From a photograph by Solomon D. Butcher of four daughters of rancher Joseph M. Chrisman, at their sod house in Custer County, Nebraska. From left to right, Harriet, Elizabeth, Lucie, and Ruth. Photographed in 1886.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Mennonites and Amish in Christian County, Kentucky

Life in Christian County, Kentucky...



I posted a photo of a Mennonite buggy a couple of days ago and Erik asked in a comment, "Any idea how large the Mennonite community is around you? Any Amish as well?"

I sat down and tried to answer that question accurately, and I wrote so much that I decided it should probably be a separate post. And then I wrote some more. It turned out that I had quite a bit to say.

Mennonite and Amish influx to Christian and Todd Counties

Christian County and Todd County (KY) have seen a lot of Mennonite and Amish immigration over the last few decades. I think it really began during the late 1970's which was a rough time for U.S. farmers. Interest rates were unbelievably high and many areas suffered severe drought. Farm bankruptcies rose across the nation and continued throughout the 1980's.

As nice farms in Christian and Todd Counties came on the market, Mennonite and Amish families (especially from Pennsylvania) began moving into the area. They were able to sell their farmland back east at a good price for development and industry, and they got a lot more land for their money when they reinvested it here.

When we first moved here almost 16 years ago, some local residents seemed to be very hostile about the influx of Mennonite and Amish families. There was a lot of resentment about local farmers going broke and losing their land, only to see it sold to Mennonites and Amish. The Kentucky New Era, our local newspaper, wrote several articles about vandalism and hate pamphlets.

I believe that the Mennonites and Amish are better accepted now that people have grown accustomed to them and perhaps have even become acquainted with some of them. After all, they are just people, much like you and me in many ways. Where there is ill will now, it is most often about the damage done to highways by the steel shoes on horses and the steel wheels on buggies and equipment.

Mennonite farms in our immediate neighborhood

It is hard for me to estimate the size of the Mennonite community in this part of Christian County, except to say that we have a large and ever-growing population. I tried to count the number of families within a 2-1/2 mile radius, and I came up with at least 11 Mennonite households, two of which are childless, but most of the families have at least four children and some have seven or eight children. Within a five mile radius of our house, there are two Mennonite churches and four schools.

Mennonite and Amish families are good at making a living on a small acreage -- that's why we have so many families in such a small area. The Fairview Produce Market (just five miles from us) has been a big help for produce growers.

Many of the families have dairies or big chicken houses and it's very common for them to have some kind of a repair shop or small store that they operate on their property. Within the 2-1/2 mile radius that I mentioned above, our Mennonite neighbors operate a greenhouse, a harness repair shop, a small-engine repair shop, a tractor repair shop, several chicken houses and three dairies -- in addition to doing regular farming of various sorts.

The church that our neighbors attend allows its members to have telephones and electricity, but does not permit automobile ownership or voting. All motorized implements must have steel wheels (to prevent them from becoming road vehicles.) I am not sure what designation this church applies to itself, but it is not Old Order.

We do have a large family of Old Order Mennonites nearby. (I think there are 16 brothers and sisters in the family but I don't know if they all live around here or not.) They use horses or mules in the fields and do not have electricity or telephones in their homes. They do not hire vehicles to go to town. If they must go to town, they drive their buggies or ride bicycles. Their school is included in my count above (within a five-mile radius). I am not sure if they meet at the school for Sunday worship or in homes.

Our Mennonite neighbor Clarence told us that the sons in this Old Order family have been marrying into another group that he called Canadian Mennonites. He says these Canadian Mennonites are even more conservative than the Old Order Mennonites are.

Amish settlements in Christian and Todd Counties

We don't have any Amish families living near us, but there are areas of Christian and Todd Counties that do have settlements of Old Order Amish and New Order Amish. In Christian County, the New Order Amish seem to have settled mostly around Crofton (northern Christian County), and the Old Order Amish have settled in southern Christian County.

The Old Order Amish whom I have observed don't use electricity or tractors. They travel by horse and buggy or hire a driver if they're going far. Their clothing is usually dark in color. The ladies wear dark bonnets that come down onto their shoulders. I notice that the ladies use straight pins for their garment closures.

