A stock photographer based in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, George Sheldon creates travel, business, lifestyle, and art photography. For decades, George has generated many thousands of images in Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, New Jersey, and Virginia. George Sheldon contributes editorial and stock images to numerous agencies.
Formed in 1917 in Holmes County, Ohio, the Swartzentruber Amish are an Old Order Amish sect. They broke away and formed a new group led by Amish Bishop Sam E. Yoder. The Swartzentruber name was applied later to this sect. They take their name from Bishop Samuel Swartzentruber who succeeded Bishop Yoder. The Swartzentruber Amish are among the most conservative of all Amish groups.
Swartzentruber Amish are noted for their use of only minimal technology. Battery-powered flashlights are acceptable to them, while electric lighting on buggies is not. They also tend to tangle with local authorities over legal squabbles when ordinances conflict with their faith. One example is the enforcement of laws requiring lights and slow-moving vehicle emblem signs on their buggies.
The easiest way to recognize a Swartzentruber Amish church member is by their carriages. The tack on their buggies and horses is often black, rather than brown leather. Swartzentruber buggies do not display the reflective triangle on the rear and use little reflective tape and lamplights. This is in contrast to the often very highly illuminated Old Order Amish buggies.
Swartzentruber buggies also lack windshields, mirrors, or electric lighting. Some criticize the Swartzentrubers for their resistance to adopting safety symbols, but they reject such things as being worldly symbols and deemphasizing reliance on God. When local officials attempt to make the Swartzentrubers modify their buggies, a court battle often ensues.
The Swartzentruber Amish started in Ohio and expanded throughout Holmes County and Wayne County. There are groups of Swartzentruber Amish in at least fifteen other states. One of the largest populations of Swartzentruber Amish located in the U.S. is in West Central Wisconsin with a heavy concentration in Trempealeau County. Over 200 Swartzentruber Amish families live near Cashton.
As in the case whenever a schism occurs, the Swartzentruber Amish broke away from an established Amish church, believing that the way they practice their faith is the true way to interpret the Bible. There are now three different factions among the Swartzentruber Amish, and these three separate groups do not fellowship with each other. These recent divisions came about due to internal interpretations and conflict during the 1990’s and again around the year 2000.
One of these divisions occurred over an incident sparked by youth provoking an Amish minister by playing loud music, which resulted in excommunication.
The Swartzentruber Amish differ from other Amish churches in several ways. Unlike most Amish, Swartzentruber Amish generally do not hire cars for routine transportation. They will ride in automobiles, but only in cases of true emergencies.
The Swartzentruber Amish farmers, shunning technology, typically do not use cooling tanks and deliver milk in metal containers. By doing so, it restricts their milk production to grade “B” quality, making it suitable only for cheese-making but not as drinking milk. They earn less for their dairy product.
The clothing of the Swartzentrubers differs from that of the other Old Order Amish. The colors they wear are dark and somber. They do not wear bright blues or mauves. They wear navy, dark burgundy, or gray. Men wear a single suspender to avoid what is considered unnecessary pride if they wore two. The Amish woman’s dress usually reaches the top of the shoes, rather than half-calf.
The Swartzentruber Amish forego in-home hot water or plumbing. Rather, they use outhouses. They reportedly bathe less regularly. The Swartzentrubers typically live in houses that have a rough appearance. Their homes are often unkempt and include peeling paint, dirt driveways, and no flower beds. The houses, barns, and outbuildings of the Swartzentruber Amish often have simple tin roofs.
The Swartzentruber Amish schooling is also more basic than the typical level of Amish education.
Swartzentruber Amish church services differ from other Old Order Amish, as they include slower singing and typically are longer, lasting up to four hours.
The Swartzentrubers maintain a social distance from non-Amish-Swartzentrubers. They are less likely to have close relationships with non-Amish people and do not recognize other Amish churches, including those of the Old Order Amish.
They also tend not to advertise or market their businesses. While advertising for other Amish enterprises may consist of high quality, glossy color catalogs, or newspaper ads, the advertising for a Swartzentruber Amish business may consist of simple hand stenciled signs at the end of a dirt lane or a handwritten business card. This isolation from the rest of the world may be the reason, experts say, the Swartzentruber Amish generally earn a lower income than other Amish do.
### Special Note: Amish Wisdom is an ongoing feature of various entries about the Amish on George Sheldon's website and blog. Written and produced by George, it is intended to provide information about those of the Amish faith.