Pinecraft, a Sarasota, Florida, neighborhood eight miles inland encompassing no more than eight blocks, has been called the “number one Amish snowbird capitol [sic] of the world.” For almost a century, Amish and Mennonite families from the American Midwest and mid-Atlantic, as well as from Canada, have flocked to the Sunshine State for respite and to mingle with one another during the November-to-April tourist season.
“We don’t associate the Amish with leisure,” says photographer Dina Litovsky, whose larger body of work emphasizes the art of “de-stressing”: from the public, such as the world’s largest convention for Santas and the NYC marathon, to the more intimate, including bachelorette parties and private erotic spaces. Litovsky has made several trips to Pinecraft, where she observes the vacationers “in community together”—not just worshipping, but taking meals in the area’s growing number of restaurants; enjoying concerts and benefit events in the park; saltwater fishing; and playing shuffleboard, chess, marbles, even a nighttime-game of volleyball. “It’s like a metropolis,” she says. “It’s their New York City.”
Pinecraft evolved out of Sarasota National Tourist Camp, which was founded in the 1920s; the “predominantly Christian” outpost’s bylaws call for “the mutual well-being of everyone” within its limits. By the late 1940s, the community boasted more than 250 freestanding homes, a school, post office, hardware and grocery stores, and at least one restaurant. The Mennonite Tourist Church opened that decade as well. The area’s size hasn’t changed since then, “and yet more people fit into Pinecraft,” says Katie Troyer, one of the neighborhood’s few year-round residents, “until we sit on top of each other.”
This most recent season saw approximately twelve thousand tourists, half of which arrived on chartered buses, mostly from Ohio, Indiana, and Pennsylvania. Once there, the transportation of choice is either a “three-wheeler” or golf cart, though the occasional bike or scooter (low wattage, battery operated) passes through. Many a sunburn can be spotted among the bonneted and suspendered: The beach is, of course, a popular destination for couples and families alike. Parents and children build sandcastles; groups of women, both young and old, wade in the waves; seashells and sand dollars are favorite souvenirs.
A slightly different spin on Florida’s conventional reputation for spring-break chaos, the tourist season in Pinecraft offers an opportunity for youth to branch out and interact with other Amish whose roots are in settlements far from their own. Some even marry and, frequently, return to honeymoon.
Partly due to a tradition of having large families—eight or ten children are common, if not expected—the Amish are among the fastest-growing populations in North America. Some elders worry about the inevitable encroachment of modern life. Cell phones are perhaps the most obvious evidence of this, but the population boom may necessitate political participation in ways that depart from their more conservative customs, sending the Amish to the polls in numbers unprecedented in their more than three-hundred-year history in the US.
For the Anabaptists who spend a week or two, maybe longer, in Pinecraft each winter, and for Litovsky as she observes them through her viewfinder, it’s “not about the individual.” While the more progressive members may be more likely to travel hundreds of miles for the vitamin D, they enjoy the same type of community with the same rules in Florida. Reluctant to pose for photos but willing to allow her generous access to their lives while on vacation, Litovsky finds the Amish and Mennonite families unassuming and hospitable. “There is no self-consciousness” about them, she says.
— Allison Wright