Daycation: Smicksburg offers a rural retreat 60 miles from Pittsburgh

by Joyce Hanz

Unplug and unwind with a rural road trip retreat to Amish country in Indiana County.

A daycation to Smicksburg offers a glimpse into a large Amish population living a simpler, agricultural lifestyle rich in their religious beliefs.

More than 300 Amish families reside in the Smicksburg area, co-existing among those they call the “English” (anyone who isn’t Amish).

Smicksburg was founded by the Rev. J. George Schmick, a Lutheran minister. The first written reference to the region was recorded by Moravian missionaries in 1772. In 1790, a log trading post was established in what is now Old Smicksburg Park.

Be forewarned: Those exploring the Smicksburg area likely will encounter frequent drops in cell service.

Visitors to Smicksburg will encounter more than 20 specialty shops selling local Amish-made goods such as furniture, cheeses, noodles, butter, meats, quilts and more.

Spend the day driving down rural dirt roads dotted with white, neatly kept Amish farms.

Tourists are encouraged to patronize the Amish shops.

Keep a keen eye out for handmade Amish signs advertising goods for sale, noting that Amish businesses are never open on Sundays.

Many visitors choose to start their day in Amish country at the John G. Schmick Heritage Center, operated by the Smicksburg Area Heritage Center.

Society president Larry Bussard, 74, said he fields a lot of questions about the town.

“It’s the fourth largest Amish population in Pennsylvania,” Bussard said

Pick up a detailed driving map of the area specialty shops at the Heritage Center and take a self-guided driving tour of the primary routes through Smicksburg — Route 954, Dayton Smicksburg Road, Eileen Drive, Barnard Road, Mahoning Road and Chesnut and Clarion streets.

“Smicksburg is a hidden gem, and here at the center we sell handmade items from more than 20 English and Amish craftsmen,” said Barbara L. Johnston, who works at the Heritage Center.

Specialty shops include Primitive Peddler, Wender Pottery, The Shabby Girl Shanty, Miller’s Bulk Foods, Farmhouse Finery, Smicksburg Furniture, School House Antiques and Suzy B Knits.

Living Amish

The Amish embrace a simple lifestyle, rejecting many modern-day conveniences such as cellphones, automobiles, electricity and indoor plumbing.

They don distinctive solid-colored clothing in several colors that include black, blue and green.

Women typically wear modest, long-sleeve dresses and a full skirt.

Patterns are not allowed because they are considered too worldly. Belts and zippers are banned as well, so Amish men wear suspenders.

Women don’t wear makeup, are not allowed to cut their hair, and keep their hair pinned back, covered with a prayer cap.

Mirrors are not hung in homes.

The Amish don’t utilize church buildings; instead, they take turns attending worship services hosted in other Amish homes.

Rural retail reaps rewards

A recent reporter visit to one Amish family found the lady of the house selling a multitude of homemade specialty soaps from a small room attached to the main house.

The Amish woman, who declined to give her name for the story because of her religious views, said business had picked up since the pandemic, and she pointed out that the Amish community appreciates the tourist dollars that visitors bring in.

Seeking farm-fresh, organic Amish eggs took multiple attempts; several homemade Amish signs advertised fresh eggs for sale, but all were sold out.

A stop at Byler’s Bulk Food delivered, and a nice supply of fresh eggs was available for $4 per dozen.

From fresh eggs to handmade soap, leather goods to handcrafted furniture, tourists can expect to encounter friendly Amish families proudly selling their handmade items.

For tourists, respecting Amish beliefs and lifestyle choices isn’t difficult. Just remember the No. 1 rule is to not photograph the Amish.

Tasha Thomas, 50, of Harrison loaded up on baked goods during a visit to Smicksburg in October, including a vanilla graham pie ($16) at Country Junction Restaurant, at 81 Eileen Drive.

“I love visiting in the fall. It’s not as busy, and I love buying the baked goods,” said Thomas, who also bought two Amish-made dressers during her day trip.

Master fudgemaker Mary Lou Rolls stays busy making her sweet concoctions at Thee Village Samplers Fudge, inside The Country Cupboard of Smicksburg.

Rolls has been making fudge for more than 15 years.

It takes her about an hour to make a batch, and it’s all made onsite in a large kettle.

The top seller is peanut butter fudge.

“We’ve had people visit Smicksburg from England, Japan and Switzerland,” Rolls said. “People like that it’s laid-back, no cellphone service. They come here, and they spend a relaxing day.”

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