I am fortunate enough to escape the Wisconsin winters by ‘flying’ south to Sarasota on the Gulf Coast of Florida for several months each year. I am also blessed to live only a few miles from the winter home of many Amish (and Mennonite) snowbirds who come south on large coach buses for a week or a month or the entire winter to reside in the charming community of Pinecraft.
Traditionally the buses arrive on a Tuesday and the entire population of Pinecraft turns out to greet the new arrivals—some visitors they know and others they just want to welcome. The new arrivals are happy to disembark after their long 19-20 hour journey and once they do, a group of women board to clean the interior of the vehicle. Later a group of men wash and polish the exterior of the bus and park it on a small lot across the street from the local post office—yes, Pinecraft has its own post office!
In winter the population of this small neighborhood that began as a tourist camp back in the 1920’s swells to several thousand. The area (which lies close to downtown Sarasota) is marked by black lamp posts, street names that reflect Amish family names (Kaufman, Yoder, etc.), blocks of small white cottages with well-tended yards and more often than not a three-wheeled adult tricycle parked under what would normally be the carport. These tricycles take the place of the horse and buggy a person might use up North. There are other differences from life back home—cell phones, cameras, electricity, Englischer-style clothing (especially among the young) are not uncommon. At a nearby city bus stop it is not unusual to see a couple dozen bikes parked signaling that their riders have boarded the bus for a ride to the beach.
There are two family-owned restaurants that are popular with the locals and visitors. Der Dutchman is the larger of the two and offers an expansive breakfast and lunch buffet that many non-Amish visitors to Sarasota come to enjoy. The line to be seated can sometimes flow out the door. At Yoder’s down the street, the homemade pies are often the attraction—so much so that the restaurant installed a take-away window for pies to go.
Visitors and locals alike stay busy frequenting local yard sales and a huge auction where everything is donated and the proceeds for the last several years have gone to relief efforts in Haiti. The shuffleboard and volleyball courts near Pinecraft Park are popular with all generations and all sects of Amish-Mennonite people—from Old Order to New Order. In the evenings there are cookouts and sing-alongs and concerts, and of course Sundays are holy days.
Through the years I have been blessed to befriend several people living in or visiting Pinecraft. The village was the setting for my series, The Women of Pinecraft, and it will always hold a very special place in my heart.
Anna Schmidt has been a finalist for the coveted RITA award three times for her romantic fiction and her novel A Sister’s Forgiveness gives Anna her fourth finalist honor for the Reviewers’ Choice Awards from Romantic Times magazine. Anna is the author of over twenty-five works of historical and contemporary fiction including her most recent Amish releases, The Women of Pinecraft and Safe Haven. Her latest short story appears in the Oregon Trail Romance Collection which releases April 1st.
Having survived her own battle with uterine cancer and discovered wellsprings of compassion and caring she never knew she possessed when family members and friends faced their own health challenges, Anna often draws on the questions she has faced in her own life in creating her characters. She also loves gardening and she’s hauled enough seashells home from the Florida beaches that somewhere in the future, archeologists may believe there must have once been an ocean in Wisconsin!
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