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1959 Article


Ohio, bounded on the north by Lake Erie, on the south by the Ohio River, on the east by Pennsylvania, and on the west by Indiana, was the first state carved out of the Northwest Territory. It is part of the mid-continent area first settled by the French, who came up the Mississippi and explored its tributaries, and ceded by them in 1763 to the English. They in turn transferred it to the United Colonies in 1783. The Indians relinquished their claim to the Ohio lands by the Treaty of Greenville in 1795. But, encouraged by the English, they continued to make trouble for the early settlers until the end of the War of 1812.

The first Mennonite settlers to found a congregation within the state came to Fairfield and Perry counties from Lancaster County, Pennsylvania and Rockingham County, Virginia by way of southwestern Pennsylvania in 1799. Mennonites from Bucks County, Pa. settled in Mahoning County in 1806 and a group from Lancaster County and Rockingham County arrived in Stark County in 1811. Amish from Somerset County, PA settled in Tuscarawas County in 1808 and others from Somerset and Mifflin counties a little farther west in Holmes County two years later. But until the close of the War of 1812 made the Ohio frontier comparatively safe from molestation by the Indians, Amish and Mennonite settlements made slow growth. A short-lived settlement was begun in Trumbull County 1804-1810.

The two decades following the end of hostilities witnessed the founding of most of the present large flourishing congregations of Amish and Mennonites in the state, and a few now extinct:

Date of Founding Location Origin
1817 Oak Grove, Wayne County (Amish) Somerset and Mifflin Counties, PA
1817 Leetonia, Columbiana County (Mennonite) Bucks County, PA
1819 Butler County (Amish) Alsace and Hesse-Darmstadt
1819 Sonnenberg (Mennonite) Jura, Switzerland
1823 Beech (Amish) Jura, Switzerland
1824 Martins Creek (Amish) Lancaster County, PA
1825 Crown Hill (Swiss Mennonite) Switzerland and Upper Alsace
1825 Kolbs (Mennonite) Bucks County, PA
1825-30 Longenecker (Mennonite) Bucks County, PA
1827 North Lima (Mennonite) Bucks County, PA
1829 Guilford (Mennonite) Ontario, Maryland, and Bucks, Lancaster and Lehigh Counties, PA
1831 Salem in Allen County (Mennonite) Fairfield County, OH
1832 Blanchard (Mennonite) Maryland
1834 Central in Fulton County (Amish) Alsace and Montbéliard
1834 Martins (Mennonite) Lancaster County, PA
1835 Putnam County (Swiss Mennonite) Bern canton

Amish settlers began arriving in Logan County from Wayne County, Ohio and Mifflin County, Pennsylvania in 1840, and 8 or 10 miles southeast in Champaign County from Wayne and Fairfield counties, Ohio and Mifflin County, Pennsylvania in 1846. These two in the course of a few decades developed into the strong South Union and Oak Grove congregations.

Early Mennonite leaders in the state were Henry Stemen of Fairfield (later of Allen), Jacob Oberholtzer in Mahoning, Jacob Nold in Columbiana, Hans Lehman and Ulrich Gerber at Sonnenberg, Peter and Daniel Steiner at Crown Hill, William Westheffer at Martins, Jacob Koppes, William Overholt, and Martin Leatherman at Guilford in Medina County. Their Amish contemporaries were Christian Brandt and David Zook in Wayne County (Zook later in Fairfield), Moses Beachy in Holmes, John Schloneger in Stark, Benedicht King and Joseph Goldschmidt in Butler County, Frederick Hagi (Hege?) at Martins Creek, and Christian Beck and Christian Rupp in Fulton County.

Mennonite leaders during the middle and later years of the 19th century were John Thut, John M. and George Brenneman, and John M. Shenk of Allen County, Adam Kornhaus at Martins, Peter Imhoff in Ashland, Abraham Rohrer in Medina, and among the Swiss Mennonites, Christian Sommer at Sonnenberg and John Moser at Bluffton. Amish Mennonite leaders during the same period were Jacob and John K. Yoder, cousins, and Hannes Yoder of Wayne County, John Warye in Champaign, Jacob C. Kenagy, David Plank, and John P. King of Logan, and Eli and Jacob Frey of Fulton.

Coming from such varied backgrounds, it is not surprising that differences existed. These differences actually were not so great because all Amish and Mennonites spoke German, dressed in a plain modest garb, and practiced the simple life. But their small differences were at times magnified out of all proportion to their importance. On at least one occasion Mennonites and Amish refused to cross the Atlantic on the same vessel. And a congregation in Wayne County divided on whether it was necessary for a Mennonite who wished to unite with the Amish congregation to be rebaptized by an Amish bishop. One frequent cause of difficulty was that differences in congregational practice developed almost imperceptibly as the years passed. Few Amish and Mennonite settlers came to Ohio directly from Europe. The most striking exceptions were the entire colony of Swiss Mennonites who came to Wayne, Putnam, and Allen counties 1819-1850; the Alsatian Amish families who came to Wayne and Stark counties and were assimilated by the Oak Grove and Beech congregations, the Alsatians who founded the Fulton County Amish congregation, and the Alsatians and Hessians who settled in Butler County in the southwestern corner of the state. Most of the Mennonite settlers in Ohio came from Pennsylvania settlements established 75-125 years earlier in Bucks and Lancaster counties, and most of the Amish from well-established congregations in Lancaster, Mifflin, and Somerset counties in the same state. These settlers sought farms or larger holdings in the newer lands in America's great western wilderness. A few later immigrants from Europe, both Amish and Mennonites, remained in the Pennsylvania counties only long enough to repay the passage money advanced for their transportation across the Atlantic, and then joined the general westward movement. Mennonite families established a line of settlements extending from east of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania westward to South Bend, Indiana, many of them now extinct. The Amish, on the other hand, made fewer settlements, but with two notable exceptions, Knox and Fairfield counties, their Ohio congregations remained permanent. As their congregations developed in Ohio, their history became confusing and complicated. Satisfactory generalizations became well nigh impossible.

