During Thanksgiving week, my husband and I drove to Colorado to research the Amish communities there before I begin work on the eighth book in my Whinburg Township Amish series, The Highest Mountain. What an experience! Between the magnificence of the landscape and the warmth and humor of the Amish folks themselves, I came away more eager than ever to immerse myself in that world.
So, heading north on Highway 285, we arrived first in the tiny community of Manassa. Since not much is on the Internet about the Colorado Amish except for some excellent articles in the Denver Post (“Amish settle in Colorado’s San Luis Valley, diversifying to support families,” by Ann Schrader is a good one), we felt like detectives looking for clues. And suddenly, there was our first clue—a buggy sign!
While Manassa may be a little depressed economically, you wouldn’t know it by the neat yards and roomy houses of the Amish folks, which are built by hand and, of course, have no electricity running to them.
Our next stop was nearly 100 miles north, in the town of Westcliffe in the Wet Mountain Valley. The approach to town is awe-inspiring, with the Sangre de Christo mountains leaping out of the plains like the shout of an archangel.
The first Amish-owned business we came to was Yoder’s Mountain View Furniture, and we had a delightful conversation with the affable co-owner, Joel Troyer. Once he and my husband got started on hunting—looking at pictures on the business computer of the elk, deer, and antelope Joel had bagged to feed his family—it was all I could do to get a word in edgewise!
I did learn, however, that with the difference in soils and farmland from the home communities in Iowa, Kentucky, Ohio, and Lancaster County, which don’t allow them to plan the same crops, the Amish in the Wet Mountain Valley have diversified into services:
- A USDA-approved slaughterhouse
- A family-run bakery
- The furniture showroom
- A sawmill
- And others
All the furniture at Yoder’s is either made onsite or back in the home communities by family members and friends, and they ship anywhere in the country. The Amish here are very environmentally aware. Case in point: All the outdoor furniture sold at the showroom is made from recycled milk jugs!
There are two church districts in Westcliffe—one in the south and one in the north near the town of Hillside. The Hillside folks came from New York State, Joel told me, and when I asked if one bishop oversaw both churches, as is common, he shook his head. Apparently the Ordnung is too different between the churches, so there is one bishop in each community. When I commented that it looked like the buggies were from the home communities, with the angled bottom of Iowa and Holmes County in a couple of cases, and didn’t have a Colorado “look” to them, Joel nodded in agreement. Apparently folks just drive whatever buggy they arrived in when they moved here. Since there is no buggy maker yet to produce a model just for the communities in Colorado, in sensible Amish fashion, they use what they have.
Visit Tuesday Travels next week for the second part of our journey, focusing on the San Luis Valley.
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Adina Senft grew up in a plain house church, where she was often asked by outsiders if she was Amish (the answer was no). She holds an M.F.A. in Writing Popular Fiction from Seton Hill University in Pennsylvania, where she teaches as adjunct faculty. Adina was the winner of RWA’s RITA Award for Best Inspirational Novel in 2005, a finalist for that award in 2006, and was a Christy Award finalist in 2009. Three of her books have shortlisted for the American Christian Fiction Writers’ Carol Award for book of the year. Between books, Adina enjoys traveling, playing the piano and Celtic harp, quilting, making historical costumes, and spoiling her flock of rescued chickens.
Adina’s latest release is The Longest Road, book seven in her Whinburg Township Amish series, available at your favorite online retailer. Watch for the next book, The Highest Mountain, featuring the Colorado Amish in summer 2017!
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