Not far from the hustle and bustle of city life live the Amish of Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. These deeply religious people shun the conveniences of modern society to live a simpler life where transportation is a horse and buggy and horsepower really means horsepower. For producer Liu Enming, VOA's Elaine Lu offers a closer look at the Amish of Lancaster County.
"Welcome to the Amish Farm and House. My name is Eric. I will be giving you a brief tour about who the Amish are, their lifestyle, their clothing, why they do the things they do. Right now you are at the Amish Farm and House in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. We are the first Amish home open to the public; we opened in 1955," says Eric Conner, the marketing director of the Amish House and Farm. He says the Amish people choose to live a simple life based on their religious beliefs.
"They came from Europe, specifically Germany and Switzerland. In 1693 they were a persecuted religious group, Because of their persecution, they were forced to meet in homes, meet in basements, and meet in caves for their church services. So when they came to America, they wanted to keep using their homes as their church buildings."
The Amish are very devout and take seriously the biblical commands to separate themselves from the things of the world including electricity. Power comes from propane, kerosene, wood, coal, or natural gas
Their simple life is even reflected in their plain clothes. In the picture on the left, Conner explains the dress inside this Amish girl's room. "This is not only a church dress. It's also her wedding dress. At the wedding is the last time she wears the white. After the ceremony is over, she comes up to her room, takes off the cape and apron, saves them for the rest of her life. Because the next time she is wearing them, she is wearing these two pieces in a coffin."
Conner says, in the Amish community, hats tell men apart from boys. "Here is a teenager's hat. You know he is a teenager by the flatness of the hat and also the ridge around the top. This means he is in this what they call the running-around period, meaning they can date, they can choose whether to become an Amish or not. Becoming Amish is voluntary, it's not mandatory."
As the world around the peaceful farmland changes, so have some of the traditions of the Amish. Lester Hoover, a tour guide at the farm, says transportation is no longer limited to horse-drawn buggies. "There is a division among the Amish over the automobile. One group got automobiles, another group kept the horse and buggy. we just simply name them old order -- drive the horse and buggy, and the new order -- drive the automobiles. They have electric, they have meeting houses and they don't have green shades."
But many traditions remain. Amish children attend one-room schoolhouses through grade eight and farming is the mainstay of Amish life. Hoover says there are normally two horses on a farm for buggies. Several mules are kept for farming. Milking is one of the most important sources of income on the farm.
Many Amish leaders believe their separation from the outside world strengthens their community. And that community is thriving. Despite what many on the outside would describe as a backwards lifestyle, the Amish population in Lancaster County has almost tripled over the past half century.