By Kevin Williams
Typically when I visit an Amish settlement for the first time I don't just go knocking on doors randomly. That seems rude and intrusive and counter to the ways of the insular Amish. It's always best to stop at a business. Someone who owns a business is going to be more accustomed to outsiders knocking on their door. Usually in an Amish settlement there's at least one place not buy some fresh eggs or some homemade noodles. But not in Degraff.
I kept looking and didn't find anything other than a business advertising log homes and a harness shop. Finally, I decided I'd stop in at the harness shop. I pulled down a long drive way and probably passed four Amish homes that probably share the property. When I pulled up I saw a rather stern looking man with a long white beard and dark black eyebrows peering out the window at me. Even after all these years I still get nervous visiting someone I don't know. I took a deep breath, grabbed my notebook and stepped out of the car. I was simply after some basic information, like "How many church districts" are here? etc.
I entered the harness shop and it was clearly a busy one-man shop of leather and equine supplies. I introduced myself and explained who I was. The man seemed to ease back a bit and even smiled a time or two as I told him about some of the other Amish communities I had been to.
"So, how many church districts do you have here?"
"We like to keep ourselves very private here so if you don't mind I'd rather not tell you."
He then politely made it clear the conversation was finished.
So I beat a hasty retreat and headed back for my car.
I drove around some more and finally found an Amish home with a sign that said "Eggs for Sale." I was determined to find out at least how many Amish churches were in Degraff. At the egg house a kind, but guarded, Amish woman cracked open the door. I asked about eggs but she said she was out. I then briefly explained who I was and what I do and asked about the churches and she told me there were three. But beyond that I didn't get much more and I didn't try. Clearly this is a pretty closed community, which is cool...Amish settlements aren't tourist attractions, I just try to go in from a research perspective, but if a group of people don't want to talk, then I ultimately respect that. Three church districts is small, probably about 20 families in each, so there may be 60 - 75 Amish families in the area.
More from Degraff tomorrow....