It's no surprise that when people think about the Wayne-Holmes County areas, they instantly associate it with the Amish. With the largest settlement located right in the Heartland, it quickly becoming the number one vacation destination. It is also rapidly becoming the fastest growing religious group in the U.S. Is it possible, that we could witness the Holmes County population becoming the first county that is predominantly Amish?
A study released by Ohio State Media Relations estimated that a new Amish Community is founded in the United States every three and a half weeks. More than 60 percent of all existing Amish settlements have been founded since 1990. This particular growth pattern may suggest, the Amish religion is growing more rapidly than most other religions in the U.S.
Paul Miller, executive director of the Amish & Mennonite Heritage Center, in Berlin, said that without conducting a census, it can be very difficult to truly determine the total number of Amish within a given area. While you can reference church directories, one has to keep in mind that not all Amish have become members of the church. As part of the Anabaptist movement, baptism into the church is only offered to Amish adults.
Arlen Miller, local Amish man, described the term 'Anabaptist' (meaning 'again baptized') as a nickname given to pioneers of what later became the Amish and Mennonites. "The first converts were baptized as infants in the Catholic church and then 'Re-baptized' upon their confession in Jesus Christ as their lord, as adults after they are able to make a conscious decision to follow Him. Hence the nickname: Anabaptist."
Joseph Donnermeyer, professor of rural sociology at The Ohio State University, led a census project to estimate the current Amish population in the U.S. It took two years for the census to be developed from the 2010 U.S. Religious Census. The data suggested that there are 251,000 Amish located in the U.S. and Ontario Canada with 456 settlements located throughout. The 1990 census suggested there were 179 settlements.
If the growth of the Amish continues at this rate, Ohio State researchers predict the Amish population will grow to exceed one million Amish located in 1,000 different settlements shortly after 2050. This rapid growth will surely result in economic, cultural, social and religious change to the rural areas that Amish settlements occupy.
The census also covered the Greater Holmes County settlement, which includes Holmes, Wayne, Tuscarawas, Coshocton, Stark and Ashtabula Counties. According to Donnermeyer's research, this area is said to be the largest settlement, home to nearly 30,000 Amish.
Paul compared this to a census count his team did back in 2008. Their research found there were 29, 283 Amish living in the area suggesting a nearly three percent increase over the past four years.
The Amish community "is certainly growing very rapidly," said Paul. Over the past five years, he has experienced some of this growth as he made his way to work each day. As he made the drive on Kidron Road from Orrville to Berlin he noticed the formation of eight new Amish residents on the southern edge of Wayne County.
Donnermeyer's research and Paul's observances both reflect that these new Amish communities are mainly "Old Order," meaning those who maintain a horse-and-buggy lifestyle and avoid or limit their use of modern technologies.
"Even though selected modern conveniences are considered necessary to conduct business and for enhanced life experience, the Amish leadership is typically very hesitant to make changes to their cultural practices," said Arlen Miller. Even though they may use some of these modern conveniences (i.e. motorized vehicles and desktop computers) for work related activities they are resistant to welcome these modern technologies into their home.
Donnermeyer's research also predicts the Amish will buy land vacated by farmers in rural areas close to community services, but availability of this farmland may not be able to keep up with the ever growing Amish population. This means Amish will be more likely to seek non-farm jobs (i.e. woodworking and construction) which could in turn affect land prices and potentially enhance the local economy in which they inhabit.
"While the inherent nature of the Amish lifestyle is agricultural, since the basic mode of travel is horse and buggy, there has been a shift, where many have taken employment in factories and office environments over the past several decades," said Arlen. "This is often somewhat frowned upon by the elders within the Amish culture and given a negative connotation and has been labeled 'lunch box syndrome' referring to the potential for drawing Amish away from their agricultural and farm-based lifestyle."
"The growth of the Amish is indeed amazing," said Arlen. Several Amish settlements have been established in nearby states such as: Pennsylvania and New York. These settlements originated from the Holmes County area as a result of overcrowding. Many young Amish families were motivated to make the move as a result.
"It's phenomenal in any respect, in terms of an ethnic group, rooted in tradition and stability, to be able to make the decision to uproot themselves," said Paul.
Ohio is home to the most Amish community members - 60,233; with Pennsylvania following in a close second with 59,078 Amish residents and Indiana trailing at 44,831 Amish citizens, according to Donnermeyer's census information. "My guess is that in 15 years, we'll witness a county whose population is majority Amish, and Holmes County is likely to gain that distinction first," said Donnermeyer.
To read the full article on Joseph Donnermeyer's research with The Ohio State University, visit http://researchnews.osu.edu/archive/amishpop.htm