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Welcome to the Neighborhood
Amish families moved to Saline County from Wisconsin Tuesday. Others are expected to join them as they establish a new community. PAMELA KAY SCHMALENBERGER / THE SOUTHERN

Joni Miller pleasantly answered all the questions late Tuesday morning. But he would have much preferred unloading a moving van full of household items for his newly married son, Abner, rather than speaking with the media.

Not that he has a problem with reporters. But Miller is Amish, and drawing attention to one's self is not a part of the group's belief system. Nonetheless, he played the part of a good host and briefly explained his family's relocation to Southern Illinois.

He and 60 other Amish men, women and children are settling into Saline County with the assistance of their Amish neighbors in Vienna and Belle Rive this week after spending the last 11 years in Cashton, Wis.

"It is my hope that we can blend in here without being too much of a nuisance to anybody," said Miller, 45. He and his wife, Fannie, have raised 12 children to date. "We needed to move so that we could find more land for our children. And I think we're going to like the warmer climate better, too."

Miller recently purchased 80 acres of land for Abner and his bride, Ella, about five miles north of Illinois 13 just off Harco Road. He bought an additional 283.5 acres nearby for his own family.

Altogether, four Amish families - the Millers, Yoders, Shrocks and Hufsteddlers - purchased a combined 783 acres, mostly in Saline and a small portion in Williamson County, for $1.2 million.

The property was purchased from L'Erin Ragon with United Country Southern Realty in Marion.

Ragon said she was contacted by Joe Shrock in October in reference to a 1,200-acre tract of land that had been advertised for sale by the real estate firm three years ago.

"I told him that we had already sold that property but convinced him to come down to Southern Illinois for a visit," Ragon said. "Fourteen men, in all, came down here and stayed with my parents and me for three days. We looked at property all over the region from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. each day. They fell in love with this property in the Galatia-Harco area. They needed enough room to start their new community."

Ragon said the families settling here also brought about 100 head of cattle with them. The men are not only good stewards of the land, she said, but also accomplished craftsmen. The furniture they make, for example, is carved by hand and some of the finest money can buy.

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From an economic standpoint, Ragon said the Amish intend to get involved with the Southern Illinois Agritourism Council right away and should help boost tourism in the county.

"People will eventually be able to drive to these different farms in the Harco-Galatia area and pick up fresh produce, fresh-baked goods or order custom-made items such as cabinets and other furniture. This will all benefit the county."

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