Academic journal article Mennonite Quarterly Review

On the Recent Growth of New Amish Settlements

Academic journal article Mennonite Quarterly Review

On the Recent Growth of New Amish Settlements

Article excerpt

Abstract: This essay documents the recent growth of new Amish settlements in North America, focusing on settlements founded from 1990 through 2009, noting where they are located and describing the ways in which they begin to build a religious and social community. Recent expansion has occurred mostly in Ontario, Kentucky, New York, Pennsylvania and various Midwestern slates, plus some growth into several other states of the Southern and Western regions of the U.S. Newly established settlements are mostly confined to counties that are largely rural, counties that are slowly declining or gaining very little in population, and counties with housing values below their respective state medians. Reports from Amish scribes and histories from Amish directories provide information about how new settlements are started, grow in size, and share in activities and events that quickly build up a sense of community

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ON THE RECENT GROWTH IN NEW AMISH SETTLEMENTS

The history of the Amish in North America is marked by a continuous search for land to begin new settlements. (1) Consistent with a people who have always sought a considerable degree of separation from mainstream society and have strong ties to the land, the Amish who establish new settlements have always preferred rural areas. (2) This practice has served the Amish well, both in their early history on the North American continent, and especially in more recent times, as it has helped them find appropriate places to settle in the midst of an increasingly urbanized society, digitized culture and globalized economy. Within these rural oases, the Amish can make a living, run their households, raise their children and share in communal activities in ways consistent with core religious values, social organization and cultural patterns. (3) Unless the Amish continue to find areas to settle that afford opportunities for them to live and work within the parameters of their religious beliefs, it is difficult to see how they can sustain their high fertility rates and enable their daughters and sons to remain within the faith. (4)

Although the creation of places to live and worship together has been a constant feature of Amish life since their arrival in North America early in the eighteenth century, (5) the establishment of new settlements has accelerated since 1990. This article describes key features of growth in new Amish settlements founded between 1990 and 2009. (6) We begin by tracing both the establishment and survival of these newer settlements, describing the characteristics of their locations and examining activities associated with creating sustainable communities characterized by shared values and mutual support. The information presented here relies heavily on the extensive files of the Heritage Historical Library (Aylmer, Ontario), as well as on accounts of new settlements and community-building activities published in various Amish directories and in three newspapers serving the Amish: The Diary, The Budget and Die Botschaft. Characteristics of host counties within which new settlements are located come from U.S. Census data sources. (7)

GROWTH: BY THE NUMBERS

During the course of the twentieth century continued high fertility (8) and increasingly high baptism rates (9) have doubled the Amish population about every twenty years. (10) This growth, in turn, has resulted in a greater than twofold increase in Amish settlements over the past nineteen years, which is offset slightly by the failure of some new settlements to last more than a few years before the remaining families pack up and leave for other places.

Table 1 provides an overview of the expansion of Amish settlements in North America since 1800. Column 2 demonstrates just how much this process has accelerated since 1990. Of course, not all of these recently established settlements will survive, as the figures in columns 5-8 illustrate. Of the sixty-five settlements founded in the 1800s, less than 25 percent survive today (column 8). …

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