Amish in Hartford


Amish contingent toured county-owned property

• JON ALEXANDER — [email protected]
Q: Why the sudden interest by the Amish to buy farmland in northern Washington County? Rumor has it they have bought one in Whitehall and inquired about a second in Fort Ann.

— Patricia Henry, Fort Ann

A: Scuttlebutt about a potential Amish boom in Washington County has been circulating for a few months.

The talk apparently started when, this spring, a half-dozen Amish men from the Fort Plain area of Montgomery County hired a driver and were stopping at farms in Hartford asking about available land.

That’s when Hartford Supervisor Dana Haff, tipped off about the interest in his town’s farmland and hoping to market the county’s soon-to-be-auctioned property on Eldridge Lane, jumped into his truck and tracked the visitors down.

Haff escorted the men to the 580 acres on Eldridge Lane, and the men immediately started asking if the county would bypass the auction and sell it to them directly, Haff said Friday.

“They make good neighbors. They’re not known for raising hell, they pay their taxes and just want to be left alone,” Haff said.

Amish family farms are typically sited within 10 miles — a horse-and-buggy-ride — from another Amish farm, officials said.

Luddite Amish populations have for years faced development pressure from the ever-expanding modern world. Finding 60- to 80-acre lots each family needs to sustain itself is becoming increasingly hard in many traditionally Amish communities.

A local dairy farmer last year hired a group of Amish to build a new barn. That may be how the sect heard about the rolling fields in Washington County, Haff said.

The Amish, who build their own houses in 19th-century style, have increasingly run into spats with local code enforcement in some areas. Most local fire codes, for instance, require new homes have hard-wired fire alarms, a problem for a people who reject electricity.

The St. Lawrence County town of Morristown eventually dropped criminal charges last year against 12 Amish men who refused to install smoke detectors and larger windows.

Morristown officials are now installing smoke detectors in every newly built Amish home in the town, but whether the devices stay up will be up to the homeowner, under a settlement agreement. The Amish agreed to install larger windows.

Marketing the Eldridge Lane property to the Amish before September’s auction could be a challenge, as traditional sources, like online advertisements, won’t reach them.

Kingsbury Supervisor Jim Lindsay jokingly suggested sending smoke signals, at a recent meeting of the county Board of Supervisors Public Works Committee.

Haff said the county should ask its auctioneer to travel to Fort Plain and hand out fliers to the Amish community.

Haff said he thinks an Amish farming population would greatly add to Washington County’s cultural complexity.

“I’ve had a lot of Hartford people say, “If they come back, take them to my place,” Haff said.

The Amish are a quickly growing population, according to a 2012 Ohio State University study. Fifteen new Amish communities have popped up in New York since 2010, researchers found.

The Amish and code regulators have clashed throughout the country.

Bourbon County officials in Kansas are clashing with Amish farmers who use outhouses instead of modern septic systems. A Pennsylvania man was sentenced in 2009 to 90 days in a local jail for using an outhouse, the Associated Press reported.