Amish Country Tours

       The Illinois Amish Museum houses a 10,000 square foot museum focusing on the Amish religion and lifestyle. Exhibits include buggies, barns, homes, quilts, weddings, Anabaptist history and a changing exhibit area. The Museum also houses an introductory video that was produced locally about the Illinois Amish.

History of the Illinois Amish Museum

tour7.gif       The Illinois Amish Museum was created in 1994 to provide a series of permanent exhibits relating to the European history of the Anabaptist movement, relate the history of the Arthur Amish settlement from its 1865 beginnings, preserve historically significant artifacts from the Amish community, and provide an exhibition area that relates to the subject of Ana-baptism.

       The doors opened on November 8, 1996 and within the next year 3,800 guests visited the center. Amish Country Tours began shortly thereafter offering meals in Amish homes, step-on guided tours, and tours of Amish homes, farms, and businesses so that visitors could see first-hand what they had learned in the Center. In 2006, the Center saw 18,171 guests. Beginning January 1, 2010, the Illinois Amish Museum began moving to its new location at the Rockome Gardens site. The doors opened at the new facility in May of 2010.

History of the Amish
tour8.gif       As the Catholic Church ruled during the 16th century, Martin Luther led a protest because he was disgruntled with its practices. After 1525 in Switzerland, some Protestants grew impatient with the pace of the reformation. They believed that baptism should be reserved for adults willing to live a life of radical obedience of the teachings of Jesus. They also thought Christian practices should be based solely on Scripture, rather than tradition. In 1525, they illegally re-baptized (having been baptized at birth as is custom with Catholic faith) each other. They were nicknamed "Anabaptist's" meaning re-baptizers. Five months later, the first Anabaptist was killed by Catholic rulers, so they started to flee throughout Europe, especially to Germany and the Netherlands. Thousands of Ana-baptists were imprisoned and killed by special hunters hired by civil authorities to torture, brand, burn, drown, imprison, dismember and harass them. During this time, a statement was written including beliefsÖ one of them stating, "social separation from the evil world." This and Romans 12:2 are why Ana-baptists separate themselves from the outside world:

"And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is the good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God."

       In 1536, Menno Simons, former Catholic priest from Holland, became a powerful leader, writer and preacher for Ana-baptists. Because of his influence, Ana-baptists were then known as Mennonites. From the 1660ís to the 1690ís persecution was renewed in Switzerland. In the1690ís, Swiss Anabaptist leader, Jakob Ammann, called for renewal in church life. He believed that communion should be held two times year and that foot-washing should be a part of communion. He also believed that liars from communion and daily life should be excommunicated. In 1693, several ministers from various locations joined Ammanís beliefs and called themselves the Amish. They further decided that there would be no trimming of beards, no fashionable dress allowed, and that there would be discipline in their congregations.

       Because of social upheaval, political turmoil, and intermittent persecution, Mennonites moved to the New World in 1710 and purchased 10,000 acres just south of present day Lancaster, PA. Some Amish came with them. In the 1730ís, more Amish arrived, forming two settlements. By 1800, 500 had arrived.

       In 1865, three Amish families moved to Arcola along the Kaskaskia River, finding rich farmland and a less dense population. They were Moses Yoder, Daniel P. Miller, and Daniel Otto and had moved from Somerset County, PA. They met Allen Campbell from whom they purchased land. Some of the land had very poor drainage, and the Amish soon installed drainage tile and erected large homesteads, producing multiple crops. Their skills for developing farmland were not the only trade they brought with them. Many Amish who moved to the settlement were skilled in woodworking.

       Ministerial leadership for the first church district in Illinois was provided by Bishop Jonas Keim, who moved from Goshen, IN. Moses J. Kaufman and Jonas J. Kaufman, brothers, were ordained as ministers. In 1888, as more and more families moved to the area, the church divided into two districts, each consisting of one bishop, two ministers, and one deacon, each selected by lot. This was the first of several divisions over the years, and today the Arthur-Arcola settlement consists of over 5,000 Amish people organized into 30 church districts. No Amish  are left in Europe today.

1500ís- Catholic Rule in Europe
1517- Protestant Reformation
1525- Illegal Baptism, Persecution began
1536- Menno Simons emerged
1660-1690ís- Continued persecution
1690ís- Jacob Ammon emerged
1693- Amish formed
1710- First Amish moved to America
1865- Amish moved to Arthur-Arcola settlement

Amish Life Today
tour9.gif       Amish families have traditionally been engaged in farming, a practice that enabled them to live a life quite distinctly separated from the larger society around them. The past several decades have brought significant changes in occupation for many Amish families. Due to such factors as a marked decrease in availability of farm land, a large increase in price of land, and reduction of crop prices, Amish have had to turn to other lines of work. Many have begun cottage industries and business, some of which have grown quite large and in turn employ other Amish. This change has resulted in important challenges to the Amish way of church and family life, especially to the pattern of the whole familyís working as a unit. The Amish have lived to accommodate tourists in ways that they could formerly avoid. Businesses need customers to succeed, and tourists compose the largest number of customers for Amish businesses, which has brought about a great increase and alteration in the interaction between Amish and non-Amish people. Use of modern technology for the sake of business success, such as telephones, power tools, copy machines, and vehicles, is more and more accepted among the Amish, while still preserving homes without electricity and horse for their transportation and farm work.

       When the Amish first came to Illinois, they sent their children to the rural public schools. With school consolidation,  the Amish proceeded to build their own parochial schools for their children.  Amish children complete their formal education with eighth grade, a practice that has won the approval of the US Supreme Court. The children continue learning various kinds of work under the tutelage of their parents, and German school is held for the young people in the winter.

       The Old Order Amish, with their determination to preserve their chosen way of life, continue to draw many visitors, seeking to observe and understand their faith and practices. The Amish separate themselves today in a number of ways. They drive a horse and buggy rather than an automobile, use horses rather than tractors for farming, and wear plain colors and use century-old patterns to make their clothing as opposed to wearing fashionable dress. Men grow beards when they are married rather than wear wedding rings. They speak Pennsylvania Dutch to each other. Their church is held in their homes, not in church buildings. Finally, they do not use electricity or phones in their homes, and rarely in their businesses.

       Amish people uphold many values today, such as submission, obedience, humility, conformity, and simplicity. They strive to be reserved, modest, calm and quiet. They take joy in their work and practice thrift. They highly value tradition and a slower pace of life.

       The Amish community is sustained primarily through resistance and negotiation. To preserve their culture, the church collectively decides if a new "technology" will make them more worldly and compare that to the benefits to the community. The equation is quite simple, if the new topic at hand makes them too worldly or compromises their values, they will not accept it. Although they do not recruit outside of the Old Order Amish, the community grows because recruitment is confined to the family. Statistically, 9 out of 10 children who are raised Amish will join the church. Consider the population growth with the consistently large families that Amish people usually have. They also believe in the supremacy of the group over that of the individual. When an individual acts out, the church leaders respond, enforcing the rules of the church. Overall, the Amish faith has been sustained because they have been able to adapt to social change.

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This site was made possible in part by a grant from the Illinois Association of Museums. Illinois Association of Museums


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Photographs courtesy of Raymond Bial, author of Amish Home.