My Thoughts About One of My Favorite Places--Northeastern Indiana's Amish Country

Tuesday, September 10, 2019

Wolfe Field

Did you know that Shipshewana has an airport?

Wolfe Field is located a mile northwest of town, near Shipshewana Lake.  I would guess (but it’s only a guess) that it was named after Edward A. Wolfe, a wealthy and prominent local citizen of the early 1900s, whom I have written about before.

The website says that the airport is privately owned by the Shipshwana Air Association and permission must be granted to land there.  It was established in November 1960, and has no control tower.  The grass runway is 2,600 feet long and 200 feet wide.  Five single-engine airplanes are based there, with an average of 30 flights a week.  97% of these are local aviation, with only 3% being “transient aviation.”

As I suspected, the main users of the airport are the local crop dusters.  The information says, “Heavy agricultural aircraft activity May through October.”  I love seeing the colorful crop dusting planes flying around the countryside!

Wolfe Field also has an unofficial facebook page, which has a very cool picture of a plane coming in as a big storm approaches.

So now you know! 

Wednesday, September 4, 2019

Bonneyville Mill

For many years I visited Amish Indiana as a tourist, before recently retiring here.  Once in a while a local would say, “Have you visited Bonneyville Mill?” and I thought, “Why would I visit a mill?!”  But last year I ended up there one Sunday afternoon, and now I’m a fan.

It’s not just a mill!  I had no idea…  Their brochure says there are 222 acres of “gently rolling hills, woodlands, marshes, and open meadows,” with five miles of hiking trails running through them.  There are picnic tables throughout, and five reservable shelters (each with picnic tables, water, grills, and restroom facilities).  Wow!

Bonneyville Mill is the oldest continuously operating grist mill in Indiana.  In its long history it has produced stone-ground flour and other products from all kinds of grains.  The original owner, Edward Bonney, hoped his mill would be the center of a thriving new city—but the railroads bypassed Bonneyville and the proposed canal was never built.  Edward sold the mill, went into the tavern business, got accused of counterfeiting, and fled town as an outlaw.  Oh, well…  “How the mighty have fallen!” as King David said.

Anyway...  Recently I was out there again for our annual church picnic, and I took some pictures.  A park employee explains how the mill works, and then ‘fires it up’ and grinds some grain.  There are helpful displays such as this one (below) to explain the process.

 Walking upstairs, the ‘works’ can be seen up close.  It’s amazing how many of the elements are made of wood, and yet they still hold their own after almost 200 years.  Edward Bonney’s men knew what they were doing!

Walking downstairs and outside, the actual turbines (water wheels), millrace, and dam can be seen.  Everything is well explained, and there are self-guided tour guides available for those who are interested in the mechanics of the thing.  It was actually quite progressive for its time, with its horizontal water wheel.

Here's a video of the mill in action:

The mill is open to the public, free of charge, on Wednesdays through Sundays from May through October, usually 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.  Get more information here.

Wednesday, August 28, 2019

Time to Make the Doughnuts

A few weeks ago I found myself at an Amish farm in Michigan on a pleasant Saturday afternoon.  Ten of us women and girls (and one baby) had just spent a few hours garage-sale-shopping, while the men went out fishing on a nearby lake.  I was the English friend-and-driver.

Now it was time for the ladies to relax in the big kitchen while the kids played outside and the men fished…  Pretty soon lunch had been eaten, and one of the ladies (Ruth, the matriarch of the clan) started making doughnuts—a process I’d never seen before, except at a Krispy Kreme store.  Turns out it’s not that much different.

The basic ingredients are shown in this recipe, which has the unique twist of adding a cup of cold mashed potatoes!  (My friend used mashed potato flakes instead.)  A doughnut mix can be used to speed things up, adding sugar, yeast, and warm water.  

The dough was left in a bowl to rise while we had our lunch.  Then it was rolled out, and circles were cut with an upside-down glass.  A little heart cutter made the center holes, and some of the leftover pieces (what my mother-in-law would call “snibbles”) were saved, too.  They were given time to rise again.

