Lancaster-Chester Counties Old Order Amish Settlement (Pennsylvania, USA)

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1957 Article

Lancaster County (Pennsylvania, USA) Amish first settled in that part of the county which in 1752 was organized as Berks County. Some Palatine Amish settled north and west of the present site of Reading as early as the second decade of the 18th century. They were joined later by Amish from Switzerland. Settlement within the present boundaries of Lancaster County began in 1759 when John Hertzler and his wife Veronica moved south from the northern frontiers of the county in consequence of Indian raids and the massacre of some Amish settlers during the French and Indian War. The Hertzlers were joined in 1760 in the Conestoga Valley near Morgantown by the family of Jacob Mast, also his father-in-law, Michael Hoelley (Hooley), and John Lapp.

Jacob Mast seems to have been the first Amish minister to serve the new congregation, but Christian Stoltzfus, son of Nicholas Stoltzfus, a Palatine immigrant who arrived in 1766, is said to have been the first ordained Amish minister to settle within the present bounds of Lancaster County. Family names which occur most frequently among the Amish in the county are Beiler, Fisher, Glick, Kauffman, Hertzler, Mast, King, Zook, Stoltzfus, Lantz, Lapp, Esh, and Blank.

Jacob Hertzler, living in the northern part of what is now Berks County, served the Conestoga group as bishop until his death in 1786. He was succeeded by Jacob Mast, ordained bishop in 1787. He in turn was followed by Peter Blank and John P. Mast. From the beginning of Jacob Mast's service as bishop the colony flourished. He was a prosperous farmer but he found time to visit and help build the other Amish settlements in Berks, Chester, and Lancaster counties. He is said to have visited also the congregations in Cambria and Somerset counties. His 12 children all married Amish mates and reared families in the Amish church. By 1850 nearly the entire membership of the large congregation was related to this Mast family by marriage or direct descent. A large percentage of the 6,000 descendants of Nicholas Stoltzfus are known for their conservatism and have remained loyal to the Amish or Amish Mennonite Church. David Beiler of Gap held firmly to the old order when western congregations began to erect meetinghouses in 1862 and to introduce other innovations. On the other hand, the Millers, Kurtzes, Zooks, Hertzlers, Reichenbachs, and others have hundreds of descendants in the Lutheran, Reformed, and United Evangelical denominations of Berks County and throughout the nation. There is always the possibility, to be sure, that many of these are the descendants of early non-Amish Swiss and Palatine settlers. Since the Amish rarely receive any non-Amish into their congregations, and since those who "marry out" very rarely remain in an Amish congregation, the Lancaster County Amish have remained an almost purely Swiss-Palatine racial group within the bounds of their adopted country and retain the cultural mores of their ancestors.

The Amish by natural increase and immigration have spread over a large part of the eastern and southeastern part of Lancaster County. Camp meetings and revival meetings by pietistic groups have swept away a considerable number of the Amish from their quiet, less emotional denominational heritage. Failure to provide service opportunities for the young people caused scores of Amish young people to unite with other denominations. One Amish family produced three Methodist ministers.

After some Amish congregations in states farther west began to erect meetinghouses, the Lancaster Amish gradually (1877-1882) divided into two main groups: the "Church Amish," which adopted the name Amish Mennonites, and the "Old Order Amish." But in spite of numerous defections Lancaster County still has the second largest number of Amish congregations in any one county in America, next to Holmes County, Ohio. Ohio now surpasses Pennsylvania in the total number of congregations.

Some family names listed among the early Lancaster County Amish immigrants have disappeared to a large extent. The [[Hershberger (Hersberg, Hersberger, Herschberger, Hirschberger, Harshberger, Harshbarger)|Hershbergers]] and Hostetlers, for instance, moved to Mifflin County, Pennsylvania and are now numerous in Holmes County, Ohio. The [[Yoder (Ioder, Joder, Jodter, Jotter, Yoeder, Yother, Yothers, Yotter)|Yoders]] also are much more numerous in Ohio and Indiana than in Lancaster County, although a certain Barbara Yoder and her children were among the first Amish settlers in what is now Berks County.

In 1955 there were in Lancaster County or the immediately adjacent Berks and Chester County borders 30 Old Order Amish congregations with 3,100 baptized members. The following additional congregations descended directly from Old Order Amish origins by schism: Conestoga Amish Mennonite (1877) and its daughter congregations of Zion, Oley, and Rock, with a total of 664 members; Maple Grove (1882) and its daughter congregations of Media Chapel and Sandy Hill, with a total of 580 members. Both of these groups are in the Ohio and Eastern Conference. The Millwood congregation broke off from the Maple Grove congregation in 1945 to join the Lancaster Conference; it has 431 members with its five daughter congregations. One small congregation, Bart, with 31 members, left the Old Order Amish around 1950 to join the Conservative Mennonites. Two congregations, Weavertown and Maple Grove Amish Mennonite, with 269 members, formed from the Old Order Amish around 1925, have joined the Beachy Amish group.

