By Mary Heyl
Western New York’s Amish population is unique in that this community is considered one of the few “Old Order” Amish settlements in the United States. Cattaraugus County has one of the largest Amish communities in the area, and you can get a unique glimpse of this community by taking a guided tour with one of Randolph’s experienced local guides. Dick Hall has almost 10 years of experience guiding visitors throughout the area and is looking forward to another great Amish tour season!
Hall, who grew up and attended school in Randolph, remembers when the Amish first settled in the region. “In 1949, Amish moved here from Lancaster, PA and Ohio, and it all started with a few farms that were for sale in Conewango Valley,” explained Hall. Now, the Amish population in the Conewango Valley region has grown into the thousands and continues to expand, as most families have more than half a dozen children who usually remain in the area to raise families of their own.
Unlike Amish communities in other parts of the country, Cattaraugus County’s Old Order Amish population is very conservative and limits their exposure to large groups of tourists. This traditional community lives without such modern conveniences as electricity, phones, cars and even zippered clothing. Known for their plain, dark dress, the Amish travel throughout their community in horse-drawn buggies, and they do not allow tour buses in the region, like more liberal Amish communities.
So what’s the best way to experience this unique community that doesn’t permit large groups of tourists or have one central “Amish store” or visitor’s center? A guided tour, of course! For just $40, Hall or Randolph’s other Amish tour guide, Betsey Dubois, will ride along in your vehicle and take you and your family on a two and a half to three hour tour of the area.
“I like to begin each tour by asking people what they would like to see and learn about,” said Hall. “Of course, it also helps to ask what they’d like to shop for, too!”
Popular destinations include the blacksmith’s shop, where visitors can often see a horse being shoed, the toy shop (lots of fun hand-made toys including an “exploding outhouse”), and Malinda’s Candy Shop. “Malinda’s is definitely the most popular stop,” according to Hall, “and I’ve even been tipped in Malinda’s candy, which I have no complaints about!” From goat’s milk fudge to pecan clusters to chocolate covered Oreos, Malinda’s has something for everybody’s sweet tooth.
Speaking of a sweet tooth, Fridays are a great day to book an Amish tour, as this is the day when Amish bake stands are open. Visitors can shop for freshly baked bread, cinnamon rolls, pies, donuts and more—it is a great day for a tour, according to Hall. Those interested in a tour should remember that all Amish businesses are closed on Sundays, as the Amish reserve this day for church and family gatherings.
Over the past decade, Hall has taken visitors from all over the United States (and all over the world!) throughout the area. Many families from the Buffalo area come to Randolph for a tour, but Hall has also had visitors from Houston, Los Angeles and New York City come experience the simple life and the incredible scenery of Cattaraugus County’s “Enchanted Mountains.” When asked about his most memorable tour, Hall chuckled and recalled a couple from Italy who visited Randolph. “The husband didn’t speak a word of English and the wife spoke very little. He drove like a maniac and ran just about every stop sign! It was all I could do to get her to tell him to slow down and watch where he’s going,” Hall laughed.
Another memorable tour involved a couple from Germany who spoke with some of the Amish whom they met along their tour. Cattaraugus County’s Amish speak a dialect of German known as Pennsylvania Dutch, and the tourists had some luck communicating with the Amish. Hall said, “The Amish gentleman talking with them went in the house and got the family Bible to show them. But the couple couldn’t understand it—that’s how different their written language is from German!”
When asked about the most important thing potential visitors should keep in mind before a tour, Hall had one word: photography. “It’s really important for people to understand that it’s against Amish beliefs to have any ‘craven images’ of themselves, which is from the Bible. This is why they don’t have mirrors in their homes or allow their photos to be taken.” Hall continued, “I had someone once sneak a photo of an Amish man in the toy shop, and he actually dropped down on the floor and hid his face to avoid it. They just want people to respect their beliefs.” Visitors are permitted to take photos of buggies, horses, Amish gardens, buildings, etc. as long as there are no people in the shot.
To learn more about the area’s Amish community, visit nyamishtrail.com, where you can find a complete directory of all the Amish businesses in the area. Call the Randolph Area Community Development Corporation at (716)358-9701 ext. 208 to book your own Amish tour with Hall this summer!