By Bob Smietana, The Tennessean
Diann Pollack isn't exactly sure when the Amish first came to Ethridge.
Some locals say it 1942. Others say 1944.
I give a tour, I just say it was in the mid-1940s," said Pollack,
manager of the Amish Welcome Center along Highway 43 in Ethridge.
1,500 Swartzentruber Amish live in Ethridge, which is about 75 miles
southwest of Nashville, making it the largest Amish settlement in the
South and one of the top 20 in the nation. so many Amish
in Ethridge that they're running out of room. Local Amish families have
bought up most of the available farms in town and flooded the tourist
market with products such as handmade baskets, food and furniture for
"It's getting harder and harder to find land and get a good
start," said a local Amish leader, who declined to give his name for
The population boom in Ethridge is part of a
national trend. In 1989, there were about 100,000 Amish living in 179
settlements in the United States and Canada. By 2010, that number
climbed to about 251,000 Amish in 456 settlements. A new settlement
starts every 3½ months on average.
The growth is driven primarily
by birth rates. Amish couples have lots of kids and most of those kids
stay in the faith where they grow up. If the trend continues,
researchers say, the Amish population could reach a million by 2050.
the Amish in Ethridge, that means spreading out. Three years ago they
sent 100 members of their community to Stantonville, about 75 miles
away, to start a new settlement. It's one of three founded in the past
Stantonville fits the profile that Amish look for in a
new community, said Joe Donnermeyer, professor of rural sociology at
Ohio State University and director of the Amish census.
There's plenty of farmland available and it is close enough for a buggy ride into nearby Adamsville.
"They like to be close enough to find a grocery store," he said.
said that as their population grows, many Amish have become wary of
living in larger settlements and want to get back to living in small
communities. So they are looking for small towns where they can buy land
and still live near each other.
"Everyone has to live within a reasonable buggy ride from each other," he said.
Adamsville Mayor David Leckner said he's glad to have the Amish as neighbors.
only issue to come up was what to do with the manure from horse and
buggy traffic. Leckner said that he and Amish worked out a deal for the
Amish buggy drivers to pick up the manure whenever they come to town.
If some manure gets left behind, that's no problem, the mayor said.
"We have an enormous set of flower beds in our downtown that need fertilizer," he said.
said that many of the nearby Amish now produce and sell other goods
from their homes. He's hoping to build a farmers market in town for
Amish growers to sell their produce as well.
He said he never thought that Amish horse buggies would become a regular sight in Adamsville
"It really is one of those 'you've got to see this' moments," he said.
haven't always worked out as smoothly in other communities, especially
for highly traditional Amish groups such as the Swartzentrubers.
don't use electricity, indoor plumping or telephones. Their buggies are
all black and don't have windshields or the reflective orange triangles
often used to warn drivers about slow-moving vehicles.
Swartzentruber men living in Kentucky were arrested in January for not
having the state-required orange triangles on their buggies. Eight men
had been jailed in 2011 on similar charges. That lead to a lawsuit
challenging the constitutionality of the state law and prompted the
legislature to pass a law giving the Amish a religious exemption to the
traffic safety law.
Farming pays bills
As their population
grows in Ethridge, local Amish families have found ways to preserve
their way of life while working closely with their non-Amish neighbors,
who they refer to as the English.
A group of Amish farmers helped
fund the Ploughboy Produce Auction, an Amish-friendly open-air auction
barn with drive-through lanes for horse-drawn wagons.
The auctions run from April to October and are open to the public.
we have pumpkin, gourds, peanuts, squash, zucchini, tomatoes, potatoes
and radishes," Lynn Ward, the auction house manager, said on Wednesday.
"We even had a few bushels of blueberries."
Ward said that she
works with a board of five Amish farmers to run the auction barn. She
said that board members hope it will help ensure that local farming
industry remains profitable in the future.
"The reason that the barn was built was for the generations to come," she said.
Despite their difference in culture, Ward said she's got a good working rapport with the Amish board members.
"We work together, elbow to elbow, on whatever needs to get done," she said.
Local farmers also grow tobacco and sugar cane for molasses.
Goods for sale
a recent weekday, a young Amish man, dressed in blue shirt, dark pants
and straw hat, was cutting the last of the sugar cane in a field as a
horse-drawn wagon carrying tourists rode by. He waved before going back
Across the street, smoke rose from the chimney of a small building where molasses was being cooked.
every Amish house had a sign out front, offering goods for sale from
jars of kosher pickles, okra and apple butter, to baskets, bookshelves
and lawn furniture. Most houses had a small display of goods for sale,
with a small slot to drop cash in if no one was at home.
"They work on the honor system," said Joey Martin, a local tour guide and wagon driver.
Martin, who is 27, said he started giving tours with his dad when he was 10.
He drove a homemade covered wagon that he and his dad built, drawn by a half Percheron, half racking horse mare named Claire.
he was growing up, Martin said, his dad would sometimes drop him off at
an Amish house and pick him up on the next go-round.
"I grew up playing with Amish kids," he said.
like other locals, is protective of his neighbors. No cameras are
allowed on the tours. The Amish say their religious beliefs don't allow
them to pose for photos.
"I think we need to respect everyone's religion," he said.
Martin's tour included a stop at three local farms.
one, an older Amish man named Danny talked with tourists and reminisced
about growing up in Ethridge. He and his family moved there in the
1940s, when there were only a handful of Amish residents in town.
he and his life live in what's known as a dawdy house -- or
grandfather's house -- next to the farm house that he sold to his
daughter and son-in-law. Danny, who has dozens of grandchildren, said he
hoped most would keep the faith and remain Amish.
"But we can't know the future," he said.