Cuckoo for Sugarcreek: Ohio Tiny Town has timeless appeal (photos)
Cuckoo for Sugarcreek: Ohio Tiny Town has timeless appeal (photos)
SUGARCREEK, OHIO – Sugarcreek village, the eastern gateway to Ohio Amish country, bills itself as “Little Switzerland” even though most of the descendants of the Swiss settlers from the late 1800s are gone.
Things have changed over the past century or more; even the famous Swiss cheesemakers have moved away.
German and Swiss immigrants came to the area because the hills reminded them of their homeland in the foothills of the Alps. Originally called Shanesville, the town grew when the railroads started regular service and the name was eventually changed to Sugarcreek for the many sugar maple trees in the area.
The influence of those long-gone founders remains strong in this village of 2,300, on 3.7 square miles of rolling hills in Tuscarawas County. You can see it in the murals on buildings around town, the architecture and, of course, “the world’s largest cuckoo clock.”
It’s a place where “everyone has a job who wants one,” according to Mayor Clayton Weller, and the cost of living is much more reasonable than larger Ohio municipalities.
“I know it’s cliche, but we have a quiet community where people know each other and get along,” he said. “We have many manufacturers like the Belden Brick Co., Teardrop Trailers, Superb Industries (which makes parts for water heaters and hospital beds) and more. They are always looking for workers. If you don’t have a job in this town it’s because you’re lazy and don’t want one.”
Milo Miller, publisher of the nationally distributed Amish newspaper, The Budget, said the businesses pay quite well and the affordability of housing allows people to live comfortably. The problem is finding a house for sale.
“You can buy a nice house for $120,000 to $140,000, but they go fast and are usually sold even before a ‘For Sale’ sign goes up,” he said. As evidence, there were no ‘For Sale’ signs in the village or the surrounding area but plenty of ‘Help Wanted’ signs.
The Budget newspaper
The Budget, a broad-sheet newspaper that dwarfs its modern counterparts in height and width, consists of a local edition for the Sugarcreek area and a larger national edition mailed to more than 18,000 subscribers in America and elsewhere.
Miller said The Budget is the main source of news for many Amish people.
“Our readers don’t watch television or go on the Internet,” said Miller. “The Budget is where they get the news that matters to them.”
The readers are also the source of the news found in the national edition of the paper. Since the paper started in 1890 it has relied on about 1,000 Amish “correspondents” called “scribes” who send weekly reports of news for their own communities across the United States.
“They volunteer, but there is a badge of honor to have their work in the paper,” Miller said. “We actually have more correspondents than the New York Times.”
Many of the reports start with the weather and then go on with bits of gossip and news.
“We’ve had a full week, but an enjoyable one,” reports Amy Troyer of Olive Hill, Tenn. “On Mon. sister Margie (the James Hubers) and 5 youngest, of Mt. Hermon, Ky., came in time for lunch. The men helped with getting firewood cut and hauled home. That was a big help...”
While newspapers around the country are having difficulty because of competition from the Internet and television, The Budget thrives.
“We’re growing,” Miller said. “Our readers have big families and as they grow, we grow.”
The Budget also has a staff of reporters that cover local government, features and rural life in the Sugarcreek area. They focus mainly on features and news, shying away from heavy political stories.
In fact, The Budget hasn’t been political for a long time.
“The last time we were a political paper was when we wrote about the presidential election,” said Milo Miller. “I mean, the presidential election of William McKinley in 1896 (when he ran against attorney and fellow Ohioan William Jennings Bryan). We were all over that race. But that was the last time we were political.”
Miller, who has been in the area most of his life, said he enjoyed living “where you can trust your neighbors.” He also noted that when things get too boring, residents can look to their big-city neighbors: Cleveland, Columbus and Pittsburgh, all about two hours away or less.
“What more could you ask for?” he said.
One of the big attractions of Sugarcreek and all of Amish county is the number of Amish-style restaurants, such as the Dutch Valley Restaurant in town and several others nearby including Mrs. Yoder’s Kitchen in Mount Hope and Der Dutchman in Walnut Creek.
