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Thursday, April 4, 2013

Amish 'Snowbirds' Migrate to Florida Village

Story and photos by Carola C. Reuben, copyright, 2013
Two Amish women sit in the sunshine of a warm winter’s day at Lido Beach in Sarasota, Florida, USA. White bonnets frame their tanned faces as they tilt their heads towards the sun.
Another Amish woman steps in and out of the turquoise-colored sea, wetting the purple hem of her long dress. Her companion prances into the Gulf Sea, lifting her dress all the way up to the knees.
They are among the beachgoers from the Amish “snowbird” village of Pinecraft at the eastern edge of Sarasota.
Pinecraft is year round home to a mix of some 3000 Amish, Mennonites, and Plain Sects, both traditional and reformed. Each winter thousands more join them, arriving on chartered buses from Ohio, Indiana, and other snowy, northern states.

In that Disneyland for the Amish, the Amish ride on tricycles past a display of themselves. The only horse and buggy in the village stand still. Other wooden figures on urban Bahia Vista Street depict a rural Amish lifestyle (photo below).  

The first time I saw the Amish on exhibit I was at Yoder’s restaurant to sample “Amish home-cooking” from a menu with a psalm printed on it, “Oh, taste and see the Lord is good…”
I noticed the Amish in 2011 during my winter stay in the Sarasota area; then I watched them in 2012 and on short visits through March, 2013.
One day I met Vera Overholt, due to “Divine Providence,“ as she put it.
We were reading notices on the outer wall of Pinecraft’s tiny post office. There was a red tricycle for sale, an “Amish lady” seeking work as an elderly aide, rentals, homes for sale. Vera ( photo above ) was looking for garage sales.
She lives across the street from the post office in a little house that has been her full-time home for more than 20 years.
Before that, Vera and her late husband migrated seasonally since 1967 from Ohio to Pinecraft. More than 30 years ago, they set up a produce stand in front of their house.
They also created a company, The Christian Hymnary Publishers. They published a collection of more than 1000 hymns as well as other Anabaptist books, such as “The Heroic True Story of a Pioneer Amish family during the French and Indian War, 1754-1763.”
Like Vera, the Anabaptists in Pinecraft don’t work on farms. Year round residents might work in construction or at jobs in village establishments, or own businesses, such as gift shops and produce markets; others are retirees.
They trace their roots to the Protestant Reformation in 16th century Europe, where their practice of adult baptism, or “believer’s baptism,” was an offense punishable by death in Switzerland.
Some of them fled from persecution in Switzerland, Holland, and Germany in the 1700s, and settled in Pennsylvania.
In the 1920s some of their descendants stayed in the Florida winter haven when it was the Sarasota National Tourist Camp. Later houses sprouted in the 1940s and 1950s, and now some 500 houses, closely packed together, fill the village.

Villagers say good-bye to their friends as they leave on buses.
Today many Anabaptists of different persuasions still yield to church rules and what they perceive to be God’s will, rather than pledging allegiance to the state. They stand against consumerism, violence, and competition.
They tend to choose a simple lifestyle and reject technological advances. However in their winter getaway, standards are more relaxed. For instance, Vera said, “everyone” in the village uses electricity.

Dawn Szantyr, one of a few non-Amish residents of Pinecraft,  identifies with her neighbors’ values, such as nonviolence and a pursuit of a simple lifestyle. After all, she describes herself as an “old hippy love child.”
Dawn, a massage therapist who has Amish clients, contends, “I like to hang my clothes out to dry.” Rather than driving, she enjoys walking to stores in the village, like Earth Origins and CVS Pharmacy. She prefers to go to the park in the evening instead of watching TV or being on a computer.

Amish and non-Amish mix in downtown Pinecraft
As the Amish mix with the general population, they can be seen driving their tricycles to supermarkets outside the village or riding on public buses to the beach.
Meanwhile the sunny day at Lido Beach draws to an end.
At a picnic table two bearded men and two women in bonnets clasp their hands in prayer in front of hamburgers and a stack of fried onion rings from a fast food stand.
Nearby on the beach four women are dressed in the modest attire decreed by God, according to their beliefs.
One of them holds up a cell phone toward the sky streaked with pink (photo, top of post). She tucks her long dress under her as she sits on the sand, then she uses the modern device to snap a photo of the sunset.
Copyright 2013,  Carola C. Reuben, Earthy Reporter


  1. I live near the Amish in MN....and had no idea they were snowbirds....Great story..

    Dave S

  2. Interesting to see how we all accomodate to the realities and needs of the present. We justify all changes due to requirements or pressures of living in a world that pushes us to a faster and more easily documented life. In that way we might lose some of our spiritual insight. Or is the spiritual enhanced by the technology?
    Evelina T.