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Ohio Scenic Drives: Amish Country Byway

        Adventure | Midwest

In this 21st century of cell phones, computers, fast cars, appointments, and time commitments, there is a community within America that holds steadfast to its traditional beliefs and customs and you will find them on the Amish Country Byway. The Amish people in Holmes County, Ohio, make up the largest concentration of Amish communities in the world, and they provide a unique look at living and adapting traditional culture.

The Amish community is a living reminder of the principles of religious freedom that helped shape America. With a devout sense of community and adherence to beliefs, the Amish Country Byway gives a rare opportunity to witness a different way of life.

Cultural Qualities of Amish Country Byway

The Amish have established themselves in the Holmes County area, and it is estimated that one in every six Amish in the world live in this area. The Amish choose to live a simple way of life, which is clearly evident by the presence of horses and buggies, handmade quilts, and lack of electricity in Amish homes. Entrepreneurial businesses owned by the Amish add to the friendly atmosphere along the byway while creating a welcome distance from the superstores of commercial America. In the 21st century, the Amish Country Byway is an important example of a multicultural community, as both the Amish and non-Amish traditions are strong in the region. These two cultures have built on similarities while still respecting differences. By working together, they have created a thriving, productive community.

The Amish, as a branch of the Anabaptist people, are traditionally devout and religious. Like so many other immigrants, they came to America in search of religious freedom. In Europe, the Anabaptists had been persecuted for their beliefs, but today Amish beliefs are more accepted and laws have been passed protecting their rights in regard to education, Social Security, and military service. Horses and buggies, plain dress, independence from electricity, homemade quilts, spinning tops, and lots of reading materials are some of the things you might find in an Amish home. A community event, such as a barn raising, helps build relations among neighbors and is an efficient way to get work done.

Another important aspect of the byway is the influence of early Native Americans and Appalachian folklore. The presence of both is felt along the byway, as festivals and parades, such as the Killbuck Early American Days Festival, celebrate these early settlers. Coalfields and stone quarries drew settlers from the east, and today this influence is manifested in the strong mining and manufacturing industries in the area.

Agriculture is the economic heart of Amish Country, and visitors to the area are likely to see rows of haystacks or fields being plowed. Holmes County boasts the second largest dairy production in the state, the largest local produce auction during the growing season, and weekly livestock auctions in the communities along the byway. The Swiss and German heritage of the early settlers in the county is evident in the many specialty cheese and meat products and delicious Swiss/Amish restaurants. A variety of festivals and local produce stands along the byway allow visitors to taste a part of Amish Country. Agriculture-based auctions are held regularly at the Mount Hope, Farmerstown, and Sugarcreek sale barns, and specialty sales are held throughout the year at various times.

When the Amish settled in the area, most depended on agriculture as their profession, but others who were not farmers worked instead in blacksmith shops, harness shops, or buggy shops. In addition, many specialties sprang up, such as furniture-making. Today, shops are scattered along the byway, specializing in everything from furniture to gazebos.

Qualities of Amish Country Byway

The story of the Amish Country Byway is the story of the movement and settlement of people. The byway serves as a reminder of why people came to America and the struggles that many had in settling new and uncharted lands. Today, roads forged by the early settlers in the area have been upgraded to highways, and while Amish farmers still use horses and buggies as transportation, the roads have improved their journey. The historic nature of the byway is felt from these roads to the numerous buildings that stand on the National Historic Register.

Long before the Amish came to call Holmes County home, bison herds crisscrossed the state, led by instinct down the valleys and along the terminal moraine. American Indians later used the trails left by the bison. Eventually, these trails became the main paths of the Amish. Today, those paths make up State Route 39, one of the main arteries of the Amish Country Byway. In the 1830s, before the railroad, Amish and non-Amish farmers would drive their fattened pigs along well-worn paths to the Ohio Erie Canal at Port Washington from Millersburg. This walk to the canal was referred to as a three-day drive. Today, along the byway, the Amish and their neighbors continue to work together, making Holmes County an important agricultural, furniture manufacturing, and cheese-producing region of Ohio and the nation.

