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Belleville and Vicinity

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The Amish and Mennonite region of Mifflin County is less well known than the “Dutch Country” of Lancaster and Berks counties and thus far has escaped commercialization. The picturesque rural town of Belleville sits in a patchwork quilt of farmland. It was known as Greenwood, after its first settler, Joseph Greenwood, until 1800 when a local blacksmith suggested it be given a French name that meant “beautiful village.” Throughout its history it has supported a foundry; flour, planing, and roller mills; carpet factory; Swiss cheese factory; machine shop; and milk condensary. Today the Donsco Company operates Belleville Foundry east of the town at 4381 Front Mountain Road. The unofficial capital of Big Valley, Belleville hosts the farmers' market and livestock auction. A few modern amenities and antique shops have established themselves here, but the town maintains a historic district on Walnut and Main streets between Kishacoquillas and Pleasant streets. The Mifflin County Historical Society took over a former early-twentieth-century bank at 3922 W. Main Street. The thriving farming community surrounding Belleville has a continuous development of more than two hundred years that makes it especially valuable to historians and sociologists. What can be observed today are the practical concerns of Old Order Amish and Mennonites that have made them less tradition-bound in their architectural practices than in other areas of their lives. The fourteen meetinghouses concentrated primarily in Brown, Union, and Menno townships, for example, have plans and proportions that are identifiably Mennonite but vary in materials and scale. While the forebay is the identifying feature of the Schweitzer or bank barn, recently even some of the most conservative farmers in Mifflin County have abandoned the traditional design for a simpler rectangular plan and unpainted wooden siding.

Writing Credits

George E. Thomas

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