B y Lee Tugas
The back roads between Granville and Whitehall have begun to look a little like Lancaster County the past few months.
A group of Amish farmers from Fort Plain have purchased land in Whitehall, and local officials have rolled out the welcome mats for the area’s newest residents.
“I’m excited about it,” Whitehall Supervisor George Armstrong said. “I think our community is blessed to have these people come in to farm. Heck! We’ve lost all of our agriculture.”
Although members of the community have declined formal requests for interviews, they have said they intend to operate a dairy farming operation.
In recent months, members of the community, who hail from Fort Plain, have purchased a number of local farms located on Hatch Hill Road, Upper Turnpike and County Route 11 and Abair Road.
Members of the Amish community said they typically look for several farms within an 8-mile radius of each other.
Over the past two months, a group of approximately a dozen Amish men, ranging from teenagers to middle-aged, have been busy establishing their own community, erecting barns and houses and cutting hay.
A handful of straw-hatted men were seen Friday, clambering atop a rooftop of a barn under repair on Upper Turnpike Road.
Meanwhile, Amish wagons, a clothesline of traditional clothing, and several children in traditional Amish garb (long dresses and bonnets for women and long sleeved shirts and hats for the men) could be seen running in a field at two farms houses on Hatch Hill Road.
Whitehall town councilman Richard LaChapelle even reported that the family on Hatch Hill Road had posted a bake sale sign for Friday and Saturday mornings.
“You’ve got to get there early,” LaChapelle said, “they sell out quick.”
Jim Peterson, pastor of the Granville and Whitehall Baptist churches welcomed the Amish to the community.
“It is nice to have local farm land being used. It should increase the tax base. Washington County can brag more about being rural and quaint,” Peterson said, adding from his point of view, it was also nice to have additional Christians in the community.
The Amish are a subgroup of the Mennonites, a Christian denomination, and they are known for their rejection of modern technology and conservative dress, although beliefs can vary from one community to the next.
In the United States, Amish communities are mostly found in Pennsylvania, Ohio and Indiana, but the number of communities in New York continues to grow.
The Amish avoid the use of most modern technology, although a local Amish mother, who asked not to be identified, did say they will make use of tractors in their work, but not during the harvesting of crops.
Armstrong reported that he had heard a few grumblings from town residents about whether or not the Amish residents would pay taxes and wanted to ensure that they would.
“They will pay taxes just like anybody else,” Armstrong said, adding that the Amish residents would only be exempt from paying church and school taxes if they should decide to build a church or school.
“I hope they enroll their kids at Whitehall,” Armstrong said, noting that enrollment in the district is at an historic low.
Under their beliefs and traditions, the Amish generally do not agree with the idea of Social Security benefits and have a religious objection to insurance.
In fact, the biggest concern among local officials is not taxes, but transportation. Like their counterparts in Pennslyvania and other parts of the country, the local Amish community shuns the use of cars for transportation and instead elects to use horse and buggies.
The farmers periodically travel into the village of Whitehall to frequent some of the community’s businesses, and Peterson said a carriage was nearly struck on Route 4 last week.
“Cars are not used to watching out for them,” Peterson said, adding that state and local highway departments should post warning signs, similar to ones used in the New York’s western tier where there are larger populations of Amish.
Both the town and village boards have discussed the purchase of safety signs warning motorists to slow down for the traditional horse and buggy carriages that Amish farmers use.
At a recent meeting of the Whitehall Village Board, Trustee Ken Bartholomew recommended that the village procure “horse and buggy” signs to warn motorists to slow down if Whitehall’s new residents should ever ride into town in their traditional black buggies.
Dan Williams, Granville’s department of public works supervisor, said it would be no problem to procure such warning signs, since he knew a maker of such signs, USA Signs Inc. Williams was instructed to secure such signs from the company that has an in-stock supply.
Meanwhile, on Friday, Supervisor George Armstrong confirmed by phone with Highway Superintendent Louis Pratt that the town was securing six green safety signs from Washington County.
Armstrong added that a special warning sign had already been installed on Hatch Hill Road, but LaChapelle, who is also a sergeant for the Whitehall Village Police, said he had not heard of any unfortunate encounters between motorists or horses at the three Amish settlements, two of which are quite close to the village.
Local motorists are asked to use extra care on local roads where the Amish live.