Holmes County Report

By Folklorists Carrie & Michael Nobel Kline, February, 2009
For the Ohio Arts Council

Welcome to a land rich in folk life of many hues. Under the direction of Jeff Hooper, Director of the Office of Arts Learning, the Ohio Arts Council funded a short fieldwork contract and this written report on the nature and extent of folk arts in this northern-most Appalachian county in Ohio. We’re huddled up in our comfortable flat above the Ohio Amish Country Visitor Center and Millersburg Glass Museum on W. Jackson Street in Millersburg, Ohio in bitterly cold weather to reflect on this remarkable place and people. Our hearts are reaching out to everyone who welcomed us into their homes, churches, schools, shops and barns with openness and clear-eyed memory. We are changed by the quality and intensity of what we have heard and seen.

Holmes County has no daily newspaper or TV station and only one radio station. It has no interstate highway and only 39 miles of U.S. highways. It has no chain drug stores and only one strip of national chain stores of any kind. It is a study in contrasts and textures. On auction day in Mt. Hope a long row of horses and buggies stands along the edge of a huge parking lot with fur traders, flea marketers, produce vendors, and tractor and trailers unloading livestock, with fields of different textures stretching away in the distance. And you’ll see these same agricultural textures and images in local quilt patterns displayed in the tourist town of Berlin and at individual shops on back country roads.

In this rural, largely Amish and Mennonite county we find a stunning diversity of talent and ability rooted in deep tradition and tempered by modern materials, evolving technologies and a collective know how. Old and New Order Amish communities with horse-powered farms and transportation appear now in a new light, offering the crumbling cornerstones of U. S. economy and society a model of stability based on industrious cooperation and harmonious living with land and nature.

Far from being a trip down memory lane, the horse-powered economy fosters family and community prosperity, providing purpose and work for everyone, with a minimum of degradation to natural surroundings. Stewardship inspired by love of land is the backbone of these accomplishments. Plain living keeps community patterns and values on an even keel. There is a role for the very young, the aged, and for disabled people in family and community economics. We learned of disabled Amish broom makers, rug weavers, and dried flower producers. We observed toddlers being romanced into farm life as parents encouraged them to play in the fields and fulfill such roles as feeding barn cats.

Holmes County, with 423 square miles, has a population of 38, 943 residents, 450 of whom are non-white. Millersburg is home to a minority population of Latin and African Americans. Almost fifty percent of Holmes County residents have no high school diploma. This data is misleading because Amish young people, high achieving students as a rule, do not continue past eighth grade, and are considered in their own communities to be well prepared by then for farming or apprenticeship in a nearby trade. While Amish families utilize the expertise of highly-educated professionals they prefer to reside in more egalitarian communities in which all receive the same level of education.

Download the report (pdf)

Find Artists by County

Ohio Folk & Traditional Arts - Ohio Arts Council Ohio Folk & Traditional Arts - National Endowment for the Arts Ohio Folk & Traditional Arts - ThinkTV