Pinecraft, Fla., an Amish Snowbird Magnet – The New York Times

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Journeys

FROM December through April, Amish travelers pack charter buses making overnight runs from Ohio to Florida. Stiff black hats are gingerly stowed in overhead bins as the bus winds its way through hilly farm country, making pickups in small towns with names like Sugarcreek, Berlin and Wooster.
On a recent afternoon, I boarded one of those buses, full of grandparents, neighbors, sisters and childhood friends. They talked into the night, using conversation as entertainment instead of movies and music. I sat up front next to two boisterous bishops named Roy J. C. Yoder, 75, and Andy Miller, 65. They peppered me with questions: “Are you married?” “Will you have kids?” “Do you believe in Christ?”
But they mostly killed time on our 19-hour ride by ribbing Lee, one of two bus drivers on board, and then each other.
“When Roy became preacher, he was a little bit of a slow learner, so we sent him to seminary school,” Andy told me. “They asked him ‘Where was Jesus born?’ And he says ‘Pittsburgh.’ So they say ‘Nope, Bethlehem.’ And then Roy says, ‘I knew it was some place in Pennsylvania.’ ”
The rows behind us exploded in laughter. We were headed to Pinecraft, a village on the outskirts of Sarasota, on Florida’s gulf coast. What started out as a tourist camp around 1925 has evolved through word of mouth into a major vacation destination for Amish and Mennonites from all over the United States and Canada. Some 5,000 people visit each year, primarily when farm work up north is slow.
On the bus, older passengers reminisced about going down to Pinecraft as children when roads were just sand and dirt. One man wistfully recalled a great-uncle who hitched a ride down in a Model T. But I didn’t fully understand the town’s popularity until we reached the end of our 1,222-mile drive, at a small church parking lot, where we were greeted by more than 300 people under a hot Florida sun — bus arrivals are a community event in Pinecraft.
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