BEAR LAKE — Residents near Bear Lake in Manistee County were a little surprised when they began seeing Amish horse-drawn buggies on the roads.
Their surprise soon turned to concern.
Nine Amish families are scattered around Bear Lake and Kaleva, having arrived in August 2018. More families will join the settlement this fall. They’ve built homes, barns and schoolhouses and a church is in the works.
Linda Little, who lives down the road from one of the new families, started the Signs for Safety citizens group after being startled when she came over a hill and nearly hit a buggy.
“It’s really easy for someone to hit them,” Little said. “In the snow it was even harder to see them.”
Little felt the group needed an advocate.
“I just felt like it was the right thing to do,” she said.
A measure to install 18 signs at a cost of about $6,200 was recently approved by the Manistee County Road Commission.
The standard signs depict a horse and buggy and will be placed on primary county roads where the new settlement is located.
“It’s going to make people aware that there are horse-and-buggies on the road,” said Mark Sohlden, road commission manager.
The signs have been ordered and will be installed over the next five or six weeks, Sohlden said.
Little said she was ecstatic when she heard the news.
“I really wanted them to be safe,” she said.
Bishop David Hershberger, who is head of the local Amish community, is grateful for the coming signs. The buggies have battery-operated lights on the front and back and carry the reflective triangle, but there are always mishaps that can take place, he said.
There are also lots of tourists in the area.
“If they see a sign like that it gives them a little heads up to be on the lookout,” David said.
David and Barbara
David and Barbara Hershberger’s children are quietly lined up at the kitchen table — seen, but not heard — as their parents speak to the “English” woman they have kindly invited into their home.
There are no distractions from a TV or radio; no phone or hand-held devices compete for their attention. The only noise is an occasional tootle from 1-year-old Mary, who has found a harmonica.
The Hershbergers came from the Finger Lakes region in New York, where some 130 Amish families live. They are originally from Michigan and have lived in New York since 2010.
The new house and a pole barn the couple built will not have electricity, something that is against their faith. The Hershbergers use tools and appliances such as a washing machine powered by gasoline or diesel. Their lights are kerosene and their homes are heated with wood.
David said the local code enforcement department is trying to get them to wire their new homes and buildings. It is something they are resisting.
“We don’t use it,” he said. “It’s just a waste of money ... We try to keep our things as simple as we can.”
The Amish church began in 1693 in Switzerland when a group of Christian Anabaptists split off, led by Jakob Ammann. Another 19th-century fissure split the Amish, as they were known, into Old Order Amish and the more modern Amish Mennonites, who drive cars and use telephones and electricity.
A group of Mennonites have lived in Manistee County for years.
The Amish pay state and federal income taxes, property taxes and sales tax, but are exempt from paying Social Security and Medicare. They do not rely on the government for any benefits, nor do they vote.
“About as far as we’d go with that is to pray for the world and the leaders,” David said.
David does carpentry work and runs their Pleasant View Kennel, which specializes in breeding small dogs — Pomeranians, pugs, yorkies and more.
Barbara, whose gently rounded belly is nearly hidden in the dark folds of her dress, bakes bread, rolls, pies and cookies that will be sold at a farmers market.
David is hoping his businesses will pick up so that she can stop.
“It’s almost too much for her,” David said. “She needs to be a mom with a house.”
“I have plenty with my seven children to keep me busy,” Barbara said.
Amish children don’t learn to speak English until they go to school, as Pennsylvania Dutch, a German dialect, is spoken in the home. They are taught to respect authority, that Jesus died for their sins, and to be kind to people.
“The most important thing we try to teach them is right from wrong,” David said.
“The Golden Rule is one of the first rules that we teach in school,” Barbara said. “It’s in the Bible, it’s one of Jesus’ teachings.”
The couple worries about outside influences on their children.
“I’ve noticed in the younger generation that they’re constantly playing with their phones,” David said. “It just kind of goes to show what we’d have if we allow it. We try to keep free from that, but that can sometimes be a challenge.”
The front of Rebecca Herschberger’s navy blue dress is dusted with flour and strands of hair escape from under the white cap she wears. The aroma of cinnamon and baking pie dough permeates the large kitchen.
A young son plays on the floor, his toy fire truck beeping and flashing as he rolls it back and forth and a daughter trails behind Rebecca as she slides trays of the gooey rolls and cherry pies out of a wood-fired oven that is taller than she is.
By the end of the day she will have made 50 pies, 20 trays of rolls and several dozen cookies. On Saturday, everything will be sold by her husband Perry Herschberger at a small stand in the parking lot of a nearby store.
“He sells out every Saturday,” said Butch Buckner, owner of the Saddle Up Gas & Grocery in Bear Lake.
Buckner built the stand for the Herschbergers and does does not charge them rent or a commission on their baked goods.
“He sells a boatload,” Buckner said. “It draws customers. They’ve always got to have a beverage to go with their pie.”
During the week, Perry makes his living constructing pole barns. Perry and Rebecca have lived in New York for nearly seven years, but grew up in Michigan. They moved here to be closer to family downstate.
They were one of the first families that arrived last fall. They had no income through the winter and were in the midst of building their new home.
“It was harder because nobody was here,” Rebecca said. “We were new to the area and nobody knew about us. We tried to find jobs, but nothing really showed up till the snow was gone ... Now we have more work than we can do.”
Perry and Rebecca have six children who will learn reading, writing and arithmetic at one of two schools the Amish community has built. The boys will learn how to figure out things such as how much lumber is needed for a building or a roof.
Their formal education will end after the eighth grade.
Rebecca’s greatest hope for her children is that they learn how to live with God, to have a happy family and to live near their parents so they can gather for meals. She also hopes they are content.
“We pray for them and just hope they will be satisfied with the way we teach them,” Rebecca said.
When it comes to marriage, the Amish are in it for life. There are no divorces, Rebecca said, and if someone leaves their partner they would also have to leave the community. They could only come back if they changed their ways and accepted their partner back, she said.
Rebecca would not choose any other way of life.
“I couldn’t get used to cars and electricity and things like that. I’m well-satisfied.”
People have been very welcoming, but Rebecca says she sometimes worries about being judged as the community settles into its new home.
“I would not want people to think we’re perfect and be dissatisfied with us because we do make mistakes.”
Aden Aden and Dora Miller came to Bear Lake from the Stanwood area just south of Big Rapids. A dirt road leads to the home they built. Their nine children, ranging in age from 13 months to 15, will nearly fill the schoolhouse located next door.
Aden, who also runs a sawmill, said he has been buying wood from this area for awhile and said land prices were in his range.
“It’s a nice area,” he said. “It’s just not settled as much. I like my privacy.”
Amish children take the reins and drive the buggies at an early age. Aden talks about the time when the children were on the road and their harness broke. A stranger stopped to help them.
Another time a pick-up truck pulled up alongside the buggy. A man rolled down the window, leaned out and yelled, “Welcome to the neighborhood!”
Aden said he is used to sharing the road with vehicles. It is something he has done his entire life. But people are not used to buggies in this area.
They try to have safe horses that are not traffic shy, but you never know when a car will come up from behind and spook the horse, Aden said.
“We do really appreciate that they are putting the horse and buggy signs up,” Aden said. “They are concerned with us being out on the road and we appreciate that.”