When I first started writing about the Amish in 2012 with my Amish Mysteries, I assumed Old Order Amish lived the same no matter where they resided—that what they did in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania (the area in which my books are set) would hold true in Holmes County, Ohio, Shipshewana, Indiana, and all the other places they’ve developed communities in which to live.
So when I went out on this month’s book tour for my first Amish-based women’s fiction novel, Portrait of a Sister, I was excited to see the new communities but not prepared for the vast differences I would find. And once I did, it suddenly became clear why, a few years ago, a reviewer sought fit to question me on something I’d written that I knew to be accurate. You see, I was correct in what I’d written because I was writing about Lancaster Amish. Any knowledge she had about the Amish was clearly based on another area—an area that, while inhabited by Old Order Amish, had different rules/different ways of doing things than their Lancaster counterparts.
While I can’t possibly outline all the subtle differences between Lancaster, Holmes/Wayne County, and Shipshewana (the three biggest Amish groups in the country) in a single blog post, I can share some of the most basic ones I found while traveling with my book.
I always knew the buggies were different colors based on geography (Lancaster—grey, Shipshewanna and Ohio—black, northwestern PA—brown, Nebraska—yellow, etc), but did you know that unlike their Pennsylvania and Ohio peers, the Amish of Shipshewana have license plates on their buggies?
The buggies, themselves are different, too. In Shipshewana, they’re longer. And in both Shipshewana and Homes County there are a lot more open-top buggies than you see in Lancaster.
In Lancaster, scooter bikes are used. They look just like real bikes in the front, but the back part of the bike is a scooter, requiring the rider to use their foot to move. The reason scooter bikes are the norm in Lancaster is because it is seen as a way to keep them closer to home.
In Shipshewana and Holmes County, the Amish use bikes. Some of this might be because both of these areas are more spread apart and, in the case of Holmes County, have a lot of hills. Plus, in the case of Shipshewana, most Amish do not farm. They (primarily) make their living in the RV industry and or retail and so they need to be able to get where they’re going.
I’ll be honest, after spending so much time in Lancaster, I assumed the Amish schools elsewhere were the same, visually. They’re not. In Shipshewana, many Amish attend the regular public school (the percentage of Amish in the school is greater than non-Amish). And those that don’t? There schools are often two-stories—one story for the classroom, and one in the event the teacher needs to live there during the school week.
In Lancaster, the Sunday church service generally happens in the home. Possibly the barn if there’s not room. In Shipshewana, many of the Amish homes have a separate building on their property that is used when it is their turn to host Sunday service.
In Lancaster, the wedding season starts after the harvest in the fall (usually late October) and continues until late January (although even in Lancaster that is now stretching out into late March/early April on occasion). Weddings are held on Tuesdays and Thursdays during this time to accommodate the transfer of benches.
In Shipshewana the wedding season starts in late spring and goes through the summer and into the fall, and takes place on a certain single day of the week.
In Lancaster, the cottage industry is big, but farming still happens. One really only has to leave the tourist area to see that.
In Shipshewana, there aren’t many farms. In fact, the once 100+-acre farms have, in many cases, been parceled into much smaller tracts in order to keep the family closer. In this particular area, the RV industry (centered in this area) is the biggest employer of Amish. So while in Lancaster you see more Amish working from sun up to sun down, in Shipshewana many are done with the work day by 2 p.m. As a result, I saw more “front porch” visiting happening in the late afternoon here than one would see in Lancaster.
The farming that I did see in Shipshewana, revealed tractors and farm equipment with rubber wheels (a virtual no-no in Lancaster for the same reason bikes are rarely seen there).
This one is one that captured the attention of my stomach. In Lancaster, brown buttered noodles are a staple in the Amish tourism area (yum!). In Shipshewana and Holmes County, there were no brown buttered noodles to be found anywhere, only a homemade noodle that was more like you’d find in a homemade soup.
I could go on and on mainly because; 1) I love talking about the Amish, and 2) the differences from one place to the other were fascinating, especially when I literally went from one to the other back-to-back. But we’ll leave it at this for now.
Laura is a former Agatha nominee and the recipient of an RT Reviewer’s Choice Award in romance. In her free time, Laura enjoys making memories with her family, traveling, baking, and visiting the sea lions at the Central Park Zoo. For more information and all the latest book news, visit her website at www.laurabradford.com.