Amish country in Holmes / Wayne / Tuscarawas counties is one of my favorite places to visit just about any time of the year. That goes for the Amish region in Geauga / Trumbull counties, too.
But fall is by far my favorite time. Leaves are turning, festivals are under way and farmers are harvesting corn and plowing fields for the coming year.
This year, I stayed in New Philadelphia the evening of Oct. 5 and cruised around the back roads of western Tuscarawas County and Holmes County the next day.
A steady rain overnight brought cloudy skies Saturday morning, but they eventually cleared up and it turned out to be a partly sunny day, although a little nippy in the mid-50s.
AMISH & MENNONITE CENTER
I mentioned the Amish-Mennonite Heritage Center, just northeast of Berlin, in a previous column. I've been by it before, but didn't have an opportunity to stop in until this trip.
It is a wonderful place to learn about the Amish and Mennonite heritage. The highlight is a 265-foot cyclorama called "Behalt," which visually depicts the history of the two cultures.
It's a spectacular sight.
The 10-foot high mural in the round was painted by Heinz Gaugel, a German born self-taught artist who moved to Holmes County in the early 1970s.
It took several years to complete, and has been referred to as "the Sistene Chapel of the Amish and Mennonites." Gagel died in 2000 at the age of 73.
Behalt is designed to tell the story of a culture and to interpret the Amish and Mennonites' spiritual heritage. A guide takes about a half hour to explain the mural and its depictions from one end to the other.
Only four cycloramas exist in North America.
Amish and Mennonites originated from the Swiss Anabaptist movement. Mennonites are named after Menno Simons, who joined the movement in 1536. Jacob Ammon formed a splinter group called the Amish in 1694.
Hutterites are another branch of the Anabaptists. Today, there are more than 1.6 million Anabaptists living in 80 countries.
Today, there are several groups of Amish and Mennonites, including the very conservative Swartzentruber Amish, the Old Order, the New Order and the more liberal Beachy Amish-Mennonites.
Swartzentruber Amish do not use power tools and cannot hire a driver to take them to a job site. Some of the other groups allow those practices, and are allowed to use certain items, but not own them.
Most Mennonites live a modern lifestyle like other Americans, as displayed by members of the Aurora Mennonite Church.
At the heritage center, which moved to its current facility in 1989, visitors also can view a short film about Amish and Mennonites and a display of prayer coverings worn by Amish and Mennonite women, plus browse through a variety of items which can be purchased in the gift shop.
Outside the main building are a historic barn and the one-room Bunker Hill School, which educated children until the 1950s. A conestoga wagon is an artifact housed in the barn.
HOLMES ANTIQUES FESTIVAL
For the first time in 26 years, I visited the Holmes County Antiques Festival - it was celebrating its 50th year - in Millersburg, the Holmes County seat.
I love the village, and have stayed in the historic Millersburg Hotel the last four Thanksgiving eves.
The festival celebrates the heritage of the historic village, and annually draws 5,000 to 7,000 visitors.
It features several tents occupied by antique dealers, live entertainment, food stands, a classic car show and parades on Saturday and Sunday. An auction of 330 pieces of Millersburg Glass was under way while I was there.
The Millersburg Glass Co. was in business only from 1909 to 1913. It was founded by John Fenton, one of the brothers who started the famous Fenton Art Glass Co. in Williamstown, W.Va., across the Ohio River from Marietta.
When Millersburg Glass folded, part of its plant was razed and the other was occupied by the Forrester Tire & Rubber Co.
The firm produced fine crystal glassware and iridized glass in beautiful colors, and many of its rare pieces are highly sought after by collectors today.
A small museum of Millersburg Glass recently moved from downtown Millersburg a few blocks north beside the beautiful Victorian Mansion.
As I always do when visiting Millersburg, I dropped by the restored railroad depot which now stands beside the Holmes County Trail, the former route of a Pennsylvania Railroad line.
Fifteen miles of the trail has been completed between Fredericksburg and Killbuck, and it was the first trail in the nation to accommodate Amish buggies, in addition to hikers, joggers, bicyclists, roller-bladers and wheelchairs.
SCHROCK'S AMISH VILLAGE
My next stop was Schrock's Amish Farm Village on Route 39 just a mile east of Berlin, which has become the center of tourism in Holmes County.
When I was growing up, Sugarcreek was the tourism capital of the region, but that has now shifted west to Walnut Creek and Berlin, which boast a host of furniture stores, quilt and gift shops, restaurants, storage barn dealers and bed and breakfasts.
One of those complexes is Schrock's, which is across the road from Hiland High School, one of the prominent small school boys and girls basketball programs in Ohio.
Schrock's features the Berlin Antique Mall and Craft Mall, Tis' the Season Christmas Shop, Gramma Fannie's Quilt Barn, Berlin Leather and other shops.
It also offers a tour of a typical Amish farmhouse, buggy rides and a 16-inch gauge miniature railroad, which was mainly my reason for stopping there.
An Amishman named Henry piloted the old-fashioned locomotive, which pulled cars filled with visitors along a one-mile route, passing three ponds and through a tree-dotted meadow and a 60-foot long wood-sided tunnel.
I topped off my visit there with some tasty pumpkin-flavored hard ice cream. Later in the afternoon, an apple festival was scheduled to take place.
THE BALTIC FLOURING MILL
On my way back into Tuscarawas County, I took back roads to Baltic, a village on the Tuscarawas-Holmes counties border, where I enjoyed a meal at Miller's Dutch Kitchen.
Across the street, I bought a one-pound bag of Good N' Plenty candy in the Baltic Mill, which still grinds wheat into flour.
Visitors can see the very old milling equipment up on the second floor, and buy items such as bulk food, Amish crafts, birdfeeders and birdhouses.
Baltic is home to Steiner Cheese Co., the nation's longest continuously running cheesemaker. Swiss immigrant Jacob Steiner founded it in 1833.
OTHER INTERESTING PLACES
Three farms are great places to spend time in Holmes County - Yoder's Amish Home, the Farm at Walnut Creek and Rolling Ridge Ranch Animal Park.
The latter two feature horse-drawn wagon tours through pastures filled with some unique animals such as buffalo, giraffes, camels, elk, monkeys, ostriches, emus, rheas, llamas, donkeys and deer.
At Yoder's, visitors can tour two Amish homes (one dating to 1866), learn about the Amish lifestyle, buy locally made dolls and gifts, go on a hayride, watch bread baking and ride in an Amish buggy.
The German Culture Museum in Walnut Creek is another neat stop. It has an antique tool room, rare butter churns, a replica of an Anabaptist hiding place, early cycling devices, a Reuben Yutzy gun dating to the mid-1850s and other antique items.
It also has background about Jonas Stutzman, Holmes Amish country's first settler in 1809, who was referred to as Der Weiss because he was the only area Amishman to dress in all white clothing.
In Sugarcreek, one can see one of the largest cuckoo clocks in the world on the square. It was relocated there a few months ago after many years at the now defunct Alpine Alpa Restaurant near Winesburg.
Craftsmen are working to restore the clock so it will operate once again.
No trip to Amish country would be complete without grabbing a meal. Some popular spots are Dutch Valley at Sugarcreek, Der Dutchman at Walnut Creek, Amish Door at Wilmot, Grandma's Homestead and Chalet in the Valley at Charm and Boyd and Wurthman and the Farmstead in Berlin.
For Swiss cheese, try Broad Run Dairy east of Sugarcreek, Heini's near Berlin or Guggisberg at Charm. And there's the 100-year-old Troyer's Trail Bologna at Trail.
Phone: 330-541-9400 ext. 4189