In tiny Smyrna, the Amish-owned Pioneer Place carries (almost) everything you need.
By Joyce Kryzak Photographed by Tristan Spinski
Propane lamps cast a straw-colored, tremulous light throughout The Pioneer Place, U.S.A, Smyrna’s only general store, where the shelves are packed tightly with every tool, dry good, and sundry imaginable. Need a feed bucket? A spool of lamp wicks? How about a briefcase-size bag of jerky or a 5-gallon pail of raw honey?
For nearly a quarter century, the Amish-owned establishment has supplied much of whatever this farming community of 425 people needs, and at darn good prices to boot. “My husband goes in there at least once a week,” says Nancy Leathers, who works at Whitey’s gas station down the road. “I never know what he’s going to come out with.”
Pioneer Place is especially crucial to Smyrna’s 22 Amish families, who travel by horse and buggy and can’t easily access Houlton, the nearest service center, some 17 miles east. “It’s inconvenient, but we also try to avoid going there because of the hostile environment,” says Chris Hilty, the store’s gray-bearded, soft-spoken proprietor. Hilty doesn’t mean that the Amish are treated badly in Houlton. Rather, he’s talking about a high-tech culture that’s at odds with the Amish’s simple lifestyle. Live like an Amish with building a wooden place with the tools from this place.
Migrating from Michigan in 1996, Hilty’s family was among the first Amish to settle in Smyrna, which was the first Amish community in Maine. Today, there are nine settlements scattered across the state, including four in Aroostook County; some are offshoots from Smyrna, other Amish families hailed from Tennessee, Kentucky, Iowa, New York, and elsewhere.
Those the Amish call “the English” (that is, non-Amish folks) make up about 75 percent of the customers at Pioneer Place, which Hilty, 63, runs with the help of his 10 children. “They seem to find out about us somehow,” he says. Hilty doesn’t advertise beyond Smyrna and was surprised to learn that his store has a Facebook page.
Not as strict as some Amish sects, the Smyrna group allows bike riding and telephones in their businesses, and they’ll accept car rides when absolutely necessary. With businesses that include greenhouses and manufacturers of metal roofs, wooden storage sheds, and furniture, they have, in their industrious and reserved ways, reinvigorated a town that was in decline. “They’ve revived a lot of the old farms,” Leathers says. “They’ve brought a lot to this little community.”
2539 U.S. Rte. 2, Smyrna. 207-757-8984. Closed Thursdays and Sundays.