FRANKLIN, Ky. — In a stretch of Allen County between Scottsville and Franklin, horse-drawn buggies are more common than cars. There is no electricity or indoor plumbing, and the names of many roads are known only by those who live here.
About 100 Old Order Mennonite families call this area home, living in a seven-mile radius with their own church, school and shops.
Though they live in a self-contained community, they have a far-reaching impact. Most make their livelihood as farmers, whose produce is shipped to big-box groceries across the country, or small business owners, whose shops selling homemade or specialized Mennonite products serve as a tourist draw for the county.
The Mennonite community in Allen County is just one of several Mennonite or Amish groups in the region. Hart County and Logan County are also home to members of the two religious groups, who travel by horse and buggy, wear plain clothes and use limited technology.
Old Order Mennonites use a few minor modern items such as flashlights, but they don’t use any electricity or indoor plumbing. It’s not that they believe those things are inherently evil or ungodly, but they think technology would get in the way of their simple way of life, which is centered on family and faith, according to David Hoover, a Mennonite who lives in Allen County.
“We feel it would be deteriorating to the family structure and the community structure,” he said. “It would be a disruption to our simple community lifestyle.”
Outsiders may think Mennonites are deprived by not using modern inventions, but Hoover doesn’t feel like he’s missing out on anything and wouldn’t desire living any differently.
“We feel it’s a privilege to live a quiet life separate from the fast lane,” he said.
The first Mennonites began arriving in Allen County around 1970 from Pennsylvania, a Mennonite hub that had become too congested, said Hoover, who was among the first wave of Mennonites moving to Kentucky. Mennonites prefer to stay in small, self-contained communities.
“The larger the group, the more drift you would see into modernism or technology,” Hoover said.
The Mennonite population in Pennsylvania was growing too large, causing many families to leave during the last several decades to form communities elsewhere, including Allen County.
“Big cities were encroaching and taking up farmland,” Hoover said.
But the biggest reason for Mennonites’ move to Kentucky was because the price of farmland in Pennsylvania was growing higher and church leaders feared future generations would stray from the farm.
“Our move to Kentucky was motivated by farmland being more available,” Hoover said.
The Mennonites’ reception in Allen County was above his expectations, and he feels part of the Scottsville community. In turn, Allen County Judge-Executive Johnny Hobdy feels the Mennonites are a boon to the area. They are very respectable and add diversity to the area, he said.
“Certainly, they make good neighbors, first and foremost,” Hobdy said.
They also help the local economy because the Mennonite shops are a big tourist draw.
“It creates a flow … of people coming into our community from everywhere,” Hobdy said. “I think they’re a huge positive for our community.”
One local business owner in the Mennonite community near Scottsville is Ervin Miller, owner of Countryside Jam House, which produces and sells several dozen varieties of jam.
Born and raised in Pennsylvania, he and his wife moved to Allen County in 1997 with a wave of Mennonites leaving Pennsylvania in search of cheaper land.
“It’s worked out real good,” he said. “We’ve established real good businesses.”
He enjoys the Mennonite church that’s been established in Allen County and feels part of the Scottsville community.
“They’ve been real welcoming,” he said. “We have wonderful neighbors and a wonderful community.”
Several counties away, members of the Amish community in Cub Run live with a few more modern pieces of technology, though they still travel by horse and buggy and don’t use electricity.
Unlike the Mennonites in Allen County, the Amish in Hart County use telephones and indoor plumbing.
“I couldn’t imagine living like that, without running water,” said Elva Detweiler, a member of the Amish community in Cub Run. “It is kind of amazing how they live.”
Individual churches usually decide what pieces of technology are appropriate to use and which could lead to technological dependence, she said.
For example, while many Amish own landline phones, especially families like the Detweilers who run a business, they aren’t supposed to have cellphones.
“They might be afraid it would lead to other things,” Detweiler said.
Her family’s business, the Detweiler Country Store, offers some specialty Amish products and serves as a tourist draw, but it also sells grocery items and is frequented by residents of Cub Run, both Amish and non-Amish. Because the Detweilers don’t use electricity, lights in the store are powered by a generator with a diesel motor.
The Amish in Cub Run ride in taxis when traveling outside Hart County, so Detweiler has experienced other kinds of technology, but ultimately she’s so used to living without a lot of it that she wouldn’t leave the Amish way of life.
“Sometimes I wish we would have it, but for myself, I don’t mind living without it,” she said.
She was born in Ohio, but her family moved to Hart County when she was a toddler, so she feels firmly engrained in the Cub Run community.
“We wouldn’t want to live anywhere else,” Detweiler said. “Since I’ve lived here as long as I can remember, it just probably wouldn’t feel right living anywhere else.”