One difference between Amish and Mennonite in cultural practice related to the plain garb, which seems to have affected the relative permanence of their congregations. Among the Mennonites the marks of "separation from the world" were put on by the individual on application for church membership which was frequently delayed until marriage. Then the young man laid aside his worldly clothes for the plain Mennonite garb, and the young woman made a radical change when she adopted the simple dress of the church. Especially in the small Mennonite churches of the Ohio frontier such a change set young people off into so small a group that satisfactory social fellowship was almost impossible. Few young people could bring themselves to such a radical change while their friends in their German-speaking social circle united with the Lutheran, Reformed, United Brethren, or Evangelical churches, all of whom conducted their services in German, but, in addition, provided for the religious and social life of their young people. Many small Mennonite congregations on the Ohio frontier consequently endured little longer than a generation or two. Amish children, on the other hand, wore the garb of their parents from early childhood. This costume was no barrier when they united with the church in their middle or late teens. Amish were more reluctant, too, to settle in a neighborhood that gave little promise of building a congregation strong enough to guarantee adequate intra-congregational social life. The Knox and Fairfield County Amish congregations, for example, did not die out through the loss of their young people to other denominations, but when it became evident that land values were already too high to attract Amish settlers the entire congregation moved to other growing Amish congregations.

Ohio Mennonite settlements, 1959.
Source: Mennonite Encyclopedia, vol. 4, p. 26

Mennonite Settlements in Ohio

The Mennonites who settled in Fairfield and Perry counties at the beginning of the 19th century chose a hilly section because it was well drained. After the canal system several miles west opened level land more suitable for cultivation and more accessible to good markets, the group became dissatisfied and founded congregations in Franklin, Logan, and Allen counties. With them went some of their ablest leaders: John M. Brenneman, first to Franklin and later to Allen; his brother George to Putnam, and two younger brothers, Henry and Daniel Brenneman, to Elkhart County, Indiana. The Logan County group moved on west after a few decades and founded the now extinct congregation in Clay and Owen counties, Indiana. The Fairfield County congregations, which had built two meetinghouses, Pleasant Hill and Turkey Run, suffered further decline during the Civil War through the loss of whole families to the German Evangelicals ("Albrechtsleut") and by the end of the century were nearing the point of extinction. Attempts in the first half of the 20th century to revive the congregation was only moderately successful. The Allen County settlement of 125 years ago, in the 1950s had three congregations: Salem, Pike, and Central under the Ohio and Eastern Mennonite Conference, and survived serious internal difficulties and the loss of many individuals, even whole families, to neighboring non-Mennonite groups.

The Mahoning-Columbiana settlement in the earlier years was entirely agricultural, but with the growth of heavy industry and the great increase of population in nearby industrial centers Mennonites turned to truck gardening and poultry raising. The three congregations of the mid-20th century, Midway, Leetonia, and North Lima, long considered as one congregation, became independent, each with its own organization and its own bishop. Under the conservatively progressive leadership of its aged bishop, A. J. Steiner, retired in the early 1950s, the congregation maintained a high degree of stability. During the 1872 Wisler controversy in Indiana a considerable number of members left the main body and founded the Pleasant View Old Order Mennonite congregation.

The Wayne County Mennonite congregation, which founded the Martins church southeast of Orrville, also lost a number of members to the Wisler group in 1872. The Wayne County Wisler congregation was the largest Old Order Mennonite church in the United States. Some members of the Martins church who lived near Orrville united with the Salem congregation when it was organized by disaffected members of the Oak Grove Amish Mennonite Church in 1892. It has lost members also to the Orrville Mennonite Church, founded by members of the Oak Grove congregation who engaged in business in this thriving railroad center.

The Medina County Mennonite group built the Guilford meetinghouse near Wadsworth and followed their bishop, Abraham Rohrer, into the Wisler branch in 1872, leaving a bare half-dozen members in the Ohio Conference. After a severe struggle for survival, aided by John F. Funk and others, the congregation began to grow and is now the Bethel congregation (Mennonite Church). Medina County also is the home of the Wadsworth First Mennonite Church (General Conference Mennonite Church), founded in 1852 by "Oberholtzer" (GCM) families from Bucks County, PA, led by Ephraim Hunsberger. The Huber Mennonite Church, also known as Medway, founded soon after 1830 in Clark County near Dayton, has suffered throughout its 125-year history the precarious existence of other small Mennonite congregations in the state. Torn by dissension, losing members to the Reformed Mennonite branch, and led sometimes by an unprogressive leadership or served by nonresident ministers supplied by Conference, it has several times been in danger of extinction.

