Country Living Series

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Pilgrimage to Lehman's

While here in Ohio, I had one specific thing I wanted to do in addition to dropping Older Daughter at her school: visit Lehman's.

Lehman's, as you no doubt know, is an enormous retailer of non-electric goods. It began as a service to the local Amish population and its popularity has expanded in the last twenty years. We've been customers since the late 90s (we ordered a wonderful set of Lincoln Logs for the girls when they were very young, for example) and I've always wanted to see the store.

So when I learned Older Daughter's school is only about a 90 minute drive from Kidron, the store's location, I actually delayed my return home for a day for the express purpose of visiting. In fact, I was looking forward to it so much I jokingly called it my Pilgrimage to Lehman's.

I was anxious to see rural Ohio since so far I wasn't impressed with the urban areas I'd seen. (To be fair, I'm seldom impressed with any urban areas. I'm a country girl.) I couldn't see much of the terrain on the major highways since they were hemmed in by trees, so it wasn't until I got onto the rural two-lane roads that things started looking up.

In fact, it was spectacularly beautiful. Coming from the drought-stricken west where temperatures had climbed over 100F during the weekend, the cool rain was welcome and I couldn't get over how green green green everything was. (Sadly for the farmers, however, I understand the rain is adversely impacting the corn crop.)

Ohio, I learned, isn't really big on road signs. Every crossroad is a tiny town with a name, but the names are seldom visible, so I blundered around a lot before I finally saw the sign for Kidron Road.

This is truly Amish country -- supposedly there are more Amish here than in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania -- and indications were everywhere. It should be noted many "English" are not above cashing in on the Amish reputation for quality products. I had no way of knowing which stores were actually run by Amish versus English.

At last my destination hove into view. It was crowded with tourists, but both the store and its parking were spacious.

I walked into the enormous building, and all I can say Just wow.

The store is divvied into categories. I started by walking through the stoves area.

On the floor they had the models which were for sale, along with every possible accoutrement (stove pipes, cleaning brushes, etc.) to go with them. Since this area required detailed knowledge of installing stoves and other heating devices, there was a counter with specialized sales people to help customers. I overheard some of the conversations and yes, the sales people knew what they were talking about.

Ranged in niches on the walls above the room, there were numerous antique stoves on display. The only pity is they weren't accessible at floor level for people to admire. It was every bit as good as a museum.

The whole store was like that -- museum-quality antiques were on display everywhere.

Here's our Baker's Choice model cookstove, the one we have in our house waiting to be installed.

I wandered into another area of the store and found myself in a darkened room with wood carvings on display around the walls. "Wood carvings" hardly do these works of art justice -- they were astoundingly detailed and in three dimensions. Numerous signs indicated photography was permitted, so I took advantage of that.

Having had a woodcraft business for twenty-three years, I was lost in admiration for these pieces and spent a happy twenty minutes examining them. Here are photos of a few of them, but understand a photo can't do them justice:

Remember, these are not flat relief-style carvings -- these are actually in three dimensions (which is what a photo can't convey). They were more like wooden sculptures. Amazing, just amazing.

At last I pulled myself away from the carvings and went to explore the rest of the store.

The Lighting Department was particularly attractive.

I got thiiiis close to buying this hanging lamp -- the price was right and I've always had a thing for hanging lamps -- and the only thing that deterred me was knowing I couldn't pack it in my suitcase for the trip home without it breaking.

In the coffee and tea section, I was amused by this sign.

It seems Lehman's is quite taken with Lord of the Rings -- I heard snippets from the movie score playing over the store's sound system a few times, and they had a line of tea packaged specifically for fans. I bypassed Gandalf the Gray tea (since none of us like Earl Gray) but purchased a box of Bilbo Baggins Breakfast Blend for Older Daughter (sadly, I didn't take a photo of the box because it was charming).

Needless to say, the Toy Department was wonderful. I've always enjoyed toy stores that aren't enamored of the plastic trendy junk.

I didn't realize this, but apparently Lehman's had a horrific flash flood in 2011 that devastated the store. After having witnessed some of the rainfall this part of the country can get, this doesn't surprise me. In several spots around the store, the water line was marked.

They also had a wall of newspaper and magazine publicity from over the years, including the flood.

These are closeups of the newspaper photos depicting the cleanup. Holy cow, what a mess.

