Amish Barn-Raisings

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One of the enduring scenes from the Harrison Ford classic movie, Witness, was of a barn-raising.

Barn-raisings make great TV and capture the public’s imagination when it comes to Amish culture, but the reality is that they are fairly rare occurrences.  This is especially true in older more established communities where there’s little available land and the barns are already built.  An illustration of this is the original Amish Cook, Elizabeth Coblentz, lived to age 66 and spent all of her years in the sprawling settlement outside of Berne, Indiana. In all those years she only attended one barn-raising.  Of course if fire burns down a barn or someone just needs a new one built to replace an old one, then a barn-raising might occur. So if you’re expecting to cruise the roads of your favorite Amish settlement hoping to see a barn-raising, don’t hold your breath. But sometimes one gets lucky.  My friends Margie and Fred from Hamilton, Ohio were planning a trip to Holmes County a couple of years ago and before they went we talked.  The conversation went something like this.

Margie:  “We would love to see a barn-raising.”

Me:  “Don’t get your hopes up, such events are very rare,  Mainly happens on TV.”

And, of course, Margie and Fred aren’t up there but a day visiting their Amish friends and they are invited to  a barn-raising. But I stand by my statement that they are relatively rare events:)  Here are some photos from the barn-raising they witnessed. Classic event: hundreds of men armed with tools putting up the trusses, hammering, sawing, etc.  Nearby an army of ladies waits ready to feed the workers.


In new Amish communities there are more common and smaller, scaled down events commonly called “frolics.” Frolics are relatively frequent, smaller endeavors with maybe 5 or 10 men gathering to tackle a task.

Frolics and barn-raisings do more than get a task done quickly, they also promote church and community cohesion by bringing people together in a spirit of goodwill and getting a job done.  These are cornerstones of Amish culture.  Amish women have similar events, whether that be a quilting bee or a corn-husking bee, the latter being less common these days.

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The Discussion

  1. The planning that goes into such an event must be massive!

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  2. Cindy Linn says:

    I can attest to the ladies’ frolics. My best friend is Old Order Amish and the ladies on her husband’s side do a monthly ladies’ day. Her mother-in-law has 6 children – 1 daughter and 5 sons. So each month the 6 women, the mother and one of the nieces take turns playing host. The children that are too young to attend school usually tag along and food is taken to share at lunch. Everyone helps out with a project, whether it is cleaning the host’s house in preparation for church or a wedding or possibly helping out with a quilt or maybe even some yard work. It just depends on who’s turn it is to host and what needs done.

    I’ve been to a couple of them and it is a lot of hard work. But there is also a lot of laughter, singing and strengthening of bonds. In fact, my girlfriend’s family has offered to have a ladies day at my place to take care of chores that I can’t perform due to a hip injury.

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