Amish are optimistic about Orleans

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 10 January 2015 at 12:00 am


Photo by Tom Rivers – Amish men work on building a new milking parlor on Friday at Marcus Miller’s farm on Fruit Avenue in Ridgeway.

Properties were abandoned, fields were unplowed, and barns looked to be on the verge of collapse.

It was late 1990s and early 2000s when the Amish and Mennonites started to move into Yates and Ridgeway, buying land that had been fallow and forlorn for years.

They started farms and many other businesses that would need the support of the community, including the outside “English,” to survive. I remember when the businesses started opening. I was doubtful general merchandise stores could draw enough customers, especially on Waterbury Road, Millers Road and some of these off-the-beaten-path locations.

But many of these stores have been a big success, expanding (but not too big) and in some cases relocating where there is more space. There are now about two dozen Amish and two dozen Mennonite families in the county, mostly in Ridgeway and Yates.

The Amish community has been in the news in recent days after a fire on Tuesday at a milking parlor on Fruit Avenue in Ridgeway. Marcus Miller had just built the milking parlor two years ago for his herd of 45 cows. The cows survived, but parlor was a total loss.

Marcus Miller watches firefighters while they work to put out a fire at his milking parlor on Tuesday morning.

The former building has been removed and new framing and metal siding installed for a new structure. This photo was taken on Friday afternoon.

The crumbled parlor was pushed off site on Tuesday and the framework started for a new milking parlor. Miller’s cows needed to be milked and a neighboring dairy offered to fill in until Miller was back up and running.

The men in the Amish community have stepped away from their own businesses for a little while to help get Miller’s parlor rebuilt. Amish have come from Holmes County in Ohio, including about a dozen who arrived on Friday and will keep working at the site today.

The new building, a replica at 42 by 70 feet, is expected to be enclosed today. Miller said he will then work to get the plumbing and milking equipment installed. He could be milking cows at the site again in two weeks.

“It’s been a blessing for everybody to see the help,” he said at the farm on Friday.

The Amish work ethic and their generous spirit has inspired many this past week, as it should.

They have another trait that serves them well: optimism.

Houghton Mifflin provides this definition of optimism: “A tendency to expect the best possible outcome or dwell on the most hopeful aspects of a situation.”

The first Amish family moved to Yates in 1998. The first Mennonites arrived in 2000. An estimated 200 now live in the county.

In 2000, the county had a total population of 44,164 people, according to the U.S. Census. That dropped to 42,883 in 2010 and the most recent estimate in 2013 put it at 42,335, a 4.14 percent drop or 1,829 fewer people since 2000.

State-wide, New York grew 3.56 percent or by 674,670 people in those 13 years (from 18,976,457 in 2000 to 19,651,127 in 2013).

In Orleans we have been shedding residents because many people don’t see enough opportunity in the community. They see neighborhoods in decline. They want out.

But talk to the Amish and Mennonite, and they see opportunity. They were drawn by the rural community and the low-priced real estate. They like the landscapes and the distance from the cities. They saw their neighbors are nice and their customers are loyal.

They looked around and liked what they saw, even the houses, barns and farmland that needed lots of attention.

They were up for the tasks of improving the land, the properties and starting fresh. We have been a stronger and better community because of their energy and work.

You hear a lot of gloom and doom around here, from residents, business owners and our school and government officials. There are many vacant and run-down houses, shuttered schools, and abandoned factories and commercial sites. Several bridges are closed, and many parks and cemeteries look neglected.

As the to-do list gets longer, you sense despair among the residents and local leaders.

I stood near Miller while the smoke poured out of his parlor on Tuesday morning. It had to be a devastating feeling. Miller is 34 with a wife and two children. He moved from Ohio to Ridgeway in 2012.

Miller has had plenty of help getting the site cleared and rebuilt. But he deserves credit for not walking away, for recommitting during a hardship, for seeing potential amidst the ruin.

That is one of the great lessons we should learn from the Amish: to not be so focused on the bad and the challenges, and to instead look at the potential, and to commit ourselves to the task of making it better.