A pretty lamp display:

Needless to say, I lingered a long time in the book department. I didn't buy anything because I wouldn't be able to shlep it home easily, but in fact I was gratified by how many of the titles we already owned.

Another example of Lehman's status as a quasi-museum: a wall full of antique miniature sewing machines. Lovely.

So what did I purchase at the store? Besides tea for Older Daughter, Younger Daughter requested a bonnet (I found a sunbonnet) and Don requested a hat (I purchased an Amish men's straw hat). Ironically the one thing I wanted for myself was a curved butter paddle and -- wouldn't you know? -- the store was out of stock.

They had two left in the warehouse, so I purchased the paddle and they agreed to ship it from the warehouse at no cost.

I left the store deeply satisfied. What a wonderful place.

Then a funny thing happened. I was sitting in the car with the windows open, looking at a map, when I heard a rapid clip-clop-clip-clop coming down the road. An Amish buggy. I grabbed my camera and jumped out of the car, but the driver was already out of sight. I was disappointed, for some reason thinking I'd missed my only opportunity to photograph a genuine Amish buggy.

But the driver turned around and came back down the road a few minutes later, and this time I was ready.

I know I was gaping like a tourist -- well okay, I am a tourist -- but I've never seen a real Amish buggy before. It was beautiful.

I wasn't in a rush to get back to the hotel room -- Older Daughter wasn't expecting me until 6 pm or so -- so I avoided the highways and instead meandered back toward the hotel via back roads and smaller routes. I saw many buggies and wagons along the way. It was something else to see the Amish just going about their ordinary business. On smaller byways, they used the roads.

On busier thoroughfares, they used the shoulders, which were clearly made wide to accommodate wagons. I admired the calmness of the horses, who never shied even when semi-trucks roared right by them.

I saw what I thought was a child walking along the side of the road pulling a wagon, and managed to snap a photo. It wasn't until after I passed that I saw it wasn't a child but a grown woman, a dwarf. (I won't show the photo out of respect for the Amish preference not to have their faces shown.) It brought to mind what I'd heard about the Amish having a higher number of genetic abnormalities due to a relatively small population.

The drive back to the hotel was lovely. I snapped random photos as I could of pretty farms or homes.

One place had airplane hangers -- for crop dusting?

I positively drooled over this collection of barns.

As I left the lovely rural areas behind me and entered urban chaos once more, I had a thought about Ohio.

Granted I've seen just the merely sliver of the state, but it strikes me that even outside the urban areas, Ohio is very crowded. In Idaho, towns are separated by vast open spaces with maybe a house or two at wide intervals. In Ohio, every crossroad (almost literally) has a cluster of homes and stores dating back a century or two (many had signs indicating such-and-such township was established in 1810, or 1817, or whatever). Coming from the relatively recently-settled west, these places were venerable and beautiful.

But they're everywhere. Ohio has no unsettled locations. Massive highways criss-cross the slower rural regions, and large cities are speckled all over. It seems there are very few wilderness areas in the state where someone can be a long distance from anyone else. Or am I drawing the wrong conclusion?

One thing's for sure, I wouldn't mind spending more time exploring the state, but I won't have the chance since I'm flying home today. Still, I'm glad to see what small part of it I did.


  1. I used to live in central Wisconsin, where there is a sizable Amish population. I have wanted to go to Lehmans for a very long time. Thanks for your excellent post, which has convinced me I have to make the trip.

    Carl in the UP

  2. I've always wanted to go but haven't had the chance yet. I actually have that lamp you liked. It is pretty but doesn't give off that much light.

  3. It's all relative. The land is much richer and more productive in Ohio than out West so the farms can be smaller with a greater number plus more infrastructure means more non-farm type jobs and a much higher population density.

    From my experience living West, East and in the middle like I do now it's a trade off. West is open but much easier traveled on foot while going off road in the Eastern half of the country (Not counting mountain regions of course) is almost impossible.

    I also have been finding myself less and less impressed with the Amish communities lately. We have many around my part of the country and their lifestyle these days seems to be turning into more of a facade. Many of them are leasing out their land and using hidden machinery. I saw an Amish guy baling hay by pulling a small wagon with a generator on it that ran a PTO shaft and hydraulics with a John Deere round baler behind it. All being pulled by a six horse team. To me that is really no different than using a tractor honestly and yet they are reaping many tax breaks and lifestyle benefits much like Ameri-Indian groups get away with.

