Term Paper: Amish Tourism and Sustainable Development

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Amish Tourism

Developing Sustainable Models for Amish Tourism

Although members of the Mennonite Church have established communities all over the world, a large percentage of them have made their home in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. The idyllic setting of Lancaster County combined with the pastoral lifestyle of the Amish have made this county an increasingly popular tourist destination, but this trend carries with it some profound risks of diminishing the Amish's ability to remain faithful to their religion while balancing the needs of this growing industry. To determine how the Amish can reap the benefits of this industry without sacrificing their religious integrity, this paper provides a discussion concerning Amish tourism and identifies ways that it can meet the needs of the present residents without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. A summary of the research and salient findings are presented in the conclusion.

Review and Discussion

Present day Mennonites and Amish can trace their lineage to the Anabaptists of 16th-century Europe (Kraybill, 1998). The main Amish groups living in the United States today are the Old Order Amish (this group does not use churches but worships in member homes and conducts their services in German), and the Conservative Amish (this group conforms to the Dordrecht Confession of Faith that established the precepts of the faith and conduct their services in English as well as German and accept such innovations as the Sunday school) (Mennonites, 2004). In addition, the terms "House Amish" and "Church Amish" have also been used to differentiate the two groups of Amish (Mennonites, 2004). As noted above, Amish in the United States have settled primarily in Pennsylvania and Ohio, particularly in the so-called "Amish Country" located in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania (Mennonites, 2004). According to Walbert (2002), the Amish who settled in Lancaster County chose their location wisely: "Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, the 'Garden Spot of America,' is a place of contradictions. Since 1950 it has grown faster than almost any county in Pennsylvania, yet it retains a reputation as a rural oasis in a sprawling desert of modern cities and suburbs. Its population has doubled in the past forty years, making the Garden Spot a metropolitan area unto itself" (p. 3).

While the Amish people in Lancaster County are widely respected and admired for their piety and faith, the fact remains that they are, well, different. Moreover, they are so different in so many ways that they have attracted a great deal of attention over the years, but it has not always been this way. The role played by the Amish in Lancaster County has changed significantly over the years, and the Amish people have become more reclusive and less active in community affairs. This shift in roles was based in large part on their desire to educate their children according to their particular religious and morals views (and argued the public schools were not up to the task), and the Amish continued to educate their children in rural schools with no electricity while their counterparts rode to school in "shiny new buses" and attended well-equipped classrooms (Walbert, 2002). As this author notes, "In the long run, the greatest division created by the controversy in Lancaster County was the further isolation of the Amish from their fellow Lancaster Countians. After the establishment of parochial schools, Amishmen no longer served on school boards with their non-Amish neighbors; Amish children no longer played with non-Amish children at recess" (Walbert, 2002, p. 57).

Therefore, the history of Amish tourism is a colorful one and involved these "little red schoolhouses" situated in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. In this regard, Walbert reports that, "The battle over consolidated schools had another consequence for Lancaster County, one that would reinforce the growing separation between the Amish and the non-Amish -- not by isolating the Plain people but by drawing attention to them" (2002, p. 57). Much of the original national attention generated concerning the Amish took place when they filed suit in U.S. federal court to compel the state to allow them to educate their children in the manner they saw fit. In response, the national media became interested and the beginning of the Amish tourism industry was underway. "The school strike provided enough controversy to spark serious attention," Walbert advises, "and by the end of 1937 major eastern newspapers were actively covering the case. The New York Times, in fact, assigned a reporter to the story even before Lancaster's own newspapers did" (2002, p. 58).

A number of prominent articles covering the event provided avid readers with descriptions of the Amish's "quaint" way of life to urban readers, replete with evocative photographs of various Amish one-room schoolhouses, features that this author suggests were certain to draw attention to this region of the country (Walbert, 2002). For instance, the travel section of the Sunday Times featured a lengthy article entitled, "Lancaster's 'Plain Folk," that highlighted their "picturesqueness," their dress, customs, and daily implements of life (Walbert, 2002). Moreover, the newspaper also reported the times and locations of Amish farmers' markets: "The best times for observing the 'plain people' in large numbers -- and pointed out historic sites that visitors to Lancaster might also want to see. Almost overnight, Amish tourism was born" (emphasis added) (Walbert, 2002, p. 58).

The high-profile lawsuit and resulting national press covered fueled an increasing interest in the Amish; however, this interest was not based on their religion or dress, but rather their ruralness. For instance, Walbert reports that, "Newspaper coverage cited the Amish and Mennonites' religious values and their appeals to religious freedom but only rarely mentioned nonresistance. The religious principle that received the most attention was the desire to remain 'close to the soil and to God'" (2002, p. 58). A number of prominent articles reported on the ability of the Amish people to coerce the best crops out of the soil and the newspaper coverage of the Amish farmers' markets in Lancaster County made them highly popular destinations (New York Times, 15 August 1937, II, p. 2, and 7 November 1937, XII, p. 9 quoted in Walbert, 2004 at p. 58).

Subsequent popular press coverage of the Amish contributed to their mystique and sparked further interest in Lancaster County as a tourism destination. For instance, in late 1938, when the first Amish school opened in Lancaster County, an Associated Press reporter was assigned to provide eager readers with news of the event, which was as follows: "Thirty children with Amish bowl-shaped haircuts rode in horse-drawn sleds and typical Amish wagons through a deep snow to the opening of the one-room country school.... The youngsters, arriving shortly after the cold dawn, piled from beneath blankets and straw in the sleds and wagons and went to work with a will carrying in coal from the shed beside the school, bringing drinking water and performing other chores. (New York Times, 29 November 1938, p. 25 quoted in Walbert, 2004 at p. 58). The iconographic potential of the Amish and their lifestyle were not lost on the popular press - or the American public at the time: "In case words alone failed to summon in readers' minds the appropriate Currier and Ives print, the story was accompanied by a photograph of Amish children climbing out of a horse-drawn buggy parked by the door of a one-room schoolhouse. Snow, horse, and schoolhouse were all prominently displayed" (Walbert, 2002, p. 58).

In her essay, "The Simplest Life: Why Americans Romanticize the Amish," Issenberg (2004) reports that the television series, "Amish in the City," represents the latest example of a long tradition of Amish-loving American cultural mythology: "We've long celebrated the 'simplicity' of the Amish, idealized their way of life as an archetype of uniquely American goodness" (p. 39). Likewise, Richards and Hall (2000) report that, "The Amish in North America found in many major cities are examples of such communities which have become tourist attractions in their own right" (p. 3). Part of the interest in the Amish appears to be related to their manner of dress and appearance: "Sure, we poke fun at them occasionally; cultural historian David Weaver-Zercher's the Amish in the American Imagination assembles a fine inventory, from a 1921 Travel magazine quip about 'beards that look as if they had been cropped from a moss-hung Florida tree!' To David Letterman's 'Top Ten Amish Pick-Up Lines'" (Issenberg, 2004, p. 40). Even "Weird Al Yankovik" has chimed in on the religion and its adherents with his parody, "Amish Paradise," which pokes major fun at the Amish and their manner of dress (pers. obs.).

Amish humor, though, pales in comparison to Amish tourism, which currently attracts four million visitors who want to see for themselves this strange group of people who forego modern conveniences to protect their faith and way of life. According to this author, these four millions tourists want to:

spend their vacations among the black-hatted, noodle-slurping barn-raisers of Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, the largest of several Amish communities in the country. (Most of the rest are in… [END OF PREVIEW]

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