Goshen serves as a convenient hub for touring the Amish communities of northern Indiana, but it’s also an attractive destination in itself.
Goshen College, the country’s largest Mennonite institution of higher learning, has a student body of 1,000, about half of whom are Mennonite. (While Amish children almost never attend school past the eighth grade, the school has also had a few Amish students in its history.)
On the third floor of Good Library is the Mennonite Historical Library, the world’s most comprehensive archives on the denominations that grew out of the Anabaptist tradition (primarily the Mennonites, Amish and Hutterites). Along with 65,000 books, it includes genealogical records, maps, and periodicals as well as quilts, toys, furniture, and folk art. (More on Learning from the Mennonites). The library also hosts temporary exhibits in a gallery on its lower level.
Next tour Goshen itself, a town of about 30,000. Its picturesque downtown is lined with historic buildings that house 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 old-fashioned 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 Mischler 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.