I am a big fan of Christian novels by Beverly Lewis. If you’ve never heard of her, check out her beautiful website here. Beverly was born in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, which has a high concentration of Amish families. She grew up observing the lifestyles of those unique people and learning about their very strict, conservative beliefs and practices. She has woven many facts about the Amish into the fictional storylines of her books that feature these hard-working people going about their daily lives.
On a recent Saturday after learning that one of the largest communities of Old Order Amish lived less than an hour and a half from our house, my Silver Fox and I decided to ride out and explore. We discovered that from Hwy. 72 West from Athens we could take either Hwy. 207 in Rogersville to 98 then on to 43, or we could drive west a little more and just hit Hwy. 43 in Killen and have a straight shot to Etheridge, TN. Either way, you will find yourself first in Leoma, TN and then Lawrenceburg, TN, both of which have plenty of gas stations and places to eat.
As we came into Etheridge, we immediately spotted the Amish Welcome Center. We had planned to eat lunch there (folks coming out gave it rave reviews), but a wagonload of people were leaving on a tour, and they had room for two more. We bought our tickets ($10 each) and hopped on. It was a good decision. The people already on board were very friendly, the driver was knowledgeable, and the horses were cooperative. It felt “right” to hear the clippity-clop of horse hooves as we passed through the well-tended farms of the Amish people. We stopped at several to look more closely at the baskets, furniture, preserves, and baked goods they had for sale. At the end of the day, we had a fresh loaf of sourdough bread, muscadine jelly, orange marmalade, chow-chow, farmer’s cheese, and a fried peach pie. The peach pie, however, didn’t survive long enough to make this picture. Delicious!
The wagon tour lasted about an hour and a half. Here are some of the facts that our driver shared:
1) The Amish first settled in the area in 1944, and currently there are 250 families living in Etheridge.
2) There are about 20 one-room schoolhouses scattered throughout the community. Children go to school until the 8th grade or their 14th birthday, whichever comes first. They don’t learn English until they start school but instead speak a Pennsylvania Dutch dialect of German.
3) They all rise at 4:30 a.m. and work until sundown.
4) They have no electricity, no indoor plumbing, no running water, no vehicles with rubber tires (such as tractors or automobiles), and no telephones.
5) We were asked to refrain from making any photographs. The Amish consider photos to be “graven images” which are strictly forbidden according to their beliefs. They also don’t have any mirrors in their homes to avoid developing attitudes of pride and emphasis upon their appearance.
I’ll save other facts for you to hear about when you make your own visit. Fascinating people indeed. One important tip — use the bathroom before you leave on the tour. You won’t be invited to use the outhouses.
When we got back, the restaurant at the Welcome Center had closed for the day, so we got directions for two others nearby. We went into The Meat Market/Texas BarBQ. It smelled amazing, but the line was long. We ended up at Edna’s Country Cooking and enjoyed it a lot, especially the working jukebox and the musical selections of our fellow diners. 🙂
We’re looking forward to returning to Etheridge several times this summer to buy fresh produce. Maps to the farms are available at the Welcome Center.