Are the Open Buggies of Berne Vanishing?

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One of the distinguishing traits of the Swiss Amish settlements around Berne and Geneva, Indiana are the “open buggies.”   I’ve also heard some Amish jokingly refer to riding around in them as “going topless.” (the Amish DO generally have a great sense of humor).  While you will see open buggies in other Amish settlements elsewhere, in the Swiss Amish communities of Berne-Geneva, Indiana; Seymour, Missouri and a handful of others, the buggies generally do not have roofs.  You won’t see a covered buggy.  Amish are left to fend for themselves among the elements of rain, snow, wind, and hot sun without a roof.  Cold is battled with thick horse blankets and rain and sun with large, black umbrellas.  I will say, though, that nothing beats riding in an open buggy on a crisp autumn day or a beautiful spring afternoon. This neat photo comes to us from Dave Shaner taken in the bucolic farm country outside Geneva, Indiana.  I’m always tempted to think that the reason for the open buggies is to maintain a connectedness with the earth around us.  But, interestingly, when I was doing research for a book a book I asked many Amish in and around Berne why they use open buggies and virtually no one could give me an answer.  Most of the time it was always “well, that’s just the way we’ve always done it.”  SIGH, not very helpful answer for research!  It fell to a local non-Amish historian to give me one of the more plausible explanations:  200 years ago or so the ornate covered carriages were often associated with aristocracy and wealth and this group of conservative Amish wanted to avoid such trappings then and the tradition just stuck.  Not sure if it is accurate but that’s one of the better reasons I’ve been given. With approximately 50 church districts in Adams County I’m hearing that a couple of smaller churches “around the edges” are adopting closed buggies.  One such church district is located southwest of Berne.  Does this signal the end of the open buggy or are these just a handful of renegade churches?  My opinion is that in the short-term, the closed-buggy churches could be ostracized by others in the area and it may actually serve to strengthen the open buggy’s hold.  But with the passage of time as younger open buggy adherents see Amish going into town in their snug, warm, sheltered buggies, that within 10 – 15 years closed buggies may be far more common in Berne.  My opinion only and I kind of hope I am wrong because there’s something charming about the open buggy.  On the other hand, I don’t have to ride in one every day.  So, that’s a decision the Amish themselves will have to make among themselves and I’m sure they’ll come up with the right way!

 

 

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The Discussion

  1. Ellen Wycuff says:


    I live in Celina, Ohio and we see quite a few Amish coming in town to shop at our ALDI store and WalMart and also our Senior Center has garage sales 4 times a years and we see them there also. A lot of times they arrive in a Van with a driver but occupationally we do see them come in the open buggies. When they do they tire their house to a lamp post in the parking lot. I would love to spend a day with them

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    • I’m sorry. My computer shut off! Anyway, who takes their house tot town & ties it to a lamp post, occupationally??? and I could go on & on! Please people, do read your posts before submitting them.

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  2. Diann B. says:


    The De Graff, OH Amish still use the open buggies. Glad to see Dave is still sending you photos. His photos are always top notch! I’m not in touch with him anymore since they changed the iWitness7 web site. Maybe I’ll look him up on FB!

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  3. Joe Goodwin says:


    Kevin–

    I can’t say it’s definitely true, but I have no reason to doubt. One of my closest friends used to work at the Bank of Geneva in Berne, and he told me that the drive-up was built to accommodate buggies.

    –Joe

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  4. I surely wouldn’t mind owning one of those, if they are disapearing, they can come my way. ;-)
    the days that we wear a coat can be counted on one hand, thus an open buggy would be real nice.
    Pastor Chris recently posted..Power in His WingsMy Profile

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  5. Jane Willard says:


    Several Amish have moved from Berne-Geneva, IN area to Wayne, Co., IN. I have noticed that some who used open buggies the first couple of years now have closed ones in winter. We also have many in Wayne Co. who came from PA, & their buggies are all enclosed. In summer many use open carts.

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    • Jane, that is interesting…I wondered if that would eventually happen…the original Wayne County Amish are, you correctly stated, from PA and never had much contact with the Berne group…do you know if the arrivals from Berne are joining the Wayne County group or simply spreading out from Berne?

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  6. I don’t see the “Open Buggy’s” going away anytime soon. Having lived in an Amish family for 5 years in Berne..(John C. Schwartz’s Church) I KNOW that a discussion came up around 1987 about MAYBE allowing Top Buggy’s as THEY can be easier seen at night. I was not IN those discussions as I was not a “Baptised” Member of the church. (But I was CLOSE! It would have been that year!) The way it went was no to the top buggy’s (For now) but YES to the Battery Powered yellow BLINKERS!!! (Some Amish HAD had them for a while, but ALL still use Kerosean Lamps, one hung on each side of the buggy, both for light AND to be seen. I understand ALL the Indiana (And Seymore Amish, most of them are from Adams County as well) Now use blinkers, but still, no top buggy’s. Last I heard from Lydianne Schwartz in John C’s Church in Berne, (Lydianne is Married to Sammy Schwartz, related to the Ontario/Seymore Amish, and is a midwife) Top buggy’s are NOT coming anytime soon.
    On a side note, the “History” is also correct as I know it. The well to do “Of The Day” DID indeed decorate their rides, hence, a no no for the Amish. I had heard this story before from Ruben Graber Sr. (Late Bishop Of John C’s Church, I had also heard that same story from Eli & Menno Cobelentz, the CLOSEST Adams County Amish Farm to Portland Indiana.)
    Yep! I was Amish, the whole nine yards…went from “Amish” to working as an Actor on “Little House” for 11 years…go Fig. Catch me on “The Middle” on Wed. nights at 8pm (PST) on ABC

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    • Ethan, thank you so much for such an insightful post. BTW, I LOVE “The Middle”…what do you do on that show? And I’d love to talk with you more, I am sure you have a lot of insights and experiences that would be fun to hear. My association with the Amish of Berne began in the early 90s, so we might know some of the same people!

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