The saddest picture of the original Mennonite settlements in Ohio is the number of extinct congregations. Each has left its neglected cemetery, the site of a small church building and many Mennonite names, some no longer on any church roll. Beginning with Pleasant Hill in Fairfield County and Canal Winchester and Stemens in Franklin County, the list includes a congregation in Trumbull County, Kolbs in Holmes County, Brubachers, Pleasant View, and Salemskirche in Ashland County, one in Richland and Crawford counties, and one each in Seneca, Wood, and Williams counties. This line continues westward with extinct congregations in Bronson County, MI and DeKalb, Lagrange, Elkhart, and St. Joseph counties in Indiana. Most of these followed Jacob Wisler in the Old Order Mennonite movement in the 1870's and for reasons already mentioned lost their young people. From all of the extinct Ohio congregations, however, some of the more progressive members moved westward, many to the western part of Elkhart County, IN, where their descendants became members of the Olive, Yellow Creek, Clinton Brick, or Old Order Mennonite congregations. A few moved farther west to Illinois, Kansas, or Iowa, where their descendants made an appreciated contribution to the religious and institutional life of Mennonite congregations, both Mennonite Church. and General Conference Mennonite. The only one of the above-mentioned extinct Ohio Mennonite congregations to become General Conference was the Salemskirche (Salem Mennonite Church), whose last pastor was the German immigrant, Carl Justus van der Smissen (1879-1890), retired theological teacher of the Wadsworth Mennonite School. His son had been pastor both of Salem and of the General Conference church in Cleveland. After Van der Smissen's death most of the remaining members together with a few members of the Pleasant View Church (MC) united with the thriving Stone Lutheran Church near the former site of Salem. Most of the Lutheran members of the congregation were descendants of Lutheran families who had come to the neighborhood with the Palatine Mennonites in the 1830s.

Amish Settlements in Ohio

In 1808-1812, about a decade after the Mennonites settled in Fairfield County, Amish from Mifflin and Somerset counties, PA began to arrive in Tuscarawas and Holmes counties and a few years later in Wayne. The change from Amish to Amish Mennonite in 1840-1860 affected both Holmes and Wayne counties. In Wayne County, however, so small a number clung to the old order discipline and practices that the Amish wing disappeared entirely before 1870. The congregation, then numbering about 300, built the Oak Grove meetinghouse in 1862 and Pleasant Hill in 1881. Joined by Alsatian families in 1850-1870, the congregation early became one of the most progressive in the state. A small group seceded in 1869 and later founded the Sterling (Ohio) Mennonite church (GCM). By 1880 the congregation had a membership of 401. In 1947 when the Ohio and Eastern Amish Mennonite Conference adopted a new constitution the members at Oak Grove refused to accept it because they felt that it abridged their traditional congregational autonomy. The group at Pleasant Hill accepted the new constitution and became a member of the Ohio and Eastern Mennonite Conference. For a time Oak Grove remained an independent congregation without conference affiliation although a large majority of the members supported the educational and missionary organizations of the Ohio and Eastern Mennonite Conference and the Mennonite Church (MC) in general. Its 1958 membership was 401. The membership of Pleasant Hill was 190.

Soon after 1830 the first Wayne County Amish bishop, David Zook, moved to Bern Township, Fairfield County, with a number of his friends and relatives from Wayne County and Mifflin County, PA, and founded a congregation which became extinct after a few decades when the members moved to Champaign County, Ohio, and to Topeka, IN. A small Amish settlement founded near Martinsburg, Knox County, Ohio, c1840 organized a congregation and ordained Isaac Schmucker preacher but moved as a group to Champaign County, Ohio, and Noble County, IN before the end of the decade.

About 1840 Amish from Mifflin County, Pennsylvania and Wayne County began settling in Union Township, Logan County, Ohio, where they founded what is now the South Union church (MC). A few years later settlers from Fairfield and Wayne counties, including Jacob Hertzler, the bishop in Fairfield, founded the Champaign County congregation eight or ten miles southeast of the Logan County congregation. They were joined a few years later by John Warye, of Hesse-Cassel, Germany, ordained preacher in 1855, bishop in 1862 for what is now the Oak Grove church in Champaign County. For the first few years the two congregations met in each other's services on alternate Sundays as the North and South "districts" of the same congregation, a practice still followed by Old Order Amish congregations. Difficulties developed when Jacob Hertzler allowed certain deviations from the strict Amish requirements. When a considerable number of the members of the Logan County district advocated the same progressive measures, they withdrew and worshiped on alternate Sundays with the Champaign County district. They held their Logan County meetings in non-Mennonite meetinghouses on the intervening Sunday. In 1875 the Champaign district built the Oak Grove church and their friends in Logan County the Walnut Grove church. The original Logan County congregation built a new church in 1876, South Union. The two groups, Walnut Grove-Oak Grove and South Union, refused each other full fellowship until 1895 when a new bishop was to be ordained to serve the Logan County churches. South Union and Walnut Grove then agreed to place both of their leading ministers in the lot and to accept whichever one should be chosen, as bishop of the two congregations. David Plank of Walnut Grove was chosen and ordained. Under his beneficent administration the two groups drew together and at his death A. I. Yoder, a son of the preacher who had served the South Union congregation for many years, was ordained bishop for the two congregations. After a few years the Walnut Grove church building was closed and sold.