A few at a time, she dropped them into a pan of hot oil, flipped them over after a minute or two, and laid them on paper towels.  Five or six dozen doughnuts went in and out of the oil (plus the snibbles).

Meantime, one of Ruth’s daughters had been mixing up powdered sugar and water for the glaze.  Now she dipped them one or two at a time, letting the glaze drip off from a long fork (a trick she learned from her mother).  Not all of them made it into the glaze—I periodically swiped one from the assembly line!

Now another daughter sprang into action, packing the cooled doughnuts into Tupperware containers (and four for me to take home to my doughnut-loving husband).  They were hot, fresh, and delicious.  And many hands made light work!

Sunday, August 25, 2019

Turkey Feathers

I put a lot of photos on my facebook page that I don't post here...  Here's one of them. 

Seen recently in a back room on an Amish farm where the men are avid hunters...  The men went turkey hunting, and they were making wall displays out of the tail feathers.  Borax was being used as a drying agent.  I'll have to post a photo of the finished product one of these days.

Wednesday, August 14, 2019

German Baptists and Other Almost-Amish

Wandering around Amish Indiana can be confusing... 

There are women dressed ‘plain,’ but with clearly not-Amish head coverings (the local Amish all wear the same large, white, square head covering, shown below); there are women dressed in Amish-style dresses but in print fabrics.  There are the Mennonite women, who generally dress in t-shirts, long denim skirts, and tennis shoes and wear a “doily” on their heads...  How do these groups fit into the overall scheme of things?

I’m going to oversimplify, because most of my readers don’t want a theological treatise!—just a few hints to clear the confusion a little.  So, bear with me.

Firstly, “Amish” in this area (northeastern Indiana) generally means “Old Order Amish”—that is to say, plain-dressing, horse-and-buggy Amish.  This is the predominant group here in Lagrange/Elkhart County by far, with a population of about 30,000.  (My network of friends here are all Amish.)  They have church in their homes, have large families, practice shunning for baptized adult church members who leave, chose not to use most forms of electricity, don't watch TV or movies, and rarely interact with most of mainline American culture.  Posing for photos is against their religion, and they are extremely uncomfortable with having their pictures taken even casually.

Other areas in Indiana and beyond have groups with the word “Amish” in their names who are not as conservative as the Old Order Amish. There are “New Order Amish,” and “Beachy Amish,” who are dress very plainly but are a bit more like the rest of us in lifestyle (car ownership and electricity in their homes, for example).

But there is a new thing springing up around here…  Where does an Amish person or family from this area go to worship when they leave the Amish faith, but they still want to live more plainly and conservatively than the rest of us?  To meet this need, an old term has been resurrected and put to a new use—“Amish Mennonite.”

One hundred years ago, “Amish Mennonite” used to be just another term for “Amish”—but the term hasn’t been used that way for quite a while.  The new use of the term refers to churches such as Rosewood Fellowship in Middlebury, Indiana.

It’s not always easy leaving the Amish, especially for those who don’t leave as young people who haven’t yet joined the church (this does not result in shunning)—but rather as an Amish family in which the parents might be in their thirties or forties and are leaving the church with their children (this does result in shunning).

Many become Mennonites, or join other denominations—but the most conservative ones often transition into an Amish Mennonite church like Rosewood.  There, they live under some of the same lifestyle restrictions they are used to, such as male leadership in home and church; non-resistance (pacifism); women’s head coverings; no radio (usually) or television; no musical instruments in church; and marriage for life.

Are these churches “in fellowship” with the Old Order Amish churches?  No… but it gives the ex-Amish somewhere to meet and worship with others who are in the same situation that they are.  One formerly Amish woman told me that all but one person at her new church speak Pennsylvania Dutch (the language of the Amish.)  They're not Amish, but they're not yet ready to call themselves "Mennonites" either.

