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history, traditions- hero

History, Traditions, and Local Lore

The new frontier of Holmes County.

A meander through the forests and sandstone-pocked ridges of Glenmont might give you a vision of this place when it was the frontier of America. Imagine the trees twice as round and opossums living as lords of the land. But by the 1780s conflict had erupted. America’s expansion across the Ohio Northwest Territory pressured indigenous groups of Wyandotte, Delaware, Shawnee, and others. French and British troops fueled battles across the area as Native American groups resisted the pioneers’ re-settlement of this fertile land rich in waterways. Yet, these native groups lacked the weapons and tactics to succeed. 
 

The Amish communities' unwavering ability to join together for a common goal is a time-honored tradition and visible throughout Holmes County.

The area that would become Holmes County was bisected by the Greenville Treaty Line in 1795. Members of several tribes signed the treaty granting them the lands of northwest Ohio, including northwestern Holmes County. General “Mad Anthony” Wayne represented the United States in this treaty, and you can still find Mad Anthony Street in Millersburg today. The Holmes County area provided ideal farmlands to new settlers, as well as timber and game. The Killbuck Valley, extending north to south through the center of the county, remains one of Ohio’s largest wetlands and habitat for diverse wildlife, including waterfowl, fish, and fur-bearers. These resources help us understand why the area was contested.
 

Creating a county.

In 1824, twenty-one years after Ohio entered the Union, the state created Holmes County from lands in surrounding counties, including Tuscarawas and Coshocton. Unlike those counties with names derived from the language of indigenous Delaware, Holmes County’s namesake was Major Holmes, a War of 1812 hero. Millersburg became county seat after Charles Miller planned the town, and honored himself in the naming. Among the first buildings were a tavern, a school, and a frontier store. Our remarkable, locally-sourced sandstone courthouse in the downtown area is actually the third courthouse to be built in Millersburg and was completed in 1886.  
 

The courthouse in downtown Millersburg was completed in 1886.

Communities across the county developed with unique industry and identity over the following century. There are a few surprises in these villages of old. Lakeville was once a prolific ice producer and summertime recreation attraction. Local lore remembers Holmesville as a stop on the Underground Railroad. Legend places Wyandotte leader Leatherlips between Berlin and Charm before his struggles with Shawnee resistance leader Tecumseh. Benton was a commercial center with several distilleries. And, as you will read, Walnut Creek was home to an Amishman who dressed in white and carried an oversized chair for Christ’s return. These villages remain lively communities with tales of history’s characters passed between generations. 

 

Resources for the History Buff

Holmes County Historical Society 
Killbuck Valley Museum
Ohio Historical Connection

Amish Country History 

Anabaptist migrations.

The first Anabaptists arrived in Ohio in the early 1800’s. It is said that the rolling hills of eastern Holmes County reminded these immigrants of homelands in Switzerland, although most had started their journey from Pennsylvania. The most notable of these early settlers is Jonas Stutzman, “Der Weiss.” Stutzman settled near present-day Walnut Creek in 1809, where he began one of the first sawmills. His reputation as “Der Weiss,” translated as “the white,” developed later in his life. Stutzman predicted the return of Christ, built and carried an oversized chair for Christ to sit in judgment, and wore white to symbolize his own purity.
 

Like Stutzman, many other Anabaptists relocated from Pennsylvania to the Holmes County area during the 19th century. None wore white or toted the giant chair. These settlers began industries that remain invaluable to our area. Dairy farming encouraged local cheese production. Hardwood timber stands fed sawmills, which stimulated an industry of handcrafted furniture. The Amish and Mennonite concentration on family, church, and community kept a focus on resourceful, small farms. Heritage remains a vital part of cultural identity in Holmes County. If you feel surprised by the integration of Amish and non-Amish “English” in Holmes County, remember that family branches spread wide here.

European faith foundations.

The European origins of Amish and Mennonites begin in the 16th-century Protestant Reformation. This was an unstable time for reformers. Ignited by the protests of Martin Luther, many began questioning the practices and political persuasion of the Roman Catholic Church. Adding to the complexity of this period was the widespread uprising of the peasant class in German-speaking territories. Many involved in this resistance movement were early Anabaptists. Punishment was severe for expressing this faith and for fighting a powerful aristocracy. Many were killed and martyred. After much study and reflection, the violence led Dutchman Menno Simons to begin the Mennonite faith in 1536. He advocated adult baptism, professions of faith, and pacifism. 

 

Mennonites and Amish are often considered one group by our contemporary culture. Both groups are pacifists dedicated to adult baptism, from which we derive the term Anabaptist. However, the Amish church didn’t begin until the 1690s when Jakob Ammann of Switzerland desired a stricter observance of faith. He forbade shaving and called for dismissal of those in violation of Anabaptist doctrine. This formed our modern notion of “shunning.” He hoped to reinvigorate faith through rigorous tenets that separated Amish from the world to place them in closer communion with God. Protestantism was widespread by Ammann’s time but religious repression continued In Europe.

Mennonites and Amish immigrated to North America to seek religious freedom. Some Amish sects continue migrations as they seek faithfulness through isolation. In Holmes County Mennonites, Amish, and non-Amish dwell together. The most strict or devout Mennonites might dress similarly to Amish and have a varied scale of acceptance on electronics, cars, clothes, and exposure to the world. Some of these Conservative Mennonites have transitioned from origins in an Amish church. Many Mennonites, who dress and behave as any other contemporary American, instead have a tradition of that faith in their families. Amish, too, have a variety of beliefs and practices varied by congregation, and you can find more information on our etiquette page [link: etiquette page]. As with any place, diverse faith tenets and perspectives comprise our county. Amish culture happens to be more easily discernible due to dress, beard, and buggy.
 

Resources for the Amish history buff
German Culture Museum 
Amish and Mennonite Heritage Center

Genealogy Around Amish Country:

Finding your roots.

For many of us, migration is a part of our heritage. Generations of diverse people have made Holmes County their home and resting place over the last two-hundred years. We have an active genealogical society, as well as excellent historical resources available at our public library. The Holmes County Historical Society, located in the beautifully restored Victorian House in Millersburg, might offer glimpses of the area during your ancestor’s life. Many of our community cemeteries are accessible for seeking ancestors. Because of Amish ancestry, not all cemeteries are easily mapped or located. Amish cemeteries are small and localized to family/church community areas. No matter how you choose to research, you’ll have a memorable adventure traversing the hills and valleys of the area while searching for your roots. 


Resources for the genealogy buff
Holmes County Genealogical Society
Holmes County Public Library
Holmes County Historical Society 
Request a county road map with cemeteries included
 

The Holmes County Historical Society, 484 Wooster Road Millersburg, OH 44654

Visitor's Guide

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Ohio Amish Country Guide