Mrs. Scribbler recently returned from a trip to the Midwest with a tourist brochure claiming that Holmes County, Ohio, and surrounding area are “home to the world’s largest Amish and Mennonite population.”
“That can’t be true,” remarked the skeptical Scribbler.
Edsel Burdge Jr., who compiles statistics on the Plain sects for the Young Center for Anabaptist and Pietist Studies at Elizabethtown College, provides confirmation. “I’ve seen that statement before,” Burdge says. “That’s very old information.”
Burdge’s most recent population estimates appear on the Young Center’s “Amish Studies Website” under “Statistics” and in the August issue of The Diary, a monthly publication of the Old Order Amish churches. His estimated Amish population of the Lancaster County settlement (including parts of Chester and York counties) is just over 43,000.
It is the largest Amish settlement in the world.
Holmes County and three contiguous counties contain about 38,635 Old Order Amish, according to Burdge.
Do Mennonites in the Holmes County area enlarge the total Plain community there beyond Lancaster County’s total Plain population?
Again, not a chance, says Burdge. About 4,000 car-driving Plain people, mostly Mennonites, live in greater Holmes County. About 19,000 Old Order and other Plain Mennonites live in Lancaster County.
Precise numbers don't matter that much, but basic facts should. Lancaster, not Holmes, has the largest plain community in the world.
On July 31, the Scribbler fielded a question about the origin of Ligalaw Road in East Earl Township. All he found were newspaper references from the 1850s to a “Ligalaw farm” owned by William Witman near Churchtown. Ligalaw Road runs from East Earl into Caernarvon in that vicinity.
Three readers have responded to that column.
William H. Shirk, who lives in Caernarvon Township, says the route of the road now known as Ligalaw was altered in the late 18th century.
Robert E. Simpson, in his Caernarvon Rambler column in one of the June 1934 issues of the New Holland Clarion, stated that “liga is Latin for ‘law’ and that since the road was laid out twice it became Liga Law Lane.”
Simpson co-authored “Annals of the Conestoga Valley” and was an authority on Caernarvon history, so his opinion should not be dismissed lightly.
However, Shirk remarks, “I don't believe ‘liga’ actually is Latin for ‘law.’ I think Robert was just guessing, but I have no other explanation.”
Why would a road be named “Law Law”? This appears to be a linguistic cul-de-sac.
Eugene Kieffer, who lives in Gordonville, says his grandfather, Earl Boley, lived along Briertown Road all of his life. Briertown nearly connects with Ligalaw Road in East Earl Township.
“I asked my grandfather where the name Ligalaw came from,” writes Kieffer. “He told me that a resident that lived on the road was being arrested and he beat up the officer. The person then told a lot of people that he liged (licked) the law. My grandfather explained that the man did not pronounce words correctly.”
This story, while colorful, seems headed down a blind alley.
Finally, Ginger Shelley, of Lancaster Township, sent a clipping of an advertisement that appeared in the Belfast News in 1873. It refers to Ligalaw, Bray, Dublin, Ireland.
“I assume Ligalaw is a farm or section of Bray,” says Shelley. “Perhaps this is the ancestral home of Witman or some other East Earl resident who lived in that area.”
Perhaps, but we still have not progressed much farther along the path to the absolute origin of “Ligalaw” than those newspaper references to William Witman’s farm.
Jack Brubaker, retired from the LNP staff, writes “The Scribbler'' column every Sunday. He welcomes comments and contributions at firstname.lastname@example.org.