The years have brought other experiences to the Logan and Champaign congregations, some good, some sad. In 1880 a small group seceded from Oak Grove and Walnut Grove over the issue of English preaching and the use of musical instruments in the homes. Locally they were known as the "Miller Church" because an Indiana Amish Mennonite bishop, Eli Miller, had organized the congregation. They were members of the Indiana Amish Mennonite Conference. The movement died out at Oak Grove in less than a dozen years but lasted a few years more at Walnut Grove. A Church of God camp meeting in the early 1890's raised emotions to a high pitch and drew away several members from Oak Grove and from the Miller church and resulted in the organization of the Church of God congregation in West Liberty. In 1890 a revival meeting held at the South Union church by John F. Funk and D. J. Johns of Elkhart County, IN, led to the founding of the Bethel Mennonite Church in West Liberty in 1895. In the course of the next few years the English church and Sunday school services at Bethel attracted a considerable number of young Amish Mennonites who otherwise might have been lost to the church. During the 1890's a stirring revival meeting at the Mt. Tabor Methodist Episcopal Church led to the conversion of S. E. Allgyer and his wife in their home and profoundly affected his life and service in the Mennonite Church. At that time he was Sunday school superintendent at Oak Grove. Later he was ordained preacher and bishop. After the death of A. I. Yoder, Allgyer served the three churches, Oak Grove, Bethel, and South Union, as bishop. The three congregations in 1958 had a combined membership of 682. These congregations, especially Bethel, contributed an unusually large number of workers to the institutions of the church, especially in the areas of education and missions.

Old Order Amish Survival of Early Amish Settlements

Although the last "no-meetinghouse Amish" disappeared from the Green Township, Wayne County, Amish settlement before the end of the third quarter of the 19th century, the quiet remoteness of the Holmes County hills was particularly conducive to the persistence of the time-honored Amish social and religious practices. And, although a progressive Amish group under the leadership of their bishop, Moses Beachy, built a meetinghouse (Walnut Creek) in 1862 (the same date as the first such building of the Wayne County Amish), at least an equal number held firmly to the old customs. Beginning with this Holmes County nucleus, the state of Ohio, with 6,500 of the 17,000 baptized members of the Old Order Amish congregations in America, in 1958 had 71 congregations in 13 counties in the state, making Ohio the leading state in the Union from the standpoint of its Amish population. In the mid-20th century, major areas of concentration were located in the following groups of counties: (1) Holmes, Wayne, Stark, Tuscarawas, and Coshocton; (2) Geauga, Trumbull, and Ashtabula; (3) Madison and Union. Amish from Holmes County settled in Geauga County southeast of Cleveland in 1886 and in Madison County west of Columbus in 1896. After a number of Amish from Geauga County had united with the Plainview congregation (MC) in Portage County about 1930, the Ohio and Eastern Mennonite Conference organized the Burton congregation (MC) in 1948, 1958 membership 74. In 1926 after several members of the Amish congregation in Madison County had united with the Oak Grove congregation (MC) near West Liberty and had been expelled by the Amish for leaving their congregation, Oak Grove members organized a Sunday school at Resaca, and in 1933 the Ohio and Eastern Mennonite Conference organized the Sharon Mennonite congregation near Plain City, which had 163 members in 1957. The first preacher ordained for this church has been ordained bishop and served as bishop also at Bethel and Oak Grove near West Liberty. In 1939 the Beachy Amish organized a congregation, Canaan, near Plain City, membership 60, and in 1944 the Conservative Mennonite Conference organized the United Bethel congregation near the same place, membership 164. This active organization soon established two mission points, one in Columbus, and the other at Blue Creek. In spite of losing members or even an occasional congregation to one of the more progressive groups, the number of Old Order Amish in Ohio is constantly increasing. This is not due to missionary effort, but to the natural increase in population and the ability of the group to hold the interest of its young people.

The Swiss Mennonites

Two Swiss Mennonites from the Jura Mountain area in Switzerland arrived in Green Township, Wayne County, and united with the Oak Grove Amish congregation in 1818, but in the next year a number of their friends arrived and after a brief period of prospecting decided to settle in the rolling hills of Paint Township several miles farther south. Here during the next few years they were joined by friends from the Jura and founded the strong Sonnenberg congregation. In 1825 others from the same region in Switzerland founded another settlement several miles farther north. For some time the two settlements were considered parts of the same congregation. Each built its own meetinghouse and the northern group (Crown Hill) eventually joined the Ohio Conference (Mennonite Church). The Sonnenberg congregation, long independent and without conference affiliation, owed its conservative attitude to the firm but beneficent administration of its bishop, Christian Sommer (1811-1891). As early as 1879 he severed all connection with the other Swiss Mennonite congregations in western Ohio and eastern Indiana because, he asserted, they had left their early pattern of simple life and faith. In 1886 a few members withdrew under the influence of the Wadsworth Mennonite School group to found the Salem Mennonite Church nearby. In 1893-1894 the "Russellite" heresy led several members away from Sonnenberg. During World War I when several young men who had been attending Bluffton College enlisted for military service with the support of the Salem congregation, the pastor and a group of supporters left Salem and founded the Kidron Tabernacle congregation. After 1926 the ministers of the Sonnenberg group worked more and more with the Ohio and Eastern Amish Mennonite Conference. The transition from German to English was not begun until the third decade of the 20th century and then only after a severe struggle. In 1936 more than three fifths of the 500 members of the Sonnenberg congregation withdrew to found the Kidron Mennonite Church (MC), 1958 membership 484. The original Sonnenberg congregation was admitted to the Virginia Mennonite Conference (MC), 1958 membership 174. About 40 members withdrew from the Sonnenberg congregation to found the independent Bethel congregation at Apple Creek, 1958 membership 49.

