Old Believers once abounded
Over time, readers with deep roots in the valley have mentioned a sizable community of Amish that once populated the Amity area, with Whiteson serving as the apparent hub.
Curiosity about this group, and the extent of its local size and scope, prompted this story.
Thanks are gratefully extended to the Yamhill County Historical Society for information on this subject. The society maintains a treasure trove of material about the county’s fascinating past.
Even more credit must be given to Father Martinus Cawley of the Guadalupe Trappist Abbey, whose extensive research culminated in the publication of “The Amish of Amity” in 2003.
You will note that no close-up photographs of Amish people accompany this story. Why?
People call attention to themselves when they allow their photos to be taken, and that defies the sect’s key tenet of humility. Perhaps even more central to their beliefs is the Biblical commandment from Exodus 20:4, “Thou shalt not make unto thyself a graven image,” and a view that photographs represent a violation.
The so-called “plain people” diligently adhere to a simple, spartan lifestyle. This requires considerable self-discipline, particularly given the temptations proffered by “The English” — the blanket term the Amish use for outsiders.
Since their congregations typically consist of just a few families, Amish colonies have traditionally used their private homes as places of worship. One or more homes in the unincorporated community of Whiteson, lying just north of Amity on Highway 99W, must have served as local meeting places.
More than one person I spoke with had a vivid recollection of seeing them on Sundays, converging from all directions in their black, horse-drawn carriages.
In the manner of Amish worship, that would have been only every other Sunday, though. The alternate Sunday was set aside for visiting relatives and friends some distance away, requiring a lengthy buggy ride.
Since their houses had no electricity, living from dawn to dusk was a way of life. Under the circumstances, one comes to covet the daylight hours made possible by nature or, in effect, by God.
The Amish were very much in evidence in and around the area through the 1960s. Father Cawley’s research turned up evidence of three separate colonies.
The first group came to the Amity area from Clackamas County in 1895, seeking farmland for newly married couples. Apparently, there was no longer enough land around the colony they had established east of Hubbard some 20 years earlier.
Cawley said some sort of “crisis,” the nature unknown, compelled that colony to pull up stakes and move to California in 1913.
About a year later, several members returned. They remained in the area until about 1930.
A new group arrived in 1935. It reached its height in the early 1940s, then began to dwindle as older members died and younger members opted to join better established colonies elsewhere.
By the late 1960s, only a few remained. By the mid-1970s, even they were gone.
Farming has always been the Amish mainstay. In that regard, the Yamhill Valley was ideal.
But maintaining the principles of Amish beliefs requires a solid support group. Outsiders seems to look on them as a quirky bunch — at best, tolerating them and respecting their right to live according to their own beliefs, at worst, making fun of them and perhaps even badgering them when encounters occur.
The truth is that the Amish honor and embrace Jesus Christ as much if not more than any other Christian denomination. For the Amish, daily life and religion are incontrovertibly intertwined.
They are fundamental adherents of the German Bible of Martin Luther, publishd in 1534. Father Cawley’s book explains in detail their history and beliefs.
These devout, communal Christians are late 17th century offshoots of the Mennonites of Germany and Switzerland. They take their name from their original leader, the young minister Jacob Ammann.
His views, and his forceful presentation of them, attracted a sizable following. And its descendants have carried those views forward ever since.
Amish teachings demand strict adherence internally. They only place one demand on the outside the world — “a place where we can live at peace in the manner we choose.”
Marriage is entered into with absolute finality. There is no such thing as divorce.
After marrying, men are expected to grow full beards, but without mustaches, which are considered aggressive. Women are expected to exchange white aprons for black ones.
Symbolic practices, such as use of “hook and eye” fasteners for clothing, set them even more part. This unique convention harkens back to a time before buttons became commonplace.
That explains the origin of Hook and Eye Lane, between Highways 18 and 88W just northwest of Amity.
With no telephones, no radios, no television sets and no computers, the Amish rely on face-to-face communication for interaction with friends and relatives close at hand and letters for interaction with those living farther away.
To have no interest in the outside world, beyond that with which they must deal in order to obey laws and follow governmental rules and regulations, is perhaps the most confounding thing to observers.
Old Order Brethren — another term applied to the Amish — show zero tolerance for those who fall away from the pure path dictated by their strict teachings. And that’s understandable, considering what might happen if they began to allow worldly ways into their lives.
As a consequence, excommunication and shunning can be fast and final when one stays too far.
Father Cawley’s “The Amish of Amity: Memories of Oregon’s Plain People,” is available for purchase at the Yamhill County Historical Society’s Miller Museum, its log cabin headquarters in Lafayette. And the book includes a section, complete with maps, providing directions for anyone interested in touring local areas once occupied by the Amish.
Karl Klooster can be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 503-687-1227.