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Der Dutchman Heritage Festival at Plain City, Ohio

Amish Roots, Part Two: Der Dutchman Heritage Festival at Plain City, Ohio


In last month’s post, I concentrated on the people at the Heritage Festival at Der Dutchman in Plain City, Ohio. For part two, I’ll highlight the crafts that were demonstrated on May 16.

Pete Snellman patiently crafted brooms with this kicker-winder machine.


His prowess at this dying art attracted quite a crowd. In my research for two books about the Underground Railroad Rankin family, I’d learned that eldest son Lowry put himself through seminary school in Cincinnati by crafting handmade brooms in the summer of 1831, even though the broom straw dust made him unbearably itchy. At this link, you can watch a Holmes County Amish woman make a broom. Notice she’s wearing long sleeves to protect her arms from the scratchy broom corn. She acquired the business from Syl Hershberger, a blind man who made brooms for most of his life. In a 1999 Cincinnati Enquirer interview with Syl, he was asked whether as a blind Amish child he was required to help with chores. He was incredulous; of course he helped! He baled hay and tended vegetables, just like his brothers and sisters. He also attended the Ohio State School for the Blind near Columbus through the eighth grade.


As I moved on, I passed these two Amish men deep in conversation. Were they discussing the very cool and rainy weather for mid-May? As I passed the many swamped fields on the way to Dayton later that day, I wondered if the corn would be “knee-high by the Fourth of July,” as one of my favorite summer sayings goes. I don’t suppose the Amish men were worried, and I needn’t have been: the cornfields south of Plain City were easily shoulder high by the third week of June, thanks to a hot spell. The good Lord reminds us in Leviticus 26:3-4,

“If you walk in my statutes and observe my commandments and do them, then I shall give you rains in their season, so that the land will yield its produce and the trees of the field will bear their fruit.”


Speaking of fruit, the staff personnel at Der Dutchman added some luscious color to a gray day with these beautiful arrangements of fresh fruit. Red peppers are fruits, too; the seeds are inside. I’ve seen fruit flower arrangements before, but I enjoyed seeing the natural shapes of the fruit instead of just cookie-cutter shapes of the insides. I wish I had room for the photo of a graceful honeydew melon swan and carved watermelon roses.


Next, I wandered over to the antique corn-sheller. As I watched Walter Calvin from Radnor, Ohio crank up the gas-powered engine, it was almost like reliving my old lawn mower days when we tried to start the mower by pulling the cord many times—ugh. Walter had a tussle with the persnickety engine before he got it putt-putting along. At last he funneled dried dent corn into the hopper and the shelled corn plinked into the galvanized tub below. The corn kernels can then be ground into meal for Fried Amish Cornmeal Mush.

In last month’s post, I ran a photo of three little boys on the way to the Der Dutchman booth, which was stocked with cookies, pies, and all sorts of goodies. In the title photo above, you see the proof that they got their treat. You’d think three Amish boys would be plenty familiar with Amish cooking, but I guess kids are the same the world over and never miss an opportunity to beg for something good. And oh, doesn’t an unexpected treat taste so much better? I will never forget when my parents took us all to Dairy Queen. Usually our choices were a DQ (ice cream) Sandwich or a Dilly Bar (soft-serve on a stick coated with a chocolate shell), but on this trip we were allowed to get Parfaits (layered hot fudge sundaes in fluted plastic dishes). My brother and I were so excited that we yelled, “Parfaits!” at the same time, and then I slapped his cheek for good measure. Big sisters, huh? I bet these Amish boys were just as excited when their dad relented.

I’m turning the tables on last month’s question: if you could invite an Amish family to your home, what would you share– a special dish, a tradition, a game, or some modern marvel? Let me know in the comments!

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Stephanie Reed (17 Posts)

Stephanie Reed lives on the outskirts of Plain City, Ohio, site of a once-thriving Amish community. She gleans ideas for her novels from signs glimpsed along the byways of Ohio. Her previous books are "Across the Wide River" and "The Light Across the River." Her Amish novels include "The Bargain" (Plain City Peace, Book One) and "The Bachelor" (Plain City Peace, Book Two), available October 2014

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