A cultural exchange awaits you each time you visit Jamesport, MO. This is the home of the largest Amish community in Missouri. They prefer little fanfare, but the signs are everywhere… from state highway traffic warnings about horse drawn vehicles to the hitching posts in Jamesport’s alleys.
Look for a bunch of wagons outside a residence which indicates that church services will be held there on Sunday. A simple meal for 50 to 200 must be provided by the host family in each district.
Look for teams of horses working in the fields in and around Jamesport. You’ll notice wider corn rows (wagons need extra space), oats thrown in piles, lots of children (the average family has 12), open windows during the summer (no air-conditioning), and long dresses (10 inches from the floor is the required length).
The Amish are members of a branch of the Mennonite Church, founded by Dutch reformer Menno Simons, who left Germany in 1683 and settled in what is now Pennsylvania. The rules of their faith are based on the Bible and their aim is to live as much as possible as the Christians did in the days of the Apostles. As the years passed, they migratred to 18 other states plus Canada.
The Mennonite Church is the center around which all family and social life is built though there is no structure involved. Their interpretation of church is “a gathering of God’s people.” The Daviess County church settlement is divided into six districts. Meetings are held every other Sunday. Sermons are delivered by the bishop of the district who serves in his capacity for a lifetime. He is assisted by ministers and a deacon who also serve a lifetime unless they become incapacitated.
The group known as the Old Order Amish first appeared in Daviess County in 1953, buying a few farms at top prices. Their first year proved disappointing as it was a year of drought and grasshoppers. More families followed, however, and they soon proved to be good neighbors.
The size of the colony, once 145 families, has diminished since 1980, due to the slipping farm economy. Some of the newly married, and those unable to meet farm loan payments, have moved on to other sections of the country.
An Amish farmer may not boast about high crop yields, but his expense is much less for hopefully a larger margin of profit. A good team of horses can be purchased in the Jamesport area, and regular horse auctions are periodically advertised.
Amish pay local taxes, including school tax, and must file state and federal income taxe due to their large families. They take Social Security numbers but most sign a waiver which voids their participation in the program to avoid the tax. Elderly Amish do not retire until they are no longer able to work. They are then cared for by their children and grandchildren.
Tours of the Amish area can be scheduled, but you won’t see some things by booking a commercial tour: a big commune or mass of buildings (each Amish family owns their own farm in various parts of the area); makeup or jewelry or even buttons on Amish women (they use stick pins); mustaches on men (though beards are raised as well as children almost as soon as a couple marries); cars, telephones, televisions or radios.
Reprinted from “Treasure the Times” tourism guide, Gallatin Publishing Co. 1988.