Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Up close with an Amish family in southeastern Minnesota October 15, 2013

HIS NAME SURPRISES ME. Dennis. “It is not,” I insist to my husband, “in The Book of Amish.”

Not that a Book of Amish exists. I have made that up. But in my mind, this trim Amish carpenter with the dark beard, suspenders criss-crossing his back and a tape measure hooked on his black pants, should bear a biblical name like Samuel, Jacob or Daniel.

Dennis sounds too Englisch.

His surname of Hershberger, however, seems appropriate although the German in me would like to insert a “c” and make that Herschberger.

Driving Fillmore County Road 21 north of Canton toward Henrytown then west to Dennis and Mary Hershberger’s farm in early October 2012. This is deep in Minnesota Amish country.

The photographer in me would also like very much to photograph this young Amish father who crafts the most beautiful, gleaming furniture you can imagine on his farm north of Canton and west of Henrytown in southeastern Minnesota. But I know that to photograph him would violate his trust and hinder my welcome to Countryside Furniture.

Inside Countryside Furniture, with furniture crafted by Dennis and crew.

So I keep my camera low, tugging it to my side as I watch the Hershberger children, 17-month-old Simon and his 3-year-old sister, whose name I never do learn, wheel a faded red wagon. I am mostly intrigued by Simon in the plain handcrafted blue dress that skims his ankles above pudgy bare feet hardened to the stones and rough grass underfoot. His face is still edged with the softness of a baby, but emerging into that of a little boy. Straight cut bangs ride high on his forehead with wisps of hair tickling his ears in a bowl cut hair style.

Jars of canned goods line the shelves in Mary’s shop.

When I amble next door, the siblings follow me into their mother’s shop, rattling round and round with the wagon like a car on a racetrack.

I admire the rows of canned produce (bright orange carrots, golden nuggets of corn, jade spears of dill pickles), the faceless Amish dolls snug in a cradle, the tight weave of cotton rag rugs…

Faceless handcrafted Amish dolls in a handcrafted cradle.

I lift bars of homemade soap and breathe in their perfumed scent.

A pathway in the crafts store where Simon and his sister circled their wagon.

Then my attention turns again toward little Simon and his sister as they drop marbles onto a colorful tower before darting outside. Clack, clack, clack.

The siblings dropped marbles down the colorful tower on the right.

Through the open shop door, I watch a horse and buggy wheel into the farmyard, steering toward the weathered red barn. A boy, perhaps 10 years old, strolls toward the farmhouse and I lift my right hand to wave. He hesitates, then returns my greeting.

I turn my attention back to Mary’s merchandise. We must choose something to purchase now. It is expected. So Randy picks two jars of Mary’s Preserves. We head back to the furniture showroom, a small outbuilding with white walls and a low ceiling, with two jars of strawberry and tripleberry jams.

We make small talk. Dennis asks where we’ve come from. “Faribault,” I tell him.

“Along Interstate 35,” he notes, then tells us of a good customer from our community.

A close-up of the furniture Dennis and his crew craft.

I ask Dennis’ permission to photograph his fine furniture and he gives his OK. Then we return, with Simon still tugging that wagon, to Mary’s shop. As we walk, Dennis lifts his son off the ground, snugs the boy against his right hip, then speaks to him in a language I can only assume is a German dialect. I expect Simon may be getting a gentle admonition about taking the wagon inside his mother’s shop.

Randy pays $4.50 for the jam. We thank Dennis for the gracious welcome to his farm.

My final shot of the Hershberger farmyard: the barn, the buggies, the stack of wood.

As we head to the car, I photograph the red barn, the two buggies parked next to it and the rough-hewn lengths of stacked wood which Dennis and his helpers will soon craft into fine furniture.

Even though I couldn’t photograph the Hershbergers, the visuals of this place, of this Amish family, of this experience, have imprinted upon my memory. And sometimes that is better than a photo.

A picturesque farm near the Hershberger place, rural Fillmore County, Minnesota, taken in early October 2012.

FYI: Dennis Hershberger also sells his furniture at Countryside Furniture, located at Old Crow Antiques in Canton, at the intersection of U.S. Highway 52 and Fillmore County Road 21. The Hershberger farm is about five miles northwest of that intersection.

Old Crow Antiques is a great place to stop for information on local Amish farms.

This story and these images are from an October 2012 visit to the Hershberger farm.

© Copyright 2013 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

28 Responses to “Up close with an Amish family in southeastern Minnesota”

  1. Reta Says:

    Thank you so much for your story and pictures. I felt I was there with you and would have so enjoyed seeing Dennis and his family. His store would have been such fun to wander through. Thank you, I look forward to more adventures with you.

    • Audrey Kletscher Helbling Says:

      When I can’t show you in photos, I will show you in words what I see. So glad you enjoyed this piece, Reta. Thank you for stopping by.

  2. The artistry and craftmanship is amazing – thanks so much for the tour and learning about another culture:) Happy Tuesday!

  3. I have never been to that part of MN – nor have I seen Amish people anywhere else. It is a fascinating way of life. And the craftsmanship is fabulous – I love the quilts. When I graduated from high school my mom made me a quilt to take to college. The pattern I picked for her to make was Amish Shadow. I love the stark black and solid colors mixed together. And I would love to own some of that furniture! Were the prices pretty steep?