The New Order Amish dress more brightly. They drive to town in tractors pulling converted pickup-box trailers. The men drive and the women, children, and cargo are stowed in the trailers. Besides the settlements of New Order Amish around Crofton, KY, there are communities around Elkton, KY, and in southern Todd County.

Other Mennonites in the area

There are also people whom I see that do not seem to fit into the four main categories I have described above, but their style of dress makes it evident that they are from other Mennonite or Amish groups. Some of them may be Brethren which is another Anabaptist group.

For example, a fellow whom our Mennonite neighbors call a "Russian Mennonite" built a kitchen cabinet for us. This cabinet maker drives a pickup truck and has electricity and a telephone. His family's style of dress makes it very evident that they are Mennonite. They do not attend a local church, but travel to southern Missouri once a month to worship with a church that shares their particular beliefs.

Today, another Mennonite man who is not a member of any local church is helping my husband with some plumbing. He drives a van. He and his wife have a Christian bookstore in their home that caters particularly to local Mennonites. They also publish a catalog and do a mail-order book business.

Another large Mennonite family nearby (13 children, all grown now) attends church here but they do not take communion here. For communion, they go to Ohio. They are more liberal than the local Mennonite church. They drive a horse and buggy, but they don't obey the rule about having only steel wheels on their tractors. (They don't have to obey the local Mennonite rules since they aren't "in communion" with the local church anyway.) Their children attended public school through 5th grade with our kids. Some of their children have married into Mennonite communities elsewhere that drive automobiles. Two of their children (that I know of) have married members of our local Mennonite church and have complied with its stricter lifestyle.

Importance of the church and community

I have read quite a bit about the Mennonite and Amish faiths and talked with our neighbors as well, and as I understand it, the particular practices of any community are determined entirely by a set of standards that the local church agrees on. The church may decide to allow gasoline motors on stationary farm equipment, for example, or to allow telephones but only in the barn.

A very important value that all these different Mennonite and Amish groups hold is community. This is the underlying reason for avoiding motor vehicles, for example. First of all, motor vehicles take people places where they are exposed to outside influences, and secondly, they reduce the interdependence and cooperation of the community's members.

Even the telephone can be seen as dangerous because you may seek help and input from an outsider instead of going to speak face-to-face with your neighbor who is a friend and fellow church-member.

We have seen a few Mennonite familes sell out and move away from this area because they could not agree with the standards of the local Mennonite church. They wanted to live differently -- more conservatively or more liberally or whatever -- so they moved to another community that is more compatible with their beliefs.

Erik didn't ask to know all this about the Mennonites and Amish here, but I seemed to think this lengthy explanation was necessary in order to accurately describe our neighborhood and community.

Bar

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25 comments:

heelers said...

Fascinating insights. I was wondering do the various groups have different languages. Forms of Dutch? It's in my head (probably from the film witness) that older forms of English are still current with some of them.
I loved what you wrote here.
James

Genevieve said...

I'm glad you enjoyed reading it, James. Our Mennonite neighbors speak "Pennsylvania Dutch" among themselves. It is actually a German dialect that is heavily influenced by English. Pennsylvania Dutch is mentioned in the Wikipedia article, "German in the United States

I don't speak German very well but I sometimes catch a few words in a Pennsylvania Dutch conversation. There's quite a bit of English thrown in too.

My neighbor Clarence says that a native speaker of German wouldn't understand much Pennsylvania Dutch, but I don't have any idea if he's right about that or not.

Before we had a Mennonite school in the immediate neighborhood, our neighbor Kathryn home-schooled their children (in English.) She mentioned to me once that she was also teaching the children German because that was the language of their Bible. That would be, I guess, High German. I am not sure if it is a modern High German, though.

I once took a German girl with me to the Amish store near Guthrie, KY, and she had a look at their Bible and quite an intense discussion (in English) with the Amish lady about it. She told me later that it was definitely written in German, but it seemed to her to be an archaic form of German. I guess it was kind of like reading the Tyndale Bible would be for English speakers.

Amish America said...

