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

Wednesday, February 13, 2019

An Amish Love Story

I was out singing for Mrs. R. a few weeks ago (I’ve talked about her before), and I heard the most wonderful love story!  I thought it was worth sharing, especially since my beloved Mrs. R. is one of the main characters.

I worked on her family’s genealogy a few months ago, and I noticed that her late husband was from Lancaster County, Pennsylvania.  Although Lancaster is one of the largest Amish settlements in existence, nevertheless, it is rare for someone from Lancaster County to come out to Amish Indiana and settle here—so I was curious and asked the family how that came to be.  Mrs. R. has a hard time talking due to her stroke, but her daughter-in-law filled me in while Mrs. R. listened and smiled.  Out of that conversation came the most amazing story…

The year was 1958.  Three young Amishmen from Lancaster County were traveling west on a vacation to California to see the redwoods—Hank, Frank, and Eli (not his real name).  Eli’s mother had made him promise to stop in Indiana on their way out west, to visit an uncle who lived in Nappanee.

While in Shipshewana, Eli decided to go to the Sunday night singing being held nearby for the local young people.  (These singings are one of the main social mixers for young unmarried Amish.)  While there, he met a young lady who instantly captured his heart.  (That would be my beloved Mrs. R.!)

Eli knew at once that he had found what he was looking for.  So did she, apparently, because when Eli asked her if he could see her home that evening, she let her boyfriend Sam know that she wouldn’t be needing his help getting home that night.  She managed to tell me that she still remembers the look on Sam’s face!

Eli told his young traveling companions to go on out west without him—but they ended up heading back to Pennsylvania instead. Eli returned with them, but not before starting up a friendship with the young lady that was carried on with letters and visits back and forth for the next two years.

As things got serious, she wondered what it would be like to leave family and friends and start life with Eli in Pennsylvania—an area where the Amish dress a bit differently and live by slightly different rules.  She says now that she was ready to do so—but it turned out not to be a decision she had to make.  Eli was perfectly willing to settle down in northern Indiana.  He soon moved out to Indiana and lived with an Amish bishop named Yoder and his family.

The young couple got married in 1960, and before long they bought a farm near Shipshewana, where Eli made his living as a carpenter.  God blessed them with six daughters and six sons and a good life together. 

Tragically, Eli died of a heart attack at age 52, leaving behind his wife and twelve children—nine still at home...  So Mrs. R. has been a widow for a very long time!  I’ll bet she could tell me a lot of stories, if it was easier for her to speak.  I hope someday she will.

Wednesday, February 6, 2019

A Visit to Grabill

My husband and I recently drove to Fort Wayne, about 90 minutes south of where we live in Middlebury, and on the way, he stopped to show me the “Swiss Amish” town of Grabill, Indiana.  

I have written about the Swiss Amish previously. They are a different group than the northeastern Indiana Amish; they came to America in the 1800s, not the 1700s, and are a more conservative group.  They also speak a different dialect—Swiss Amish as compared to the Pennsylvania Dutch spoken where we live.

Anyway—the little town of Grabill was quite picturesque, so I took some photos.

Seeing downtown Grabill is like stepping back to the 1800s.  I took the above photo at the main intersection.  Yes, that’s a windmill!  And the covered wooden sidewalks are not a ‘tourist thing’—they’re the real thing.

This general store see above is also the real thing. A person could spend hours wandering around in here.  The left side is décor; the right side is mostly sweets and treats.

One thing that distinguishes the conservative Swiss Amish is their use of open buggies only.  (Northeastern Indiana has both closed and open buggies, as I wrote about recently.)  The photo above shows a typical Swiss Amish one in Grabill.

Another thing that distinguishes the Swiss Amish is the simplicity of their graveyards.  Here, the markers were small and identical. Some Swish Amish cemeteries have only wooden stakes for markers, the idea being that they are temporary markers and not meant to be a focal point for those left behind.  Visiting loved ones’ graves or leaving flowers are most definitely not Amish traditions, anywhere I’ve been.

Here’s a handy map of Grabill that I saw in the flea market building at the main intersection downtown.  (A website is also under construction at  Stop by if you’re traveling to Fort Wayne from the north and want to step back in time.

Wednesday, January 30, 2019

Christmas Program Time Again

Again this last holiday season, I attended a couple of Amish elementary school Christmas programs.  (I wrote about this last year.)

