National Geographic : 1984 Apr
LESSED with some of the richest soil in the nation and a climate ideal for farming, the most productive agricultural county in the East has also been gifted with the stewardship of Mennonite and Amish farmers since William Penn invited them to settle in his New World colony. Among many principles laid down by the 16th-century Dutch Anabaptist leader Menno Simons, from whom the Mennonites take their name, perhaps the most important is that of a spiritual community living apart from the world and close to the soil. Jacob Ammann led his followers the Amish-out of the Mennonite Church in 1693, principally because it no longer shunned nonconforming members in daily life as Simons had taught. But both groups remain close in spiritual beliefs, their lives centered on their church community. In both, those congregations that have most resisted change in life-style and worship are today called Old Order. Amish settlements in the county cluster thickest near Intercourse and stretch south toward the Maryland line. Old Order Mennonites predominate in the north. All are under economic pressure explained by an Amish farmer: "The biggest problem is high land prices. We might be at fault for that. We're increasing in population, but we don't like to spread out." As Old Order farmers bid for nearby land for their children, prices have skyrocketed as high as $10,000 an acre, forcing many to subdivide or see children take jobs away from home. Some young people move to Old Order settlements elsewhere. Also, growing industry in Lancaster brings housing development on prime farmland. Another intrusion, a booming tourist trade has sprung up on their doorstep. Vehicles at a o crafts market in Intercourse (below) are among those that brought some five million visitors to the county last year. The Plain People themselves are the Elizab Threemile unwilling focus of Island tourist attention. Outsiders' curiosity is often unwelcome to a people for whom privacy is a part of their religion.