Cover Story: Clop Hopping

Amish country is an hour and a century away

Adams County evokes the sights and sounds of the 19th Century, including covered bridges, narrow roads, horse-drawn wagons, gaslit shops and an absence of telephone and eletrical poles.

It's hard to imagine that, within an hour's drive of Downtown, there's an Amish farming community that's one of the largest such settlements in Ohio. But it's there, out in Adams County.

I head straight out State Route 32 with my family, past Batavia and the old Ford plant, to encounter this rustic treasure. With its picturesque communities — I hesitate to call them towns — such as Tranquility, Unity, Harshaville and Whipperwill, the county is literally teeming with Amish buggies and Mennonite families dressed in the trademark straw hats and lace bonnets.

The area evokes another era, the sights and sounds of the 19th century. The gravel roads are marked by an absence of telephone and electrical poles. Horse-drawn wagons clop along the narrow roadways and through the covered bridges. Outdoor clotheslines are loaded with drying laundry; some tiny shops are lit solely by gaslight and farmers and horses still plow the fields by hand.

Rural as the county is, we can still spend an entire day window-shopping at the myriad shops and munching on the free samples and treats left out at the various bakeries and farmer's markets. (Don't go on a Sunday, however, when these strictly religious people close shop.)

Once in a while, rather than nibbling, we choose to lunch at one of the region's most notable restaurants, the Murphin Ridge Inn.

We begin our expedition at Keim Family Market in Seaman — it's right off Route 32 and is well marked. Roy and Mattie Keim, a name almost as familiar in these parts as Yoder and Miller, run the market, which offers bargain-priced Amish goods and cheeses — a great place to grab a quick breakfast of caramel rolls, zucchini pumpkin bread and juice. We've always found it advisable to bring a cooler, so we're able to load up with the horseradish and yogurt cheeses, trail bologna, sliced rye breads, blackberry jam cake and raspberry pie. Makes a great picnic lunch for later, or we bring it all home.

They sell dozens of different jellies here, too, such as watermelon jam and other offbeat jarred goods. Before we leave, we pick up the Keim brochure — it has a map inside to the entire area. Handy.

We easily can spend the next few hours at Miller's Bakery, Bulk Foods and Furniture just outside West Union. This complex of three buildings — representing some 30,000 square feet — is a central destination. At least 95 percent of the products and baked goods are produced by Ohio Amish, or so goes their guarantee. Some days, we're as likely to find the parking lot crammed with horsedrawn buggies as automobiles (translated: we have to be careful where we step).

The Miller bakery is always stocked with molasses cookies and Amish delights such as custard and nut pies, pumpkin rolls, zucchini nut bars and blackberry turnovers — we rarely leave without asking for a sample of the shoo-fly pie. Another building is devoted entirely to flours, spices, fudges, pickles, relish, vegetable herb yogurt cheese, summer sausage, homemade cereals, butter, milk, bacon and cheese dips (more free samples), as well as a selection of cookbooks, moccasins, bonnets and pinafores.

A third giant structure at Miller's farm houses all the crafted wood furniture. We rarely buy. We just like to troll the aisles and admire the hutches, dry sinks, pie safes, fireside tables, bar stools, rockers, chests, clocks, quilt racks, gliders, arbors, picnic tables, gazebos, lazy Susans, toys and the like.

$ $ $

Around lunch, we head to Murphin Ridge Inn between Peebles and West Union. This country inn and restored 1810 farmhouse is a popular bed-and-breakfast that also serves lunch and dinner featuring regional American fare. The innkeepers, Sherry and Darryl McKenney, and chef Renee Schuler put out a spread that helped earned Murphin Ridge recongnition as "one of the 54 great inns of America" from National Geographic Traveler magazine.

The setting is quiet and pastoral. Indeed, around the inn, it's easy to forget what century we're living in.

Other shops and attractions in the area include Lewis Mountain Herbs (plenty of medicinal as well as munching herbs), Hilltop Cabinet, Raber's Shoe & Saddlery, Scenic Country Gifts & Books, Murphin Ridge Woodworking, Yoder's Fabrics & Notions, Stutzman's Carriage Shop, Cruiser's Diner, Good Seed Farm and Hillcrest Greenhouse. If you're in a hiking or historic mood, there's Edge of Appalachia Preserve and the prehistoric Native American earthworks at Serpent Mound.

We finish off our trip with a visit to Blake Pharmacy in West Union — the Big Town in these parts. It's an old-time drug store that houses one of the state's few remaining authentic soda fountains. Ask and they'll gladly prepare a cherry or vanilla Coke.

Grab your fountain drink and then stroll through the town square directly across the street. It's a classic bit of Americana. ©

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