Hi Genevieve, just got a chance to check your blog out again since I posted the comment--thanks for the great response. I posted a link to it in my latest blog entry for March 11: http://amishamerica.typepad.com/

It was very interesting to hear about the wide variety in your area. I really am not as up on the mennonites as I am on the Amish. I wonder about the Russian and Canadian Mennonites you mentioned--could those be related to Old Colony Mennonites?

You might know already, but that is a really fascinating group that originated in Russia, or rather Ukraine I believe, and now mostly lives in South America and Canada.

I did an entry a couple weeks ago on a photographer who lived with them in Bolivia, Jordi Busque. Jordi told me he spent 7 months on a photo trip (and nearly died along the way) and lived in some of their communities as well as with an unusual single family in the jungle that called themselves Amish, and said they originated in Tennessee. His photos are absolutely incredible. That post and link are at http://amishamerica.typepad.com/amish_america/2007/02/amish_in_the_ju.html

About the German, I am no expert on it, but I've had many Amish tell me that they can somewhat understand German tourists, if they slow down enough when the talk. The Amish tell me what they use in church they call 'High German'.

Pennsylvania Dutch is a blast for me to listen to anyway, even though I have no clue about German--I love how every here and there out pops the odd English word that they have adopted into the dialect, so you can at least sort of follow what they're saying.

By the way, I have to admit to being a bit envious of you, being able to live in an Old-Order populated area--that must be fantastic--I have only lived in Amish areas usually for short periods of about 3 months at a time. I always love it, and at least I've had a chance to visit a lot of different communities that way.

Thanks again!

Erik/Amish America

Amish America said...

Ah, I see I botched the html for the link...if you are interested, Jordi's photos and South American Amish are the Feb 22 post at the blog.

Thanks(:

Genevieve said...

Our cabinetmaker, the "Russian Mennonite" told me that his family all lives in southern Texas and they own some land in northern Mexico. My impression is that his family immigrated to this continent from the Ukraine.

We lived in Santa Cruz, Bolivia, (in Bolivia's lowlands) from 1980-1982. There seemed to be a large Mennonite settlement there. We saw them in town with their horses and wagons. The ladies didn't make many concessions for the hot climate in their costume. I always felt sorry for them.

They made a great cheese that was known locally as "queso mennonito" or "Mennonite cheese". It was a white cheese that sometimes squeaked a little between your teeth. I've never found anything quite like it in the U.S.

Amish America said...

That's really neat. Do you know if those were Old Colony Mennonites like in Jordi's photos?

That 'squeaking cheese' sounds familiar--I live in Krakow in Poland part of the year and in the mountains to the south they make a sheep's cheese called oscypek. It squeaks, and almost feels like it cleans your teeth when you eat it.

Genevieve said...

I did look at those photos, and I am sure the cheese must have come from that colony of Mennonites.

At the market, the vendors (just regular Bolivian people) had huge rounds of the Mennonite cheese and they would slice off a kilo or 500 grams or whatever you wanted. We ate a lot of it. The cheese really didn't melt much, but we put it on bread and set it under the broiler sometimes.

The white hats that the ladies were wearing looked familiar. I never did take any photographs of them because I didn't want to be rude, so I have to rely on my memory!

Anonymous said...

The cheese is also know as queso blanco. It's a popular latin american cheese. It doesn't melt... well :) due to how it is made. It's nice because you can make it in very hot weather and it will still turn out unlike many hard or even soft cheeses that often culture around 70ish degrees F. You can even deep fry it if you want to. Great in stir fry!

Thanks for the great information!

She'saPistol said...

I think the cheese you are talking about may be what is known as "cheese curds." I've bought them in Virginia in a local Mennonite cheese shop. They are an essential ingredient in poutine, a popular Canadian dish.

Anonymous said...

Hello,

Thank you for the blog!I stumbled across it this New Year’s day while looking up “Mennonites 1874,” which is the year my great grandparents immigrated from the Molotschna Colony to Kansas. It is nice to see persons recognizing that Mennonites come in many varieties, my family being one of the more liberal segments.