Beginning in 1833 friends of the Sonnenberg group began a Swiss Mennonite settlement in Putnam and Allen counties, Ohio. Located in a rich agricultural region, the original Swiss settlement by the mid-1950s consisted of four congregations: Ebenezer, St. Johns, Grace in Pandora, and the First Mennonite Church in Bluffton. Under the able, progressive administration of their bishop, John Moser, during the latter half of the 19th century, these congregations have made phenomenal growth. Their combined membership in 1958 was 1,670. Extremely plain in their general cultural pattern, they came under the influence of the Wadsworth Mennonite School during the 1870's and laid aside many of the marks of their earlier Swiss culture, but were able to do so without serious internal difficulty. In 1848 a former Swiss Mennonite, John Thut, who had been ordained to the ministry in the Kolbs congregation in Holmes County, settled in the neighborhood. But because this congregation did not practice foot washing he withdrew from them and founded the Riley Creek congregation (later Zion Mennonite Church). After his death one of the ministers with more than half of the congregation withdrew to found a Defenseless Mennonite (now Evangelical Mennonite) congregation, 1958 membership 62. After a difficult period of rehabilitation the Zion congregation became a vital force in the educational, missionary, and charitable organizations of the Mennonite Church (MC). It was the home of Menno S. and Albert J. Steiner. Some of its members helped to organize the congregation at New Stark in adjoining Hancock County, the home of John Blosser, first president of the Mennonite Board of Education. The Zion congregation was reabsorbed by the First Mennonite Church of Bluffton in 1925 and the church building razed.

The Alsatian Amish in Fulton and Williams Counties

Beginning in 1834 an entirely new immigration of Amish direct from Europe founded what has now become a veritable cluster of churches (MC) in Fulton and Williams counties in northwestern Ohio, one of the most prosperous agricultural sections of the state. Coming from Alsace and Montbéliard many of them spoke and wrote both French and German. Of a different cultural background from the older Amish congregations in the state and of sufficient numerical strength to be self-dependent, they avoided close organizational ties with their American brethren but co-operated with them in a general way in conference activities. Until well into the 20th century the groups worshiping at their three meetinghouses—Central, Lockport, and West Clinton—were considered as one congregation with Elias B. Frey as their bishop and his brother, Jacob Frey, deacon. The rather large number of ministers preached at the different meetinghouses in rotation. The three congregations became separate organizations each with their own bishop and church organization. In addition to these three, by the 1950s there were now five other congregations: Lost Creek, Pine Grove, Tedrow, Zion, and North Clinton, each with its own church building and pastor, besides four mission outposts with a combined membership of 72. The total membership of the 8 congregations and their 4 mission stations in 1958 was over 1900. These congregations were members of the Ohio and Eastern Mennonite Conference (MC). The original Amish congregations in this general area lost members to two other Mennonite conferences. The Reformed Mennonite Church established a congregation near Archbold in 1852, erected the Lauber Hill meetinghouse in 1864, and in 1958 had a membership of 71. The Evangelical Mennonite Church, formerly known as the Egli Amish and later as the Defenseless Mennonites, organized a congregation in Archbold in 1870 and in 1958 maintained two thriving congregations at Archbold and at Wauseon with a combined membership of 650.

Ohio Mennonites developed the following institutions by the mid-20th century: Bluffton College (GCM, known as Central Mennonite College 1898-1913); Orphans' Home (MC, 1896) at West Liberty, since 1957 called Adriel School; Home for the Aged (MC, 1901) near Rittman; Mennonite Memorial Home (GCM, 1945) near Bluffton; Camp Luz (MC, 1953) near Orrville. -- John S. Umble

Statistical Summary of Mennonite and Amish Congregations in Ohio by Conferences (1958)

Body or Conference Congregations Members
Mennonite Church (MC) 74 9,808
Ohio and Eastern * 61 8,111
Conservative Mennonite 9 ** 1,037
Virginia Conference 2 212
Unaffiliated 2 448
Old Order Amish 71 *** 6,586
General Conference Mennonite 9 2,591
Evangelical Mennonite 4 853
Old Order (Wisler) Mennonite 6 341
Beachy Amish Mennonite 3 225
Reformed Mennonite 6 150
Church of God in Christ, Mennonite 2 58
Total 20,612
* Of the 65 organized and 37 unorganized congregations in the conference, 70 are in Ohio.
** Also 5 mission stations.
*** Districts rather than congregations

1990 Update

Ohio Mennonites and Amish in 1987.
Source: Mennonite Encyclopedia, vol. 5, p. 647

In 1987 Ohio was the home of 350 congregations of various Mennonites and Amish and 13 Brethren in Christ churches, totalling about 32,000 baptized members. Since many families have unbaptized children the total number of people exceeded 50,000. Of the 215 congregations that were some variant of Amish or Beachy Amish, about 83 percent were Old Order Amish. "New Order Amish," a recent development, and Beachy Amish make up the other congregations. Amish baptized members totaled about 14,500, while Mennonites and Brethren in Christ number about 17,500.

Amish congregations seldom exceed 100 baptized members, but among major Mennonite groups many congregations were larger. Among the nearly 150 Mennonite and Brethren in Christ congregations, two-thirds were affiliated with the Mennonite Church (MC). Of the 11 General Conference Mennonite (GCM) congregations, three held membership also with the Ohio Conference of the Mennonite Church (MC). Eleven congregations were not affiliated with a conference. The Evangelical Mennonite Church (EMCh) had four congregations in Ohio. Four churches belong to the Mid-West Mennonite Fellowship; an equal number consider themselves Fellowship Churches (also known as Nationwide Fellowship). Some half-dozen other Mennonite varieties each have one or two congregations.