As far as the Mennonites—I’ll be brief:  There is a huge spectrum of plain/conservative vs. mainstream/liberal groups in the Mennonite denomination!  The most conservative are the horse-and-buggy Old Order Mennonites, and at the other end are churches that are indistinguishable in dress and lifestyle from mainline Protestant churches.  Donald Kraybill says in his book “Simply Amish” that there are sixty different subgroups of Mennonites in America today!

And then there are the “German Baptists”—who are not connected with the Baptist denominations that most of us are familiar with.  German Baptists are also known as “Dunkards,” and over the years, they have split into a number of smaller groups with names such as “Old German Baptist Brethren,” “Old Baptist German Brethren,” and “Dunkard Brethren.”  (Check Wikipedia for more.)  Around here, they live in the Nappanee area, but they can be seen around Shipshewana, especially working at the Rise N Roll bakery.  The women wear Amish-type dresses but in printed fabrics, and their white caps are a bit smaller and more transparent than the Amish ones—see below.  They drive cars and wire their homes for electricity, but most don't own televisions or radios.

The website “Amish Quilter says this about them: 

Old Order German Baptists drive cars, usually black, they have electricity (but no TV), and the women are encouraged to help supplement the family income by working in the home, either by making Amish Quilts to sell, providing quilting services, or running a small dry goods store (fabric/general merchandise). The ladies dress plain, by wearing below-the-knee dresses in fabrics with small prints of flowers with a modesty cape and matching apron, and a loose weave (organdy almost like tulle) head covering.

However—I saw a woman dressed like the above picture the other day and asked her if she was Old Order German Baptist, and she said she was Old Order Mennonite (and invited me to her church).  So, the two groups must dress in a similar manner.  Old Order Mennonites differ in several ways from the Amish.  They worship in churches (not in homes like the Amish), and some are no longer horse-and-buggy.  Their theology and lifestyle are not quite as conservative and old-fashioned as the Amish.

There are more “plain” groups and sub-groups to be found in Amish Indiana—but I’ll stop at that, since I’ve told you all I know!

Monday, August 12, 2019

Riding in a Cruiser

Took my first ride in a cruiser the other day - an open buggy - kind of a new thing around here in the last ten years...  It is the best way in the world to see the countryside!  Drove down to Topeka-town with my best friend Ruth, had pizza, and drove back.

I recently wrote about cruisers here.

Wednesday, July 24, 2019

The Country Barn - A New Store in Middlebury

Some time I might write about the old Wanberg Popcorn Company building on the eastern edge of  Middlebury.  You can still see the silos at the bend in the road on County Road 16, headed east towards Shipshewana.  There’s a new shop called Joyfully Said in there now, and a farmers’ market outside on Saturday mornings in the summer.

There also used to be a shop that sold a lot of bird feeders and bird food, but they’ve moved down the road a bit and are now in a newly built store called “The Country Barn” (above).  It has become my favorite stop for bird-feeding supplies for our fancy backyard setup.

 The owner is an Amish couple named Lavern and Sue Graber.  In 2017 Lavern bought the stock of the bird feeding store that was in the old Wanberg popcorn building.  Then in December 2018 he opened a newly-built store across the road and a bit to the east and named it “The Country Barn.”

Sue had always wanted to own a store that stocked unique and hard-to-find items.  When her husband built the new store building, they decided to use the space to fulfill both their dreams.  So—the left side of the shop has all the bird-feeding supplies you would ever need (and a lot more animal-related stuff).  And the right side of the shop has all kinds of hard-to-find and useful gift items for the home.

I asked Lavern how he ended up in the bird business.  He said his background is in farming, but he always loved nature.  A few years back he helped and advised the original owner of the bird feed shop in the old Wanberg building—so when the owner decided to sell out, Lavern decided to take over the business.  It wasn’t long before his plans outstripped his floor space in the Wanberg building, and so he moved down the road.

I am in the process of helping the Grabers create a facebook page for their store.  I know they would appreciate it if you stopped by, and maybe even gave it a “like”!