  4. That shop looks fantastic, I would love a visit there! Glad you enjoyed your trip, thanks for the photos.

  5. We live in MO, there are several communities with large Amish populations. I don't think I will ever tire of seeing them driving down the road in their buggies. They are very intriguing people.

    I would love to go to Lehmans sometime. I have been buying things from them for many years. Thank you for sharing your photos from the store.

  6. Regarding Lehman's, there is an outlet store on what I call the "back side" of the store. It is in the parking area where the main store is on your right and a small strip of stores are built into the hillside on your left. This is where Lehman's sells lots of miscellaneous items from the main store that are not always perfect condition. When my hubby and I make our trek every couple years to Kidron from east central Indiana (about 3-4 hr. drive) I take my list to the outlet store first. If I don't find what I need there, then I head to the main store. The store is just as you described it. Great pictures. Before we go there I gather a list of items for myself, my homesteading neighbors, my daughters and my parents. This saves all of us on shipping. I appreciate your perspective on the Ohio Valley region. I never considered the lack of wilderness areas. Having lived here nearly all my life (couple yrs in Virginia and North Carolina) it just seems "normal." I hope you were intrigued enough with Ohio to want to return someday for a relaxing visit. Some beautiful Plain People areas to check out are Millersburg, Berlin, Mt. Hope, Sugarcreek, Walnut Creek and many others. I say "plain people" because there are many Mennonites and Amish that live in the region. Prayers to your Older Daughter and for you and Don as adjustments are made to this new chapter in life. Rebekah

  7. Wonderful post! I have always wanted to see the inside of Lehman's. What a wonderful place, full of simple, old fashioned appliances that work much better than their modern counterparts. Thank you!!

  8. You were also in a fertile part of it relatively near a big city (Cleveland). Lancaster County in Pennsylvania is like where you were; the soil is very fertile, so smaller farms can support a family and the population density is higher.
    There are parts of Southeast and West/ Northwest Ohio that are much emptier than where you were, however yes, you are correct that Ohio has more people in general than Idaho; Cuyahoga county where Cleveland is has about 1.2 million residents - all of Idaho is about 1.6 million.
    Rural Ohio is not a bad place to live, and has the benefit of shorter drives (for example, I am 2 hours from Lehman's) but the disadvantage of more people - eventually I hope to move westward, but for now it Ohio is good enough for me.

  9. Wow Patrice, you were just about 90 minutes from me when you made this trip. Sure makes the world feel small!

  10. Patrice, next visit, head a bit further south. Central OH has the wonderful communities mentioned above by Rebekah. It is also not as populous as the areas you visited. Central and Southern Ohio offer rolling farms and meadows, and also has some wonderful National Parks. Obviously, the closer you are to the major cities,the more populated it gets. If you get the opportunity to spend more time in our fair state, feel free to get in touch! (There's a reason I moved away from the greater Cleveland area...I too am a country girl at heart!)

  11. We live in upstate ny and there is nothing unsettled here except the mountains. Adirondack, Catskills. I want to leave here desperately. But I cannot see how.

    Learning in NY

    1. anonymous,
      have you read 'the deliberate agrarian' blog?
      i think he is up in ny too. he does okay there. give him a read.

  12. I am originally from north central Illinois. It is becoming almost painful to go back as a lot of the old farm houses are gone. There used to be a home about every 1/2 mile and now I would guess that about 80% have been torn down to get a few more acres of corn. The small acreage that I have is part of 3500 acres that the farmer now farms. My family made a good living on 160 acres we owned and 80 acres we rented. It was all we could handle with the equipment we had at the time.

  13. I dream of a treadle sewing machine, like my granny used to have. Easy to use, peaceful, slow enough (if you like slow) to day dream a bit and not worry about having a needle zip through the end of a finger or two. That machine and my granny made many a quilt that I slept under for many many winters. I want one so bad I can taste it, my finances just haven't been able to make it happen --- YET. The Lehmans catalogue is like a wish list waiting to come true. I'm glad you got to go there.

    1. I have a small "collection" of treadle sewing machines - I've never paid over $60 for one. Check out estate sales and auctions if you get the chance. My favorite machine is in perfect condition (and the cabinet is gorgeous!) and I got it at an auction for $20!