Qualities of Amish Country Byway

The Amish Country Byway may be known primarily for its distinctive cultural and historical aspects; however, many natural features in the area make this a place where people would naturally choose to settle. The area is diverse in its natural features, and you can enjoy them from your car or by exploring various regions along the byway.

The Amish Country Byway is literally the product of being at the upper edge of the terminal moraine, making it the northwest gateway to Appalachia. (A terminal moraine marks the farthest point to which a glacier has advanced.) Because of this terminal moraine, natural paths developed, one of which has become the byway as it is known today. This activity causes arc- or crescent-shaped ridges to form, and this is what has happened along the byway. The terminal moraine runs west to east, paralleling State Route 39 with visible formations along the road. Large rock cliffs and small, deep lakes in the northwest portion of the Amish Country Byway are the products of this geological process. Briar Hill Stone Quarry is the largest sandstone quarry in operation in the United States and is located just off the byway near Glenmont. This quarry has provided an important natural resource, and many Amish farms and schools have been established in this area.

View Enlarged Image This map will guide you along Amish Country Byway.

Another important industry along the byway is drawn from the forests of large oak and cherry trees. Rich soil and available water tables underneath the ground have made this a rich area for timber to grow. There has been an increase in the demand for hardwood over the past few years, and the Amish Country Byway is known for its good timber. The Amish often use this timber as they make their furniture, and you can see the finished products for sale along the byway.

The natural wonders found at the Killbuck Marsh Wildlife Area are mainly the wildlife of the wetland region. This area is home to birds and other wildlife. Most notably, the American bald eagle has roosting nests in the marsh area. Local bird-watchers, especially the Amish, have formed groups and organizations to document the birds and provide educational activities to inform others about the value of birds and wildlife as a resource in the area.

Qualities of Amish Country Byway

From leisurely drives to hiking and biking, recreational opportunities exist for everyone traveling the Amish Country Byway. Every season can be enjoyed, with hiking, biking, rodeos, horseback riding, tennis, golfing, and hunting in the summer months. You can also enjoy numerous water activities, such as canoeing, swimming, fishing, and boating. Winter can be a memorable experience, with activities such as cross-country skiing and snowmobiling.

The Amish Country Byway is not one for speed demons. By slowing down, you get to experience the many recreational opportunities that are unique to this byway. There are carriage rides, hay rides, and sleigh rides that reflect the agricultural traditions of the area, while unique activities, such as hot air balloon rides and airplane rides, may also be enjoyed. One of the most popular activities is visiting Amish homesteads and farms, antique shops, and museums. In addition, you can find many places to stop and enjoy some good cooking or shopping.

The Holmes County Trail goes through Millersburg and links the byway with the northern part of the county and state. This trail is open to bicycles, hikers, and buggies. The local Amish citizens who sit on the Rails to Trails board provide valuable insight into how to make this a success for the Amish, their non-Amish neighbors, and visitors. This trail travels through beautiful Amish Country and is a good way to get off of the main byway route.

Another way to get off the main byway route is to use the area's river and creek network. These rivers and creeks were critically important to the transportation and commerce of the past, and today they provide a great opportunity for visitors to go canoeing, swimming, boating, or fishing. The Killbuck Creek feeds into Killbuck Marsh Wildlife Area, which also provides excellent bird-watching opportunities. Tucked away on the western edge of the byway, the Mohican River is the basis for making this one of the most popular recreational retreats in the state of Ohio. Canoeing is especially popular along the river; this area has been coined the Camp and Canoe Capital of Ohio.

Find more useful information related to Ohio's Amish Country Byway:

  • Ohio Scenic Drives: Amish Country Byway is just one of the scenic byways in Ohio. Check out the others.
  • Wilmot, Berlin, Millersburg: Find out what there is to do in these cities along Amish Country Byway.
  • Scenic Drives: Are you interested in scenic drives beyond Ohio? Here are more than 100 scenic drives throughout the United States.
  • How to Drive Economically: Fuel economy is a major concern when you're on a driving trip. Learn how to get better gas mileage.