One of the South’s largest Amish settlements is located just three hours west of Chattanooga in Ethridge, Tenn. Amish families in the community work closely with their non-Amish neighbors, whom they refer to as "English," and have developed a growing market for their homegrown and homemade products.
About 250 Swartzentruber Amish families—a subgroup within Old Order Amish society—live in Ethridge. The community was founded in the 1940s by Amish from an extinct settlement at Lumberton, Miss., as well as Amish from Wayne County in Ohio.
A visit to Ethridge is like a step back in time, as the Amish are known for simple living, plain dress and rejection of modern innovations.
Amish families in Ethridge use black buggies with one or two kerosene lanterns and no windshield, and homes do not have central heat, indoor plumbing, refrigeration or telephones. Amish women wear black, dark blue, green or brown dresses with black aprons for everyday and white for Sunday. Teenage girls wear black caps until they marry. Men wear britches and felt hats for winter and straw for summer, as well as shirts with no collars.
Amish families in Ethridge speak Pennsylvania German, also known as Pennsylvania Dutch, at home. Children learn English when they begin school at 7 years of age.
Generally explained, their practices are based on the value they place on humility (demut) and submission (gelassenheit), as well as a rejection of pride, arrogance and haughtiness (hochmut).
Visitors are welcome to respectfully tour the Amish community, and hand-lettered signs list Amish homes with wares for sale, including baskets, rugs, eggs, pies, produce, canned jams and jellies, and candies.
"Many Amish families sell items from their homes," said Diann Pollock, manager of the Amish Welcome Center, which has been offering horse-drawn covered wagon tours through Amish country for 20 years. "If they have a sign out by their driveway, then they welcome customers to stop by."
The Amish Welcome Center’s 1.5-hour wagon tours provide insight into the Amish community. The tours, which run Monday through Saturday, stop at three homes along the way: a wood shop, a cedar lawn furniture shop, and a basket shop. Many of the homes also sell homemade baked goods and canned foods, according to Pollock.
The Amish Welcome Center serves thousands of curious visitors each year, and the tours often clear up misconceptions about the Amish community.
"Some of the most common questions are whether the Amish have prearranged marriages (answer: no) and whether Amish men have more than one wife (answer: no)," said Pollock, whose great-grandparents moved to Ethridge in the 1800s.
Dairy and produce farming are common ways Amish families make a living in the Ethridge settlement. An important part of their economy is the Ploughboy Produce Auction & Wholesale Farmers Market, which was started by a group of Amish farmers. The open-air auction, which specializes in wholesale produce and flowers, is open to the public and runs three times a week from April to October. For more information, click here.
Bring cash when visiting Ethridge because Amish households only deal in cash, and the closest banks and ATMs are in Lawrenceburg, which is about 7 miles down the road, Pollock said.
Also, do not take pictures when visiting the Amish community, as doing so would be infringing on their religious beliefs.
"As someone who lives here, I see things every day that I would like to take a picture of, but out of respect, I don’t because the Amish don’t want pictures made," Pollock said.
Jenni Frankenberg Veal is a freelance writer and naturalist living on Walden’s Ridge, whose writing interests include conservation, outdoor adventures and history in the Southeast. Visit her blog at www.YourOutdoorFamily.com
Sign up for our email list to get your morning news delivered directly to your inbox. All we need is your email address.