Town of Lanark

The Town of Lanark is completely in the glaciated area of Portage County. It is therefore hilly with some flat areas, like the Town of Amherst of which it originally was a part. It was named after the City of Lanark in Scotland from where one of the first inhabitants came. The Tomorrow River or Waupaca River passes through the northeast corner and there are several lakes and small streams. Originally it was covered with forest but the best trees were logged and part of the remaining area was cleared to be used as farmland.

Among the pioneer settlers were a number of Irish families who formed St. Patrick Parish with a church of the same name. It used to have several rural schools and a number of post offices but at present all children are bussed to Amherst schools and all post offices have been closed due to the free delivery postal routes and the development of the automobile. There was never a village or a central place in the town. Only one place has a special name, Little Chicago, a tavern, north of Highway 54. It goes back to the prohibition era; moonshine is said to have been sold there and the bootleggers were considered as people similar to the gangsters of Chicago.

Since the farms were often partly on the moraines and required hard work, many farmers left the area with only a few Irish families remaining there. They were first replaced by Poles (many of whom were born in the region). Since 1966 another ethnic group arrived, the Amish, who had left Iowa where they had had some difficulty with the authorities especially because they insisted on having their own private schools that often were below the standards of the state and because they would not send their children to public high schools. In Lanark they found farms that were available at relatively low prices and settled there. At first there were only a few families but their number has increased to about seventy at this time. Although born in this country, the Amish are probably the most conservative group in the United States, especially the Old Order Amish to which the families in Portage County belong. They are a religious group which in the sixteenth century at the time of the Reformation were against the Catholic Church but since they did not agree with the principles of Luther, Zwingli, and Calvin they started their own church which consisted of Swiss, Germans and Dutch under the leadership of one Dutch Menno Simon and took the name of Mennonites. After a split occurred and a group under the leadership of a Swiss, Ammann, started their own group, the Amish. Both groups have the same principles, live following the Bible, being peaceful (they are conscientious objectors), making their living from farming, without consideration for modern technique and fashion. They do not use electricity, motors, inside plumbing; they have traditional dresses, which are actually the dresses of rural Germany in the seventeenth century. For their transportation they use horses and buggies or carts. Men have coats without collars and with hooks instead of buttons. Although Amish and Mennonites are similar in their customs, they do not mix but as they were persecuted in Europe both groups migrated to Pennsylvania in the beginning of the eighteenth century and later as they grew in number they expanded West. One of the reasons for not mixing is that they are not allowed to marry outside of their church. The Amish here do not have a church building but on Sundays they meet at the house of one member. This limits the size of the church communities; when they become too numerous, they divide. In Portage County there are at present three communities and three schools. Most are in the Town of Lanark, but some are in the towns of Amherst, Buena Vista and Belmont. They are friendly and will talk with strangers but they do not let anybody take pictures of them. One may easily recognize their farms as there are no automobiles or tractors around them and no electric wires to the houses and one may see on the roads children coming back from school; horses and buggies, or in the fields farmers with teams of horses.


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