As a child I attended a Mennonite church in California. I do not imagine persons passing bye the church had any idea they were looking at “Mennonites” as everyone drove cars, hair was uncovered, and even the older women and men had wedding rings, etc. I wasn't really aware of rules of clothing being enforced. Really, in many instances it is only a person’s name that gives them away, and then only to insiders. Names like Unruh, Penner, Ratzlaff, Gerbrandt, Schmidt, Hildebrandt, Jantzen, etc.

These days, many Mennonites are not at all associated with farming. In my own family there are Ivy league educated professors, chiropractors, persons working in television, missionaries, high rise welders, etc. And as you probably know, they have quite a presence on the Internet!

For me, it is more of a cultural thing as I never actually was baptized in the Mennonite Church, although the vast majority of mother's family were. It is my heritage and history. Like Catholics, Lutherans, and Jews there are degrees. Further, Mennonites have their share of the unkind, drug use, abuse, etc. They are people and faulted as we tend to be.

I want to mention a little about the language my grandparents spoke. I grew up understanding it as a variety of Low German, which is consistent with this article: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Low_German. Clearly, the term Pennsylvania Dutch is a modern term coined by the English. I suspect that there are variations in the language, depending on where a family immigrated from and settled. "Pennsylvania Dutch" may in fact be a dialect special to that that. I do not know.

Best wishes,

Melanie

Genevieve said...

Thanks for sharing your experience and insights, Melanie.

Anonymous said...

I live in Todd Co, and I have had to change my way of thinking about the Mennite families that live around me, I really held a lot of respect for the Mennite ways and beliefs, until I had a difference of opinion with a local Mennite builder, and since then I have come to see them in a different light " common theives", I think they are very rudd and very bullish in thier ways, " My Mennite neibors will steal white off paper!!!!!

Genevieve said...

Anonymous, there is a common misconception that because the Mennonites and Amish live simple lives, they are all saints. The truth is, all of them are sinners, just as you and I are. They are just people, you know. As one of our Mennonite neighbors once told my husband, "There are good ones and bad ones."

And, within the Mennonite church, some are more serious about their Christian walk than others. That's not too unusual. If you are a church-going person, I'm sure you can think of some in your congregation who seem a lot more Christ-like in behavior than others.

I am sorry that you have had a bad experience with a Mennonite builder and that you have problems with your Mennonite neighbors. I can only say that we have a congenial relationship with our Mennonite neighbors.

Anonymous said...