Mennonites and Amish are often heavily intermingled, particularly in Ohio's densest Mennonite-Amish area centered on Wayne and Holmes Counties. In the roughly rectangular area from the Wooster, Smithville, Orrville, Dalton area, and southward to Wilmot, Dundee, Sugarcreek, and Baltic, and from there westward to Clark, then northward through Millersburg, Holmesville, and back to Wooster, lies one of the largest combined settlements of Amish and Mennonites in North America. It covers a span of about 35 miles (55 km) north and south and 20 miles (33 km) east and west. In that locale are found virtually every variety of Amish and Mennonite in the state and about half of the congregations.

Surrounding this concentration, which also touches the counties of Stark, Tuscarawas, and Coshocton, are many more scattered churches and communities. There are pockets of Mennonites and a few Amish in the Hartville and Louisville area of Stark County, several congregations in the Wadsworth area of Medina County, and some in Ashland and Richland Cos. To the south, in Morrow, Knox, and Licking Cos. are found more than a dozen Amish congregations. Ohio's second heaviest concentration of Amish, almost all Old Order Amish, lies in Geauga, Trumbull, Lake, and Ashtabula Cos. (45 congregations in 1987).

Historic concentrations of Mennonites continued in eastern Ohio in Mahoning and Columbiana Cos., in west-central Ohio in the regions of Plain City and West Liberty, and northward around Elida and Bluffton. The northwest corner of the state has numerous Mennonite congregations in the area surrounding West Unity, Archbold, and Wauseon. Brethren in Christ congregations are found primarily in the Dayton-Springfield area west of Columbus and in the Massillon-Canton area of Stark County.

Significant cultural changes and considerable shifting across boundary lines of some groups have occurred in the 1950s to 1908s. Hundreds of young men spent two years in alternative service, either voluntary service or I-W service in the 1950s and 1960s. Most of them worked in large metropolitan areas. Mass evangelism in the 1950s brought ferment and renewal with the Brunk tent meetings and the Christian Laymen's Tent Evangelism Association, which was based at Orrville, Ohio (revivalism). Numerous Amish families moved into the rapidly growing Beachy Amish Mennonite congregations (often known as Beachy Amish Fellowship churches) and the Conservative Mennonite Conference (MC). A few Amish joined the Church of God in Christ, Mennonite (Holdeman). Some Conservative Mennonite Conference congregations in the 1950s and 1960s withdrew in protest against the changes occurring in that conference. They sometimes became known as "non-conference conservatives." In 1987 some are still unaffiliated but increasing numbers are moving toward or have joined the Fellowship Churches movement. Several Old Order Mennonite (Wisler) churches in the 1970s added Bible conferences and Bible study meetings to their program and began to move toward the Fellowship Churches affiliation, and away from their former "Wisler" ties. There are now three kinds of "Fellowship Churches" in the state—those sometimes known as "Nationwide" Fellowship, the Mid-West Mennonite Fellowship, and the Conservative Mennonite Fellowship. These congregations tend to emphasize similar patterns of plain dress, often have Christian day schools for their children, and operate with considerable independence.

Among the Beachy Amish there are several groups, the more traditional ones still using some German and not having Sunday schools. Among the Old Order Amish are a number of groups who have minor differences in dress, the application of the ban, and in their outlook on what constitutes "worldliness." In the last decade the "New Order Amish" have developed. To the outsider they appear similar to the Old Order but they permit hard rubber tires on buggies and rubber-tired tractors for field use, and they make more serious attempts to keep young people in line with standards. They are considered a renewal movement. The "Schwartzentruber Amish," comprising eight congregations, are the most conservative and withdrawn of the Amish. Except where someone is under the ban, many of the various types of Amish will generally speak to each other readily in the familiar "Pennsylvania Dutch" and intermingle freely in weekday or neighborly activities, even if they will not worship or engage in the rite of communion together.

The Mennonite Church (MC) with more than 90 congregations in Ohio, has experienced rapid acculturation and general loss of plain dress in recent decades. With it has come more emphasis upon trained and salaried ministers; a general rise in the level of education; more involvement in the professions; more participation in urban ministries, social issues, and voting; more involvement in public high school activities; much greater diversification in worship patterns; some influence from the more charismatically oriented groups, and other changes. This was particularly true of the Ohio Conference congregations and to a somewhat lesser extent among Conservative Mennonite Conference churches. The former Ohio and Eastern Conference had developed historically into a large conglomerate that included 130 congregations in 15 states by 1972, and nearly 16,000 members by 1978. The following year the eastern wing peacefully organized into the fully autonomous Atlantic Coast Conference. In 1987 the Ohio Conference of the Mennonite Church had 80 congregations with a membership of 11,135. All but seven of its congregations were in Ohio. A number of congregations had other affiliations—General Conference Mennonite Church (GCM), Afro-American Mennonite Association, the loosely identified group of intentional "church communities" (MC Yearbook (1988-89), 31-33, and Concilio Nacional de Iglesias Menonitas Hispañas (National Council of Hispanic Mennonite Churches).

For many years the slogan "a mission outpost for every congregation" was popular in the Ohio Conference. Fifteen new mission churches were begun in Ohio in the 1950s, 12 in the 1960s, and 3 in the 1970s. Two began in the 1980s.

Major changes have occurred in Ohio from the 1950s to 1980s in regards to Mennonite and Amish institutions. When consolidation of public schools brought the loss of one- or two-room country schools, the Amish began establishing their own private schools. The first few began in Wayne County in the 1940s and had non-Amish teachers who were trained. Nearly all now have Amish teachers. One person who had been a long-time member of the Amish School Committee, who did more than anyone else, and who was well-known in the state capital, Columbus, for assisting new schools was Henry J. Hershberger of Kidron. A history of the Amish school movement, A Struggle To Be Separate indicated that in 1985 there were 145 such schools in Ohio, 91 of which were in the general Wayne-Holmes area. When curriculum became a problem, the Amish began writing their own textbooks or reprinting favored texts. About 75 percent of the curriculum was thus Amish-produced.

