Amish auctions are back in Pennsylvania tradition that supports local fire departments

Last weekend, the Gordonville Mud Sale, a local Amish tradition dating back to the 1960s, began, with hundreds of used buggies (horses not included) lined up and ready to go under the auctioneer’s gavel. It was getting worse.

The mud sale is located in what the Amish community calls the Lancaster Settlement, located about 110 miles west of Philadelphia, where a group of devout Christians began settling about 300 years ago. It’s a national auction benefiting local volunteer fire departments.

They don’t sell mud, but the cold rain brought a lot of mud. The name refers to early spring, when the wet fields are beginning to thaw but are not yet ready for the plow. The Gordonville mud sale is one of at least a dozen held in the area this spring, attracting thousands of bidders and netting about $100,000, or about 10% of the total proceeds, to the fire department. expected to enter.

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The Amish people make and donate much of the food and merchandise they sell, and they are also the purchasers of most prams and horse-drawn farm equipment. They organize and run sales and often act as auctioneers.

Michael and Kristen Dean of Oxford, Pennsylvania, said they were enjoying a fun day Saturday, mingling with Amish people to find bargains on used fences. The Deans are regulars at Lancaster County mud sales, and a week ago they purchased a greenhouse at the Burt Township Fire Company mud sale in Quarryville.

“When I tried to put it in the bed of my truck, it was bigger than I expected,” Kristen Dean said.

Auctioneers place bids for farm equipment during the 56th annual mud sale to benefit the local fire department in Gordonville, Pennsylvania, March 9, 2024. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)

George Olivio drove about 90 minutes from his home in Rosenhain, New Jersey, to seek trade for tools and hunting equipment. As Olivio carried chicken corn soup, horseradish, and shoo fry pie to his car, he recalled how unwelcoming the Amish people seemed when he first held a sale in Gordonville nearly 40 years ago. I remembered.

“When I first came here, they were very aloof. Now most of them are quite stubbornly friendly,” Olivio said.

Gideon Fisher, chairman of the Gordonville Mud Sales Committee, said more fellow Amish are seeking work off-farm and there are changes in their interactions with other people. He considers it a good thing.

“Fifty years ago, 100 years ago, most Amish were probably farmers, and now a lot of them are out doing roofing, construction and all kinds of other jobs,” Fisher said. said. “It’s becoming more and more common. We’re intermingling.”

The first mud sale was held in 1965 by the Burt Township Fire Company, about nine miles south of Gordonville, said Steve Nolt, director of the Young Center for Anabaptist and Pietist Studies at nearby Elizabethtown College. It seems like it was. Within about a decade, similar sales began in Gordonville, Farmersville, Strasburg and Gap.

The social aspect of the event is undeniable, with Amish adults warmly greeting old friends and discussing the price of milk, used scooters, rusted wagon parts, and the merits of fresh donuts. Groups of children roam the grounds, some pulling carts and helping buyers move heavy items to cars, while others crowd around stands selling candy and baseball cards.

Out of a trailer built by her bishop, a title given to the leadership of the local Amish church, Sadie S. King’s products include scrapple, homemade bologna, and six quarts of horseradish that she made herself. It was included. She lives about 1.5 miles from the fire station and has many reasons to support her cause, including the fact that Gordonville firefighters helped put out a fire in her cabin.

A handwritten sign advertised catnip for $1 a bag. “Oh, that sells a lot,” King said.

Among the bidders Saturday, Amish buyers were concentrated in an open field where some used buggies that cost as much as $16,000 new sold for thousands of dollars. The Amish people of Wisconsin bought 15 buggies and removed the wheels Monday as they loaded them and other purchases onto a tractor-trailer and transported them home.

A more mixed crowd of Amish and non-Amish packed into tents and sold tools and other produce for prices such as leather harnesses for $200 and old pitchforks for $10. Items for sale included 12 forklifts, an industrial-sized air compressor, a sea of ​​small lawn furniture, and among the craft tents were handmade wooden birdhouses of all sizes and descriptions.

Near the fire station, an auction of antiques, used furniture and plants was taking place, and most of the bidders were non-Amish. Approximately 400 quilts and various books were auctioned off in the fire station’s main vehicle bay. Downstairs in the basement, an Amish woman was doing brisk business selling her $2 hot dogs, $4 breakfast sandwiches, and all kinds of pies.

In recent years, the sale of the Gordon Building has generated more than $1 million in proceeds.

Used firearms are no longer sold, and sales of horses and other animals have also ended during the COVID-19 pandemic. Organizers also needed more parking, so they canceled the game of Cornerball, a dodgeball-like sport played by Amish boys and known as Eck Ball in the Pennsylvania Dutch language.

In Lancaster, one of Pennsylvania’s fastest growing counties, Amish large families and the cost of farmland are putting pressure on the traditional lifestyle they prefer. Low milk prices are also forcing changes.

Over the past 15 years, some Amish farmers in Lancaster have given up dairy farming and focused on growing vegetables, said Penn State Extension educator Jeff Stoltzfus.

“When it comes to commercial vegetable farmers in the state, probably 60 to 70 percent will probably be regular local residents,” he says.

There are signs that Lancaster’s Amish people are determined to remain among their 500,000 neighbors in Lancaster County. The Lancaster settlement extends into neighboring Chester County, with small settlements in Berks and Dauphin Counties, Pennsylvania, and Cecil County, Maryland. In 1990, there were 95 parish districts and more than 16,000 people, and last year the church had grown to 257 districts and more than 44,000 people, Nolt said.


The rules governing Amish life and interaction with the wider world vary from group to group, but the wearing of plain dark clothing and the use of horse-drawn transportation are widely observed. Amish people currently live in 32 states and Canada, with a total population approaching 400,000, with the majority living in Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Indiana.

Nolt said that in recent years, four Amish groups from the Lancaster settlement have established themselves in Bedford County and Littlestown, Pennsylvania. Point, West Virginia. and Farmville, Virginia. Together they would have numbered about 500 people, at a time when the Lancastrian settlement had grown by about 8,000 people.

Nolt said this modest change shows that “migration is not the dominant demographic here, but rather that most Amish remain on the Lancaster settlement.”