WELL I DONT THINK YOU KNOW ALOT YET ABOUT OUR PEOPLE JUST YET.WE CAME TO TODD CO. THE FIRST 15 FAMILYS IN 1946 @ 1947 AND THE OVER INTO FRANKLIN IN 1950 .THEYWERE CALLED THE MENNIOTE FAMILYS (WE WERE BEACHY MENNIOTES ) AND WE MADE AWAY OVRE TO AUBURN KY.WITH 14 FAMILYS ,WE DO USE GERMAN IN CHURCH IN SOME GROUPS BUT NOT ALL.MOST OF THE FAMILIES IN HOPTOWN ARE NEW OLDER. THERE ARE NOT MANY OLD ORDER PEOPLE HERE,THEY ARE MANY OLD OLDER MENNIOTES IN FAIRVIEW AND IN TODD CO, BUT YOU CAN PICK THEM OUT THE MEN ARE CLEAN SHAVED.AND THEY HAVE NO PHONES IN THERE HOMES I CAN REMEBER WHEN PEOPLE WERE VERY BAD TO US BUT TODAY MOST PEOPLE JUST GO ABOUT THERE ON WAY .WE TRY TOBE VERY GIVING AND LOVING TO EVERYONE ,IM NOT SURE WHO THE BUILDER WAS ,BUT IF YOU TELL ME WHEN CAN BRING HIM TO THE BISHOP AND THEY WILL TAKE CARE OF THIS FOR YOU.WE ARE A VERY OLD PEOPLE AND MOST OF US CAME OUT OF SWISSERLAND IN THE LATE 1600S AND AS FOR THE PRAYERCAP THEY ARE AS DIFF. AS PER DIST,GOES BUT IF YOU REALY WANT TO KNOW MORE ABOUT OUR PEOPLE AND OUR WAYS GO TO AMISH OF ELKHART IN. AND LOOK AT THE COVERINGS AND OUR WAY OF DRESS, I HAVE FAMILY ALL OVER THE PLACE FROM KY,PA,IN,KASS.MO,ILL,DELWAR,OH.COSTARICA AND MANY MORE PLACES BUT DONT EVER 4 GET WE ARE JUST PEOPLE AND WE TO FALL SHORT.AS FOR AS PHOTOS GO THERE ARE SOME WHO DO TAKE PIC,AND OURS WHO THINK YOU ARE GOING AGAINST THE 10 COMMS, I WOULD NOT TAKE ANYTHING AWAY FROM WHAT I WAS TAUGHT .BUT I BELIVE ACTS 2.38 AND THERES IS NO OTHER WAY BUT THAT,,SO I ASK IF YOU DO TALK ABOUT OUR WAYS PLEASE NO THE TRUTH ABOUT IT YOU CAN AWAYS GO TO ONE OF THE BISHOPS AND THEY WILL TELL YOU WHAT YOU WANT TO KNOW AS LONG AS YOU GO IN PEACE AND LOVE DONT BE 2 OUTWARD TO HIM.. GOD BLESS AND KEEP YOU ALWAYS ,, PS ABOUT OUR DRESS 1ST TIMOTHY TELLS YOU WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW FRO ANY OF US AS CHRIST LIKE SHOULD DRESS AND 1ST CORINTHIANS CH 11.ITS VERY PLAN .1ST TIMOTHY CH 2 4--14 WILL HELP YOU.UNDERSTAND MORE ABOUT US AGAIN THANK YOU GODS SPEED TO EACH OF YOU..ONE OF GODS CHILDREN...

Anonymous said...

MS.GENEVENA I SAID OUR PEOPLE CAME TO TODD CO.IN THE YEAR OF1947 BUT IT WAS 1937 MY GRANPERENTS WAS ONE OF THE FIRST PEOPLE.IM GLAD TO SEE THAT PEOPLE OR THE ENGLISH ONES ARE .LOOKING AT OUR PEOPLE .AND YOU CAN AGAIN GO TO THE BISHOP AND HE WILL TELL YOU WHAT YOU WANT TO KNOW...

Genevieve said...

Thank you for your comments. I do want to make clear that it was someone else, not me, who had trouble with a Mennonite builder.

I'm also going to tell you in a spirit of helpfulness, not criticism, that typing in all capitals on the internet is considered shouting. I know that you are not really shouting. You have provided some interesting information and insight. However, it will be better received (and easier to read) if you don't type in all capitals. Best wishes to you for a good day, and thanks again for your comments.

Anonymous said...

I grew up in the Guthrie area of Todd County and there were Mennonite families in that area when I was a young child...which means late fifties. In fact, I was friends with a young girl who was related on one of the Mennonite families...her father left the group and adopted the style of the "English" which is how the Amish refer to anyone outside of their Amish and Mennonite community. I am not sure if my friend's father was "shunned" for leaving his family's faith...as a young child I never questioned it. I've been gone from that area for many years, but I do remember that they were wonderful gardeners and builders.

Midwest Menno said...

