Madison Stories and Tips

The Amish Community in Columbia County

Going Down a Country Road Photo, Columbia County, Wisconsin

I had no idea that there was an Amish community so close to me here in Milwaukee (less than two hours away) or Madison (about an hour away). I was doing some research and stumbled upon the Columbia County Visitor's Bureau website (http://www.travelcolumbiacounty.net/ccvbamish.html) which offers some great information and a self-driving guide. Having printed the info months ago, I finally got to make the trip myself this weekend!

I got a later start from home than I had wanted, as I really thought I might need to get to my first destination when they opened at 8:00am. Fortunately, arriving at the Pleasant View Bakery at 9:30am was perfect timing. When I arrived there were half a dozen autos in the parking lot. Actually come to think about it, there were more Amish buggies in the lot than cars.

With one person at the counter and another browsing the racks before me, I didn't have much of a wait. When I left, however, the line was out the door and down the sidewalk with probably 12-15 people waiting to get inside the small shop.

The bakery is actually on the property of a working farm, so you walk along a sidewalk to the bakery building. As you would expect, it was a small and rather simple building. Walking in the door, you're immediately facing shelves of homemade pies, donuts, cinnamon rolls and sticky pecan buns. To your right, are racks of several types of homemade breads and rolls . . . and to the left is the counter where you pay for the items selected.

Behind that counter you can actually see into the kitchen. I briefly watched the five girls/ladies and one young man hustling as they mixed flour, tended to the ovens and removed dirty bowls and pans. They were of course in their traditional clothing, and the young man had not shaven his beard (with indicated he was married).

My purchase consisted of a wonderful cherry pie and a plate of six cinnamon rolls (total cost $10.75). Mission accomplished! We served the pie for dinner with company that evening, and enjoyed the cinnamon rolls for breakfast the following morning. Obviously homemade from scratch, both were delicious. I especially enjoyed the maple icing on the cinnamon rolls.

From there, I really did not have any other specific destinations in mind. Instead, I wanted to take the day to drive through the rural countryside to just see what I could see . . . hopefully passively observing the Amish as they go about living their lives.

It was interesting to see the children play. On several of the farmyards I observed children playing together on swings or pulling each other around in red flyer wagons. I was fascinated as I drove by one home with a trampoline in the front yard with two girls jumping. It struck me as ironic, seeing them in their traditional attire of dresses and bonnets enjoying the play on something as modern as a trampoline.

At one farm, two young girls set off in a buggy to go to their garden down the road (less than 200 yards away) to pick berries. I kept my distance so as to not appear too intrusive or creepy. I also passed by a farm being tilled by horse drawn equipment and a group of Amish men showing an "English man" a couple of small calves in the barnyard, I'm assumed being considered for sale. On one porch, a young girl was sitting in a chair as an older sister was doing her hair. No way to get photographs of these people living their lives, but I felt blessed to catch a personal glimpse into their world.

Perhaps the greatest thing I got to witness was actually quite by accident. I had decided before heading home to Milwaukee that I needed to find a bathroom. Using my Garmin, the closest place was a public park so I keyed that in and off I went. I turned down a road into what seemed to be a small subdivision that eventually would end up at Spring Lake. There I saw a lovely sand beach, a small boat ramp and the much needed outhouses.

What was so special about this side trip, however, was the Amish buggy that I approached about a half mile before reaching the park. Atop the buggy was a canoe! I thought "How cool is that?" I snapped a photo from behind, and then proceeded around them to the park.

When I came out of the restroom, a man with his two boys could be seen tending to their buggy and horse. They unhitched the horse and the boy took it into the nearby woods where his dad helped to secure it in the shade. Returning back to the buggy, the man could be seen taking fishing poles, life preservers and boat oars and giving them to the boys.

This is so very special to me because it was seemingly such a normal thing for a dad to be doing with his sons, and yet, not something I expected to see an Amish family doing. Given their simple lifestyle, I suppose there is nothing quite as simple as going fishing and catching your dinner. It just struck me as a special moment which I was happy to have observed.

Throughout my travels of Columbia County and the neighboring Marquette and Green Lake Counties, I enjoyed the mix of rolling farmland with deep forest. Not only did I see many farms with livestock (mostly horses and cows) but I also saw quite a bit of wildlife in the woods. Unfortunately, they were too fast and in some cases the woods too dark, to get a decent photo. I was able to snap a couple of nice photos of a fawn and its momma and a young female turkey. I also saw a family of grouse, a large hawk, several chipmunks scurrying across the road and a large male deer . . . just no photos.

Since my day trip was on a Saturday, there was a lot of activity on the roads. The small rural roads were filled with tourists and gawkers as well as the Amish people out and about taking care of their personal needs. I saw probably 20 or 25 buggies out on the roads, including several on the very busy highway between the town of Pardeeville and the rural community north of there where there is a large Amish presence.

I have attached a lot of photos to this story. I was always mindful of respecting the Amish, their culture and privacy. That is why you will not find any photos taken inside the bakery. I also tried to take photos that would not include the faces of any of the Amish people or if I did, I took it out of focus enough to keep them from being fully identified. I did take one photo of two boys on a carriage and used Photoshop to blacken out their faces. There were many photos I would have loved to have taken, especially of the children, but I did not.

I encourage anyone who plans a trip to visit an Amish community, wherever it may be, that they respect that most Amish believe that photos are "graven images" and as such, they do not pose for them. In fact, if they realize they are being photographed, they will often hold their hands over their faces or turn their heads.

As for my photos, I have a couple of favorites from my trip to Columbia County. The first is of two young men (probably teenagers) who were driving a two horse wagon on a hilly rural road. The image of the wagon, horse and boys juxtaposed to the rolling road creates a nice visual of their lifestyle.

My other favorite is of the man and one of his boys at the lake getting ready to go out fishing. I was really thankful that I could take it and not need to alter it due to capturing their faces.

During my travels, I did see (and photograph) a few barn quilts. If you've read my recent story on my trip to Monroe, WI you will know that I recently learned of this quaint rural type of art. To find quilts on barns in an area without a formal program promoting the art seems pretty rare to me. I have been unable to find documentation on any of the three barns I photographed, so I cannot provide more info on them.

There are so many other interesting places to see and visit while visiting the Amish community in Columbia, Marquette and Green Lake Counties. I'll save those stories for someone else, another day.

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