By Felix Winternitz
Talk to Tom Cross, and you’ll hear an earful about the joys of living and shopping among the Amish. “I bet 75 percent of our visitors come from Cincinnati,” says Cross, executive director of the Adams County Travel & Visitors Bureau. “It’s a laid-back lifestyle, out here in the country.”
Yes, Greater Cincinnati has its own slice of Amish country: Quaint and rural towns such as West Union, Manchester and Tranquility, all located about an hour east of the city.
Cross and other locals point out that October is one of the best months to visit, with the autumn foliage in full bloom. “It’s a beautiful time to visit,” notes Steve Boehme, owner of GoodSeed Farm. “The Lewis Mountain Old Thyme Herb Fair on Oct. 11 and 12 is kind of the centerpiece of the month, as is Miller’s Customer Appreciation Cookout on Oct. 4. On Oct. 18, we’ll be having hayrides here at the farm. And Draft Horse Days on Oct. 4 and 5. That’s really something to see, too.”
“People seem to enjoy the peaceful, restful seclusion out here,” adds Doug Ruehl, owner of The Rock Vacation Rentals.
Driving along state Route 32, past Eastgate and Batavia, you soon hit this scenic horse-and-buggy country. Here are some highlights you’ll encounter, listed in geographical order:
Keim Family Market
Begin your Amish adventure at Keim Family Market, located directly off state Route 32 (you can’t miss it; look for the billboard announcing you’re there). Roy and Mattie Keim — a surname almost as familiar in these parts as Yoder and Miller — run this shop, a favorite with visitors among the many Amish farm markets in the area. “We always appreciate your business,” says the market’s Dan Miller of his Cincinnati-area clientele. You’ll find the predictable home-baked goods and cheeses, but also some offbeat spices, jams, and jellies (take home the pecan apricot or watermelon jelly). You can easily make a picnic out of the horseradish cheese, trail bologna, blackberry jam cake and raspberry pie. (It’s a good idea to bring a big, empty ice cooler for the perishable goodies you’ll discover all day long at this and various other shops, as well as a knife and cutting board.) Take time to swing in the numerous gazebos and gliders that are for sale on the property. 2621 Burnt Cabin Road, Seaman. 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday. (937) 386–9995.
This high-end garden store and nursery, set on a farm covering 158 acres, offers annuals, perennials, shrubs and trees in season (right now, the mums are selling out). “Our model when we started out was to be part Smith & Hawken and part Jungle Jim’s,” Boehme says. “(We try) to be the place where ‘they’ll have it’ for people seeking the unusual.” 5228 old state Route 32, Peebles. Hours are 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Saturday, noon to 5 p.m. Sunday. (937) 587-7021 or www.goodseedfarm.com.
This shop specializes in all sorts of cedar, hickory and oak furniture as well as upholstered outdoor wicker chairs. But proprietor Aaron Miller is perhaps best known in the region for his fascinating “motion clocks” that literally change their shapes on the hour (like a toy Transformer) while playing a variety of tunes.4153 Unity Road, West Union. 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Saturday. (937) 544-8019.
This country inn in a restored 1810 house is one of the best quick getaways from the Cincinnati area or a good place to stop in for a meal while visiting the area’s other attractions. Earning the title as “One of 54 Great Inns of America” fromNational Geographic Traveler magazine, the 10-room inn is adjacent to some small shops that make for great shopping. Innkeepers Sherry and Darryl McKenney provide a quiet and pastoral setting, with plenty of privacy and three hiking trails on-site. More modern amenities include a pool and tennis court. Meeting rooms are available, and the entire inn can be reserved with sufficient notice.750 Murphin Ridge Road, West Union. Open daily. (937) 544–2263 or www.murphinridgeinn.com.
Members of the Miller family are the proprietors of this wonderful, and ever-expanding, multi-building operation. “I think what attracts people here is that we have a lot of variety,” notes Daniel Miller. “There are three brothers involved here: One has bulk goods, my other brother has the bakery, and I’ve got the furniture.” At Miller’s Bulk Foods & Discount Grocery, you’re welcome to cart home as much as you like (bring a big, empty ice cooler) from a selection of jams, jellies, noodles, chips, cereals, candies, and cheese (sample the horseradish or vegetable herb yogurt cheeses). Quilts and Amish dresses are also on sale. At Miller’s Bakery & Gifts next door, check out the molasses cookies and Amish shoo-fly and fruit pies. Across the way, Miller’s Furniture & Barns houses all the lovingly crafted woodworkings: chairs, lazy Susans, hutches, toys, and the like. There’s a selection of playsets, swings and gazebos to browse in the adjoining outdoor area. On Oct. 4, Miller’s throws a party for its annual “Customer Appreciation Day,” handing out free 2009 Miller’s glossy calendars (featuring photographs of Amish life) as well as a menu of BBQ chicken, fresh pie and homemade ice cream.960 Wheat Ridge Road, West Union. 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Saturday. (937) 544-8449 for the grocery, (937) 544–4520 for the bakery, (937) 544–8524 for the furniture store.
