By Amy Eddings
Amish country in Hardin County is not a tourist attraction in the way of Holmes County to the northeast, with its Swiss chalet-styled restaurants and inns, its furniture stores and antique shops, its RV parks, golf courses and Amish Country Theater.
It’s simpler than that, less commodified and gussied-up, more rural, more agricultural.
It is, in other words, more Amish.
To visit Hardin County’s Amish Country is to drive its small township and county roads, past white farmhouses devoid of curtains and red barns with horse-powered hay balers sitting in the yard.
To shop Hardin County’s Amish Country is to drive up to one of those farms and ask the white-capped woman or bearded man who emerges from the house or the barn what they’ve got for sale. It’s to follow hand-lettered signs saying, “Wooden furniture, 1/4 mile,” or to turn into driveways past ones that say sweet peas, eggs, quilts, tomatoes or baked goods are available.
Which is to say that visiting the Old Order Amish of Hardin County means actually visiting. It means getting out of the comfort zone of a modern, retail store environment and entering the unelectrified, dim, quiet interior of an Amish home to look at a quilt, or a sunlit room off of a barn to buy a jug of apple cider.
It means carrying cash, or a checkbook. No credit card processing machines will be found here.
What you will find is an appreciation for something that can’t be packaged, something that can’t be mass produced. It’s that hard-to-define energy that comes from relationship and interaction, from an exchange that begins with “Do you have… ?” and “How much for… ?,” one that leads, maybe, to “How?” and “Why?” and ends, appropriately, with “Thanks.”
Here’s a map and suggested route to get you started, with some Amish farms of note highlighted. What they have to offer will change with the seasons. There are no Sunday sales. Please refrain from photographing the Amish themselves, who think photographs are a form of self-idolatry.
START in Kenton, the county seat of Hardin County, in its historic town square district, at the juncture of state routes 309 and 31 (star). Take state Route 309 east and turn left onto County Road 195. Immediately to your right will be a driveway and parking lot for Country Stitches Fabrics and More, 18031 state Route 309 (1). It’s run by Mennonites, who dress conservatively, like the Amish, but who follow a different Ordnung, or set of rules and disciplines. There’s electricity, for one thing. Quilters will appreciate the range of fabrics offered. The store’s annual tent sale runs Sept. 8-10. It’s closed Sundays and Wednesdays.
From Country Stitches, head south on County Road 195 and turn left to head east on County Road 144.
On the left, at 18701 County Road 144 (2), is Calvin and Esther Beechy’s farm. Esther Beechy was in an outbuilding, applying a fresh coat of black paint to a buggy, when I drove up. She had maple syrup, a quilt and eggs for sale, $3 a dozen, from 75 layers that are fed non-GMO corn.
“It’s healthier,” she said. She was awash in eggs. “Right now, you can buy one, get one free.”
Less than 500 feet down the road, at 18948 County Road 144 (3), Amos and Barbara Miller and their Scioto Valley Green House sell tomatoes for eating fresh or canning, zucchini, fresh peas, candy onions, melons, strawberries and flowers.
I asked about the sweet peas.
“They’re done,” she said, glancing in the direction of the road where a sign stating “sweet peas” still hung, swinging in the breeze. “Guess I should take the sign down.”
Continue east on County Road 144 a short distance, turning left onto Township Road 209. On the left, at 13165 Township Road 209 (4), is Willow Ridge Rustics, where Nelson Hochstetler makes hand-hewn cedar log and knotty pine benches, cabinets, night stands, bar stools, Adirondack chairs, porches and railings.
He’s been making bed frames for a campground in Holmes County.
“The guy found similar beds, King-sized, in Tennessee for $2,999,” said Hochstetler with a smile. “He couldn’t afford it. My King-sized is $350.” He said he’s so busy, he can’t keep up with a greenhouse near the front of his property that was thick with peppers, peas, snap beans and zucchini.
“I thought I wasn’t going to have enough trade to keep me busy, so I put up the greenhouse,” he said. “Now I don’t have time for the greenhouse.”
Turn around and head back south on Township Road 209 to County Road 144 and turn left, to Pfeiffer Station General Store (5), at the intersection of County Roads 144, 265 and 215. This isn’t Amish-run at all, but the store is a good place to get soda, snacks, candy, Amish-baked sugar cookies and a sandwich. Regulars come here for ice cream.
As you sit outside at one of the picnic tables under the building’s awning, look at the stately brick house across the street. That’s the old Wheeler Tavern, a stop, so the Ohio Historical Marker says, on the Underground Railroad, a secret network of hiding places for escaped slaves from the South.
Farther east, at 20335 County Road 144 (6), Ben Yoder and his son, Henry, have 20 acres of apple trees, including honey crisp, red and golden delicious and Jonathan. They sell apples, in season. Apple butter and apple cider vinegar are available throughout the year.
Continue east on County Road 144 into the little hamlet of Hepburn and turn right on County Road 227. If you have the time — and you do — turn left on Township Road 146, which bends like a jug handle and meets up again with County Road 227 farther south, taking you through picturesque fields and patches of wood where the only sound is of insects, birds and cows.
Turn left on County Road 190 and head west to state Route 31. If you’re ready for dinner, turn left and pass through Mt. Victory and its antique and thrift stores and eat at The Plaza Inn (7), 491 S. Main St., a regional favorite for 57 years.
Founder Edward Elliott was one of the three men who dreamed up the “Certified Angus Beef” marketing campaign in the 1970s, and there’s a plaque and commemorative branding iron honoring him for that which his daughter, Joan Elliott Wagner, would be happy to show you.
“We’re known for our broasted chicken,” said Elliott Wagner, and for their buffet, too.
Save room for dessert, which you can pick up on your way back to Kenton at the homestead of Alvin and Barbara Yoder, 16653 state Route 31 (8). Slow down when you see the little white sign stating “Baked goods ahead.” She makes cinnamon rolls, maple brown sugar-frosted sugar cookies, and pies, pies, pies: butterscotch and apple custard, pecan and raisin cream, and all sorts of fruit pies.
Barbara will bake pies to order. “People send me a letter in the mail,” she said.
BARBARA YODER’S MAPLE BROWN SUGAR-FROSTED ZUCCHINI BARS
1 cup sugar
1 cup, packed, light brown sugar
2 cups zucchini, shredded
1 cup oil
2 cups flour
2 teaspooons baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
Preheat oven to 375 F.
Grease, using butter or shortening, a 9-by-13 glass or metal baking pan and set aside.
In a large bowl, mix the zucchini, sugar, eggs and oil. In a separate bowl, whisk together the flour, baking soda, baking powder and salt. Fold the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients until combined. Spoon the dough into the baking pan. Bake 20-25 minutes or until a knife inserted in the bars comes out clean. Frost with Maple Brown Sugar Frosting when completely cool.
2 cups light brown sugar, packed
6 tablespoons butter, room temperature
3/4 cups heavy cream
3 cups powdered sugar, or to taste
2 teaspoons maple flavoring
Place brown sugar, butter and cream in a sauce pan and bring to a rolling boil, scraping down the sides of the sauce pan with a spatula. Allow the mixture to cool. Stir in powdered sugar until the desired sweetness and consistency is achieved. Stir in maple flavoring. Frost bars or sugar cookies.