Amish settlement flourished then failed

The Amish presence in Fayette County began in 1893, when three men from the Arthur settlement David K. Beiler, Noah S. Beachy and Moses J. Yoder visited the county searching for affordable land.

They liked what they saw in central Sefton Township, and in November 1893, each bought a farm.

These three families were the vanguard for the 30-plus families who would move to this area from Amish-Mennonite settlements in Indiana, Ohio, Kansas, Iowa and Oregon.

Members of the Sefton township settlement submitted monthly news items to The Sugarcreek Budget, an Amish newsletter published in Sugarcreek, Ohio.

By the end of February 1894, just two months after the settlement began, it was reported in the Budget that, There are eight families of Amish denomination living here and five more will come in the near future, among them John A. Miller of Oregon.

By the end of that month, it was reported there were 12 families living in the Sefton community. Whereas the first three families had come from Arthur, the Elkhart, Ind., settlement contributed the most families nine in all.

The settlement grew so rapidly that by the spring of 1896, the Budget reported, Two years ago last December, the first family of Amish people moved to this place, and there are at present 32 families, numbering in all 181 inhabitants.

Some of the families were those of John Troyer, Levi Hochstetler and brother Adam, Samuel Troyer and sons (Levi and Seth), Noah Kaufmann (with sons John, Abraham and Isaac), Samuel and Jeff Schrock, Aaron, Ben and John Miller, whose daughter, Lydia, was the wife of Moses Yoder.

During the drought of 1896, Levi S. Troyer commented in the newsletter, Crops are failing considerable, but this is not the only place that they fail. Two months later, he wrote, Crops are failing at this place. Wheat makes from 0-10 bushels to the acre; rye about the same; oats from 5 to 20 bushels. Corn looks well, what the bugs left over.

Two years later, things looked a little better, Husking corn is the order of the day. Corn is a good crop on the bottom lands, but on the prairie there is none this year the bugs got away with it.

In March 1900, some of the children became sick with what was at first thought to be chickenpox. The situation was reported in The Sugarcreek Budget: Health is not very good at present. What was at first supposed to be chickenpox are genuine smallpox, and we have a good many cases in this community. But as a rule they are of a very mild form. Now and then, a case is very serious, but only two deaths occurred yet. There have been over 100 cases already, and if all will take them that were exposed, the disease has only fairly started.

To make matters worse, David Beiler and his family had moved to Arthur, thinking their children sick with chickenpox, thereby spreading smallpox to that community.

The epidemic passed with no Fayette County Amish deaths, although some carried scars the rest of their lives. Little did the people imagine that the following January their community would experience a second smallpox scare.

When the people were already sick with malaria, whooping cough and typhoid, a young man arrived from Colorado. Before anyone knew what was ailing him, he had exposed them to smallpox. A strict quarantine was imposed, and no deaths resulted.

The illnesses, droughts and cinch bugs caused the people to despair, and each year more would move to other Amish communities; nine families relocated to Arthur.

It was said that some of them came to believe this was the land of the devil. By 1906, the once-flourishing Amish community was no more.

Within seven months of the inception of the settlement, a burying ground was needed, upon the death of Mary Yoder, 14-year-old daughter of the settlements minister, Moses J. Yoder.

There are 17 graves in the small cemetery, with 14 identified. Christian and Mary Eigstis four children, who died from diptheria within nine days of each other in December 1897, are buried in a row. Ben Millers 18-year-old son, Abraham, who drowned in the Kaskaskia River while swimming with friends on June 3, 1895, is buried here, along with Elizabeth Schrock and infant daughter, Sarah, and Catherine Hochstetler, the 36-year-old wife of Adam.

The oldest person buried in the cemetery is Susanna Miller, who was 52 years, three months and 28 days old at the time of her death on May 3, 1895. The last burial was in 1901.

The memory of this once-flourishing community is celebrated each Memorial Day by a group of Amish from Arthur, who travel to our county to tend the graves in this small country cemetery, located in Section 17.

Over the years, jonquils and lilies were planted, adding splashes of color to the stark white stones that are the only evidence that one time, for a period of 13 years, the Amish called Sefton Township home.

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