    2. I agree with Sonia. Keep your eyes open on craigslist or etsy too. They are pretty common in the Midwest, not sure about other regions. I bought one at a local antique store for less than $60 complete with attachments, needles, button hole maker, etc. The only thing that needed replaced was the leather cord for the treadle. I found it at a local Amish dry goods store (go figure) and only paid $5 for it. I bought 2. My cabinet is very ornate and my machine is a White from around 1910-1915. Rebekah

    3. Are you aware of any online site that might help me restore my to smooth working order? All complete, needs new belt--I just need a little help refurbishing... Thanks!

  14. Yep! That looks like Ohio, alright.

    And yep, it's mighty crowded back east.

    We country girls from out west need our elbow room. ;)

    Lehman's is a wonderful place! Can't wait to see Don's hat and YD's bonnet.

    A. McSp

  15. Thank you Patrice for this post. Been years since I have been ib that area of ohio.
    And, Carl in UP: I am from way up in the UP, but was raised in central Wis (Medford to be exact)and w as around the Amish there. Love those people and their self control in most things.
    Thaanks for letting me comment.
    Love from NC

  16. My wife and I have been there a few times and love it. They also put out a catalog, as does Cumberland General Store, that carries many similar items.

  17. We have a small population of Amish close to our home. We visit their grocery store a few times a year. However, the Amish near us drive cars & very few have any livestock. One man told my husband that they found animals to be too much trouble. I find it kind of sad.

    1. Perhaps they are Mennonite? SOME Mennonites dress in a similar way to the Amish.

      Some Amish take rides from "English" but I've never known of a baptized (adult) member of an Amish community to drive a car.

  18. Patrice, I never ever comment online but thought I would this once. First of all, I hope you enjoyed Ohio! I've been following your website for awhile. My family and I live near Cincinnati but we also have a weekend place in Southern Central Ohio. That part of the state is very rural and the people there are very nice and welcoming. My wife grew up in the country and feels that this part of Ohio is the closest (in Ohio) to our traditional American roots. I actually grew up near where your daughter is now - hence my decision to comment. If she ever needs anything, post here and I'll have my Mom get in touch. She's up in that area still and is a pistol-carrying, God-fearing Grandma to our 4 kids. Best to you and your family.

  19. Very interesting trip. And very interesting (and excellent) choice of education.Thanks for sharing both. God bless you and your daughter.
    Montana Guy and Montana Gal

  20. A few years ago, I drove across the midsection of Ohio on the Old Lincoln Highway. I saw a sign saying the turn-off to Kidron was coming up. I freaked out! I was that close to Lehman's?!

    But, I was on a mission to get to the other side of the state and declined the turn-off. I regret it to this day.

    Meanwhile, I thoroughly enjoyed my time crossing Ohio. The rolling hills, the lovely farms, and the small towns like a string of pearls. And it was Autumn, to boot. The colors! What a memorable drive.

    Thanks for showing me what I missed that day by not turning off onto the road to Kidron. Dang. The road not taken.

    Just Me

  21. My mothers family are from the mid-west, mostly MO and even though I was born in Iowa, I have lived most of my life in the Inter-mountain west, with a stint in Southern CA. I could never live full time in the east for two reasons 1) Too much humidity 2) without a set of mountains I never know what direction I'm going!! There are not a lot of unsettled areas but there are several where the old communities are dying and young people moving to town and you travel miles of country road without seeing anyone or a house with people in it! (kind of sad really)

  22. Kentucky's alright
    But there's too many people
    Why just the other day
    I thought I saw a Church steeple

  23. Thank you for the trip to Lehman's I want to go there and now I am convinced ! I am from Michigan , and , well , all I have to say is if you get to Ohio again , take a look at the surrounding states!! I am saying this good naturedly. ! We have our own populations of Amish , they d not consider using gas generators to power equipment in anyway going against their beliefs. They are an interesting people. My Aunt lived in a town populated by the Amish . When we went to my Aunt's home I actually believed we were time traveling !! ( I do not believe she had electricity either at that time ) 1960's- 70's. Hopefully your daughter will get a chance to look around the area some once she is settled in ! Karen

  24. Patrice,
    I am originally from the Mid West, IL, MO and IA. Next to the beautiful Autumn colors, I miss Amish buggies the most. I have been fascinated by the Amish since I was very little. Thank you for sharing your photos. They all were beautiful!

    Ouida Gabriel

  25. My sister lived in an area with a small Amish population. A young man on a nearby farm was having trouble making a living on his small acreage when a neighboring Amish family asked if he could drive them to the "city" (a town of about 10,000). He obliged out of neighborliness. They, however, insisted on paying him "for the trouble and expense". Before long he had a reputation for helping out with a car or small truck and had additional income. A real lifesaver for him and his family. The families became friends and helped each other at harvest, etc. The "English" family learned how handle horses and the Amish appreciated that their ways were not criticized.

