John Spevak: Navigating Amish Ohio the old-fashione

john.spevak@gmail.comJune 26, 2013 

Last month I returned to Amish country in Ohio. I had been there once, in the fall.

With my brother Frank and sister Joan and two friends, I drove Joan's van to Holmes County, about 50 miles south of my siblings' home in Brunswick, a suburb of Cleveland.

In late May, the predominant color in Holmes County is green. There's the light green of fields of alfalfa and dark green of trees — on hills and in valleys, in stands of small forests and intermittently in meadows.

Every so often, amid the hills and valleys there are small towns, with uplifting names like Charm, Sugarcreek and Mount Hope. The towns welcome tourists, of which there are many in the late spring, summer and fall.

I especially liked the quiet back roads, away from even the smallest of villages. Along these roads the countryside seems pure. Amish families till the soil, often with teams of horses. The homes and barns are modest, sturdy and functional.

As soothing as the Ohio Amish country is, driving through it can be challenging.

Joan wanted to visit three towns in Holmes County: Kidron, Charm and Walnut Creek. They look relatively close together on the map.

Joan wanted to visit Kidron first. I used Mapquest to get us there, and from Kidron I was sure we could find the other places, only a few miles away.

We made it to Kidron without too much trouble. We stopped at Lehman's, a well known general store. The next stop was Miller's Bakery, just outside Charm.

Leaving Kidron, I became disoriented. Should I turn left or right out of Lehman's to head to Charm?

"Why don't you use the GPS on your smart phone?" said Frank.

I punched in "Charm, OH" and asked the phone to find it. On the screen a little circle kept going round and round and round. There was no GPS connection.

We did have a paper map, published by local merchants. But Joan's van did not have a compass display, and I had left my Boy Scout compass in Los Banos.

We were on our own — with just intuition. I flipped a coin and turned right, but we didn't know whether we were going north or south. While I continued to drive, I had several assistants in the van giving me advice. When I'd come to a corner, Joan would say to turn right, while Frank said to turn left.

I stopped frequently to look at the map. I realized that the roads were not built in straight lines, readily interconnecting towns. That made sense: A self-sufficient Amish family generally stays close to its home and community and doesn't travel often.

The map looked like cooked spaghetti. On the spaghetti strands were various geometrical figures around numbers to distinguish U.S. highways, state highways, county roads and township roads. And there seemed to be a lot of similar road/highway numbers: 201, 241, 250, 93, 94, 94A.

As you may have already guessed, dear reader, we drove many miles and roads we didn't need to travel and made many U-turns. Fortunately, I stopped in a hardware store in one of the smallest settlements. There were no cars in front.

Inside, it was very still; there were no customers, just two Amish young ladies behind a counter. I asked for directions to Charm. They said they didn't know much about other towns, but would ask the man in back.

A friendly fellow came out and showed me on his large wall map exactly how to get to Charm. We got there smoothly, and then with the help of other friendly folks made it to Walnut Creek.

When we drove home, we found roads that went in relatively straight lines back to where we started, and that's when I really enjoyed the countryside.

So, dear reader, I hope you get a chance to visit Amish country — in Indiana, Pennsylvania, Ohio or another state. But bring a good paper map. And a compass.

Comments on the writings of John Spevak, an Enterprise columnist for 29 years, are encouraged, and can be sent via email to john.spevak@gmail.com.

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