    • Audrey Kletscher Helbling Says:

      It’s been a year since I visited Dennis’ and Mary’s shops and I don’t recall the prices on the furniture. You could contact the antique store I reference here and perhaps you could get a price range. You should journey over there sometime. I think your family would enjoy touring Amish country. Maybe next spring or summer.

  4. Erin Says:

    What beautiful pictures! I knew I recognized Dennis’ name. Of course, Hershberger is a common Amish name, but I agree, Dennis is unusual. There is a YouTube video on the Amish Tours of Harmony that features Dennis. I’ll send you the link. Hope you enjoy it!

    I love listening to them speak PA Dutch. My Mom learned German in HS and when she was at my Amish friends farm several months ago, she could make out bits and pieces to what she was telling the children.

    It reminded me of one time I went to pick up farm fresh eggs, and my Amish friend, Rachel, had not gathered them yet. I asked what I could do to help her and she asked that I look over her two young children. The little girl (about 3) just stared in awe at my husband and I and the little boy (20 mo) let me rock him. I was trying to ask him if he’d like to show me his horse, but of course, he didn’t understand a word I was saying. My husband and I must have sounded ridiculous “neighing” at him! When Rachel came back in to shop, the little girl asked her mother something and Rachel replied in PA Dutch something, something, and then my husband’s name so apparently the little girl asked what our names were!

    Thanks again for sharing these pictures. Those marble runs look fun!

    • Audrey Kletscher Helbling Says:

      Erin, what a delightful story about your Amish friends. Thank you for sharing that. Now you have my interest, mentioning Dennis being in a YouTube video. I cannot imagine how he allowed himself to be filmed.

  5. cecilia Says:

    How wonderful. beautiful descriptions of the children. There is an Amish community not far from here, in fact it was an Amish abattoir that we took the chickens to. One day i must go to their fair, evidently the food is great.. Lovely audrey.. c

    • Audrey Kletscher Helbling Says:

      Thank you, C. There’s an Amish auction twice a year near St. Charles in southeastern Minnesota which I’d like to attend. I expect that would be quite interesting.

  6. Jackie Says:

    Great Post Audrey, I have traveled that road many time on the way to Henry Town to visit my grandparents graves. I’ll have to stop in next time and check out Marys shop, I’m always up for some home made jams 🙂

    • Audrey Kletscher Helbling Says:

      I thought this area would be familiar to you. Yes, you would enjoy a stop at the Hershberger farm.

  7. Allan Says:

    Our home is filled with Amish furniture, Dining room set, Bedroom set, curio cabinet, Hoosier kitchen cupboard, baskets, (my Wife’s passion) and a large cabinet we have all our photo albums in. The furniture is very expensive, but second to none in quality! Our friends visit with awe, when they see how well made the Amish crafted Furniture is. No veneers, all solid Oak, Maple, and Cherry. I would hate to add up how much we have spent on Amish furniture, and accessories. We bought most of it from the Harmony area. Another wonderful reason to live in Minnesota, we have it all, Beauty, charm, artists, craftsmen, and all around hard working people. Thanks for the photos, and thank you for respecting their wishes of not being photographed. Have you read the book, “Our new Neighbors” by a Harmony Woman? It tells the entire story of life with the Amish/English community. And yes, they do pay taxes, but do not use our school system, and they do visit Dr.s and get medical treatment. So many untrue facts have been labeled on these wonderful people. If only we “English” people could adapt to their independence of worldly goods!

    • Audrey Kletscher Helbling Says:

      Do you have any furniture crafted by Dennis? He does beautiful work and you’re right about the quality. Sounds like very much appreciate your Amish made furniture.

      I have not read that book you reference and will add it to my reading list. Thanks for the suggestion.

  8. Reta Says:

    Do you have order information on ‘Our New Neighbors’ by Harmony Woman? Thank you. I really enjoy your site. Thank you! Have a wonderful day!!

    • Audrey Kletscher Helbling Says:

      I’m sorry, Reta, I don’t. I googled and tried to find the book Allan references. Allan can you email us with details on the author so Reta can find the book?

  9. McGuffy Ann Says:

    I enjoy this, and am very interested in the Amish. I love Pennsylvania Amish country, but have yet to visit the Minnesota area.

  10. hotlyspiced Says:

    I’m ashamed to say I know little of the Amish apart from what I saw in ‘Witness’ all those years ago. I also thought they all lived together in Pennsylvania! The furniture looks beautifully made. Another thing I know about the Amish is that they’re far from lazy – they all work so hard and this is reflected in all the wares you’ve shown xx

    • Audrey Kletscher Helbling Says:

      Charlie, glad to have informed you a bit more about the Amish.

      Amish also live in Iowa, Wisconsin, Ohio and I’m sure many other states.

  11. Thread crazy Says:

    Loved your story…again, it stirred memories of my father’s homeplace in Middfield, Ohio, where the rambling of amish buggies could be heard going by grandma’s place, as we played out front. Beautiful story…

    • Audrey Kletscher Helbling Says:

      Thank you. Oh, to have lived on your father’s homeplace, to see those Amish buggies. Happy to take you back to Ohio with my post.

  12. mike Says:

    looking for a amish carpenter to make a dinning room table and chairs

    • There are many Amish in southeastern Minnesota. I just saw an Amish furniture store in Albert Lea. St. Charles, MN., is another possibility. As is Canton. If you contact a local Chamber/tourism office or City Hall, I know these folks could direct you to a furniture maker.


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