It’s hard to imagine the hard-working Amish lolling about on beaches, but for nearly 100 years, the Amish and Mennonites have been doing just that in Pinecraft, Florida.
In the mid-1920s, Amish farmers tried to grow celery here and while that venture was unsuccessful, the warm climate had its appeal. Soon enough, Pioneer Trails buses were transporting the Amish from Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Illinois to Florida for the winter. At first, there were only rustic campsites, but building increased in the 1940s and 1950s, and streets were paved, and today there’s a winter community of several thousand people. There are shops, homes, churches, and even a post office (While it closed earlier this summer, efforts are underway to save it). Meanwhile, the city of Sarasota grew up around it.
You know you’re in Pinecraft, though, because the streets are filled with tricycles and bicycles--buggies and horses are against the law here—and you see men with beards and women in traditional Amish clothing. Some work as hard as ever here, building furniture, growing vegetables, or quilting blankets while others play badminton, shuffleboard, volleyball, or fish. Some enjoy the sun at nearby Siesta Key beach—wearing both the usual garb and modern bathing suits.
For non-Amish tourists, the pay-off, undoubtedly, has been the food. Several restaurants known particularly for their “scratch-made” food and pies have intense local followings, given the lines outside. Yoder’s, which opened in 1975, is the most famous restaurant here, and offers 33 different pies. Der Dutchman is part of a chain of Amish restaurants which opened just a few years later; it offers a similar variety of pies plus a celebrated buffet breakfast. (Both are closed on Sundays and no alcohol is served.) Big Olaf’s Creamery is the place to go for ice cream. There’s also a weekly farmer’s market which sells Amish fruits, vegetables, and canned goods, along with high quality Amish furniture.
Today, some Amish beach-lovers are opting to rent in Siesta Key, and rents are rising in Pinecraft. Tourist shops are opening up. There’s talk of keeping Pinecraft as it once was. Better visit soon.