Holmes County  is in Ohio. It is located the eastern part of Ohio about halfway between Cleveland and Columbus. The county seat is Millersburg. Holmes County primarily consists of steep hills and narrow valleys.
The Amish, known as "the gentle people', comprise nearly half of the county's population (total population estimated at 40,000+) making this region the largest Amish settlement in the world. The area also has many Mennonites, who are also a part of The Anabaptist Movement that moved here from Europe, at the invitation of William Penn . When travelling to and driving in this area, be alert for the horse-drawn Amish buggies, pedestrians on the roads, children walking and livestock crossing and being herded on the roads, all have the right of way on the roads.
When you are visiting the towns and attractions in Holmes County, keep in mind that most of the people selling trinkets and wares as well as the shop owners are not Amish, although some are Mennonite. Items such as cheese, smoked meats, quilts and oak wood furniture most likely are manufactured and finished locally. (Some quilts are made in China, if making a purchase that can run into the thousands of dollars, make sure you know what you are buying)
The items or places you find branded "Amish", most likely are not Amish. Amish do not use the word "Amish" as a marketing ploy, this is something invented by the "English" (as Amish refer to non-Amish). The Amish simply refer to what ever it is. There are few if any exceptions to this.
Photography: You should avoid taking photographs of Amish, Amish farms, Amish events, and especially Amish children. This is, of course against their religion. Even asking permission is treading on their religious culture and would be considered quite rude or even racist in nature. This is a different race of people with deep religious principals. Please be as considerate of their religion, as you would expect one to be of yours.
IMPORTANT UPDATE: The above statements are not accurate, and some are just plain untrue. The author of the above information probably got their information from a single visit, or a textbook. I only left the comments there to illustrate that there is a great deal of misinformation about the Amish, and to let readers know that I will be monitoring and contributing to this page. I have written three books about the Amish of Holmes County; all my neighbors are Amish, my children go to school with Amish, and I make my living working with the Amish.
Where to begin...
The furniture made in Ohio's Amish Country is of the highest quality anywhere in the U.S. If a local person makes shabby furniture they do not stay in business very long. Yes, you need to be careful for some Chinese-made items (mostly the garbage sold in the tourist traps) but when you go into the vast majority of furniture shops, you are buying high-quality locally made furniture.
The passage above about photographs simply is not true. As a local resident, writer, photographer and businessperson who does business with the Amish on a daily basis, I can emphatically state that it is NOT "against the religion" of the Amish to be photographed. My daughter goes to public school with Amish children, and the class photo is about 1/2 Amish children. Indeed it is children who are most likely to be photographed because they have not yet joined the church (Amish are adult baptisers, hence the term Anabaptist). Not only have I photographed Amish children many times (from a respectful distance) but I have published these photos in my books, and never once have I received negative feedback from the Amish. In fact, many have purchased my book.
Where the confusion comes in, is with POSING for photography, whether or not the person is a church member, and what sect (local church group) they belong to. In short, the more conservative the sect, the more the people are going to not want to be photographed. How do I know? I asked! I work with the Amish, I write about them AND I photograph them. Also, to say that you should not photograph Amish farms is positively absurd. It is just wrong. Period. There are certain events I will not photograph, namely funerals. I have photographed weddings from a distance.
Finally, to equate asking permission to photograph an Amish person to racism is one of the most inaccurate, outlandish, ridiculous statements I have ever heard. The Amish ARE NOT a "different race" of people. What nonsense! The Amish are a Christian religious sect or European descent who simply choose to live their lives with a different focus and values than us "English." In Amish communities the three things that matter most are faith, family and community. Each is equally important, and their manner of dress and the customs are just a manifestation of their faith. Nothing more, nothing less. To call them a different race is naive, insulting and grossly uninformed. Asking permission to photograph an Amish person may be a faux pas by someone who does not understand that the Amish do not consider themselves a curiosity, and it may even be a bit rude depending upon the circumstance, but racist? Please. I've heard some ridiculous claims regarding the Amish, but that one is a true whopper.
What most outsiders do not understand is that there are dozens of different sects of Amish, which are called church districts. Each district interprets for itself how they are going to follow the "Ordnung," which basically is a code/set of rules by which the Amish live. It's not like, for example, the Catholic Church, which decrees from a central authority the rules for its members. There is no central Amish church. In fact, there are no Amish church buildings at all. They meet in each other's homes/barns/ or other outbuildings. Each local Amish church district decides what its members can and cannot do. Generally, the more conservative the sect, the more traditional lifestyle they lead. For example, the Amish DO NOT have anything against electricity and phones per se. What they object to is central-station electricity (power generated at power plants) and being hooked up to the grid. Same with phones. However, some church districts now recognize that their members have to use these things in order to conduct the businesses that allow them to stay Amish, and continue their faith. To that end, you will see many small, private phone booths throughout the area, and many local wood shops use gas or diesel engines to generate either electricity, or air or hydraulic power. Again, it is up to each individual church, and there is a WIDE variance of practices among the Amish.