Located on 175 acres of natural forest, this bed-and-breakfast complex — consisting of three modern cottages — features a stocked, spring-fed pond full of bass, bluegill and catfish; five miles of scenic trails; natural observation blinds for bird-watching; and regular hunts for morel mushrooms (putting it in the morel majority). Nearby is the Harshaville Covered Bridge, a popular tourist attraction. 1095 Marjorie Johnson Road, West Union. Open daily. (937) 544-6908 or www.unitywoods.org.
This unpretentious drugstore houses one of the state’s few remaining authentic soda fountains. Ask and they’ll gladly prepare you a 5-cent cherry Coke, made the way our parents remember it.206 North Market St., West Union. 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Saturday, 1 to 5 p.m. Sunday. (937) 544–2451.
Judy Lewis has been tending her herb farm for well over a decade now. The greenhouse complex and gift shop feature hundreds of well-known and exotic fresh herbs for cooking, medicinal purposes, and just plain nibbling. The farm is located atop a hillside (you’ll know you’re near it when you pass the volunteer firehouse) and is a perfect spot for a picnic or Kodak moment. There are now guest rooms available for rental on the property, as well.2345 state Route 247, West Union. Greenhouse hours are 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Saturday. (937) 549–2484.
The Counterfeit House is the only house in America specifically designed and constructed for the purpose of counterfeiting U.S. currency. Built in 1850, it comes complete with trick locks, secret rooms and escape tunnels. It’s now an antique store, as well.1580 Gift Ridge Road, Manchester. Noon to 6 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, or by appointment. Call ahead for guided tours. (937) 549-2309.
The Rock is a 1,500-square-foot lodging facility that accommodates eight guests and is located on rolling hillside overlooking the Ohio River. Owners Susan and Doug Ruehl invite you to enjoy the peace and quiet of this country setting. You are welcome to hike the trails on the property or just relax and enjoy the scenery. You can purchase a fall hunting package, which includes lodging and meals. Also on the grounds: A 1940 Norfolk & Western train caboose that’s sure to please any train enthusiast. The railcar is being restored with the plan that it will one day accommodate overnight visitors. 672 State Route 247, Manchester. Open daily. (937) 549-4855 orwww.therockvacationrental.com.
Wrap up your visit with a stop at Moyer’s Winery, where they’ve been growing the grapes and serving up regional American cuisine on the Ohio River for a quarter-century. The locally fermented wine is available by the glass, or the bottle to go. Try the cheese, bean and bacon soup for a quick snack, or the grated lemon pie for dessert. 3859 U.S. 52, Manchester. 11:30 a.m. 9 p.m. Monday through Thursday, 11:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday. (937) 549-2957 or www.ohiowines.org.
•The Bentonville Anti-Horse Thief Society Monument in Bentonville — just a few miles southwest of West Union — is a local oddity worth checking out. The statue was erected by, not surprisingly, the Anti-Horse Thief Society, founded in 1853 and devoted to retrieving stolen horses and bringing the thieves to justice.
• The scenic Edge of Appalachia Preserve in Lynx — just east of West Union — is the beginning of some 12,000 acres along the geographic edge of the Appalachian Plateau. The preserve carries the designation of National Natural Landmark from the U.S. Department of Interior and offers the highest topography in Ohio and some of the state’s most awesome natural panoramic views, molded by the glacier sheets of the last Ice Age. Buzzard Roost Rock is named for the turkey vultures, or “buzzards,” that soar overhead, and the area is home to some 250 species of prairie grasses usually found out West.
•The Original Quilt Barn Trail is a tour of the county’s two-dozen barns with traditional Amish quilt designs painted on their doors. Obtain a map of the quilt tour from the Adams County Travel & Visitors Bureau.
• If you hear talk of giant snakes, don’t panic. Locals are probably just referring to Serpent Mound, a massive effigy in the shape of a snake with an egg in its mouth. The mound, located near Locust Grove, is nearly a quarter-mile long and as high as 5 feet in spots. Serpent Mound is believed to have been built by the Fort Ancient Indian tribe around 1,000 B.C. Nearby, a series of conical burial mounds were created by the Adena Indians circa 800 B.C.
• The only planes you’ll see in the skies over Adams County are fighter jets from Wright Pat Air Force Base. The area is designated restricted air space by the government, due in part to Wright Pat and in part to the General Electric testing facility here.