Daytripping: Revel in a Simpler Life

Spend a few hours among the Amish, and you might wonder what you’ve been missing.

Amish hats for sale at the hardware store | An Amish horse and buggy waits patiently outside Walnut Creek Foods

New Wilmington is a small borough in Lawrence County that was established in 1863. Today, it’s home to both Westminster College and the Old Order Amish community. (Fun fact: Westminster College once counted among its faculty the writer-director Wes Craven, of “A Nightmare on Elm Street” fame.) 

The Old Order Amish adhere to the most conservative tenets of their religious faith; automobile ownership and the use of electricity are forbidden, and dress is restricted to traditional attire: simple dresses and bonnets for women and girls, and plain pants, shirts and straw hats for men and boys. Photographing the Amish — considered making a “graven image” — is frowned upon.

The Amish commit themselves to living separate from the modern world and both its conveniences and vices. They consider themselves “in” the world but not “of” the world. Pennsylvania Dutch (Deitscher) is spoken at home, but Amish children learn American English in school.

A covered bridge | Amish dolls

Susan Hougelman of Simple Life Tours acts as a bridge between the Amish and the “English” (non-Amish) in her community; after taking ownership of the New Wilmington restaurant The Tavern on the Square, she was often asked by patrons how they could visit Amish establishments. She began to forge relationships with members of the Amish community and now offers Simple Life tours to introduce outsiders to the Amish way of life.

On tours, Hougelman — “English” by birth but quite fluent in the Amish way of life — escorts visitors to local Amish establishments. At the grocery, you can buy jams, jellies, handmade bird houses, candies (tzooker), Amish noodles, all the staples; at the harness and tack shop, choose a leather saddle pungent with oil or a wide-brimmed straw hat for $17.99. (Bring cash, as the Amish don’t accept credit cards.) Find dolls, pot-holders, aprons and candles at the Amish quilt shop; rockers, chairs and cabinets at the Amish furniture maker; and potted plants, flowers (blumme) and wreaths at the Amish nursery and greenhouses. All are lit by kerosene lamp.

A quilt for sale at the Quilt Shop | A woodworker’s shop

At each stop, Amish children run to meet us (usually led by a friendlich mutt). You can’t leave an Amish bakery stand without buying something — try the cinnamon rolls, the elderberry jam and the flaky strawberry-rhubarb pie. My dollars are taken by young Anna, shy and pretty (schnuck).

On the tour, you’ll also see a small Amish schoolhouse, a photo-perfect covered bridge and pristine, weed-free gardens. Sprawling Amish houses are whitewashed with doors painted robin’s-egg blue. Purple martins orbit hand-hewn colony houses, towering above geometric white fences (fens).

It’s a simple life and enviably so.  

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