Stories from intrepid reporters attending the Illinois Press Foundation Journalism Workshop at Eastern Illinois University
By Will Roberts
Arcola is a town that is well known for being the largest Amish community in Illinois. However, this is not necessarily true.
Many local storeowners in Arcola declare that the statement of being the largest Amish community is a bit misleading. They agreed that Arcola is simply a gateway to the Amish community.
The town that actually contains most of the Amish in the area is Arthur, they said.
Maintaining traditional family customs, the Amish work to better their community and pull their individual weight.
With such tightly knit families, it requires a great amount of cooperation. For this reason, the Amish set in place certain freedoms that keep a balance in choices. At the age of 16, Amish teenagers are allowed to go for temporary leaves where they can experience life with the English, their term for non-Amish Americans. This leave, named rumspringa, gives a chance for the Amish teens to find out more about the outside world.
After returning to the community, the Amish teenagers may then make a choice with their newfound wisdom to decide on their future: They may be baptized into the Amish Church or leave forever.
Once initiated into the Amish community, the members begin a lifestyle of self-production and craftsmanship. With great precision and use of traditional techniques, the Amish use their skills to build and sell a variety of household items.
“You’d be surprised. They can make beautiful furniture and they have gas-powered tools. They don’t have electric tools like we have,” Lena Ramsey said.
The Amish also reach out of the comfort of their community by forming businesses. Those who run businesses are allowed to use telephones as long as it is not inside their home.
Amish in the town of Arthur often sell their furniture to the English. Searching through various stores in Arcola, many wooden pieces can be found such as chairs, dressers, and beds. These items are often priced higher than factory-made counterparts because of the extra work and lack of assembly machines used in their production.
A strong example of Amish craftsmanship is of a chair sitting on display in front of Yoder’s Homestead Shop. In front of the shop sits an Amish rocking chair made primarily of wood. The chair contains a detailed bend of a variety of different colored woods. The arms are supported by a spiraling dark wood formed from wood that has been bent by the use of steam. This process allows wood that would not usually be bent to be made into different shapes.
The Amish may shirk the use of the latest technology, but the result of their efforts lead to intricately crafted pieces.