Length: About 130 miles plus side trips.
When to go: Pleasant year-round.
Words to the wise: Beware of slow-moving horse-drawn buggies. Refrain from photographing the Amish.
Not to be missed: Swiss Festival (around Labor Day), Sugarcreek.
Nearby attractions: Canton Classic Car Museum and Pro Football Hall of Fame, in Canton.
Further information: Holmes County Chamber of Commerce and Tourism Bureau, 35 N. Monroe St., Millersburg, OH 44654; tel. 330-674-3975, www.visitamishcountry.com.
The sights along this scenic journey are, quite literally, nothing fancy. The Amish, sometimes called the Plain People, live a life of modesty and simplicity, shunning modern conveniences. Governed by ancient rhythms of planting and harvesting, their customs—as pure as apple butter, as practical as a straw hat in summer—offer fascinating glimpses into days gone by.
1. Malabar Farm State Park
Within its first few miles, this drive will dispel any notions that Ohio is flat: as it runs southeast alongside the Clear Fork River, Rte. 97 bounces over hill after wooded hill. Indeed, one reason why many early settlers were attracted to this lush, rolling landscape was its uncanny resemblance to the rural alpine valleys they had left behind in their native countries of Switzerland, Austria, and Germany.
Turning northward on Rte. 95 at Butler, the drive continues to Malabar Farm State Park, once the country estate of Pulitzer prizewinning author Louis Bromfield. Named for the India subcontinent’s Malabar Coast, a spot where Bromfield had once spent time, the farm encompasses more the 900 acres of fields and forests.
Among the many celebrities who visited Bromfield were Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall, who spent their honeymoon here in 1945. Bromfield’s 32-room mansion, which seems all the more lavish in contrast to the nearby Amish country, is open year-round, and tours of the grounds—the only working farm in the Ohio State Park system—are conducted by tractor-drawn wagon. A few miles farther on, Pleasant Hill Lake Park draws boaters, anglers, and anyone else in search of a cooling dip.
2. Mohican Memorial State Forest
Back on Rte. 97 the drive continues east through rolling hills as it approaches Mohican Memorial State Forest. Embracing a total of some 5,000 acres, the preserve straddles the Clear Fork–Mohican River. Though 22 miles of trails and old logging roads beckon visitors into the wilds, you can also see a great deal by car. For a quick tour follow the park road north to the covered bridge that spans the river, then venture on foot along the water’s edge to Big and Little Lyons Falls and plunging Clear Fork Gorge, just below the Pleasant Hill Dam. It’s hard to tell, but most of this area was once cleared for farming; during the Depression-era 1930s the Civilian Conservation Corps helped in reforestation efforts.
Amish country begins somewhere east of Loudonville. There’s no official boundary; you’ll know that you have arrived when you find yourself sharing the road with a horse-drawn buggy or spot a team of Belgian horses pulling a plow or wagon through a field. Some 35,000 Amish—the largest community of its kind in the world—reside in the gently folded farmlands that roll eastward from this point, the 400 square miles of very special land known throughout the region as Amish Country.
Millersburg, like many towns in the region, is a busy crafts center where visitors can rub elbows with the Amish who come to buy supplies and sell their wares. Prowl the shops for leather goods, furniture, woolens, and handmade quilts (true treasures). Then visit Victorian House, an opulent Queen Anne home turned museum, whose 28 antique-filled rooms are a far cry from the sparse-yet-appealing Amish austerity that otherwise prevails in these parts.
About five miles east of Millersburg, a turnoff on Rte. 557 leads south to the aptly named village of Charm. Surrounded by lush, rolling farmland, Charm makes you feel as if you’ve wandered into a Grant Wood painting. Amish farms are limited in size to the amount of land that a single family can work without modern machinery, and each rise in the road will reveal as many as a dozen farmsteads, their simple white houses, huge dairy barns, and neatly furrowed fields laid out as precisely as the squares on a checkerboard.
Returning to Rte. 39 east, the drive soon reaches another farming town, Berlin, where visitors can learn about the Amish and their Anabaptist kin, the Mennonites. Stop at the Mennonite Information Center, located on County Road 77, just off Rte. 39. Its chief attraction is a grand cyclorama, or circular painting. Measuring 10 feet high by 265 feet long, this magnificent mural depicts the heritage of the Amish and Mennonite people from their mutual origins in medieval Zurich, Switzerland, in 1525 to the present.
About one mile east of town, a former Amish farm offers tours, buggy rides, quilt-making demonstrations, and a pondside that makes a great spot for a picnic.
Of all the picturesque towns that can be seen along the drive, perhaps none is as distinctive as Sugarcreek. Nicknamed The Little Switzerland of Ohio, Sugarcreek really does conjure up the flavor of a Swiss village. Here you may find yourself bobbing to the beat of polka music that drifts out from the town’s storefronts, all colorfully decorated with appealing alpine scenes.
Sugarcreek is also the departure point for the Ohio Central Railroad, which offers tours of Amish country. The depot is on Factory Street, not far from the local McDonald’s—equipped with hitching posts to accommodate Amish horse-drawn buggies.
6. Schoenbrunn Village State Memorial
At New Philadelphia head southeast on Rte. 259 (High Avenue) to Schoenbrunn Village State Memorial, site of Ohio’s earliest Christian settlement. Founded in 1772 as a Moravian mission to the Delaware Indians, Schoenbrunn (German for “beautiful spring”) lasted only five years, but today its 17 reconstructed log buildings evoke life on the Ohio frontier. The original cemetery endures as a mute memorial to the heroic men and women who braved wilderness and war to make their homes here.
Continue east on Rte. 39 east until you reach Sherrodsville; then follow Rte. 212 northwest to the sandy beach at 1,540-acre Atwood Lake, a crescent of blue amid green forest and farmland. To finish the drive, return to Rte. 39 and continue east for 40 miles on this long, rolling straightaway to Wellsville, the mighty Ohio River, and the West Virginia border.
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