Summer is family vacation season. Soon the kids will be out of school and feeling the wanderlust inspired by warm weather. But families bored by the beach or tired of theme parks can find themselves looking for something different - a vacation that blends family-oriented fun with education, modern excitements with the best of bygone days.
They're finding it in Ohio's Amish country, home to the largest population of Amish in the United States (not Lancaster, Penn., as many assume). One area is convenient to both the Akron and Cleveland airports and draws tourists from all over the country as well as from neighboring states within driving distance. Another area of Amish is in Adams County, near Columbus and an hour east of Cincinnati's eastern suburbs.
Visitors can enjoy the area's scenic farmland, old-fashioned dining, and of course the sights and handicrafts of Amish life.
And families don't have to break the bank to find fun in the region. Here are six ideas for things to see and do in Ohio's Amish country - many of them free:
1. The Midwest has the legendary Wall Drug Store and Ohio has Lehman's, an old-fashioned hardware store founded in 1955 by Jay Lehman. Established in Kidron, the central marketplace for the Amish country area, the store started out by serving the needs of the Amish community.
While it's evolved considerably since then, the store and its online outlet still emphasize old-fashioned items like non-electric appliances, hand tools, hand-cranked housewares, oil lamps and museum quality antiques.
Recently, the family-owned business purchased a historic barn built in the 1840s, moved it to the store site and rebuilt it (with the help of an old-fashioned Amish barn-raising) in preparation for expanding its operation.
When completed, the new store will be more than 30,000 square feet - more than twice the size of the original store.
The hand-hewn barn also will serve as a historic landmark for Wayne County. You can visit the store's Web site, www.lehmans.com, to learn more.
2. Your family may not be in the market to buy a prize-winning heifer, or even a few chickens, but the kids will still enjoy a turn through the Kidron Auction Livestock Sale and Flea Market. Held every Thursday (except on Amish holidays), the auction is Ohio's oldest consignment livestock market. Admission is free and food vendors are on hand with traditional Amish country fare as well as kid-friendly cuisine.
On special days in spring and summer, large machinery sales also take place.
3. Shrock's Amish Farm in Berlin offers a unique window into the Amish lifestyle with guided home tours, a farm animal petting area, Amish buggy rides and shopping.
4. For a real taste of Amish food, dine at the Amish Door Village restaurant. The 30-year-old establishment serves hearty Amish-style meals for breakfast, lunch and dinner.
Closed on Sundays, the restaurant serves delicious fare that's great for kids - who often crave familiar and simple foods while on vacation. Two locations serve travelers and locals alike in Wooster and Wilmot. Carriage rides are available and the restaurant also offers a bed and breakfast.
5. Public gardens or plant nurseries are great places for kids to either blow off some steam with free run of the grounds or quiet down and learn something about botanical life. Quailcrest Farm, located in Wooster offers both gardens and greenhouse. Visitors can stroll (or frolic) through the gardens then stop by the 12,000-square-foot greenhouse for some gardening advice from the farm's professional growers. Special events and programs take place throughout the year.
6. At P. Graham Dunn Woodworking and Laser Art Gallery in Dalton, visitors can watch craftsmen engrave inspirational messages on wood items, tour the laser room and browse a beautiful gallery filled with great gift ideas.
7. Finally, drop in to Walnut Creek Cheese for a variety of locally made cheeses, meats, jams, jellies, kitchen supplies and homemade ice cream.
8. In Adams County, Miller's Bakery and Furniture complex in West Union offers a huge variety of hand crafted furniture, foods and homemade baked goods. Keim Family Market in Seaman offers a large variety and also has furniture and food.
Quilt shops and cheese factories lit solely by gaslight are found in these quaint Applachian foothill towns. Both Miller's and Keim's offer home-baked goods and cheeses.
A unique birders' haven in West Union has window feeders, thistle sacks, hummingbird supplies, suet, hooks, pools, assorted houses, books, and seed sold in an Amish shop - something to please everyone's feathered friends.
Some facts about the Amish
According to www.oacountry.com, there are as many as eight different orders within the Amish population, with the majority affiliated with one of five religious orders - Old Order Amish, New Order Amish, Andy Weaver Amish, Beachy Amish, and Swartzentruber Amish. These churches operate independently from each other with differences in how they practice their religion and conduct their daily lives. The Old Order Amish are the largest group and the Swartzentruber Amish, an offshoot of the Old Order, are the most conservative.
Young men are clean shaven prior to marriage, while married men are required to let their beards grow. Mustaches are forbidden because they are considered to be adornment. Haircuts are typically block cut in the back and longer than most English styles. The men typically wear broad brimmed felt hats in the winter and for dress year round. During the summer, most groups will allow their men to wear straw hats.
Most Amish women make their own clothing, purchasing the fabric in local stores usually run by a woman in their church community. The broader fabric market is driven by the fashion industry.
Nothing in their beliefs prevents the Amish from seeking modem medical help, although they do not have health insurance. They do band together, however, within their communities and see that anyone who needs financial help for medical problems is not turned away. Local doctors report that Amish tend to be good patients, both in that they appreciate good health as a gift from God and that they pay their bills.
The Amish forbid photographs of them being taken based on the Biblical instruction that Thou shall not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth (Exodus 20:4)
Source: Ohio's Amish Country (www.oacountry.com)