Buggies and bicycles are parked outside of Sunday evening church services.
SUGARCREEK, Ohio - Those of us who find solace in Ohio Amish country return to make sure that it hasn't changed. We like to step back to a slower pace with the people whose lifestyle we find mysterious but appealing.
On a recent two-day visit to Holmes and Wayne counties I found that the memories I cherish from past times there are the same, with one exception - a magnificent, resort-style hotel.
The rolling hills are bright green at this time of the year. The Amish farm homes are meticulously cared for. The Belgian draft horses are working in the fields, and the buggy horses pull families up and down the steep hills. House gardens are colorful with flowers and promising with growing vegetables. Laundry swings in the breeze, giving tourists a clothesline fashion show of the traditional dress of the Amish people: long dresses and aprons for the women, blue shirts and dark pants for the men, all hand-sewn on peddle sewing machines.
The Amish menu in the many restaurants hasn't changed, and why should it? The women have built a reputation for hearty farm-style fare and a parade of specialty sweets, led by pies with lard crusts and thick fillings.
The exception to the standard traditions that have drawn people to the region - located 140 miles southeast of Toledo, south of Cleveland, and north of Columbus - was the Carlisle Inn at Sugarcreek.
Carlisle Inn at Walnut Creek was remodeled two years ago.
Longtime visitors to Ohio Amish country probably remember when there was no lodging. If you wanted to stay overnight to enjoy more of the beautiful countryside and shops you had to drive to Dover, New Philadelphia, or Wooster. Gradually a few motels were built and a limited number of Amish families opened their homes for bed and breakfast businesses. Today, according to the Holmes County visitors bureau, motels and B&Bs can accommodate 1,200.
The Carlisle Inn at Sugarcreek, built in 2004, and a 13-year-old sister hotel at Walnut Creek, remodeled two years ago, elevate Amish country lodging to resort status. As Ken Moore, facility manager at the Sugarcreek inn, said, "This is a cut above that makes a statement in the middle of Amish culture. It invites a clientele class that appreciates it." The 69-room inn has 95,000 square feet of space.
Our group of four reserved a suite at a price of $327. The large, elegantly furnished bedrooms each had two queen-size beds. A living room featured a fireplace, sofa bed, upholstered chairs, and limited cooking, refrigeration, and dining space. Jacuzzi tubs guarantee relaxation after a day of walking and shopping.
Public spaces include a library with more locally crafted furniture, an exercise room, and an indoor swimming pool with a retractable glass roof. A magnificent spiral staircase - a popular place for bridal photos - leads from the lobby to the second floor wicker room where continental breakfast is served. In the adjacent living room area, guests are invited to play the grand piano or sip tea and eat popcorn, an evening tradition.
The Carlisle complex, which covers several acres on what was farmland just outside of Sugarcreek, includes a large restaurant, bakery, gift shop, food market, and furniture store. The Carlisle at Walnut Creek is more centrally located to the business district and has similar amenities.
The Carlisle Inn at Sugarcreek, built in 2004, is a large, luxurious departure from traditional lodging in Ohio Amish country.
Both inns are under the umbrella of Dutchman Hospitality Group, Inc., which also includes five restaurants, four bakeries, and a wholesale food supplier. The family enterprise began in 1969 when Emmanuel Mullet, his son-in-law, Robert Miller, and Dan Lehman opened Der Dutchman, a 75-seat restaurant in a renovated hardware store in Walnut Creek with a goal of serving homemade meals in the Amish tradition. The children of the founders now operate the company. Das Dutchman Essenhaus in Middlebury, Ind., is a sister company.
So what is there to do in Ohio Amish country? Driving from town to town on the country roads is a common pastime. Visitors tend to drive at a slower pace, perhaps because of the horse-drawn vehicles or just to drink in the beautiful landscape. One choice is to follow the main routes to Sugarcreek, Walnut Creek, Charm, Berlin, and Millersburg to zero in on gift shops and restaurants. Berlin, in particular, has a lot of shops and seemed to be the busiest community.
Or visitors can study a map to take the back country roads to see the impressive farms en route to their destination. One of the most scenic farmland routes that we took was out of Sugarcreek on State Rt. 39, to County Road 93, and to I-70 west to Charm for dinner at Grandma's Homestead.
Amish/Mennonite entrepreneurs have learned that food is a main attraction for the English - their term for visitors - and make it available at every turn. Lehman's Hardware in Kidron has added a caf. Lehman's is the giant hardware store known for nonelectrics, and is a popular tourist destination. There also is a sizable restaurant in the basement of the Kidron grocery store patronized by locals, and another at the Keim Lumber Co., in Charm.
The best-known restaurants seat 200 to cater to the region's large tourist industry and offer a choice of buffets, family-style dinners, and menu service. Most have gift shops, bakery counters, and canned good displays.
While shops featuring handcrafted goods are numerous in the towns there also are opportunities to buy at private homes. Roadside signs announce quilts, honey, furniture, and bulk foods for sale. There are more than 30 furniture stores in the region featuring work by local craftsmen.
Takeout food has a whole new meaning in Amish country. Reasoning that it's a practical souvenir to take home, visitors stock up on all manner of foods. We came home with a trunk load of Amish samples.
We bought cheeses from Heini's Cheese Chalet, at Berlin. A megastore where people sample hundreds of cheeses before deciding which ones to buy, it also has a demonstration window where you can watch cheese being made. Yogurt cheese is claimed to have originated at Heini's. Chocolate and other sweet cheeses are among the sweet, dessert varieties set out for sampling.
I couldn't wait to buy Trail bologna, an Amish country specialty made in Trail, but also available at other stores in the area. Fried pies and cinnamon rolls from Der Dutchman Restaurant are in the freezer. Ginger and chocolate chip cookies were a must choice at Troyer's Bakery in Apple Creek, and now I wish I had brought home one of Troyer's angel food cakes.
It's wise to take a cooler to store take-home foods. The Amish may not have refrigerators but they do sell ice. I should have put the bag of chocolate chips purchased at a bulk store in the cooler. They melted into a large clump on the way home.
The bulk food store in Berlin, one of several in the area, was fun to visit and gave an insight into local food preferences as well as how the shopkeepers are abreast of current trends. Packaged bulk tapioca, arrowroot, oatmeal, cake mixes, and always licorice with a large assortment of candies are mainstays. Herbs and spices run the gamut and, generally, are less expensive . Liquid rosemary was a real find. Poppy seeds were a bargain. A bag of peanut butter pretzels made good snacking in an automobile in the fast lane as they perhaps do in a horse-drawn buggy on a country road.
Contact Mary Alice Powell at: email@example.com
If you go:
•To learn more about the Amish and Mennonite lifestyles visit Behalt, an exhibit at Berlin, featuring a 10 by 265-foot circular mural.
•Visitors have a choice of tours that include narration on Amish people, buggy rides, and a visit to Amish artisans. Contact Tour the Backroads at 330-893-3248 or visit www.AmishToursOfOhio.com
•Two home tours are available in Holmes County. Yoder's is between Trail and Walnut Creek. Schrock's farm and home are near Berlin. The Schrock farm also has a quilt barn, summer kitchen with ice cream and coffee, a pottery shop, and other local artwork.
•Breitenbach Wine Cellars, near Sugarcreek, has a public tasting room.
•Horse Progress Day will be held at Mount Hope on July 4 and 5. A farming event that draws 10,000 people, it features horse-powered machinery and 27 breeds of horses.
•The annual antique festival will be held in Millersburg on Oct. 4 and 5.