Thursday, December 19, 2013

Swartzentruber Amish

Lane in Amish country

As one drives down back lanes in amish country and see the farms and fields, many wonder what it is like to be amish and what their lives are really like.  As I drive around making house calls, I get the opportunity to be in their homes and get to know the amish personally.

Swartzentruber fields

The Swartzentruber Amish are the least modern of any of the amish.  They still live the life of "Little House".  They resist using any modern or manmade products.  You will not see generators or motorized machinery on their farms.  They still use reel mowers to cut the grass.  They try to live as people have lived up until the late 1800s.

Swartzentruber Farm

If you are driving you can pick out the Swartentruber farms as they are the ones with brick red barns.  You will also see many of them with houses linked to houses.  They look like small compounds.  With everything having to be done by hand, it takes many hands!  Most farms have a "Dawdy Haus", a house where the grandparents live or if they are not around, they will let a young couple live there.  It is common to find several related families on the same farm.  The farms tend to be self-sustaining.  They will raise everything they can that they eat.  They will have their own dairy cows, chickens, fruit trees, and gardens. They have to milk the cows by hand which limits the number of cows they can manage.

Swartzentruber field with machinery

The Swartzentrubers still do not use any indoor plumbing or have any kinds of refrigeration other than ice houses.  If you go into their homes, you will find a dry sink and maybe a hand pump in the back hall.  They heat their homes with wood or coal stoves in the living room.  They keep their homes very warm!  They laugh at me when I come and complain about how hot it is.  They will sometimes wait until I leave to stoke the fires, or they will open a window.  I am not used to temps over 75 degrees in the winter.

Swartzentruber Barn

The houses have minimal decorating.  The houses are painted according to their churches regulations. I have seen either all white walls or  gray on the bottom like wainscoting and gray trim with white walls.  They are not allowed to have pictures on the wall or books other than the Bible, Prayer books, and a Hymnal.  The only thing they can have on the wall is a calendar. Most have wood floors or occasionally I have seen a few with linoleum.  I have heard that there are still some houses that have dirt floors, but I have not seen them.  They do take out the big stove in the summer as it takes so much room.  They do not have any 'stuffed' furniture.  They just have wood benches around the walls and usually two rockers in a central place.  This is where the parents sit in the evenings or where a Mom will sit to nurse the baby.  They will also have a twin bed in the living room.  This is where the babies nap during the day or someone might lay down to take a nap.  They will have a desk in the living room where they store their important papers (checkbook) and a dresser or two.  They hang their clothes on pegs.  Their wood furniture is always beautiful as it is the girl's job to give it a coat of varnish every year.  They paint their walls every year or two.

Swartzentruber farmer 

The kitchen has a wood or coal stove to cook on.  I have seen one house that had a stove with propane tanks, but that was unusual.  The kitchens get VERY hot in the summer.  You may see a small ice box in the kitchen but never a refrigerator.  There are no faucets and not every home has a hand pump in the kitchen.  They wash their dishes in a dry sink.  You will see the girls working on dishes from a very young age.  The boys do the chore work in the barn, and everybody helps with the milking.  If they want to bathe, they have to haul their water in and  heat it on the stove and take a bath in a large metal tub.  They have a looser standard of personal hygiene because of the work involved.

Took this picture in front of our farm. This was a Swartzentruber buggy.

You can tell a Swartzentruber buggy in Ohio as it won't have an orange triangle on the back. They line the outside of the back of the buggy in gray reflective tape.  They are very difficult to see.  They do hang a small kerosene lantern on the side at night, but it doesn't give much light.  It is dangerous!  They also don't have any windshield in their buggies.  The front is wide open.  They are very cold in the winter. If you see a buggy with two horses that is also probably a Swartzentruber family.  The Swartzentrubers are well known for using their buggies to go long distances compared to other amish.  They will only hire a driver to go to the doctor or hospital, usually.  Their world is pretty small.

I will continue talking about the Swartzentrubers in another post.


  1. I am loving these posts, thank you so much for taking the time to share these details! I have been reading Christian, Amish fiction books for years and always wondered how true to life the details were. I also find it so amazing to think that people still live like this in America ... then again, some days I long for a simple life like this!! Thanks again, I'll be following along for each of your future posts...

  2. Different areas have different rules and different types of Amish. I can only address Ohio Amish. The local bishops make the rules for their groups, so there is variation in the different groups (Are they allowed porch swings? for example). THen there is huge variations between the different groups. I will be talking about that.