Comparing Amish communities is difficult to do because they are all different and each have their uniqueness. I mean, places like Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, Shipshewana, Indiana, and Holmes County, Ohio have a true hospitality and tourist infrastructure in place. There are bulk food stores with rows of brightly colored candies neatly measured into bags, 25 pound sacks of flour, and so on. There are Amish-themed theatrical productions, comedy clubs, and buggy rides. There is nothing wrong with any of that and, in fact, can make a trip more fun. But if you are seeking a true, authentic, unvarnished-by-tourist trappings Amish cultural experience it’s tough to beat Hardin County, Ohio. You definitely might want to consider visiting Hardin County, Ohio Amish country.
You'll see plenty of charming scenes like the one above. Just be respectful when it comes to photograph. This was taken at a distance and zoomed in later. Amish views of photography have been evolving, they are more accepting than they used to be. But in Hardin County, photography is still not embraced by everyone.
Nine Old Order Amish church districts sprawl across the countryside between Kenton, LaRue, and Mount Victory in Hardin County, which is about an hour north of Dayton. Church districts are usually are made up of about 25 families, so if we do some back-of -the-napkin math and assume every family has 10 people…..there may be a couple thousand Amish residents here. These are very conservative Amish churches, but they aren’t so conservative that they don’t welcome visitors. They do.
In fact, white signs adorn the end of many driveways advertising homemade honey, maple syrup, eggs, or strawberries for sale. There are also toy shops, furniture stores, and signs advertising more unique items like “duck eggs for sale” (I bought some) or homemade candy (I bought some). A lot of homes sell seasonal items. For instance, when I was there strawberries were everywhere. I could have bought a car-full of strawberries. I bought a few and they were super.
Bring plenty of cash because these are all home-based businesses that don’t take credit cards. But these transactions are also great times to strike up conversations and learn a little bit about the Amish. At one stop, I started talking to some of the ladies about their handmade quilts and soon they had disappeared into their house to show us some they were working on. And these were authentic, not-for-tourism consumption quilts using skills generations old. At another place, a woman brought out a jar of canned “stuffing mix.” My mother asked if she could buy it and the woman looked at it thoughtfully and said “well, I’ve never sold it before, but sure.” The Amish entrpreneurs generally enjoy the brief exchanges and conversations with customers. Now, time is money and they don’t’ appreciate someone lingering forever and keeping them from their work. I lingered a little too long at one place and the Amish woman just slipped inside her house and never came back out.
At other stops there are bulk food stores hidden away in outbuildings, the only thing marking them is an Open sign in the window.
This was the Open sign on what turned out to be an absolutely charming Amish "store." They sold organic strawberries and homemade soaps.
The Open sign, but no other signage, is an indication that it’s a shop relied on by Amish locals, no advertising or fancy signage. There are basement bakeries, greenhouses with plants for sale, and produce patches all over the county. This is Amish culture at is most up-close and unfiltered. Visit Hardin County and you’ll see laundry flapping on lines, buggies out and about, and perhaps even a barn-raising. There aren’t any comedy clubs or guided buggy rides, it’s definitely a more low-key experience, but if that is OK with you, you might want to consider visiting!
One of my favorite places to visit is Mary's Market. Mary churns out all sorts of pies, rolls, cookies, an treats from her small home-based bakery. The address is: 13506 Co Rd 265, Kenton, OH 43326.
There's a printable map on this Mt. Victory, Ohio tourism site. The map is only helpful as a very general guide. The "gray shaded areas" are places where Amish businesses are located, but it doesn't really say what the businesses are. Still, it's a handy rough guide.