"Amish America" asks about Russian Mennonites and Old Colony Mennonites. All the "Russian Mennonites" originally came from the German speaking lands of western Europe. At the time many Mennonites and Amish were coming to PA from Europe, some of the Mennonites, Amish, and all of the Hutterites accepted the invitation of Catherine the Great to come and live along the Volga or in Ukraine in "South Russia" There they maintained their own villages, taught their children their own German dialects and practiced their religion in peace. They just were not allowed by law to convert the Russian people to their "protestant" faith. After over a hundred years of peace in Russia, the German people were eventually lost their special privileges as Germans. They were to be required to teach their schools in the Russian language, pay taxes to the Czar and fight in the Russian army. This was unacceptable so they decided to move to North America. So you see, the "Russian Mennonites" are really not Russians at all. For the most part, most Russian Mennonites & Amish were more liberal in dress and practice than their relatives who came to Pennsylvania a century earlier. From these "russian" mennonites came the conservative Church of God in Christ Mennonite or Holdermans as they are commony called. Johnny Holdeman was Amish and started his own church. He made few converts among his own people but found a ready audience among the low German Mennonites in Kansas, Nebraska, the Dakotas and the prairie provinces of Canada. Too, in Kansas and Canada was a small group of Mennonites who continued to settle and live in the small village system like they had in Russia. These people also continued to dress in the old world style like they had in Russia so their clothing style doesn't have the Quaker influence that the Pennsylvania and eastern Mennonites and Amish have, but is probably more in line with how the Mennonites actually dressed in Europe. Most Old Colony people were Canadians. In the 20's, the Canadian government wanted these people to teach their children English in school instead of conducting their own schools in German. The Old Colony people found this unacceptable so many of them moved to Mexico. Over the years they have moved to other countries further south. They, like the AMish, have made an interesting mix of things they will and won't allow from the modern day world. The Old Colony people's ancestors came from the low countries of northern Europe so the language they speak is known as Platt Deutsch or Low German which is greatly different from the Palatinate German spoken by the Pennsylvania Dutch. There are Low German people in other "Russian" Mennonite groups as well. There are also some Swiss, Volhynian Amish in the "Russian" Mennonites who speak a swiss dialect that is very high German. These people are very liberal. There are also some Mennonites who speak Hutterisch, the language of the Hutterite people. These people were at one time Hutterites but they had already abandoned communal living in Russia and went off on their own taking independent farms when coming to America and their congregations eventually joined other more liberal Mennonite groups, with many of them joining the Mennonite Brethren or the General Conference.

Genevieve said...

Thanks for your explanation, Midwest Menno. It was very interesting, particularly the part about Quaker influence on Pennsylvania Amish and Mennonite styles of dress.

Suzi said...

The squeaky cheese is known as cheese curds, fresh ones squeak. They are sold in the US at many grocery stores.

Bear said...

I am moving to Christian County this summer (military) and the house I'm purchasing is directly across the road from a Mennonite family. I'd really like to get to know them and be friendly with them, without being intrusive, as they're my closest neighbors, but I know very little about the etiquette that's appropriate in their community. Could anyone tell me if there are any rules/considerations I should observe? I appreciate the help and love the blog. Thanks!

Genevieve said...

One way to show respect (and also to demonstrate that you are the sort of person they might want to know) is to dress modestly around them.

jennifer anderson said...

wow, i found out about the mennonites in our area and also found your blog! my granfather used to constantly watch the mennonites in todd county. Just last Sunday my daughter and I were driving behind a carriage and horse down the main street in downtown Hopkinsville. We were like, "Where would they be going?"

Hipmom said...

Thank you so much for the information regarding the Mennonite and Amish communities in Christian County, Kentucky! My family I just moved to Fort Campbell from Atlanta (well we were in Korea for two years before coming here). Some of the military wives and I have frequented the Country Pantry in Guthrie which we thought was Mennonite but after reading your blog, I believe they are actually Amish. This would make sense as I heard some of the ladies in the back when I went today speaking Dutch. I suppose people think they and the bakery are owned by Mennonites since they use electricity but it makes sense if they are part of the New Order Electric Amish. I am intrigued by these communities. The longer we are here (which I am sure will be a few years or more) I will get to know more as I continue to purchase the local produce and goods that they sell to the local community!

Genevieve Netz said...

Welcome to the Fort Campbell area, Hipmom. Yes, the people who run the Guthrie Country Pantry are Amish. You are likely to hear both Mennonites and Amish speaking Pennsylvania Dutch in this area.

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CONTENTMENT: Keep your heart free from hate, your mind from worry, live simply, expect little, give much, sing often, pray always, forget self, think of others and their feelings, fill your heart with love, scatter sunshine. These are the tried links in the golden chain of contentment.
(Author unknown)

IT IS STILL BEST to be honest and truthful; to make the most of what we have; to be happy with simple pleasure; and to be cheerful and have courage when things go wrong.
(Laura Ingalls Wilder, 1867-1957)

Thanks for reading.