Most people associate the Amish with Lancaster County, Pennsylvania or the state of Ohio; however, there is actually quite a large Amish community located in the southentier of western New York. Known for their skilled craftsmanship, many Amish have shops located beside their homes, where you can find items such as quilts, furniture, cabinets, clocks, wooden items, baked goods and more. With over 40 shops located in the town of Leon in Cattaraugus County, where over 75% of the town’s population is Amish, it is a wonderful place to find unique,hand-crafted gift items for the upcoming holiday season.
Who exactly are the Amish?
To appreciate why the Amish live like they do, it’s helpful to understand their background. My daughter and I recently went on an Amish Flair Tour with Carol Lorenc of the Foxe Farmhouse Bed & Breakfast in Cherry Creek.
We met Carol at The Depot, a unique gift shop located in Cherry Creek’s 1896 railroad depot. Patty Frost, proprietor of the shop, is an expert on the local Amish community. She told us a bit of history on how the Amish religion began. The religion can be traced back to the Protestant Reformation in the 16th Century, when there was a split in the Roman Catholic Church. A group referred to as the Anabaptists emerged in Switzerland; they were later called Mennonites after one of their leaders, Menno Simons.
In 1693, a group of Mennonites, led by Jacob Amman, felt that the church was losing its purity, so they broke away from the Mennonites and were nicknamed “Amish.”
Members of this religious group first arrived in the United States in the 1700’s and settled in Pennsylvania. In the mid-1800’s there was again a division in the church. While some sects decided to be less conservative and embrace new technology of the day, some communities, referred to as the “Old Order Amish,” live according to old traditions and continue to use mid-1800’s agriculture and building methods. The community located in the Cherry Creek/Leon area , which began in 1949 when several families arrived here from Ohio, is mainly Old Order Amish. About one half of all Old Order Amish in New York State live in Leon.
They don’t believe in having modern conveniences like telephones, indoor plumbing and electricity. They travel in horse-drawn buggies; however, if an urgent need arises, they are permitted to ride in a car or use a phone, they just can’t own them. Their religion is based on being humble; this is why they all dress alike, because they don’t want to stand out. The three most important things to them are faith, family and community. Carol observed that when she comes to Amish country with her tours, she feels much more relaxed. “They move at a slower pace than we do.”
Our tour begins
After Patty finished giving us some background on the Amish, we climbed into Carol’s van and went on a driving tour of the area, including stops at several shops. Carol mentioned that the Amish produced a lot of their own food and that they dry, can, and smoke foods to store during the winter months.
Our first stop was at a quilt shop on Dredge Rd. operated by Levi and Elizabeth Wengerd. There were many beautiful quilts, pillows, wall hangings and rugs made by the women of the family. When I wondered aloud on how did they ever find the time to do all this handwork (the quilts are hand-pieced and hand-quilted), Elizabeth explained that since they don’t have the distractions of modern life, sitting and quilting is their form of entertainment and socialization. Also, many Amish families may have 10-12 children, so there are many hands to do tasks.
I noticed that many of the Amish spoke with a German accent. Carol explained that while they are born in the United States, they speak an old German dialect among themselves. In school they speak English and learn to read and write in both German and English. Children attend school at local Amish schools until they are 16, then they work at home or in the community.
The second shop we stopped at had a selection of very nice hand-made furniture, quilts and leather belts. Diesel engines were used to run the woodworking equipment. Many of the furniture shops will make items to order, if you bring them a picture of what you want.
The third and final shop on our tour was Dan Raber’s toy shop on Pope Road. This shop, filled with all sorts of wooden toys and kitchen items, is a really unique place to visit. A diesel engine below the shop runs all the equipment. Carol noted that they can make just about anything out of wood if you bring them a picture.
“It’s just like Santa’s workshop when you visit the shop before Christmas,” said Carol. “Dan is always jovial,” she added. With his beard, he could pass for the jolly one! You’ll note that many Amish men have beards; they shave when they are single, once they marry, they grow a beard.
By this time, we had worked up an appetite, so it’s fortunate that Carol’s tour concludes with tea at the Cherry Creek Inn Bed & Breakfast. Innkeeper, Sharon Howe Sweeting served a wonderful three course tea of tiny finger sandwiches, scones and sweets at her 1864 Italianate Victorian Inn. Overnight accommodations are available at the inn, as well as at Carol’s inn, the Foxe Farm Bed & Breakfast. Carol and Sharon will be offering a “Shopping in the Country” Amish Tour and Holiday Tea on Saturday December 2nd, with a holiday tea (no tour) on Sunday December 3rd. Reservations are required.
