I love shopping during the holidays. Every season, I look forward to the store window decorations, Christmas music piping through speakers, and the rush of finding a great bargain. But with each passing year, there seems to be a greater desire for one-of-a-kind, quality items, and opportunities to support local craftspeople, stores, and entrepreneurs. And one of the best places to find those in Middle Tennessee is in the small town of Ethridge, located south of Nashville in lovely and historic Giles County.
Ethridge, a picturesque hamlet in a gorgeous rural part of the state, is home to a talented Amish community of farmers, furniture makers, basket weavers, leather workers and quilters, the largest in the South. For anyone willing to take the extra time to visit the community and (sometimes) patiently wait for the final product, the rewards can be wonderful.
A great place to start is the Welcome Center in Ethridge, located at 4001 Highway 43 North. There are a number of fantastic, authentic items to choose from here, including finely woven baskets of all shapes and sizes, colorful quilts, and mouth-watering homemade treats. If you want to venture out to meet with the Amish craftspeople directly, the Welcome Center offers a map guide that directs visitors to the various farms and specialties in the area. The map guide is invaluable, as often advertising is limited to a hand-lettered sign along a back road. (Please remember to be respectful of the Amish lifestyle, taking into account their quiet yet friendly reserve).
My own personal experience with the Amish came a few years ago. My husband’s pharmacy sales territory made him a frequent visitor to the area, and we were both intrigued by the idea of having furniture made specifically for our family.
Several local furniture makers specialize in different items, including armoires, desks, tables, chairs, and bedroom suites. Typically, there are a variety of woods to choose from, as well as an assortment of wood stain choices if you are inclined. (It’s best to bring photographs and a general idea of what you want made, although you may change your mind once you see examples of their work). Because each piece is individually handcrafted, be prepared to wait a few weeks before the finished product is ready to be picked up. These items might require a bit more time and effort, but their quality and value definitely make it worthwhile.
There are so many things to love about these handmade pieces. Each is truly unique – as in, you really won’t find on in anyone else’s home – rather than a cookie-cutter copy without much soul. Generations of skill, passed from father to son and mother to daughter, go into each one. The craftsmanship is superb, with each individual part fitting together like a puzzle to form a seamless, perfect picture. The attention to detail, from the carvings to the finish, is fantastic. I look forward to passing my own pieces on someday, knowing they will only appreciate in both monetary and sentimental value.
But what I love best of all is that each piece – every basket, bed, and belt – has a story attached to it, stories to treasure as much as the items themselves. My favorite one happened during our first Christmastime visit. Once we located the farm of one of the furniture makers, we spent quite a bit of time discussing our furniture design. It didn’t take long before our rambunctious toddler began to explore, and soon several young children spilled out of the lovely two-story farmhouse. Some of the Amish families still speak a German dialect, but children seem to have a universal understanding that transcends words. Shy at first, it only took a few minutes before they were giggling and running with our young son, at the time an only child who reveled in all the attention.
As we were wrapping up, the family invited us inside to view examples of some of their work. The children brought out a large container of homemade popcorn, eagerly offering some to our son. They clearly wanted to share what they had with him, and sent him home happily clutching a bag of his own. It was a thoughtful, generous gesture from a family of children that clearly didn’t set a high value on possessions, yet willingly and happily offered what they could. We left with the best gift of all – a sweet reminder of what Christmas giving is really all about. And that, as much as the quality and craftsmanship, will keep us coming back.
Visit http://amishwelcomecenter.com for hours and directions.