Through the years


Randy L. McKee photo

Craftsmen in Ohio’s Amish communities have been building furniture for a long time. Even before the “boom” days of the 1980s and 1990s, Amish craftsmen quietly toiled away in their workshops (many in one-or two-person shops) and created furniture for themselves, their families, neighbors and the occasional tourist — who usually was referred by a satisfied customer.

Because most shops began as cottage businesses, and because of a general adherence to a strong work ethic, over the years Amish-built furniture gained a reputation for high quality, and the need for retail stores grew.

One of the oldest of those shops that began selling “retail” is Farmerstown Furniture, just south of Charm on State Route 557. The Hershberger family has been open for business in the same location since 1969, and advertises itself as “The Granddaddy of Amish Furniture stores” — and rightly so. But…if Farmerstown Furniture is the granddaddy, then Dublin Valley Wood, located north of Mt. Hope at 4198 Township Road 606, is the Great-granddaddy!

Dublin Valley Wood’s roots go back to the early 1930s, when Sam Mast began building dining room tables in a small shop on the picturesque family farm. In typical fashion, Sam taught the business to his son, Ivan, who in turn now has four of his own sons working in the business. Dublin Valley Wood is very typical of the vision one might have when imagining an Amish craftsman’s shop. It’s also a great example of what we in Amish Country have dubbed a “Heritage” shop.

Here, you’ll meet and get to know the owner, or maybe one of his sons, as you walk through the shop, perhaps learn a bit about how things are built, and then relax and discuss your specific furniture needs. There may or may not be a small separate showroom/office with finished samples on display, but usually you’ll see some “in progress” items, a scrapbook of photographs, or a small catalogue or brochure showcasing the shop’s capabilities.

Most Heritage shops also welcome the opportunity to design a piece “from scratch,” so bring your ideas! While this is true of any of the retail locations throughout Amish Country, it’s the bread-and-butter of many smaller operations (who often do not advertise with anything more than a simple sign at the end of their lane).

Shoppers often don’t realize that building a piece from the ground up, or making a few changes to an existing design usually is not cost-prohibitive. In fact, in many cases it’s a very inexpensive option.

Although it is equipped with a diesel engine that produces compressed air to operate air-powered tools, the Mast family does not use electricity to make its furniture. Yes, it costs more (much more!) to use diesel fuel to power the equipment than it would to use “line” electricity. But that’s not going to happen anytime soon at Dublin valley. Even though recent spikes in fuel prices have pushed the cost of diesel fuel well above $4 a gallon, and even though hooking up to the power lines would cut those costs to a mere fraction, the Masts and others stay true to their church’s wishes to avoid this “connection” to the world at large.

Many “English” people are surprised to learn that Amish craftsmen are allowed to use modern power tools, but the distinction lies in the method used to power those tools. Just as the mast family’s church district follows a set of guidelines that allows them to use (detail method), some shops can use diesel power to generate electricity for use within the shop or even store.

Note: Here’s a quick tip for your visit to Ohio’s Amish Country. The Amish realize that visitors often have questions about their way of life, and most don’t mind answering a few thoughtful questions about their lifestyle and customs. Also, please understand that the Amish don’t consider themselves an oddity or curiosity. The Amish way of life works extremely well, and most are quite happy and content to live as they do.

The Amish also enjoy “visiting” as part of doing business, and when you take the time to visit with Ivan Mast you’ll discover a wry sense of humor, an incredible knowledge of furniture, a keen sense of design – and a soft spot for cats! More than likely you’ll see a few kittens scampering playfully around in the workshop; a function of the fact that Dublin Valley Wood also still is a working farm. And what would a good farm be without a few “barn cats?”

When you visit a Heritage shop like Dublin Valley Wood, and then enjoy the furniture built by talented people like the Masts, it’s easy to understand why longstanding relationships with multiple purchases over the years are very common throughout Amish Country. Just as the furniture businesses themselves span generations, customer loyalty often does as well, with parents referring children to “their” store.

Just as people are unique, every single stop in Ohio’s Amish Country is, too. The “Heritage” experience you’ll discover at Dublin Valley Wood and similar shops is an experience that simply cannot be duplicated. And while we have done our best to describe the general classifications of the various venues, the best way to enjoy Ohio’s Amish Country is to do some planning, do some homework and then head for hills of Amish Country and explore the beauty of the area for yourself. Enjoy!