Simply put, you cannot lump all Amish into one basket. It doesn't work. The differences from a more progressive sect to a very conservative "Swartzentruber" Amish sect can be stark, indeed.
I also can speak about the use of the word "Amish" in terms of marketing.
Over the years, the Amish have, by default, built a very powerful brand. People across the world equate the word "Amish" with quality because they know about the Amish work ethic, and dedication to producing high-quality products. In recent years, foreign competition and a "shakeout" in the Amish furniture industry has caused the Amish businesspeople to take a first real look at marketing. in the past, customers were plentiful, and selling was easy. But again, competition is the new reality and marketing is being introduced to a group that never really needed it or considered it before.
Some Amish businesses will use the word "Amish" in their marketing. How do I know? Because I do marketing work for a number of Amish clients. Some are very, very reluctant to use it. Some understand the power of the "brand" they have built and use the word with caution. Such as, "furniture from Ohio's Amish Country." Others will not use it at all. It's all a matter of choice, and what one's church will allow.
Bottom line on marketing with the word "Amish": If you see "Amish furniture" or "Amish-made furniture" advertised, it probably IS Amish-made. It is not a "marketing ploy;" it is simply a way of defining one's product in an ever-competitive marketplace.
The BEST place to begin one's trip to Ohio's Amish Country is the Amish and Mennonite Heritage Center, located just outside Berlin (pronounced Burr-lin, NOT Ber-linn) on County Road 77. They offer a very moving tour of the 360-foot cyclorama (called the "Behalt" mural), and have a great documentary film titled, "The Amish: How They Survive." Take the tour and buy the film if you want to learn about Amish culture without wading through inaccurate nonsense.
Being in the center of Ohio's Amish Country, the world's largest Amish settlement, much of the population is bi-lingual, speaking both English and a dialect of German called "Pennsylvania Dutch." Smaller children often speak only this dialect until starting school. The name "Pennsylvania Dutch" is actually a mispronunciation of "Deutsch" or German. Church services are held in "high German," as opposed to the dialect.
Holmes County is accessible from: I-71, I-77, and US 30
Holmes County has the largest concentration of scenic byways in Ohio. Every major thoroughfare, state or US highway, is designated as a scenic byway, making it a great place to tour by car.
Unique to this area, is the Amish/Mennonite Benefit Auctions. These auctions provide funds for a variety of needs in the Community. Some are consignments, some are strictly donations. Most have food/meals, ice cream, pies, prepared by the locals and are quite reasonable and tasty. The auctions take place throughout the warmer months. They sell everything from quilts to furniture to farm machinery. Ads are in the local paper "The Budget". If you have never been to a Benefit Auction, it will be a real treat!!
There are a variety of choices for sleep that range from larger hotels to small bed & breakfasts. For something a bit different you may want to look into the Bed & Breakfasts which are numerous, or even renting a small farm house for a night or two, which can be very pleasant. Do your homework online, there are a lot of choices. Good maps are available just about anywhere you stop, particularly one called, "Amish Highways and Byways." It's the best map of the area by far; delivery personnel and truck drivers love this map. It's available throughout the area.
Due to the geographic location of Ohio, some of the finest hardwoods in the world grow there. The Amish have developed a large cottage industry around hard woods. Actually, to cal it a"cottage" industry is not quite fair. The Holmes County area of Ohio is now the second-largest furniture-producing district in the USA, second only to High Point, NC. Approximately 50 retail furniture stores are scattered throughout the county offering these products which are usually manufactured without electricity. A good place to pick up a bargain can be one of the numerous benefit auctions that are held throughout the warmer months to support the Amish schools, medical needs of the community and even the Holmes County Home. Other auctions directly benefit Haiti and other worthy endeavors. The largest of these (not necessarily in order) are the annual Mennonite Relief Sale held in Kidron; the Haiti Auction and the Rainbow of Hope Auction. These are very much worth attending, but bring your checkbook! Quilts and other high-ticket items sell very well at these auctions. If you are looking for a bargain, plan to attend one of the smaller benefit auctions -- there are many throughout the season.