A few Mennonite private Christian schools began also in the late 1940s, e.g., Crown Hill near Smithville and Sonnenberg near Kidron. The former closed after 10 years and the latter by 1964. More conservatively oriented congregations began building schools in the 1960s and 1970s; in 1987 many such congregations operated parochial elementary schools. Meanwhile, after years of preparation, the Ohio Conference (MC) established Central Christian High School at Kidron in 1961 with grades 9-12. In 1987 it had an enrollment of 210 in grades 7-12. From the beginning emphasis was placed upon broad-based support and quality education, a goal it has successfully maintained despite the support many Mennonites give to public schools by providing students and teachers. Central Christian has made a significant contribution to Ohio Mennonites.

In 1987 Ohio had the only Mennonite Bible institute in the United States. Rosedale Bible Institute at Irwin, near Columbus, was operated by the Conservative Mennonite Conference. It began with the Berlin Bible School, first held in January 1952 at the Pleasant View Conservative Mennonite Church with 136 students. In 1964 it moved to Irwin and two years later college-level courses were added. After purchasing the Ontario Mennonite Bible Institute library, adding buildings, and sending Gospel teams and a chorale out frequently, Rosedale Bible Institute began to have wide appeal. Enrollment reached 393 students from 26 states and three foreign countries in 1987. Rosedale Mennonite Missions, the missions agency for the Conservative Mennonite Conference was also located at Irwin. Overseeing a number of voluntary service and church planting endeavors in the United States, it had 106 assigned field workers in nine states and four foreign countries. Its annual budget was $1,160,000.

Messiah Bible School at Carbon Hill, Ohio was operated by the Conservative Mennonite Fellowship. It was a winter Bible school with four short terms and a summer teacher's institute. Board members were from Ontario, Maryland, Indiana, and Ohio. A variety of short courses in biblical studies, church history and missions, and practical Christian living were taught usually by ministers. Rigorous social standards and plain dress requirements were outlined in the school's catalog.

Bluffton College, affiliated with the General Conference Mennonite Church, continued its strong program of providing a liberal arts education in a Christian college context. Enrollment was above 600 in 1987. Its Mennonite Historical Library included special emphasis on Swiss Mennonites, the archives of the Africa Inter-Mennonite Mission, and the records of Central District Conference of the General Conference Mennonite Church. Smaller attempts at preservation of historical materials began at the German Culture Museum at Walnut Creek, and with the formation of the Kidron Community Historical Society and the Stark County Mennonite and Amish Historical Society. A large and strong museum program, not exclusively Mennonite-focused, was found near Archbold with the Sauder Museum.

Ohio has a half-dozen voluntary service units and nine Mennonite Central Committee Ten Thousand Villages and thrift shops. In 1987 church planting efforts were underway at Bellefontaine, Canton, Columbus, Fremont, and Grafton. Increasingly, Mennonites are involved in health and human service facilities. Ironically, the pioneer Mennonite Home for the Aged at Rittman closed its doors in 1974, the victim of rising standards in building codes. However, whether it be private or community-based health facilities and retirement centers, such as Bluffton Community Hospital, Mennonite Memorial Home at Bluffton, Green Hills at West Liberty, Orr Villa at Orrville, Walnut Hills at Walnut Creek, or Fairlawn Haven at Archbold, Mennonites are involved at many levels. Adriel School (in earlier days the Orphan's Home or Children's Home) at West Liberty has changed focus several times. In the late 1980s, it featured residential and day treatment programs for children with learning, behavioral, or emotional problems. Other institutions were the Hattie Larlham Foundation at Mantua for children with developmental disabilities and the Sunshine Children's Home at Maumee. The Sunnyhaven Children's Home at Plain City was for trainable retarded children and adults.

The village of Kidron became a central meeting place for several major activities involving Mennonites and Amish. The annual Ohio Mennonite Relief Sale was held on the grounds of Central Christian High School and raised $200,000 per year for Mennonite Central Committee. Several huge auctions of horse-drawn implements each year drew thousands of Amish and others, some from out of state, to the village. Kidron also has conference headquarters for the Ohio Conference of the Mennonite Church.

The Holmes-Wayne County area has in recent decades seen a tremendous mushrooming of cottage industries and small businesses and entrepreneurs. The annual Down Home Shoppers Guide: Ohio's Complete Amish Country Tour Guide documented several hundred businesses that were operated by Amish or Mennonites or that cater to the "Dutch" or Amish theme. With Berlin, Walnut Creek, and Sugarcreek as hubs, tourism has become big business.

Many Amish and some Mennonites are farmers or engage in agriculturally related vocations, but increasing numbers are driving to cities or are being transported there for work. Urbanization and commercialism are encroaching upon the peaceful rural Amish and Mennonite communities in Ohio. -- James O. Lehman


Conference Organs:

Ohio Evangel, Ohio Conference of the Mennonite Church, bimonthly;

Brotherhood Beacon, Conservative Mennonite Conference, monthly.

Directories and Annual Reports:

Horsch, James E., ed. Mennonite Yearbook and Directory. Scottdale: Mennonite Publishing House (1988-89): 31-33.

Handbook of Information, General Conference Mennonite Church. Newton, KS.

The New American Almanac. Baltic, Ohio: Ben J. Raber. Contains an annual list of Amish congregations.

