Located two hours southwest of Denver, Westcliffe is one of two Colorado towns officially designated as ‘dark sky’ communities. These are communities that limit nighttime lights to minimize light pollution and preserves the purity of the night sky. But it wasn’t so much the night sky that brought Joel Troyer to Westcliffe as it was the sunny days, open space and the chance to start a whole new life.
In 2009 he and his wife left an Ohio community that, for generations, had anchored faith and family. Back in Ohio, families like Troyer’s caught your eye, but not like they catch your eye in Westcliffe. The Troyers, you see, are part of a growing Amish community in Westcliffe. In fact, there are a handful of Amish communities flourishing in rural Colorado, most in the southern part of the state or on the Western Slope.
While new in Colorado, the Amish have been part of the American fabric since the early 18th century. They fled Germany to avoid religious persecution. Today there are Amish communities in 30 states. They maintain a private lifestyle, eschewing electricity and technology and make their living as farmers, builders and craftsmen.
Their look is plain and simple. The men wear dark pants and jackets. They don’t wear belts but use suspenders. Their hats are straw in warm weather, black felt in the colder months. Adult men wear beards but not moustaches. Women dress modestly, wearing plain calf-length dresses. They also wear ‘kopps’ or caps when indoors and cover them with bonnets when outdoors. Amish children wear the same dress as their parents.
After marriage, women wear only white head coverings. Girls wear no head adornment until their teen years. The strict rules on clothing are to encourage equality. Women’s garments have no buttons. They use straight pins and safety pins to secure their garments. Buttons are considered decorative and using them might draw attention. But in a nod to practicality, there are some Amish communities that have relaxed this rule and have allowed the use of buttons.
Despite a religion that greatly discourages modern conveniences, the Amish have found ways around this edict. “Solar power and batteries,” power Troyer’s home and his business, a furniture store that sells handcrafted goods. “We use a computer at work so I can do accounting,” he said. The company has a website and “we use email for correspondence.” He hires “a guy who takes care of the IT and technology. We hire from the outside.”
Austerity is a simple fact of life. But in the 21st century, there are times when austerity can cramp one’s style. Not driving is a good example. “One of the biggest challenges is not having a car, he said.” But there are ways around that, too. “I have a gentleman who drives me.” A retired minister fills that role. “I pay ‘em a fair wage.” His ‘driver’ ferries him on trips he makes to Alamosa and other locations where business demands.
But Troyer has driven a car before. It was during the Rumspringa period of his life. Rumspringa is a rite of passage when a young person---boys and girls---are allowed to move away from the strict rules of the community and test the water. It’s a time for courtship, drinking, driving---experimenting with the ways of the world. Most Amish return to their roots.
Today, Troyer does his own driving around town. He, along with other Amish who live in the community, do it with horse and buggy. Because Westcliffe’s rush hour is neither, the old way works just fine. The buggies, as one might suspect, are hand-crafted and Amish-built.
The Troyers, like most Amish, have larger families. They have six children, including seven-month-old twins. They send their children to an Amish school but few attend beyond the eighth grade. At home, the family “does puzzles and play games,” he said. They entertain and also go to other Amish family homes.
Worship is “every two weeks,” said Troyer. “In between we have Sunday school the next Sunday. Then we have an off Sunday.” Because they do not build churches, services are, instead, conducted in individual homes. They also take off one Sunday each month. Services are conducted in the traditional German.
In the conversation, Troyer says the decision he and his then fiancé, now wife, made to move to Colorado was a good one. “Colorado, I would say, is home.” They’ve settled in comfortably but early on, he said there were a few times when things weren’t completely smooth. Some of the locals, he said, thought the Amish newcomers were getting work they should have gotten. “They say we work for less,” he said. “But that’s not true.”
Troyer said Colorado has been a good place for people like him and the Amish communities that popped up in Alamosa, La Jara and Crawford, the western slope community. “Colorado really grew on me,” he said. “The western culture fits me,” said the businessman and outdoorsman who enjoys the state’s bountiful hunting. “For the most part, we have been embraced really well,” he said. “It just took awhile to break the ice.”