World's Largest Amish Buggy, at Wendell August Forge, Berlin, Ohio. 10 ft. 1.5 in. tall, 13 ft. 9 in. wide, 1,200 lbs.
World's Largest Amish Buggy, at Wendell August Forge, Berlin, Ohio. 10 ft. 1.5 in. tall, 13 ft. 9 in. wide, 1,200 lbs.

Rockome Gardens and the Decline of Amish Tourism

Tourism is not a zero sum game. But it's pretty close. When a family chooses to goes somewhere on vacation, they almost necessarily do not go somewhere else. For every successful outlet mall town, there is a failed Wild West Village. And over the past twenty years, one of the losers in this eternal shakeout has been Amish Tourism.

Whether it's the fall of Big Amos in Pennsylvania Dutch Country, or the gentrification of the Alpine-Alpa in Wilmot, Ohio, hex signs and buggy rides just don't cut it anymore.

Cheese loving Amish boy in the History of Cheese mural, Heine's Place, Berlin, Ohio.
Cheese loving Amish boy in the History of Cheese mural, Heine's Place, Berlin, Ohio.

We were in Ohio Amish country this summer, seeing how the region was faring without the World's Largest Cheese at Heine's Place in Berlin, Ohio. Even though scads of people were hovering over the free sample trays of fudge and cheese, ignoring the signs begging them to only take one, the area just didn't have the same vital feel as when we first visited so many years ago.

The Alpine-Alpa has changed its name to the Alpine Homestead Restaurant and Clock Shop. The World's Largest Cuckoo Clock was still there in name, but not in good repair, and certainly not widely advertised. We drove right past it in fact, and had to backtrack. A large rack of old Alpine Alpa postcards was being sold cheap -- images of its copper kettle waterfall, Dwarf Island, and sweaty men hoisting curd -- so we bought the whole display. (Update: This attraction closed, the clock moved to another town for possible resurrection)

Further signaling a shift in vacation tastes away from Amish tourism, the venerable Rockome Gardens in Arcola, Illinois was put up for auction in 2004.

Rockome Gardens Bottle House.
Rockome Gardens Bottle House.

Rockome Gardens was built starting in 1937 by Arthur and Elizabeth Martin, and by 1958 it had been sold to the Yoder Family, who started charging admission. The Yoders were not Amish, but many of their 140 workers were. The property encompasses 200 acres, with 20 acres of rock gardens and 15 or so buildings. It was sold again in 2006; the new owners added kayaking and horseback riding (and demolished the beloved but deteriorated bottle houses). [updated Dec. 2008]

We visited Arcola last spring during our trip through central Illinois, but our main purpose was to see the Hippie Monument and the Raggedy Ann Monument. We'd been to Rockome several times before, and it just didn't seem worth a full scale visit -- and our half hour there did little to change that opinion (we had to get to the Kay, the Elephant monument in Taylorville, or we would have stayed longer, honest).

Rockome Gardens gardens.
Rockome Gardens gardens.

Others seem to feel the same way. Attendance fell 8% in '99 and '00. The admission fee was dropped in 2001 in an attempt to stop the decline. Fees are now charged a la horse carte for buggy rides, the Haunted Cave and the Horse Powered Buzz Saw ("Ride the horse and get a free piece of wood.") Other attractions like the petting zoo, outdoor miniature railroad and Indian teepee are free.

Attendance has stabilized, and the attraction still plays host to the likes of the National Counted Cross Stitch Show, the Horse Farming Festival, the Young At Heart Doll & Bear Show, the Illinois State Old-Time Fiddle Championship and the Barn Keepers club lunch.

But the Yoder's are opting for retirement.

August 2006: Families have reported there's still fun to be had at Rockome Gardens,including a refurbished treehouse and other attractions. Tipster Don notes: "The bottle houses had to go because they were breaking up and were vandalized right before the sale."

July 2006: After a rough patch, Rockome Gardens is still open and operating. However, the decline of Amish Tourism argument is still credible, since Rockome has added activities such as kayaking, horseback riding, and is considering camping) to connect with a new audience. Whatever it takes to keep the Fresca House available for our vacation enjoyment....

Rockome Gardens

Directions:
I-57 exit 203 and follow the signs.
Status:
Gone

RoadsideAmerica.com Team Field Report

History of Cheesemaking Mural

Heine's Cheese Chalet

Address:
6005 CR 77, Millersburg, OH
Directions:
At Heine's Cheese Chalet on CR 77, just north of its intersection with US 62, about a mile northeast of Berlin.
Phone:
330-893-2131
Admission:
Free.
RA Rates:
Worth a Detour
Save to My Sights

RoadsideAmerica.com Team Field Report

World's Largest Cuckoo Clock

Address:
Main St., Sugarcreek, OH
Directions:
Downtown, on the northeast corner of Main St. and N. Broadway.
Hours:
Doesn't operate in winter.
RA Rates:
Worth a Detour
Save to My Sights

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