Sugarcreek also has the 18-hole Willandale Golf Course, three art studios and the Ohio Star Theater at Dutch Valley, which presents plays, concerts and comedy shows. But everyone says people come to see the clock.
The world’s largest cuckoo clock
The clock, which was designated by the Guiness Book of World Records as the world’s largest cuckoo clock in 1977, is more than 23 feet tall, 24 feet wide and features seven yard-tall figures that either dance or are part of an “Oompa band” that performs every half hour from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. The clock also has a water wheel and a wishing fountain and a cuckoo that tweets every 15 minutes.
The clock took $50,000 and 12 years to build. In 1975, it was placed in front of the Alpine Alpa in nearby Winesburg, a restaurant opened in 1935 by Hans Grossniklaus, a Swiss cheesemaker.
When the restaurant closed in 2009, the clock and furnishings were auctioned off. The bidder was convinced to donate it to the village. After several years of extensive repair, much of it by local resident Sonny King, the clock cuckoo’d for the first time in the village center in 2012.
“I used to go see it when it was at the restaurant,” said King, 88, who volunteers to maintain the clock. “When I heard it was coming here, I volunteered to work on it and get it ready to go again. Ever since then, I work to keep it running.”
Several other volunteers, including the mayor, keep the mechanical clockworks and computerized music system running like, well, clockwork.
This spring, they went to work fixing one of the dancers, Olga, after she was damaged by visitors.
“There was a woman visiting with two children,” Weller said. “The children climbed over the fence while the music was playing. They were up on the stage grabbing the dancers. Olga, who is very strong, suddenly turned and hit the boy. He kicked her and broke off her arm.”
They climbed down and drove off before anyone could identify them.
On a recent sunny day, there was a small crowd, including a busload of Amish families, watching the clock.
“My father used to bring me to see the clock when I was little,” said Margie Ridenour of Vermilion, who watched from across the street with her two grandchildren. “I wanted to bring the children to see it and the town. Their mother is going to be so jealous.”
Just across the street from the clock is the Alpine Hills Museum, three floors of interactive displays that tell the story of Sugarcreek and the surrounding area. It contains a replica of an 1890 cheese house, a 19th century woodworking shop and a collection of working 25 to 35 foot long alpine horns. If you ask manager Kelly Engstrom nicely, she’ll play one for you.
The brick wall sculptures
Also across from the clock, along a parking lot at Main and Broadway streets, visitors pause to inspect the 13 intricate panels that make up a wall illustrating the history of Sugarcreek and surrounding towns.
The panels, created by local sculptor Sherry Crilow, are so intricate that people spend hours carefully examining the tiny details, down to the treads on the tires of cars.
“She took bricks made by the Belden Brick Co. while they were still wet, built the panels of the wall and used knives, forks and spoons to carve intricate, highly-detailed scenes in them,” explained Sugarcreek Marketing Administrator Christine Quickel.
Most are views of agricultural, industrial or everyday life in the region. But on the panel dedicated to the nearby town of Ragersville, there is an oddity.
In the upper left hand corner of the panel is a tree with a hangman’s noose, a reminder that in 1873 townspeople hanged a rapist named John Foanbeigen (who called himself Jeff Davis). He was hanged after he was released from jail because he had vowed vengeance on the people who put him there. The Ragersville Historical Society has Foanbeigen’s skeleton on display.
For more Sugarcreek events and attractions, visit the village’s website, www.villageofsugarcreek.com.
The Sugarcreek Swiss Festival Every fall since 1953 the town has celebrated its heritage with a weekend festival that includes an Alpine Horn band, costumes, yodeling and cheese-eating contests and “Der Steinstossen,” a contest where men throw 138-pound stones.
This year the festival will be held Sept. 28 and 29 in the Sugarcreek Town Center with earlybird limited offerings Sept. 26 and 27. For more information visit: http://www.ohioswissfestival.com/