Today’s post–the final in this series–is meant for people who hope to visit northern Indiana in person and not just via The Holy Rover blog. Here are some suggestions to help you plan a trip to this rural area where Amish-Mennonite traditions remain strong:
In Shipshewana, visit the Menno-Hof to get an orientation to the area and a background on Anabaptist traditions (see Among the Amish for more information). Menno-Hof was built in part because of the thousands of visitors who come to town for the Shipshewana Flea Market. The Midwest’s largest flea market is held twice a week from May through October. Over the years so many people at the market asked questions about the lives and customs of the Amish in the area that this information center was proposed. In 1986 hundreds of volunteers helped with a massive barn-raising and the non-profit center has been educating visitors ever since.
Another helpful resource is a free Heritage Trail audio CD with directional cues that will take you on a circular loop through the area. Just pop it into your car stereo and listen to interesting stories and historical tidbits as you drive. Contact the Elkhart County Convention & Visitors Bureau for a copy.
The Heritage Trail will take you through the towns of Goshen, Elkhart, Bristol, Middlebury, Wakarusa and Nappanee. You’ll wind through the heart of the Amish communities, passing fast-trotting horses pulling black buggies and Amish children riding bicycles home from school. If you’re wondering which farms and homes are Amish-owned, just look to see whether there are electrical lines running to the farmstead.
This area also has many Amish-owned shops where you can visit with the clerks to learn more about life in this old-fashioned corner of the world. Shop for freshly baked goods and farm-raised produce at local markets, sample the prize-winning cheeses at the Guggisberg Deutsch Kase Hause, and visit one of the many home-based workshops that make heirloom quality furniture. Das Dutchman Essenhaus in Middlebury includes an inn, shops, bakery and a restaurant that serves family-style meals. And Amish Acres, while not Amish-owned, offers tours of a former Old Order Amish farm, craft demonstrations, wagon rides, a restaurant, and musical theater.
On the Heritage Tour, be sure to visit some of the quilt gardens that bloom in the region during the summer months. Planned by master gardens and maintained as free attractions, these are super-sized versions of traditional quilt squares. The gardens provide another example of how Amish-Mennonite traditions influence the larger culture in northern Indiana.
Goshen, a town of about 30,000, is my favorite of the communities. Its picturesque downtown has historic buildings with locally owned shops, coffeehouses and restaurants. Notice the fortress-like structure on the corner of its courthouse square—the police booth was built in 1939 to protect the local banks from John Dillinger and Pretty Boy Floyd, who had a habit of robbing financial institutions in the region.
Don’t miss the Olympia Candy Kitchen, which opened in 1912 and is still owned by the same Greek-American family. Eat a sandwich at its counter and then sample its tasty hand-dipped candies. On the south side of the downtown, the South Side Soda Shop is a classic diner that sells more than 50 varieties of pie as well as malts, shakes, burgers and fries.
The rich handcraft traditions of the surrounding Amish-Mennonite community, as well as Goshen College’s strong art department, have helped nurture a thriving arts community in Goshen. The Old Bag Factory, originally built in the 1890s as a soap factory, is now home to a variety of workshops and stores operated by local artisans. Sculptor John Mishler creates large kinetic pieces made primarily from stainless steel and aluminum, while potter Mark Goertzen crafts wood-fired pieces in elegant designs. Nearby is a restored 1837 cabin that houses Quilt Designs, makers of custom-made quilts and wall-hangings designed by fiber artists Shirley and Kris Shenk and hand-quilted by Amish and Mennonite women.
You can also tour the campus of Goshen College and visit the Mennonite Historical Library on the third floor of Good Library (I wrote about these archives in my last post). The lower floor of Good Library includes a gallery with rotating exhibits. The current display, which runs until July 12, is of vintage and antique quilts.
For more information (and if you take my advice you’ll plan a trip), contact the Elkhart County Convention and Visitors Bureau.