Amish Lifestyle — A Throwback to Yesteryear

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.

Horse buggies and carts are the preferred mode of transportation by the Amish at Jamesport, MO

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.

Buggies, marked with safety reflectors and featuring battery-powered safety lights, frequent roads and highways throughout the Jamesport community.
Field work is performed by teams of horses around Jamesport, MO. Corn rows are wider to accommodate wagons which require more room.

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.

Summertime fun in the sun!

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.

Authenticity Attracts Attention

The Amish are known for helping their neighbors in times of need. Rescuing an entire town from obscurity would have seemed to much to ask, though ? even for the Amish. But that’s essentially what they did for Jamesport.

The Amish are known for helping their neighbors in times of need. Rescuing an entire town from obscurity would have seemed to much to ask, though ? even for the Amish. But that’s essentially what they did for Jamesport.

In 1985 a group of Jamesport merchants got together in the back of a local antique store and brainstormed on ways to keep their town from quietly slipping off the map, like so many other rural communities. Shop owners Gary and Carol Ellis spearheaded an effort to initiate a Christmas festival. The idea was to draw tourists attracted by the Amish families who comprise the largest Amish community in Missouri. That festival was a success.

Today an estimated 75,000 to 100,000 tourists come to the four or five annual festivals hosted by Jamesport. Many come to get a look at yesteryear’s farm life and see Amish roaming through the town in their simple, hard-sewn clothes. The black, horse-drawn carriages are common along Highway 190 and Highway 6 as well as on the various gravel roads. Other tourists come to brouse through the antique shops and crafts. There’s nothing in North Missouri like a Branson nor is there much interest for such here. But what visitors find here is authenticity and simplicity ? in a perky little small town atmosphere!

Keeping the Values of Life Simple

Missouri’s Amish center their lifestyle on family. Note: Although this first was published by the Associated Press, 1987, much of the information is still relevant today.

Missouri’s Amish center their lifestyle on family. Note: Although this first was published by the Associated Press, 1987, much of the information is still relevant today.

Down a dirt road running through recently harvested farm fields stands a link to the past — a o?ne-room Amish schoolhouse that church leaders say is vital to maintaining values.

Without such schools, leaders say, the Amish religion would die. The Amish reject materialism and seek a return to a simple, family-oriented life without electricity, telephones or cars.

Students receive an education through the eighth grade in the frame schoolhouse o?n the outskirts of Jamesport, a town 65 mile northeast of Kansas City. But more important to the rigid Amish code of conduct, the students learn obedience and respect for their elders.

The eighth grade probably is the highest-level formal education these children will receive.

In 1972 the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in a case originating in Wisconsin that Amish children were exempt from laws requiring them to attend school to age 16.

The decision noted that the Amish oppose high-school education because it places Amish children in a competitive atmosphere with pressure to conform with their peers.

Before the ruling, the Amish sometimes tried to keep their children away from high school by enrolling them late or encouraging them to flunk. That way, the children would be no higher than the eighth grade when they became 16.

"The ruling saved us," said a teacher in o?ne of the six schools serving the 150 Amish families living near Jamesport.

"Our children are attracted to evil things, just like other children out there, in high school, with the drugs and all that, there wouldn’t be any Amish, or the Amish would become so liberal they wouldn’t really be Amish."

The teacher did not want to be identified because he feared that some members of the Amish community would resent him for speaking to a reporter.

The o?ne-room schoolhouse has no electricity and is heated by a wood stove. The teacher comes to class by the traditional Amish mode, a horse-drawn buggy. The students – the girls in black bonnets and unadorned dresses closed at the neck, the boys in plain blue shirts and trousers – walk to class.

If a student were to gaze outside he would see — out past the boys’ and girls’ outhouses — rolling farmland, grain silos and a barn.

But the students don’t gaze outside. It’s not permitted.

"I won’t tolerate them looking around; then everything would come apart," the teacher said.

