, however, in the vicinity of the Dismal Swamp in the northeastern corner of the state.  If you're interested, you can read the colorful history of that somewhat flammable settlement here.

(Sources:  New Order Amish Church Directory 1999 and 2004;  G.C. Waldrep, "The New Order Amish and Para-Amish Groups: Spiritual Renewal Within a Tradition", Mennonite Quarterly Review July 2008)

May 25, 2008

Southern Amish

Kentucky amish photo:  Scroonch

From Lancaster, Pennsylvania, through Ohio and Indiana and on out to other long-established settlements in Illinois, Iowa, and Kansas, we tend to associate the Amish with the nation's middle latitudes.  Since their earliest years in America, the Amish have gravitated to the cooler climes of these corn and dairy regions.  However, the Amish have also had a long history of attempting to settle America's southern states--sometimes successfully, sometimes less so. 

In the early 1900s, Amish groups made numerous attempts to settle in Alabama, Georgia, Mississippi, Arkansas, and other southern locales.  During this same period, four separate communities existed in Texas, three in Virginia, and some adventurous Amish even made a go of it in North Carolina's Dismal Swamp.  And in the mid-1800s, an atypical Amish community existed in New Orleans.

Today, we find the heaviest 'southern Amish' presence in Kentucky, with around 60 church districts.  If we count the southern third of Missouri as belonging to Dixie, as many locals do, that would add significant settlements near Springfield and smaller ones scattered throughout the region's rural counties.

Heading further east and south, Tenessee clocks in at nearly a dozen church districts, according to the Young Center's Amish Studies site.  Virginia is home to a handful of one-district settlements.  North Carolina, Mississippi, Texas, and Florida all contain a single district today--in North Carolina, a New Order community, and in Florida, the unique Pinecraft settlement.

Pinecraft florida amish photo: Becky Mabry
A couple of Amish America readers share some local knowledge on two of these settlements.  William says the community near his home in Mississippi, which uses steel-wheeled carriages and avoids propane and gas lights, is of the Swartzentruber affiliation. 

According to a local newspaper article, the approximately two dozen families originated from Tennessee, and came in search of affordable farmland.  A landowner made an attractive offer, and the original group moved in during an ice storm in the mid-90's.  William says that there are a few furniture businesses, but that many of the men are involved in the local lumber industry. 
Amish kentuckyphoto: Dave and Lolo

Texas seems an odd spot for the Amish.  Yet a small group is making a go of it in the southern part of the state.  Reader OldKat recently paid a visit.  Conditions in the area sound pretty rough, especially when stacked up against, say, the lush hills of the Garden Spot, aka Lancaster County. 

OldKat says that the community inhabits a flat, nearly treeless plain.  The area can experience both drought and tropical storm rainfall.  The Amish rely on drip tape irrigation to water crops and produce. 

Despite the harsh surroundings, he says that the Amish are set on expansion, making plans to purchase more land.  An entrepreneurial spirit exists in this community, with most of the dozen or so households operating some sort of home business, including beekeeping, produce farming, and horse training.  The community speaks what they refer to as 'Swabbish' or 'Swiss'.

They've also got what sounds like a bustling combination general store, tack and carriage shop.  They sell produce, shoe some of the area's many horses, and makes buggies for non-Amish as well. 

OldKat shares that these buggies even come in non-standard colors, though you'd best pay heed when ordering one in an unusual hue. 

Apparently they'll make it, but as OldKat relates with a wink, the uglier the colors you choose, the bigger the deposit they require.  And the Amish who run the place have a sense of humor.  A recent request for an orange-and-white contraption supposedly required special conditions.  "Better make that paid in full, right up front!  Couldn't sell a surrey painted up like that if we had to," said one of the men.  Apparently these Amish are neither Texas Longhorn fans nor followers of Sam Houston State, as OldKat found out.

Sources:  Raber's Almanac 2008 edition, Amish Studies website of the Young Center at Elizabethtown College, and David Luthy's The Amish in America: Settlements that Failed 1840-1960.  And thanks to William and OldKat!

July 25, 2007

Settlements that failed: Skeeter birds, flaming muck, and the Dismal Swamp

Today, a small New Order Amish settlement is found in western North Carolina, near the town of Union Grove.

Before this settlement came about, (and not counting a short-lived community in the late 50's), the only other full-fledged attempt to settle in the Tar Heel State occurred in 1918, lasting a full quarter-century before extinction in 1944.


The Amish who originally came here, mainly from Geauga County, Ohio, as well as from Pennsylvania, Indiana, and Kansas, settled in Currituck County near the town of Moyock, on land reclaimed from the not-too-invitingly named Dismal Swamp.

The settlement was a slow-grower--Luthy tells us that by its ninth year, it had only 12 families--and seemed to be something of a waystation for itinerant Amish in search of better pastures, with one resident commenting 'some came and others left all the time we were there.'

Despite the settlement's 'reluctance to launch', there was at least a substantial basis for farming in the fairly productive 'black, muck soil' of the reclaimed swamp. 

Other interesting facts about the settlement:

  • It was home to one of the first Amish parochial schools, and probably the only one to be held in a hotel, a temporary setup the Amish used in the year 1925.
  • Amish from other settlements nicknamed the Moyock Amish 'talking machines', referring to their habit of commenting incessantly on their homes in NC while visiting other settlements, in the hopes of attracting more settlers.
  • Corn, soybeans, peas, potatoes, and peanuts were all suitable to be raised here, but the best money-maker turned out to be peppermint.

Mind your butts

Although it seemed quite suitable for farming after being drained, the Dismal Swamp had a peculiar, some would say inconvenient, characteristic-- flammability.

The black muck soil would become so dry that it would easily ignite.  Hunters from the cities often dropped cigarettes and matches, causing wildfires that 'would burn until the next rain'.

Another drawback of the area:  according to one Norfolk, Virginia resident, 'it was kind of a mosquito paradise.  The natives  said the mosquitoes were so big they would sit on the trees and bark--(bark of the trees)'--yuk,yuk.

photo: Hyde slides

But it was neither fiery turf nor beastly skeeters that finally drove the Amish from Moyock--in the end, it came down to a much more commonplace reason.

No ministry. 

Only one spiritual leader had ever settled there, and only briefly.  'Lack of ministry' is one of the nine cardinal reasons Luthy gives for failure of Amish settlements.  No word on why ministers were not enticed to Currituck County, but going out on a limb, the prospect of being eaten alive by bird-sized mosquitoes while their croplands flamed around them might have served as a deterrent.

Luthy closes the Moyock chapter:

'Today all the buildings which the settlers constructed on the reclaimed swamp land have vanished. A person who visited there in 1975 reported:  "All traces of the former Amish settlement that once was at Moyock is completely gone--not one building these folks built is still standing."'

(Source:  David Luthy's The Amish in America: Settlements That Failed, 1840-1960.)

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