Friday, January 13, 2017

Amish pioneered in Florida

Road sign depicting silhouette of horse and buggy
Road sign is in the North, a traditional
 location of Amish settlements. But
an Amish community in Florida dates
 to pioneer years. Creative Commons
photo credit: Daniel Schwen
The word Amish makes me think of rolling farmland and horse-and-buggy transportation on rural roads in the North and Midwest. Not fun in the sun in Florida.

That, despite my knowing that Pinecraft in Sarasota is a popular vacation destination for many Amish. The surprise, for me, is learning that Pinecraft was established in the 1920s by an Amish man who had a celery farm.

Suddenly the Amish are part of Florida pioneer history.

The Anabaptist community's roots in Florida are traced to a farmer named Daniel Kurtz, according to the website Amish America. The website cites a book titled The History of Pinecraft, 1925-1960, by Noah Gingerich. I can't find a copy anywhere except online for $90+ dollars  - not an option! -  and in Sarasota-area libraries - a good three- to four-hour drive from me.

There appears to be no in-depth history within my reach. I did find a 28-year-old news item in the Tampa Bay Times. It mentions that two of the earliest residents were of the Yoder and Miller families, and that streets are named after them. Sorry I can't link to the article, as I had to log in to read it via the duPont-Ball research library at Stetson University. The March 7, 1989 item is bylined Pat Fenner.

According to the article, Daniel Kurtz was Old Order Amish, and he and his family moved farther south in 1925 after finding Tampa too worldly. He and his family settled "a long horse ride away" from Sarasota.

Others must have soon followed suit. The multi-author book The Amish (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2013) notes that a "handful of farmers" (location 4424 in Kindle) bought land for celery farming on the outskirts of Sarasota in the late 1920s.

Florida land prices skyrocketed in the early 1920s during the Florida boom, which collapsed in 1926. Either Kurtz started his farm at the height of the boom, or he and the others scooped up acreage at reasonable prices after the market crashed. Both Amish America and Wikipedia mention that Pinecraft had previously been the site of the Sarasota National Tourist Camp. Perhaps the camp was a victim of the crash.

Word of Florida seems to have traveled quickly. In Amish Society (Johns Hopkins University Press, 1993, 4th Edition), author John A. Hostetler says elderly Amish began vacationing in Florida "as early as 1927" (page 358) for health reasons. Pinecraft became kind of a resort for them.

It remains so today. Thousands of Amish travel to Pinecraft by bus each year and, once in town, get around on bicycles. A resource about the modern-day scene is the blog Pinecraft-Saraosta by resident Katie Troyer. She writes about the regular goings-on in town and seems to know just about everybody.

So there you have the extent of my knowledge of early Pinecraft. Many questions, few answers. I'll keep digging. My husband and I have traveled throughout most of Florida, but not yet to the Sarasota region. Time to plan a mini-getaway. History awaits.

Screengrab showing Pinecraft location in Google Maps
From Google Maps

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