He said unruly students are brought before the "board of education" – a wooden paddle hanging o?n the wall next to the blackboard.

The Amish schools have earned the respect of Joe Dyke, the supervisor for the public-school district encompassing Jamesport.

"I think some English-speaking people laugh at their schools and say they’re a joke," he said. "But they haven’t been in there. Their schools are sometimes more quiet and tightly disciplined than our schools."

The Amish, who speak German at home, refer to Americans outside their church as "the English". Classes are conducted in English, and it is a school that many Amish children first are exposed to the language.

The Amish have communities in about 23 states. In 1953, attracted by cheap farm land, they began settling near Jamesport. About 3,500 Amish live in Missouri in some 16 counties.

One of the six bishops in the Jamesport area said radio and television has lured some youths away from the church but most return.

Some Amish also believe their church is threatened by the influx of tourists to Jamesport.

More than a dozen antique shops operated by non-Amish merchants have sprung up in the four-block downtown area in the last few years. There is also an Amish-owned shop o?n the out-skirts of town.

Non-Amish merchants have begun sponsoring crafts fairs. O?n weekends when the fairs are held, tourists — many attracted by the Amish — flood the streets. "It’s getting to be a regular nuisance," the bishop said. "It’s a matter of amusement (for the tourists), like going to Worlds of Fun."

Source: Associated Press, November, 1987 The Kansas City Star, Sunday, Nov. 8, 1987

About Amish Schools

When the Amish first moved into the Jamesport area in 1953, it was at the schools where their old-fashioned clothing and foreign language soon lost its strangeness. Amish youngsters were readily accepted into the public school system, but when enough Amish families moved into the area they established their own schools.

When the Amish first moved into the Jamesport area in 1953, it was at the schools where their old-fashioned clothing and foreign language soon lost its strangeness. Amish youngsters were readily accepted into the public school system, but when enough Amish families moved into the area they established their own schools.

Amish children were usually taught by unmarried Amish women similar to the country schools that dotted the countryside in the early 1900s. A wood stove heats the o?ne-room building. Girls in black bonnets and unadorned dresses closed at the neck and boys in plain blue shirts and trousers walk to class.

The number of schools operating in the Jamesport community varies (now six). A larger school may have two teachers while the smaller o?nes have o?ne, usually assisted by a younger girl just out of school who is gaining experience so that she may o?ne day teach. Subjects taught are the basics except that no science is included. English is used in the classroom although a Pennsylvania Dutch dialect is often used in the home. German is also taught since it is the language of their Bible.

The eighth grade is probably the highest level of formal education that Amish children get. The discipline during school years is important; it’s when pupils learn obedience and respect for their elders. In 1972, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in a case originating in Wisconsin that Amish children were exempt from laws requiring attendance in school to age 16. The decision noted that the Amish opposed high school education because it placed Amish children during adolescence in a competitive atmosphere with pressure to conform with their peers.

Most Amish complete eight grades of schooling and then join their families in such trades as farming and carpentry. Schools are financed by a "head tax," church membership tax and by land valuation which a family owns. Schools are dismissed in mid-April as older boys help with spring planting.

Differences Between Amish and Mennonites

Here’s a brief comparison and contrast:

Here’s a brief comparison and contrast:

AMISH — The Amish separated from the Mennonite fellowship in 1693 in Europe. They felt the Mennonites of that time were failing to practice things they believed were needful. Their leading minister was Jacob Ammann from whom they derived their name. Amish believe in a strict plain form of dress and other things regulated by the group and especially by their bishops. Amish believe their people should continue without change from modern things such as electricity, telephones, automobiles and tractors. Though without electricity, many homes have running water and bathrooms (unheard of in years past). Amish use horses for farming and transportation. Their lifestyle is to remain as in days of old. The largest Amish community in Missouri is found at Jamesport.

