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A Poorhouse Without a Roof

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By John Gingerich

By the late 1800s, the Amish in Holmes County, Ohio considered the area too crowded and the land prices too high. Therefore, in 1885 a young Amish man named David Miller was commissioned to scout for better opportunities. Traveling by horse, he eventually made his way to Geauga County, and there he found the farming practices to be quite different than in Holmes County, where crop rotation and use of lime and fertilizer were standards of good crop production. The soil in many of the fields in Geauga County was in poor condition and dairy production was not efficient; however, virgin forest still covered much of the area, maple syrup production was a good source of revenue, and farms were available. These farms were available because the children of many of the old farmers had moved closer to Cleveland for better job opportunities.  As a result, complete farms with houses, barns, outbuildings and equipment were available. David Miller reported these findings, and interest in Geauga County began to grow.

On March 11, 1886, Samuel Weaver conducted an auction of his property in Holmes County, carefully noting each item sold on six pages of his ledger.  On March 28, 1886, Weaver recorded in his ledger that “We moved to Geauga County in C. H. Hatch’s place, and rented his farm of 85 acres for $150 per year.” The Geauga Amish Historical Library is fortunate to have Samuel Weaver’s ledger on display and available for viewing.

The news soon spread to various states, and an influx of Amish settlers began arriving. A year after Weaver’s arrival, David J. Miller and his family made the journey from Holmes County. Soon thereafter, the members of the Daniel J. Byler family traveled from Pennsylvania by an open wagon drawn by four horses.  Families from Indiana, Pennsylvania, Kansas, and Holmes County soon began arriving, bearing such familiar names as Byler, Mast, Gingerich, Hershberger, Stutzman, Schlabach, Schmucker, Troyer, Hostettler, etc.  Records show that in one springtime flurry of activity, 22 families settled by the Nauvoo and Hayes Roads area.

The Amish Church in Geauga County was officially organized in 1887, with the above-mentioned David Miller, now a bishop, acting as caretaker and leader of the new church.

The first decade of this new Amish settlement was challenging. These early settlers were generally not well off financially. They mostly rented and/or were sharecroppers. When visitors from other settlements arrived, the Geauga Amish would often have to creatively “stretch” out the meals, telling their children not to eat much until they were certain the visitors had had enough. As one Amish man noted in relating the early history of the Geauga County Amish settlement, it only needed a roof to be a good poorhouse.

Some of the early settlers decided to move on. Samuel Weaver, the settlement’s founder, moved to Michigan in 1900. Just as the lungs inhale and exhale, the Geauga Amish community would sometimes grow and then decrease. Families looking for better farming opportunities and uniformity in matters of faith would arrive and then depart.

Despite these challenges, the Amish community continued to grow, at first gradually. In 1902, there were four church districts; in 1947, there were nine districts with a population of about 2,000; in 1960, there were 20 districts and around 3,500 people; in 1988, 47 districts served approximately 7,500 people; by 1998, the Amish population had grown to over 10,000 people in 63 districts, and in 2017, 132 districts in Geauga, Ashtabula, Portage and Trumbull counties served the needs of almost 19,000 people.

Future articles will discuss some of the original settlers, their lives and topics pertaining to the Amish settlement.  If anyone in the community has old letters, diaries, or artifacts pertaining to the Geauga Amish area settlement that they would like to share with the Library, please contact us.

The Geauga Amish Library has moved. It is now located at the west end of the Heritage Marketplace at 15848 Nauvoo Road (next to JMJ Enterprises). We are still in the process of getting organized, but hope to offer regular hours in the near future. For information, contact us at 440-682-0606, or GAHL@windstream.net.  The Geauga Amish Historical Library is a 501(c)3 non-profit corporation, and donations are always welcome.

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