In 2017, there are few places left in the United States where time seems to stand still and you catch a glimpse of what farm life might have been like 150 to 200 years ago. But in the Amish country of Holmes County, Ohio, located 90 miles northeast of Columbus, visitors can see the traditions of the past alive and well in the present.
About 40 percent of the 44,000 residents of Holmes County are Amish and members of a very traditional Christian sect with Dutch, German and Swiss religious influences. On any given day in Holmes County, you may spy a family traveling down a busy commuter highway, normally reserved for motorized traffic, in a horse-drawn carriage. Out in a field, an Amish farmer may be clearing his land with a horse and plow. The dress for men, women, girls and boys is straight out of the 19th century.
As many as 4 million tourists travel to Holmes County each year. They enjoy the sights, sounds, smells, tastes and peace of this unusual place. They seem to crave the simple Amish and country-life experience, the gorgeous scenery, the furniture, the quilts, the locally harvested food and the craftwork. Many people come here on spiritual retreats. The key to that, say locals, is to get tranquil and embrace the quiet, simple life as exemplified by the Amish.
Among the tourists are various church groups and organizations from around the world. For example, the next Going On Faith Conference, the professional gathering for religious travel planners, will take place in Holmes County August 22-24.
“We want to showcase our area to group travel leaders who have not been here before,” said Laurie Judson of the Holmes County Chamber of Commerce and Tourism Bureau. “We are still a best-kept secret, even though we are the No. 1 travel destination in the state, even ahead of the legendary Cedar Point amusement park near Sandusky.”
The Holmes County Amish come from as many as 11 different church affiliations. The more conservative among them is the Old Order. Another is known as Andy Weaver Amish or Dan Church. One of the most tradition-minded groups that shun technological change is the Swartzentruber Amish. However, members of New Order Amish blend a bit more easily with non-Amish people in Holmes County and beyond.
Whichever group they encounter, visitors will get a unique experience.
“It is nostalgic for folks,” said Judson. “There are very few places in the world where you can see exactly what you’ll see here in Holmes County.”
Quilting is an Amish tradition that continues to be a major artistic expression in Holmes County. Organized quilt shop hops feature magnificent work created by Amish craftspeople. Many visitors attend knitting or crafting classes while they are in the area.
Simple but delicious made-from-scratch Amish meals are at the center of the area’s culinary tradition. Desserts include old-fashioned farm-made pies, and many dinner guests want to taste the excellent Swiss chocolate produced in the area. Amish cooks know their way around a kitchen and are quite adept at cooking and serving large meals for dozens of people after weddings, church services and funerals.
Music of all kinds, from peaceful Amish tunes to bouncy Southern Gospel songs, can be heard live throughout the area. Theater is also popular in Amish Country, with professionally produced musicals and comedies that are fun and appropriate for families.