The Amish have been wintering in a sleepy subdivision of Sarasota since at least the 1930s and for much of its history, it was a quiet, off-the-radar backwater where Plain people could wait out winter under the warm west Florida sun. One of the reasons Pinecraft is special to me is back in the 1990s when I was a young magazine writer I did a short article about the Amish enclave for Florida Retirement Living magazine. I wrote the article and my late grandfather, who lived in nearby Venice, took some Pinecraft photos for the piece. That was a bit of joint generational effort that is a cherished memory.
CAPTIONS: Above, an Amish woman rides one of the ubiquitous tricycles down the street. Below, Big Olaf’s Creamery, owned and operated by a Mennonite family, is a favorite hang-out for the Plain.
Today Pinecraft is in the glare of a much brighter spotlight. Yoder’s Restaurant, a mainstay in the community, was featured on Food Network’s Man Vs. Food and this past weekend the community was profiled in Great Britain’s Daily Mail and a segment ran this morning on the Today Show. Katie Troyer and Sherry Gore both have fun blogs chronicling the Pinecraft community and were interviewed in the Today show piece.
Pinecraft is a place where Amish can go to “chill” (actually to escape the chill:), to figuratively (if not literally) let their hair down and escape some of the most restrictive rules of church and community life up north. Some Amish have mixed views of Pinecraft. An Amish woman in Indiana chuckled that Pinecraft “is for the newlywed and half dead,” meaning it seems to attractive the very young and very old. That makes for an eclectic mix on the sunny streets of Sarasota. On a sometimes negative note, the more laid-back atmosphere also makes Pinecraft an attractive roving ground for reality TV shows. Some episodes of Nat Geo’s “Amish: Out of Order” were filmed there (a reality show I actually thought was pretty good) and the much more odious “Breaking Amish” season two was filmed there.
Pinecraft features a collection of Amish-inspired restaurants of which my favorite, hands down, is Yoder’s.
So what does the future hold for Pinecraft? As the Amish population grows up north it wouldn’t surprise me at all to see a “second Pinecraft” come to bloom in Florida. The first one would still go strong, but maybe a second one sprouts up simply because Sarasota’s Pinecraft will become too crowded during the winter. The Amish population will continue to grow up north over the years ahead, by some estimates doubling each generation. So at some point, Sarasota’s Pinecraft may get too crowded for comfort. And as more Amish live year-round out west, a similar “Pinecraft West” is taking root in Arizona. I think that area will continue to grow. Pinecraft will always be a special and favorite place to visit for me and if you ever find yourself in Sarasota, check out this unique neighborhood!