By Kevin Williams
I had no intention of stopping in Smyrna last week. I was on my way from Houlton to Medway-Millinocket and had little time to spare. I had to put in a full work day in Millinocket (more about that another time) before catching a flight out of Bangor at 6 pm. so I didn't have a huge margin for error. But it wasn't even 8 a.m. yet and I saw the exit sign for Smyrna, Maine off of I-95. I had been in Smyrna last year and remembered the Amish settlement being a little ways off the exit. But this exit didn't look familiar. "What the heck, it's early" I told myself, I thought I'd get off the highway and explore. Much to my surprise barely a 1 /2 mile off the interstate was the Pioneer Place General Store. SIGH, when I was there last year had I only bothered to go just a little bit farther, I would have found the interstate and been on my way faster. So if you ever want to visit Smyrna's Amish settlement from the south, take the SECOND Symrna exit, not the first. Second tip: don't visit Smyrna on Thursday. The general store is closed and so are most Amish businesses there. Thursday is a "community work day" if someone needs help with a project or there is a wedding, everyone can pitch in or attend.
One thing that isn't closed on Thursdays: the Amish school. Shortly after 8 a.m. children on bicycles, in pony-pulled carts and some on foot began to materialize out of nowhere, all headed for the school. It was a cute scene.
Site visitor Dan reminded me that Smyrna actually didn't start out as an Amish settlement, it is a remnant of an "experiment" by the late Amish minister, Elmo Stoll. Stoll conceived the idea of "Christian communities", which would sort of blend parts of the Amish faith with that of the Hutterites to form a sort of communal Amish settlement. The experiment didn't really take off (largely because it's just tough to bring together a group of people from different backgrounds and forge a cohesive whole). Stoll passed away in 1998 and today the only Christian community that still survives is in Caneyville, Kentucky. The Smyrna settlement eventually affiliated with the Amish and they still maintain some different characteristics than you'll find in other Amish communities, like the men having mustaches.