A horse pulls a wagon with about 10 Amish women and children along Leeds Junction Road on Thursday. Steve Collins/Sun Journal

WALES — A dozen Amish families are moving onto a large farm off Leeds Junction Road, creating Maine’s fifth enclave of the simple-living, tradition-minded Christian sect.

“It’s going to be great,” said neighbor Nancy Blaisdell, who has lived across the street for more than four decades.

“They’re terrific people who work together,” she said, and promise to renew the farm lifestyle once common in the rural Androscoggin County town.

The town’s first selectman, Paul Burgess, said they plan to grow vegetables and make cheese to sell.

“It’s going to be great for our town,” he said, bringing a dozen honest, hardworking families into the aging community of about 1,600 people.

The Amish themselves, though pleasant and smiling, were mum Thursday about their plans. Burgess said they don’t like to say much about themselves.

The Amish are best-known for avoiding many modern conveniences, including automobiles.

On Thursday, two Amish men arrived at the building site for their creamery standing in a wagon pulled by a pickup truck. When it came to a stop, the two men hopped off onto the ground, each carrying a bicycle.

Out on the road, a brown and white draft horse pulled a wagon surprisingly fast. Several Amish women guided the horse while a number of children sat with other women behind them, smiling at the cars that cautiously passed.

A horse-drawn wagon heading up a hill on Leeds Junction Road in Wales may become a common sight as a dozen Amish families prepare to move onto a large farm in the town. Steve Collins/Sun Journal

There are about 250,000 Amish in the United States and Canada, nearly all committed to a rural, humble lifestyle. Few live in New England.

Burgess said at least one family is coming from Ohio, which has a number of Amish people, and another from Smyrna, an Aroostook County town where some Amish settled more than two decades ago.

Three of the 12 families he expects are already in town, he said, all having arrived this month. Blaisdell said, though, the deal’s been in the works for a while.

Smyrna was the first site in New England where Amish people chose to live. In the years since, they’ve also established small communities in Fort Fairfield, Whitefield and Unity.

Burgess and Blaisdell said the Amish bought the land from Roger Fortin, a longtime farmer who’s been looking for the right buyer since at least 2012, when the Sun Journal wrote about his desire to pass his 350-acre farm to someone who would work the land.

“It’s a substantial, sustainable farm,” which has supported more than 120 head of cattle in the past, Fortin said at the time.

Fortin took over the farm in 1974 when he traded a produce farm in Fairfield for the spot in Wales that had pastures and cattle.

He called it Little Alaska Farm because “when the wind hustles through here, it’s cold.”

Fortin said then that he didn’t want to sell to just anyone.

“I don’t want to leave this farm all demolished,” Fortin said. “I want it to be part of the future. I think Maine agriculture’s going to have a rich future.”

Amish men put up a creamery building Thursday on a farm they purchased in Wales. Steve Collins/Sun Journal

Blaisdell said she is thrilled to see the Amish moving in with the intention of maintaining that agricultural tradition.

“These people are bringing it alive again,” she said. “It’s been really fun to watch.”

Blaisdell said she’s looked with amazement as her new neighbors put up a barn this month and then plunged on to begin erecting a cheese shop. She said the wooden frame of the building looks more complete every day as Amish men scramble to put it together.

She said they’ve all been “very friendly,” with the women coming over to visit with her.

Burgess said the Amish are mostly riding bicycles around town so far.

Blaisdell said the addition of horse-pulled buggies and wagons along Leeds Junction and other nearby roads may serve to slow down some drivers and perhaps cause the big trucks that roar by to choose alternative routes.

Gov. Janet Mills signed a bill into law designed to improve safety on the roads in Amish communities in the state in May. The new bill states operators of horse-drawn buggies in Maine will be required to outfit their carriages with reflectors and lights.

The Amish trace their roots to a schism within the Protestant Anabaptist Church in 1693 in Switzerland, with the followers of one sect becoming the Amish. They began migrating to Pennsylvania, particularly Lancaster County, during the 18th century.

The Amish themselves split during the 19th century between the Old Order Amish and the Mennonites, who are less wary of modern inventions.

The largest Amish settlements in the U.S. are in Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana, Wisconsin and New York but many Midwestern states have thousands of Amish residents. Maine is estimated to have about 850, more than twice as many as it had a decade ago.

Vermont is the only other New England state with any Amish, about 60 of them, according to the Young Center at Elizabethtown College, which studies the Amish.

The center said the Amish typically establish new settlements with a few things in mind.

They look, it said, for “fertile farmland at reasonable prices,” rural areas that support their traditional, family-based lifestyle, an environment conducive to their way of life, proximity to other Amish and to resolve church or leadership conflicts.


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