The Budget is a local newspaper, printed in Sugarcreek, Tuscarawas County and sent to the world wide Amish/Mennonite community. It is printed in English and available by single copy or subscription. There you can find most of the local happenings and Auction advertisement. It is very helpful to new visitors and those wanting to understand the Amish/Mennonite community. Another local paper that has been around for 30+ years is the Bargain Hunter. It is published in several editions, so make sure you get the Holmes County edition. HINT: All the benefit auctions described above are listed in the auction section of the Bargain Hunter weeks in advance.
Quilts. Know what you are buying. Ask a knowledgeable party about them. There is quite a difference in the value and stiching. There is an annual Mennonite Relief Sale held at Kidron each year, that has been featured on National Geographic. The quilt auction at this sale is quite famous, and you can very easily spend $1,000 on a quilt at this auction. If you go, parking is remote with a hay wagon ride to the sale/auction tents.
Cheese. Award winning cheese of numerous variety is available, most made locally.
Jams, jellies and vegetables abound.
Bakery items. You will find numerous bakeries around the county. Just part of the Amish/Mennonite tradition. Made with sugar rather than corn sweetener. Great treat. Bring a cooler.
Horses/livestock. Traders heaven for those interested in livestock and "exotic" animals. The auction barn at Mount Hope seems to be the center for this activity selling herds of cows, sheep, goats, chickens, eggs, bakery items and so on each month surrounded by a somewhat primitive flea market. There are numerous horse sales and "exotic" sales throughout the year.
Shop till you drop. That is pretty much the goal of the majority of visitors to Holmes County. However, if you really want to get the feel of Amish Country, get a good map and hit the back roads. You'll enjoy the rolling countryside and get a good idea of the peaceful lifestyle led by area residents.
Visit the furniture stores. They feature locally produced hard wood products that are generally of very high quality. Farmerstown Furniture is one of the oldest stores in the area, and sold Amish-made furniture to local customers long before Amish furniture became so popular. The owners are Amish, and they are very nice people. Other good stops would be Homestead Furniture just outside Mt. Hope (very high-end items), Green Acres Furniture in nearby Mt. Eaton (southern Wayne County) and Walnut Creek Furniture. While Farmerstown Furniture specializes in much of the more-traditional looks, the others mentioned here feature many updated styles and finishes. Green Acres Furniture is one of the only places in Amish country where they still make and sell the furniture in one location. So customization is not a problem; they have a very talented Amish draftsman on staff. If in Charm, stop at the restaurant across from Keim Lumber for some of the County's best food.
If in Sugarcreek, visit the consignment store behind the grocery store, for local crafts. A bit hard to find, but worth the effort.
Stop at the bakeries, try a fry pie. Local treat!!!!
While there are a few bars in Holmes County as well as carry-outs, Holmes County is not a "party town" due to its very conservative population.
The main concern here is to pay close attention to the road as you take in the sights. Buggies, pedestrians and farm machinery all are quite common, even on the main roads. Please be especially careful when rounding curves or coming over a hill. Also, the Amish children walk to their private parochial schools (those that don't attend public school) and they get out at around 3:30 in the afternoon. Watch out for he little ones!
Animals:Keep in mind that this is not a petting zoo type situation. The animals may bite, kick or step on you, or especially your children. Never allow your child to walk up on a horse, buggy, or other farm animal. Animals in pens may be more accessible, but can pass on other disease like salmonella, or animal feces as well as biting. Animals by nature are not very clean, to say the least, and touching should be avoided.
If you DO want to see animals up close I highly recommend Hershberger's Truck Patch located on State Route 557, on the road to Charm, and Rolling Ridge Ranch, on the back roads between Berlin and Walnut Creek. Hershberger's has many farm animals on site, and they offer buggy rides. They also make the BEST fry pies, which are sold in their adjoining country store/bakery. Rolling Ridge is more of an exotic animal park. You can drive through in your car, or take a wagon ride pulled by large draft horses. Rolling Ridge does have a petting zoo area.
Part of what has kept Holmes County and surrounding areas rural is the lack of major highway access -- both a blessing and a curse. Major access points are U.S. Route 30 (an east-west route), I-77 and I-71, both of which run north/south, and connect with US 30.
State Routes 62 and 39 are the major thoroughfares in Amish Country, and following them will get you to all the major tourist destinations, and offer some wonderful side roads. Don't be afraid to venture off the paved roads and hit the gravel -- this is the best way to experience the Amish countryside. Don't worry; sooner or later you are bound to find a main road again!