On a typical spring evening, you can see a horse trotting down the highway as it pulls a gray Amish buggy. Children are visible in the open back window as they curiously watch residents going to and fro. Tractor trailers and cars pushing the 55 mph speed limit on Route 192 are a force to be reckoned with for these slow-moving Amish vehicles. Add to that the concern that some horses tend to have a mind of their own, and one becomes aware of the safety concerns the “English” and Amish have when sharing these highways.
In the eastern section of Centre County, Brush Valley Road extends from Centre Hall, passing through the valley and the Fourteen-Mile Narrows to the Centre/Union County line. The villages of Madisonburg and Rebersburg, plus the hamlets of Wolfes Store and Livonia, are now part of what is known as the “Old Order” of the Amish settlement in central Pennsylvania. Brush Valley, which was settled by pioneers in the 1790s, has always been a vibrant farming community. In the fall of 1966, when the Amish purchased their first five farms in the valley, everyone knew that changes would follow. The work horses that were replaced by tractors in the 1940s would again be part of the modern landscape. Like the Brush Valley families of 1900, the Amish culture of the 21st century is built on the pillars of faith, family and community.
Many area residents are fascinated by the Amish and their customs but have little first-hand experience with them. A myth that is widely circulated is that Amish don’t pay taxes. This is not true. They pay taxes like everyone else, even though they don’t use our schools or take advantage of many of the services that the government provides.
Well-maintained Amish farms increase the value of the land. The Amish often purchase farms that are in need of some tender loving care. As children marry, farms of 150 acres are divided up to three or four times before more farms are purchased. New, functional buildings — added on a regular basis — as well as well-groomed landscaping also keeps land value at a premium.
Attendance at both “English” churches and public schools has seen a decline over the years due to the cultural separation. A few Amish are registered to vote and exercise this privilege. Young Amish men join the local fire companies and are recognized as making significant contributions to the community. The Amish also support the Red Cross blood drives.
Many of the 160 Amish families in the area have found it necessary to supplement their farming with related vocations to support their families. Patch and greenhouse farming have become important sources of additional income by providing a longer and more profitable growing season. Local Amish stands and farmers markets provide an outlet for the sale of the fresh fruit and vegetables.
OLLI at Penn State — open to adults who love to learn — offers more than 140 courses this semester, including a class “The Plain People: Centre County Amish Story and Dinner,” to help residents better understand the Amish culture in central Pennsylvania. To receive a free catalog for this semester, call OLLI at Penn State at 867-4278 or visit olli.psu.edu.
Vonnie Henninger has written three history books and is on the board of directors of the Penns Valley Historical Museum and The Gramley Schoolhouse Museum.