Amish Barn Raising: A Way of Life

When will we learn that nothing compares to an old-fashioned Amish barn raising?

| May/June 1978

  • Amish Horse and Buggy
    To arrive at the barn raising site, the amish used horse-drawn buggies.
    PAULA GANSER
  • Amishmen
    The Amish come together as a way of life to raise a barn for a member of their community in Lancaster County, Penn.
    PHOTO: PAULA GANSER
  • Amish Carriage
    The Pennslyvania Amish used carriages like these to get to the scene of their barn raising in Lancaster County.
    PAULA GANSER
  • Amish Barn Raising
    The Amish men work at a barn raising in Lancaster County, Penn.
    PAULA GANSER

  • Amish Horse and Buggy
  • Amishmen
  • Amish Carriage
  • Amish Barn Raising

Standing there, you'd think the clock had been turned back a century. It is 7 a.m. and — in the gently rolling farmlands of Lancaster County, Pennsylvania — this country lane is filled with horse-drawn buggies. As the old-time vehicles pass, we can see that the men and boys inside are all clad exactly alike in simple roughspun shirts, black suits, and straw boaters, while the women and girls wear long, rather formal dresses and prim white caps. These people are Amish, and they're going to a party: A barn raising.

One by one, the buggies pull in at the Eshe farm just down the road. There the women unload pans of roasting chicken and baskets of other food and lug the containers into the house, where they'll spend the rest of the morning cooking dinner. Meanwhile, the men and boys (although never removing their boaters) take off their jackets and fold them neatly on the buggy seats. Then, clutching hammers and saws, they head for the barn . . . or what will be the barn. (Right now the soon-to-be structure is still only a concrete-block foundation and stacks of weathered boards taken from an old barn in another town.)

The men — gesturing and talking quietly — gather into little groups. After a few minutes, the small knots of laborers break up and everybody starts to work.

The air is filled with the squalling protests of old nails being yanked out of planks as teenagers attack the piles of reclaimed lumber with reversed claw hammers. While some of the men begin to saw floor joists to length with raspy strokes, others hand the boards up to men already standing atop the foundation. Soon all the rest of the sounds are drowned out by the increasing rat-a-tat-tat of hammers toenailing joists into position. It is apparent — even to the casual observer — that these Amishmen know how to build barns!



The Amish are a religious sect whose roots stretch all the way back to the Protestant Reformation. Their fundamentalist movement began in Switzerland in 1525, and later took the name "Mennonites." But in Germany during the late 1600's, a Mennonite named Jacob Amman decided that the religion was backsliding and started his own reform movement: The Amish. Then, beginning in 1698, his people emigrated from the Palatinate region of Bavaria to southeastern Pennsylvania and settled in what is now Lancaster County.

The descendants of those early settlers have changed little during the intervening 280 years. The peace-loving Amish continue to live their religion, which emphasizes self-reliance. They reject welfare in all its forms, they do not participate actively in government, and they refuse to serve in the armed forces. (You get some inkling of Amish feelings about the military when you learn that the men still fasten their jackets and vests with hooks and eyes instead of buttons . . . solely because the military uniforms of the 1600's featured ornate buttons!) 






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