Amish country, Indiana
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Did You Know … ?
- Although Indiana’s Amish reject telephones at home, they often have current model cellphones.
- Alka-Seltzer was created at Miles Laboratories in Elkhart (1931).
- Amish-owned Bender Camel Farm in Shipshewana sells camels’ milk for $80 a gallon.
- Half of all RVs on America’s roads were made in Elkhart County.
- The first language for Amish is Pennsylvania German (aka Pennsylvania Dutch) or a Swiss dialect.
Menno-Hof barn raising
Amish families live in several Indiana counties, but by far the largest numbers are concentrated in or around Elkhart County, located roughly at the center of the state’s northernmost tier of counties. Hence, Elkhart County is known as Indiana’s Amish country.
The region also is home to Mennonites, a religious group that like the Amish originated with the 16th century Anabaptist movement in Switzerland. However, because Mennonites don’t withdraw from the larger world as do the Amish, visitors may not be able to identify them or, occasionally, may confuse conservatively dressed Mennonites with the Amish. The Amish are distinguished by their plain style of dress and their horse-drawn buggies. Further, the Amish believe an eighth-grade education is sufficient whereas Goshen College, in Elkhart County, is affiliated with the Mennonites.
For those who come for more than once-over-lightly contact with the Amish culture, it’s a good idea to begin a visit at Menno-Hof, a museum in Shipshewana. Built by Amish and Mennonite craftsmen in a traditional barn raising, the facility tells the story of both groups with multimedia presentations and replicas of historical settings.
Typical visitor activities include sampling traditional (and hearty) foods in bakeries, cheese shops and restaurants; shopping for furniture, quilts and other handicrafts, and attending a stage show with an Amish-inspired theme. Perhaps more thought provoking, however, is the county’s 90-mile Heritage Trail Driving Tour, which takes visitors into the countryside where the Amish farm and raise their families and the towns where they bring goods to market and do their own shopping. The Elkhart County Convention and Visitors Bureau offers a free audio driving tour available on CD or as a digital download.
Seasonally, the same route introduces the spectacle of Amish-tended gardens designed with quilt patterns, as well as quilt-themed murals seen on some buildings. Similar drives, to see more murals, are available in neighboring LaGrange and Marshall counties.
Finally, the Amish don’t pose for photos and don’t want to be in photos that show their faces. This is less of an issue with children. Also, horse-drawn buggies move slowly. Drivers must take care, especially when approaching hills and corners.
Things to do for Venturers
- Cycle the Pumpkinvine Nature Trail, a way to travel among Goshen, Middlebury and Shipshewana.
- Book dinner in an Amish home. LeAnna Yoder, near Middlebury, serves family-style dinners in early evening each Tuesday. Reserving spaces is a good idea, but you can be a walk-in.
- Celebrate winter at an Ice Festival or two or three. Goshen, Middlebury and Shipshewana all stage these icy affairs.
- Paddle a kayak through the winding, gentle rapids of the Elkhart River.
- Shop for bargains or treasures at what is billed as the Midwest’s largest flea market, in Shipshewana, held Tuesdays and Wednesdays, May through October. It’s actually the Shipshewana Flea Market and Auction, so be ready with your bids.
- Lace up the skates and try the ice at the NIBCO Water and Ice Park in downtown Elkhart.
Things to do for Centrics
- Shop for hand-stitched quilts and Amish-made furniture at several towns in Elkhart County.
- In season (Memorial Day to end of September), plan a driving tour to take in the county’s quilt gardens, which are what the name suggests, gardens designed to illustrate original quilt patterns. The same itinerary, on the county’s Heritage Trail, includes murals on the sides of buildings, also in quilt patterns.
- Or, drive the Barn Quilt Trails in LaGrange County and Marshall County, both next door to Elkhart County. These itineraries specifically highlight quilt patterns adorning the side of barns and other buildings.
- In Bristol, photograph the historic mill that gives its name to the Bonneyville Mill County Park. In winter, make your way through this 223-acre park on snowshoes or cross-country skis.
- In autumn, attend the Apple Festival in Nappanee, the same weekend as Nappanee hosts the Fall Furniture Festival featuring fine Amish products. Or maybe, go to the Maple Syrup Festival, held in Wakarusa in spring.
- At the Round Barn Theatre at Amish Acres, see “Plain and Fancy,” a traditional production here — a musical comedy telling the story of life and love on an Amish farm. (The Round Barn Theatre is a professional repertory theater company that also presents Broadway musicals.)
Things to do for Authentics
- Ground your visit to Amish country with some quality time at the Menno-Hof, the museum in Shipshewana that tells the story of the Amish and Mennonites, offering hands-on activities for all ages. Check the gift shop for Amish and Mennonite handicrafts.
- Tour the Old Order Amish farm at Amish Acres in Nappanee. Also, take a horse-and-buggy ride on site.
- Follow the 90-mile loop of Elkhart County’s Heritage Trail Driving Tour, visiting each of the seven highlighted towns and their respective countrysides. Free audio CD guides of the tour are available at several tourist stopping points.
- Take a behind-the-scenes tour of one of several RV makers in Elkhart County. Allow some time for Elkhart’s RV/MH Hall of Fame, the only place of its kind in the world.
- Consider these dining experiences: a hearty meal at Das Dutchman Essenhaus in Middlebury and/or the traditional threshers dinner at Amish Acres in Nappanee.
- Book a show at the Blue Gate Theatre in Shipshewana, where the schedule includes several musicals with story lines built around the Amish and Mennonites.
For more information, consult the Elkhart County Convention and Visitors Bureau at www.amishcountry.org