Anyone who lives in Highland, Ross, Fayette and Pike counties are well aware of the growing populations of Amish and Mennonites among us English. It began two decades ago with a small group of less conservative Amish locating north of East Monroe followed by increasing numbers of conservative Mennonites settling between New Petersburg and the area south of Bainbridge. In the past decade a rapidly growing community of “old order” Amish have moved into the area between New Petersburg and Leesburg with my home lying close to the middle of this group. Many times each day one can hear the sounds of wagon wheels and horse hooves plying along the road in front of our home.
As these communities have become more settled many of the individual families have started businesses offering their talents and skills to us, the natives. These businesses include any number of providers of homegrown fruits, berries, and vegetables, farrier services, poultry and country egg suppliers, salvage food and consumer goods stores, sawyers, cabinet and furniture makers, general stores, bakeries, and small engine repair services.
On several occasions I have written about the joy of driving what I call the Amish-Mennonite Trail. Basically it is a large loop of highways and back roads connecting these various enterprises that in many ways takes you a hundred or more years back in time. You can visit the Bainbridge Produce Auction during the summer and experience sights, sounds, and smells that are far more common to the 19th century than the 21st. In the spring and fall the trail will let you watch farmers working the land and harvesting their crops, not with monstrous tractors or huge combines, but with teams of mules or draft horses pulling equipment straight out of your great great grandfather’s days.
The Amish and Mennonites refer to us non-followers of their lifestyle as being English and some of us English have expressed displeasure over the arrival of these newcomers. Myself, however, welcomes their arrival and have enjoyed the changes they brought. I take pleasure having to slow down for the occasional horse-drawn wagon. I take pleasure in seeing their children playing softball during recess at their small one-room school houses. I take pleasure in having a ready source of fresh produce and shopping in the several stores they’ve opened. I take pleasure in getting to know and become friends with many of them. I see these people, my neighbors, as a valued resource who can become a general economic asset to everyone in our area.
Ohio has the largest Amish-Mennonite population in the nation. Until recent years it has been mainly located in the Holmes County region of Northeast Ohio. Every year people, in the hundreds of thousands, flock to Holmes County to catch a glimpse of what we are now surrounded by. Every year these thousands of tourist leave behind a ton of cash that helps keep the kerosene lamps of that region lit. There’s no reason something similar can’t happen in Southwest Ohio.
How do we make this a reality? Well, a major necessity is to get the word out that you don’t have to drive to Holmes County, a similar experience can be had on less than a tank of gasoline for the millions of Ohioans who live in and around Dayton, Cincinnati, or south of Interstate 70.
To help out the cause I’ve spent a some time assembling a database of Amish, Mennonite, and English owned businesses in the immediate areas of Greenfield, Hillsboro and Bainbridge. I’ve converted this data into an online map that can be published on blogs and websites of individuals and groups who are interested in promoting the economic growth of our area.
This interactive map project is in its infancy and if you can think of some unique small rural business, within the general area of Greenfield, that should be included, please send me the information.