MENNONITES — While there are a number of different groups of people and churches called Mennonites in the world, this particular statement deals specifically with The Church of God in Christ, Mennonite. These Mennonite Christians also believe in plain, simple and modest dress. They believe in and require for membership a true spiritual experiences of the New Birth that Jesus said must be experienced to enter the kingdom of God and be saved. The power to be faithful in all things they hold must be from and by the Holy Spirit dwelling within. It should be noted that the use of modern things such as automobiles, electricity and telephones can be used by Mennonites with careful and proper control. But Mennonites do not find the use of radio or television to be for them since these are largely under the control of the carnal world and mostly harmful to true and pure spiritual living

About the Amish Church

At one time the Amish community at Jamesport was divided into six districts comprised of 12 to 30 families each.

At one time the Amish community at Jamesport was divided into six districts comprised of 12 to 30 families each.

Church meetings are held every other Sunday in a home in each district; the alternate Sunday is meant to be used for socializing. A family may visit relatives or friends or may choose to attend church in another district since services are scheduled in three places each Sunday. The German hymnals contain no music. Tunes are learned and passed from one generation to the next through a song leader. The sermon is given by the bishop of the district who serves in his capacity for his lifetime. Bishops are assisted by ministers and a deacon who also serve a lifetime.

All members of a family are expected to attend church in their district unless there is illness. Children from infancy attend 3-hour services with adults. The meeting is held twice in the same home before moving on to the next home. A simple meal is served by the host family, prepared prior to Sunday. The afternoon is spent visiting. All plan to return to their homes by chore time. Sunday night is reserved for young people to share in a “sing” at the same host home. It is during these get-togethers that lifetime partners are often shyly picked and courtships begin.

Church financing is by collections taken twice a year, when communion is served, usually in the spring and fall. A fund is maintained to help those in the church in need, such as for hospital bills or following a fire or death in the family. Baptism, by sprinkling, takes place by profession of faith, usually between the ages of 15 and 20.

Learning Old Ways

Agronomy specialist studies Amish to understand cultural differences (Source: Exclaimer — University of Missouri Extension, Vol. 23, No. 2 April/May 1995)

Agronomy specialist studies Amish to understand cultural differences (Source: Exclaimer — University of Missouri Extension, Vol. 23, No. 2 April/May 1995)

When Agronomy Specialist Oscar Ingram set out to learn more about the Amish culture, he did so with the idea that University Extension could offer the Amish people valuable education information. What he has found is that the Amish also have something to offer mainstream farmers.

As he visited Amish communities in Iowa, Illinois and Ohio, Ingram found that Amish farmers manage to make a comfortable living o?n small farms while operating in the same price structure as other farmers.

"We can all use the good things they do," said Ingram, who is working to establish relationships with local Amish farmers.

Ingram learned about the Amish culture and values through a University Extension diversity externship, designed to help extension professionals learn more about the variety of racial, ethnic, socioeconomic, educational and experiential backgrounds of Missouri’s people.

In Missouri, there are about 4,000 Amish citizens, and that number is growing at a rate of 3.5 percent per year, making it o?ne of the fastest growing segments of the population, according to Joel Hartman, a University of Missouri-Columbia associate professor of rural sociology, who studies the Amish.

The oldest Amish communities were established in the early 1950s, attracted to Missouri by the availability of prime agricultural land and cheaper land prices, compared with Amish communities in Ohio, Indiana and Pennsylvania. Since the early 1980s, the number of Missouri’s Amish communities has grown steadily. "Conservative Amish find rural Missouri attractive for its social and geographic isolation from influences that would pull young people away," Hartman said.

One of Missouri’s larger Amish communities is near Seymour in Webster County, where Ingram is headquartered. "The Amish are not a group that we have worked with extensively," Ingram said. "Extension can help them do a better job. The internship helped me to better understand the people to work with them."

Ingram found that Amish communities are centered o?n sustainability. They are not driven to earn a great deal of money. "They live o?n $7,000 to $8,000 a year," Ingram said, "and they don’t take part in government farm programs.