Thus the original pre-Revolutionary Amish immigrants, less than 200 souls in total number, according to C. H. Smith's estimate, had in 1955 grown to over 5,000 baptized members with some 10,000 souls, still adherents to the Amish-Mennonite faith. -- John S. Umble

1990 Article

The Lancaster-Chester Counties Old Order Amish Settlement is nestled in the gently rolling countryside of eastern Pennsylvania. The first Amish family migrated to this area in 1752, but the actual settlement developed in 1760. The Lancaster community, which spills over into Berks and Chester Counties, is considered to be the first and oldest Amish settlement in America. In 1988 there were 90 church districts serving a population of more than 15,000 (children and adults), representing the second largest Amish community in the United States. Pennsylvania has 40 Amish settlements and many of these originated from the Lancaster community.

More than 20 distinct groups of Amish and Mennonites are found in the Lancaster settlement. These often represent the perennial "search for purity" groups who choose to differ on such issues as church architecture, plain dress, horse and buggy, hooks and eyes and buttons. Each fall and spring Amish ministers and bishops meet for consultation and clarification of issues that may infringe on Amish church discipline.

Amidst the fertility and beauty of Lancaster County, the Amish have lived for almost 250 years. This has given communal stability, tradition, and heritage. Family names have become prominent, suggesting a certain ethnic purity. Forty-eight percent of the Amish population in this area claim Fisher, Stoltzfus, or King as a surname. Against this rural backdrop flourishes a busy, hectic, tourism industry. In fact, Lancaster has become one of the top ten tourist centers in the United States. The Old Philadelphia Pike from Lancaster City to the town of Intercourse and US Highway 30 east have become important tourist pathways, often to the dismay of the Amish. Tourists from large industrial cities come primarily to see the plain people in their picturesque agricultural community. The People's Place and the Mennonite Information Center were key information stops for the dozens of busloads of visitors each week. These, coupled with farmer's market and roadside stands, nourished the tourist industry. In this setting, the movie Witness was filmed and produced, despite the disapproval of the Amish.

Expensive land prices ($5,000 per acre and higher) and the pressure to modernize have spurred Amish migration to other areas into the 1970s. Since 1978 the trend to non-farm occupations has replaced migration as a way to cope with these pressures. In 1987 more than one-third of the Amish in the Lancaster settlement were employed in non-farm Amish-owned and operated cottage industries and small businesses. With all the changes, Lancaster was still considered by most Amish as the "mother" settlement for all 18th century immigrants. -- Samuel L. Yoder

2017 Update

In 2017 the settlement had an estimated 220 church districts with an estimated population of 36,920, and was considered the largest Amish settlement by the Young Center for Anabaptist and Pietist Studies.


Bachman, Calvin George. The Old Order Amish of Lancaster County. Norristown, PA: Pennsylvania German Society, 1942.

Mast, C. Z. and R. E. Simpson. Annals of the Conestoga Valley in Lancaster, Berks, and Chester Counties, Pennsylvania. Elverson, PA, 1942.

Montgomery, M. L. Historical and Biographical Annals of Berks County, Pennsylvania I. 1909.

Smith, C. Henry. The Mennonite Immigration to Pennsylvania in the Eighteenth Century. Norristown, PA: Pennsylvania German Society, 1929.

Stoltzfus, G. M. "History of the First Amish Mennonite Communities in America." Mennonite Quarterly Review 28 (October 1954): 235-262.

“Twelve Largest Amish Settlements, 2017.” Young Center for Anabaptist and Pietist Studies, Elizabethtown College.

Author(s) John S. Umble
Samuel L. Yoder
Date Published August 2017

Cite This Article

MLA style

Umble, John S. and Samuel L. Yoder. "Lancaster-Chester Counties Old Order Amish Settlement (Pennsylvania, USA)." Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. August 2017. Web. 21 Mar 2019.,_USA)&oldid=160086.

APA style

Umble, John S. and Samuel L. Yoder. (August 2017). Lancaster-Chester Counties Old Order Amish Settlement (Pennsylvania, USA). Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. Retrieved 21 March 2019, from,_USA)&oldid=160086.


Adapted by permission of Herald Press, Harrisonburg, Virginia, from Mennonite Encyclopedia, Vol. 3, pp. 274-275; vol. 5, pp. 504-505. All rights reserved.

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