|Plain and simple|
|Amish communities in Missouri and Illinois welcome visitors to shop, dine and experience their unique, unadorned and peaceful way of life|
|Published: May/Jun 2002
|By Mike Michaelson|
Explore the rich farmland of the flattest county in Illinois, where Amish farmers plow fields with six-horse teams of Belgians and Percherons, raise corn and soy beans and keep Holsteins and hogs. Squat black buggies clip-clop along country lanes at an unhurried pace.
There are about 150 cottage industries in the region (many run by families named Yoder and Miller). Businesses include buggy shops, woodworking shops (many Amish are skilled carpenters and cabinetmakers), dry goods shops, an Amish hat and clothing shop, and general store.
In Arcola, stop at the Illinois Amish Interpretive Center where a video and exhibits explain the history and beliefs of the Illinois Amish. The Amish religion grew out of the Reformation Anabaptist movement begun in Switzerland in 1527. Members of the sect were persecuted, tortured and burned at the stake, driving many to America in search of religious freedom.
At the center, you can hire a guide for a tour of the countryside or arrange for a tour of an Amish farm or meal at an Amish home. According to Amish customs, youll discover their belief that having their photograph taken is prohibited by the biblical admonishment in Exodus, Thou shalt not take a graven image. For this same reason, cloth dolls on sale in Amish craft stores have featureless faces. Youll also learn that Amish refer to those outside of their sect as English.
An English and endearing childhood story has its roots in Arcola. It was the birthplace in 1880 of Johnny Gruelle, creator of Raggedy Ann and Raggedy Andy. Gruelle was the son of illustrator and landscape artist, Richard Gruelle, whose best known illustrations can be found in works by Hoosier poet James Whitcomb Riley.
Today, Arcola celebrates its role as Gruelles birthplace at a museum opened by Gruelles granddaughter and with an annual festival held the weekend prior to Memorial Day. It includes a carnival, parade, street fair and a variety of Raggedy Ann and Andy collectibles and memorabilia. Usually, members of the Gruelle family attend it.
Another of Arcolas claims to fame is the production of corn brooms, which it also celebrates with a huge annual festival held the weekend after Labor Day. Wander the brick-lined streets of the tiny town that look as though they are swept clean with those brooms. Browse craft, antique, and gift shops, some of which have extensive displays of Raggedy Ann and Andy products.
Also on Arcolas main street is the Dutch Kitchen Restaurant, where locals gather to talk about crops, politics, the weather, and the fortunes of the local high school sports teams. It serves mostly standard small-town restaurant fare, such as fried chicken, grilled ham, and baked steak in mushroom gravy. Specialties include apple butter, lightly seasoned Dutch sausage made locally by Old Order Amish and shoo-fly pie, rich with syrup and sorghum.
Dont miss Arthur
In neighboring Arthur, youll find galleries and shops offering local crafts and food products, as well as Amish furniture in oak, cherry and pine. Dicks Pharmacy is the spot for phosphates, shakes, or maybe a Green River made at a 1930s soda fountain.
The lodging selection includes the Heart and Home Bed-and-Breakfast inn (217-543-2910), a big corner house built in 1906 that offers visitors three guest rooms with private baths, home-cooked breakfasts, a front porch, a backyard swing under an old oak, and wood-burning fireplaces (plus central air-conditioning). Open AprilOctober, it is owned by Don Miller and his wife, Amanda, who left the Amish faith at age 12 when her mother died.
Amanda vividly remembers Sundays when Amish families piled into church wagons as daylong services rotate from house-to-house each week. Hosts set up benches and provided food and drink for the congregation. Services were longa single hymn sung a cappella, stretched to 20 minutes.
I remember how glad we kids were when they passed around cookies, said Amanda.
To explore another large Amish settlement, head for the rolling green hills of northwest Missouri. About 195 families, mostly Old Order Amish who adhere strictly to the old ways, cultivate the rich farmland around Jamesport, a quaint village of 550 residents. Amish first settled the area in 1953.
On Jamesports main street, youll find specialty shops filled with lovingly-wrought quilts and needlework and Amish and Mennonite hand-crafted furniture and wood crafts in oak and cherry. Many pieces are reproduced from patterns of family heirlooms.
Check out Colonial Rug and Broom Shoppe that keeps alive the traditional crafts of making brooms and weaving rag rugs by hand. Theres also a clutch of antique shops and a tearoom.
Eateries include Mennonite-owned Gingerich Dutch Pantry Restaurant and Bakery, known far and wide for its fruit pies (strawberry-rhubarb and peach are ambrosial). It also serves family-style dinners and a selection of sandwiches. Woodwards Custard Shop has an old-time soda fountain with seating and makes fresh frozen custard daily.
The Amish, seen around town, live in the surrounding countryside in modest homes on farmsteads. One-room schoolhouses and small cottage businesses, where commerce is transacted by the glow of lanterns, also dot the landscape. Amish families travel winding country backroads in horse-drawn vehicles and work the fields with horse-drawn implements, young and old toiling side-by-side. Women work in kitchens equipped with kerosene and wood-burning appliances, hand grinders and cast-iron cookware.
You can observe first-hand the lifestyle of the 2,000 Amish who live in Daviess County by taking a van tour, or by arranging a house and farmland tour that includes an Amish-prepared meal. Amish Country Bus Tour and Hook and Eye Amish Country Tours are options for guided explorations.
One of the first stops many visitors to Jamesport make is at one of the Amish bakeshops, such as Annas, where they are greeted by the aroma of fresh-baked bread cooling in tins on shelves near the back window. Amish bakerswearing long, plain dresses and white bonnetsfashion with flour-dusted hands batches of cinnamon rolls, cookies, cakes, doughnuts, and fruit and cream pies. Because the Amish avoid use of electricity, baking is done on kerosene stoves. No phone is in the shop.
Around town, look for homemade jellies and jam, pickles and relishes, candies and cheese. Youll also find a variety of fabrics and lots of homemade toys (including those featureless dolls).
Annual festivals include May Days, Heritage Days in September, the Amish Country Quilt Auction and Show in October, and the Step Back in Time Christmas Festival that features an old-fashioned cookie walk. Lodging choices include a half dozen bed-and-breakfast inns.
Visiting the plain folk of Illinois and Missouri will be an experience youre likely not to forget.
|Mike Michaelson is a contributor from Chicago, Ill.|