"These people are ingenious. If they get into another business, they do it to stay in farming."

Many Amish farmers supplement their income with side enterprises. O?ne farmer earned $2,500 o?n a half acre he planted in potatoes that he marketed o?n the farm as new potatoes. His costs, Ingram said, were low because he planted them by hand and used a horse-drawn plow to harvest them.

Ingram was intrigued by their use of modern farm equipment. He asked o?ne farmer, Amish author David Klein, why he cut hay using horses and an auxiliary engine instead of his tractor. Klein said he could talk to the horses and hear the birds when the horses rested.

"They don’t let technology rule them; they adjust technology to their needs," Ingram said.

Understanding their values, Ingram said, has helped as he begins to build an extension clientele among the Amish.

Building those contacts will be slow. "You have to build trust, and they have to see you have something they can use."

Word of extension is getting out. Recently, a local Amish farmer contacted Ingram about recommendations o?n growing a particular forage. Shortly after, Ingram received a call from another Amish farmer, an indirect result of his work with the first o?ne.

"I think they’ll pass the word around that extension can help them," Ingram said.

Ingram also is getting questions from traditional farmers who want to know what the Amish are doing to be sustainable and successful. "There are several innovative things that we can adapt, " Ingram said. O?n o?ne of his Amish farm visits, he discovered that what he thought were haystacks actually were stacked bales protected by loose hay.

"It’s a mutual learning experience that will help me do a better job in my community," Ingram said.

Source: Exclaimer (University of Missouri Extension) Vol. 23, No. 2 April/May 1995

Diverse cultures living at Jamesport

Jesse Harris was determined in 1836 to prove that two diverse cultures could live harmoniously, so he built a log cabin in the tall grasslands inhabited by Indians near what is now Jamesport, Mo.

Jesse Harris was determined in 1836 to prove that two diverse cultures could live harmoniously, so he built a log cabin in the tall grasslands inhabited by Indians near what is now Jamesport, Mo.

Jesse Harris and his family were the first white settlers in the area, and his Sauk and Fox Indian neighbors seemed to welcome them. Today, this log cabin stands in Jamesport City Park. And, although the Indians have long since departed, in 1953 a group of Old Order Amish settled here. The first Amish family to arrive was the Harry Yoder family, followed by the families of Levi Miller, Dan Stutzman, Chrissie Ropp, Tobe Detweiler, William Yutzy, and Simon Hostetler. The farms they bought were at top prices; the first year proved disappointing as it was a year of drought and grasshoppers. More families followed, however. Today, two diverse cultures continue to live in the area: Missouri’s largest Amish community and the “English,” which is the Amish designation for the everyday folks who call Jamesport home.

Jamesport is one of about 50 Amish settlements in North America. Amish family traditions including morning and evening prayer services. But there’s much more to Jamesport than what some consider a quaint lifestyle. Located less than a hour’s drive from Kansas City, Jamesport offers more, many craft shops, antique dealers and specialty shops along with a couple of bed-and-breakfasts and a motel. Most shops serve as information centers and provide a rundown on the 1,100 Amish residents who live on roughly 150 farms in the area. Maps are available that detail shops in town and the Amish homes that contain stores open to visitors.

Many Amish welcome outsiders to their homesites and offer a variety of goods for sale, including Amish quilts. Most of the Amish stores, located generally south of Jamesport, are open from 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. except on Thursdays and Sundays when they are closed. Some of the stores in town, as well as on the Amish homesites, sell fabric for quilts and can provide information on having a quilt custom-made. Antiques offer a true country atmosphere. Many grocery items are stocked in bulk. You will also find beautiful custom built furniture, footwear, spices and more among many crafts. Jamesport hosts a variety of annual events which are favorite times to visit. The annual May Days Festival, the Junior Livestock Show & Fair in July, the Heritage Days Festival each September and the “Step Back In Time” Christmas celebration in late November all showcase all that Jamesport offers.