  26. Patrice, I noticed someone else commented that they have that lamp you were considering and that they didn't feel like it put out much light. I bought that same lamp from Lehman's on-line for my hubby and while it's not bright enough to read easily by, it was great during our week-long power outage in February! It was plenty of light for us to move around our living room and do most tasks (except reading). Depending on what you want to use it for, you might want to consider ordering it sometime - it is a great price!

  27. Looks an amazing place both ohio and lehmans! Brilliantly written post, felt as if I was there!

  28. Patrice, we trade and deal with Old Order Amish on a weekly basis in Lancaster and York Counties in Pa. I recently touched on the subject on our blog. Now I'm not talking about the Amish Market Amish but the Amish at their farms. ( I have a suspicion that some of the tourist trap Amish are not Amish as well ). As PP stated they do use some "modern" machinery on their farms and business. It's up to their Bishop as to what they can and cannot use. It's not a matter of conforming to religious beliefs but it's a matter of living a plain and simple life. They shun some modern conveniences because they believe it to lead to laziness and sloth and possibly to sin. They do however use modern machines and tools to increase productivity. To use PP's observation on hay for example. Many Amish not only put up hay for their livestock but they sell it too. Many Bishops allow the use of baling machines but not tractors to bale hay so that production can be increased. Tractors are used on many Amish farms now but they have to have steel wheels. This practice keeps them from being tempted to use the tractor as a means of conveyance. Amish use power tools to make furniture and to build barns and houses as well. In our neck of the woods the Amish hire people with vans and trucks to take them places. They call them Amish taxi's. When you think about it, it makes sense. A horse and buggy can only travel so far during daylight hours, Amish don't like to be out after dark in our area. They're not luddites, they just strive to live simple lives. They pay Federal, State and local taxes, they do not contribute to Social Security, FICA, Medicare or Congress-care nor do they benefit from them. They also don't get special tax breaks just because they are Amish, they can avail themselves of special farm subsidies if they qualify, no different than any of farmer. It's not my intent to offend anyone--especially PP. I just wanted to clear up some misconceptions.

  29. We went to Ohio and visited part of Amish Country 10 or more years ago. Really lovely country.

  30. What a fun store! I just had to order a catalog after seeing this post.

  31. From what I understand, in some Amish communities, there is an increased occurrence of certain genetic disorders and even some that are almost never seen in the general population.

    However, there are other hereditary illnesses that are never seen among the Amish.

  32. So glad you enjoyed your trip to Lehman's. We get there about once a year and are always amazed to see the crowds of people.

    25 years ago Lehman's was just a small town hardware store that specialized in non-electric items. A large part of their customer base were missionaries going to the 3rd world.

    I can't remember exactly when it happened (maybe 12 or 15 years ago?) but Lehman's began expanding.
    I seem to recall they expanded once and then about 8 or 9 years ago to make the giant store that's there today. During the summer, fall and during the Christmas season the tour buses & people from Cleveland flock to Lehman's
    The entire atmosphere of the store has radically changed.

    Also if I remember correctly, Lehman's lost some of their oldest & best sales help during the Y2K hysteria.
    Even through Lehman's pays their employees a living wage...there's only so much a sales person can take!!

    Galen Lehman is a wonderful man and runs much of the day to day operations of the store. His sister Glenda is I believe responsible for the PR and a lot of the tourist stuff that you see in the store. Last I knew, old Mr. Lehman prowls the store daily and it's not unusual to see him walking around. You're lucky to catch the old man with a smile on his face.

    You're right about Holmes County and there about being heavily populated with lots of small farms. Eastern Ohio is much different from the western states in that, a family can have a very good substance farm on only 5 acres or so. In some places out west a family would be lucky to make a good at small farming on 500 acres.

  33. I would go absolutely nuts in this store….love everything!

  34. Thank you for that informative and interesting post. Your pictures made me feel as if I were there with you. And I wish I had been! Well done.
    Carol D

  35. Late entry here. I live a stone's throw from Lancaster County (almost literally, it's around a mile-and-a-half away) and I never get tired of seeing the buggies. We moved out here from Philadelphia to raise our family and it was one of the best decisions we ever made.