How Amish History Connects to the Oregon Village Debate in Manheim Township [column] | Local voices

In the mid-1700s, Amish families fleeing persecution in Europe settled in what are now Berks and Lancaster counties.

The Amish of Berks County were known as the Northkill Settlement, named after Northkill Creek in the northwest corner of the county.

The Amish of Lancaster County were known as the Old Conestoga Settlement, after the Conestoga River. Their community extended through northern Manheim Township and into Upper Leacock Township, approximately from Lancaster Airport, through Oregon Village, to Leola.

The Berks community was the first in the New World, begun in 1736. The Lancaster community, set up a year later, was the second.

But in 1757, during the French and Indian War, Delaware Indians attacked the Berks Colony, killing some settlers and capturing others. After that, the community slowly dissolved, its members moving to the greater safety and better farmland of the settlement of Old Conestoga. By 1800, the colony of Berks had disappeared.

However, the settlement of Old Conestoga flourished, its families becoming the foundation upon which Amish communities in Lancaster County and North America grew.

The individuals of this first surviving colony numbered in the hundreds. Today, approximately 1,200 Amish in 250 households live and farm on that same land. And approximately 350,000 Amish live in 31 states and four Canadian provinces, many of whom trace their roots to Lancaster County.

In December, a three-judge Commonwealth Court panel told Manheim Township officials that their predecessors had failed to properly consider the impact of the proposed Oregon Village mixed-use development on surrounding historic resources. . The development would consist of approximately 550 apartments, condos and homes; a mega-grocery; a 300-seat restaurant; A mall; and a six-lane highway.

The court ordered the current board of commissioners to do what a previous board failed to do: assess the project’s impact on surrounding historic resources.

Now, these officials are faced with a critical problem: determining which historic resources should be considered in their review:

— Will they examine the impact of the development on the bed and breakfast building whose owner took the case to court?

— Will they examine the impact on the village of Oregon, a historic community with many 18th century buildings?

— Will they examine the impact on the surrounding farming community, which is still home to the oldest surviving Amish community in North America?

It is entirely possible that the current board of directors will repeat the error of its predecessors. They have already decided not to hear new testimony from local history experts. They decided to consider only the limited testimony authorized by the previous board.

Yet throughout this month, township commissioners have taken a fresh look at evidence from past public hearings to determine what historic resources surrounding the project they should consider and what impact the development would have on those resources.

If they are thorough, they will have examined the testimony of Donald Kraybill, the professor at Elizabethtown College who is one of the world’s foremost experts on Amish history and culture.

Kraybill clearly testified that the proposed housing complex/mall and six-lane highway would disrupt and potentially force the end of the Amish settlement of Manheim Township.

A nearby Amish farmer said he couldn’t imagine how strollers, horse-drawn farm equipment or children walking to school could safely move through their community with a mall-sized development Belmont in the middle. He feared that it would “push us out”.

County residents concerned about protecting their Amish neighbors and preserving their historic farming community should contact the Manheim Township Commissioners before addressing the issue at their June 28 meeting. Their email addresses are readily available at

The commissioners do not allow the opinions of non-residents of the township at their meetings. But when these elected officials consider approving a massive suburban project in the heart of America’s birthplace of the Amish, it’s a matter of county, state and national interest. The board should be aware of this concern.

The five township commissioners – four Republicans and one Democrat – campaigned for the preservation of the farms. Their actions on this issue will test their commitment to those campaign promises.

Will they be heroes who preserve the birthplace of the Amish in America? Or will they be the government agents who enable its destruction?

Ernest J. Schreiber is retired editor of the Intelligent Journal/Lancaster New Era/Sunday News, predecessor of LNP | Lancasters online.

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