Annual Report and Directory of the Evangelical Mennonite Church. Fort Wayne, IN: Evangelical Mennonite Church (1986).

Ohio Beachy Fellowship Family Directory. Sugarcreek: Schlabach Printers, 1985.

Ohio Amish Directory: Holmes County and Vicinity. Sugarcreek: Schlabach Printers, 1981.

Ohio Amish Directory: Geauga County and Vicinity. Sugarcreek: Schlabach Printers, 1982.

Directory of the Fellowship Churches, 1986-87. Farmington, NM: Lamp and Light Publishers, 1986.

Down Home Shoppers Guide: Ohio's Complete Amish Country Tour. Millersburg, Ohio: Down Home Publications, 1987.

Minutes of the 109th [Seventh Biennial] General Conference, Brethren in Christ Church, July 5 - July 10, 1986. Nappanee, Evangel Press.

Annual Reports, Ohio Mennonite Conference of the Mennonite Church, various years.

See also:

Stoltzfus, Grant M. Mennonites of the Ohio and Eastern Conference. Scottdale, PA: Herald Press,1969.

Miller, Ivan J. History of the Conservative Mennonite Conference. Grantsville, MD: Ivan J. and Della Miller, 1985.

Miller, Levi. Our People: The Amish and Mennonites of Ohio. Scottdale, PA: Herald Press, 1983.

Nussbaum, Stan. You Must Be Born Again: A History of the Evangelical Mennonite Church. Fort Wayne, IN: Evangelical Mennonite Church, 1979.

Histories of the Congregations of the Church of God in Christ, Mennonit. Moundridge, KS: Gospel Publishers, 1975.

Yoder, Elmer S. The Beachy Amish Mennonite Fellowship Churches. Hartville, Ohio: Diakonia Ministries, 1987.

Mennonites of Northwestern Ohio 1834-1984. Archbold: Published privately, 1984.

Hershberger, Noah. A Struggle To Be Separate: A History of the Ohio Amish Parochial School Movement. Orrville, Ohio: published privately, 1985.

Yoder, Elmer S. and Paton Yoder. The Hartville Amish and Mennonite Story 1905-1980. Hartville: Stark County Mennonite and Amish Historical Society, 1980.

Luthy, David. Amish Settlements Across America. Aylmer, ON: Pathway, 1985: 2, 10.

Additional Information

Ohio Congregations (1958) Address

Mennonite Church

1. Beech Louisville
2. Bethel Rittman
3. Bethel West Liberty
4. Burton Burton
5. Central Archbold
6. Dillonvale Dillonvale
7. Fairpoint Fairpoint
8. First Canton
8a. Flatridge Newcomerstown
9. Friendship Bedford
10. Gilead Mt. Gilead
11. Gladstone Mission Cleveland
12. Hartville Hartville
13. Hillside Chapel Jackson
14. Huber Medway
14a. Lee Heights Cleveland
15. Leetonia Leetonia
16. Lockport Stryker
17. Lost Creek Hicksville
18. Lower Owl Creek Beaver
19. Midway Columbiana
20. North Clinton Wauseon
21. North Lima North Lima
22. Oak Grove West Liberty
23. Pine Grove Stryker
24. Pine Grove Vinton
25. Plain View Aurora
26. Pleasant View North Lawrence
27. Sharon Plain City
28. South Union West Liberty
29. Springfield Township Chapel Holland
29a. Stoner Heights Louisville
30. Tedrow Tedrow
31. Turkey Run Bremen
31a. Warneke Chapel Pedro
32. Bancroft (Toledo) Toledo
33. West Clinton Pettisville
34. Rockview Youngstown
35. Zion Archbold
35a. Mexican Mission Archbold
35b. Hi-Way Chapel East Greenville
35c. Kennedy Avenue Dayton

Conservative Mennonite

36. Akron Akron
37. Johnsville Johnsville
38. Maple Grove Hartville
39. Maple View Burton
40. Marlboro Marlboro
41. United Bethel Plain City
41a. Sharon Ragersville
41b. New Franklin (non-conf.) New Franklin

Beachy Amish Mennonite Church

42. Canaan Plain City
42a. Bunker Hill Holmesville
43. Pleasant View Hartville

General Conference Mennonite

44. Apostolic Trenton
45. First Wadsworth
45a. First Sugarcreek

Church of God in Christ, Mennonite

46. Pettisville Pettisville

Evangelical Mennonite Church

47. Archbold Archbold
48. Pioneer Pioneer
49. Wauseon Wauseon

Old Order (Wisler) Mennonite

50. Lower Wadsworth
51. Pleasant View

Old Order Amish Mennonite

52. Walnut Grove (King Amish) Church districts Hartville

Reformed Mennonite Church

52a. Lauber Hill Archbold


53. Adriel School (MC) West Liberty

Churches and institutions not listed here are named on County maps in other articles.

Author(s) John S. Umble
James O. Lehman
Date Published 1990

Cite This Article

MLA style

Umble, John S. and James O. Lehman. "Ohio (USA)." Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. 1990. Web. 3 Jul 2022. https://gameo.org/index.php?title=Ohio_(USA)&oldid=173389.

APA style

Umble, John S. and James O. Lehman. (1990). Ohio (USA). Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. Retrieved 3 July 2022, from https://gameo.org/index.php?title=Ohio_(USA)&oldid=173389.


Adapted by permission of Herald Press, Harrisonburg, Virginia, from Mennonite Encyclopedia, Vol. 4, pp. 24-30; vol. 5, pp. 646-650. All rights reserved.

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