Other Tour Options
Paul and Sue Fisher of Randolph, NY also offer tours of Amish country. Their two and a half hour Delightfully Country Amish Tours take you to Amish shops just north of Randolph. “We try to customize our tours to what the customer is interested in,” said Paul. “If they just want a general tour, we’ll stop at about seven or eight shops; items for sale include quilts, outdoor and indoor furniture, toys, candy and baskets.” Between stops on the tour, your guide will give you history and information about the Amish community.
The Fishers run their tours, year-round, Monday-Saturday. Starting times for the tours are generally 9:30, 12:30 and 3:30 May-Oct. and 10 am and 2pm Nov.-April. Paul added that these times are flexible. Their tours are “step-on” tours, which mean that you do the driving in your own vehicle and the guide rides along. They charge per vehicle, rather than per person. Three guides are available, so larger groups (that would fit into three cars or minivans) can be accommodated. Paul noted that the Amish can’t accommodate large groups (i.e. bus tours) since most of them have really small shops.
The tours, which are by reservation only, generally begin at Oreganos Restaurant in Randolph.
Also in the area
Besides the Amish shops and the previous mentioned Depot, visitors can shop at Rustic Creations on Main Street in Cherry Creek, which has nature themed gifts and home décor items. In South Dayton, about 10 miles north of Cherry Creek, shop at the recently opened Candy Apple Mercantile, a unique country gift shop located in the oldest building in the town.
When hunger strikes, the Trillium Lodge in Cherry Creek offers daily specials, including a Friday fish fry. The Mustard Seed, on Pine Street in South Dayton, has a wonderful selection of menu items, including sandwiches on homemade bread. There are also several gift shops and restaurants located in the village of Randolph.
If you go
While you can arrange for a tour when you visit Amish Country, you can also visit on your own. Below are a few guidelines to keep in mind when visiting:
1. Never on Sunday- Amish shops are closed on Sunday for religious reasons. When you visit the area, look for the open signs in front of the shops. Some shops may be open Monday-Saturday, while others may only be open Friday and Saturday. Certain shops, especially those selling plants or produce, are open seasonally, while many other shops are open year-round, including those that sell furniture, quilts and toys.
2. Expect isolation- The area is very isolated; there are no gas stations, so fill your tank before heading out. Many of the roads are unpaved; expect to have a dirty car when you leave.
3. Cash or checks only- The Amish do not take charge cards.
4. No photos- Amish beliefs don’t allow their faces to be photographed. If you wish to take a photo of a building, scenery, etc., ask permission first and make sure that there are no Amish people in the background of the picture.
Cattaraugus County Tourism (1-800-331-0543) 303 Court St., Little Valley. You can obtain a brochure with maps of Amish shops in the Leon area. Maps are also available through the Chautauqua County Visitors Bureau, Main Gate at the Chautauqua Institution. Note: There are also several smaller Amish communities located in western Chautauqua County.
Amish Flair Tours (Carol Lorenc) Foxe Farm Bed and Breakfast, (877-468-5523, 716-962-3412) 1880 Thornton Rd., Cherry Creek. Tours by reservation.
Delightfully Country Amish Tours Paul and Sue Fisher (716-358-9730) Randolph, NY. These 2 ½ hour tours of Amish country are offer year-round, Mon.-Sat. by reservation only.
Randolph area information (716-358-9701)
Cherry Creek Inn Bed & Breakfast (296-5105) 1022 West Rd., Cherry Creek
The Depot (295-5697) Depot Street, Cherry Creek.
Rustic Creations (296-5827) 6776 Main St., Cherry Creek.
Candy Apple Mercantile (988-5020) 207 Pine St., South Dayton.
The Mustard Seed (988-3800) 315 Pine St. (Route 322) S. Dayton.
The Trillium Lodge (296-8100) 6830 Main St., Cherry Creek.
Oreganos Restaurant (716-358-4429) 143 Main St., Randolph.
Directions from Buffalo
Take Route 62 South from the Buffalo area. To head to South Dayton and Cherry Creek, turn right on Route 322, which runs through South Dayton. To go to Cherry Creek, continue on Route 322 and turn left on Route 83. Cherry Creek is about 10 miles south of South Dayton. To go to Randolph, follow Route 62 to Route 241 south to Randolph. Amish shops are located along and near Route 62 in Leon and Conewango, as well as north of Randolph. Look for the signs pointing to the various shops.