Amish Research

I was up to Cattaraugus County, Western, upstate New York, for research the other weekend. Left Virginia on Friday morning early, got up there in time to find the library, county offices, still open. The town of Randolph looked like the likely place to start.

My experience is that the county people usually have a map printed up, with Amish related items of interest, and hopefully the area marked where the Amish live. I was directed at the library to the County offices, where the Department of Economic Development, etc. had what I needed. A map called, Amish Trails of Western New York. Quite nicely made up. Printed, I learned later, with money the county received from the Indian reservation’s gambling concerns.

I also got a recommendation from the lady on who’s place to stop in first and who to ask for. In this case, it was Bishop John Raber who runs a little dry goods business on Martin Road. Turned out, my introduction did more harm than good.

The map I carried with me, and the lady’s name set off all kinds of alarm bells in the good bishop’s head. Apparently there was some running hostility between the Amish and the county over their printing of the Amish Trails map, and tourism in general. The bishop said, he felt the county was exploiting them for their own purposes, etc.

The air was quite tense, and nothing I could do resolved anything. Normally I don’t offer more information than is necessary about my background, as my accent doesn’t betray me.

So I took the plunge and mentioned what I was in the area for, who my Amish bishop had been, and that I had relatives in Canada, and named them. Usually, if they can figure out who you are, and what you are up to, the tension will relax.

Nothing helped though. I was apparently the intruder with the evil map, to be banished from the premises. What made things worse, the bishop seemed not to know any of the names I mentioned.

It was my first introduction into the nature of the community, and in their isolation even from other Amish communities. We proceeded to speak the dialect for awhile, which relaxed things a little. The slightest turn of phrase would freeze them again.

I asked whether I could attend services on Sunday. The answer was a solid, “No.” Again, a little unusual. Most times when I ask, there are no objections.

I asked general questions and received little information. Thanked them kindly and proceeded on my way. I then drove up to the toy shop where the bishop told me his brother lived. Didn’t repeat my mistakes, and had a nice time. They even showed me the famed local toy boxes where money can’t be retracted once its placed inside. (It can, but I couldn’t figure it out.)

Bought a box and left. Drove around the rest of the day, and then Saturday. Fascinating place. Settled in the fifties, with little impute from the outside Amish communities since then. 3000 estimated people, fourteen districts. Several said they hardly get visitors. No one seemed to know about the Pathway Papers.

Stayed at the Cherry Creek Inn for the night. A good place with an awesome library, massive and extensive. All included in the price. Had a fish supper at the highly recommend Mustardseed Café in South Dayton.

Learned what I needed to know, purchased a gallon of Amish maple syrup, and left Saturday afternoon. Made in down to my in-laws place in Pa. for the night. Truly another time and another place. As Garrison Keller would say, “Where all the women are strong, all the men are good looking, and all the children are above average.”

Well…not quite.

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