The book I needed was in a special collection at a specific branch of the public library—not the one I normally frequent. I live one-quarter mile from a library branch, so I tend to groan when a source I need doesn’t circulate and lives at the downtown branch where parking is a nuisance.
I wasn’t even certain the book was relevant to my research at the time, but The Amish in America: Settlements That Failed 1840–1960, by David Luthy, sounded interesting, so I gathered coins for the parking meter and went downtown.
I was only allowed to take paper and pencil into the special collections room. But when I found the pages about a failed Amish settlement in Limon, Colorado, I flagged them for photocopying.
I live in Colorado but have family roots in Illinois. For the last eighteen years, I’ve made the drive from here to there umpteen times, and the first stopping point for gas or a quick meal is always Limon, Colorado. Limon is a small place out in the middle of nowhere, the sort of town that springs up where railroad lines or highways meet. I never paid much attention to anything but our habitual stops for necessities.
Finding an entry in David Luthy’s book for Limon made me stop flipping pages and read carefully.
A hundred years ago, a few miles west of Limon in a stretch of countryside was a cluster of Amish farms occupied by families lured west by cheap land. Within a few years the settlement was gone.
I’ve lived through enough Colorado summers to know that drought and hail pose chronic risks to growing anything. Farming is an entirely different endeavor in this environment than in states to the east, where the hopeful Amish settlers came from.
But dismal weather and disappointing soil were not the only reasons the Limon settlement failed. A crisis of spiritual leadership was an even more complex factor.
That’s when I stumbled onto the idea that became Wonderful Lonesome. The description comes from a letter that one of the settlers wrote home, saying that without church services, Colorado was a “wonderful lonesome place to live.” My fictitious character, Abbie Weaver, is the settler most committed to the success of the transplanted Amish households. But when weather, danger, loss, secrets, and spiritual discord swirl, she faces choices no one foresaw.
This book opens the Amish Turns of Time series that explores key points in time that changed some aspect of the history of the Amish. When I visited Limon and paid more attention, I was rewarded with a train depot-turned-museum restored to the way it looked in 1914—the year of my story. Now that was a delightful surprise!
Read the first chapter of Wonderful Lonesome here.
Olivia Newport is the author of Accidentally Amish, In Plain View and Taken for English (Barbour). She and her husband have been married for over 30 years and they have two adult children. She chases joy where she lives in stunning Colorado at the foot of the Rockies, where daylilies grow as tall as she is.
Purchase Olivia’s books here.