This time, I took a few pictures at the program I attended in Centreville, Michigan, which I’ll share here.  I wish I could show photos of the children on stage, but that isn’t possible, since photographing the Amish is forbidden by their religion. Above is a photo of the schoolhouse.  About 45 students attend here, grades 1 through 8, with two teachers splitting the teaching duties.  A curtain can be pulled across the schoolroom to separate the two classes.  (I have written about Amish education previously.)

One thing that was different at this particular program:  We sat with men on one side of the room and women on the other side.  This is traditional at church services, but not typically at school programs, at least not any that I’ve been to.

The above photo shows one of the two new languages that Amish children learn when they start their formal education at about age seven.  The first is English; they speak “Pennsylvania Dutch,” a colloquial form of German, at home, and don’t learn English until they start school.  The second new language is German—the old 16th century German used in the Amish Bible and Amish hymnbook, the Ausbund.  This photo shows a phonics chart for old German.  Notice the special script.

We sang a hymn in the old German.  Above is the handout we all received, with the program on one side and this hymn on the other (not in the old German script in this case).

The schoolhouse is heated by a coal furnace on the lower level.  We were down there after the program, where an incredible spread of food had been laid out.  Here are some buckets of coal, ready to feed the furnace.

The schoolhouse is heated by gaslight, as are many Amish homes.  Here, above, is a typical gaslight fixture.  A propane tank can usually be seen in the yard.

I enjoyed the program, which was a mix of songs, poems, and skits.  The students knew their parts almost flawlessly; I’m always impressed by how this particular school puts on such a fine program year after year!  The children, from big to small, projected their voices very well—very impressive.  I’m glad I made the trip to celebrate Christmas with the Amish children of Centreville.

Wednesday, January 23, 2019


Open buggies—known in Amish Indiana as “cruisers.”

I saw this ad for them recently in The People’s Exchange (the local Amish-focused bi-weekly publication), and it reminded me of how things do change in Amish culture, although usually slowly and always very thoughtfully.

About ten years ago, when I was still a weekend visitor to the area, I started noticing a few young men driving various homemade-looking open wagons—some with automobile seats installed at the front!  But as time passed, they became less of a novelty, and now it seems like nearly every Amish family owns one.  Styles vary, but the ad shows the main types sold here.

Advantages?  They are cool in the summer and give a wonderful view of the countryside.  They are also lighter, meaning less strain on the horses and longer trips are possible.  The main disadvantage is obvious, and I’ve seen more than a few wet, cold Amish familys hurrying home in the rain in an open buggy! 

My Amish friend Ruth tells me that a few generations ago, open buggies used to be the only kind used by the Amish in this area, no matter what the weather.  (That is still true for the Swiss Amish downstate in the Wayne and Allen County areas.  I’ll talk about that in another post.)  So in a way, these new cruisers are a way to come full circle.

I took these two photos recently.  The first one shows the more common local style—very lightweight and open to the weather—and the second one show another popular style that looks more like the ones used downstate by the Swiss Amish.

I haven’t ridden in a cruiser yet, but I hope to soon!

Wednesday, November 21, 2018

Another Amish Wedding

A few months ago I attended my third Amish wedding.  This one was for a granddaughter of “Mrs. R.,” whom I talked about in another post, and that's how I got my invitation.  I’ve watched the happy bride (and her busy mother) get ready for this event all spring, and I looked forward to the big day!

An Amish wedding starts out with a regular Amish church service, which lasts about three hours.  Things began at 9 a.m. in the basement of the farm next door, which is the home of one of the bride’s aunts.  (This is where they hold church whenever it’s their turn to host it—about twice a year.)

The women sat on half a dozen benches on the right side of the entrance.  The men and older boys sat on benches on the left side. The young unmarried girls, along with the half dozen “English” guests such as myself, sat on the third side. The ministers sat in the center, with the couple and their two pairs of attendants.  One of the highlights of the service was the fact that the bride’s father was one of the two ministers who preached.

At about noon the regular service ended and the bride, groom, and their four attendants (or as they say, “witnesses”) stepped forward.  The bishop for their church district performed the short ceremony; only Amish bishops are allowed to perform Amish weddings.

Now the guests made their way from the wedding farm to the farm house next door, by way of a wood-chip path that had been laid down between the farms, just for the occasion.

The wedding dinner (actually a series of meals over the course of the of day) took place at the farm of the bride’s parents, shown below.  I was there for the first meal, which happened about 1:00 in a large building on the farm.  The bridal party sat on a raised table under a canopy of flowers.  The ten pairs of servers chosen by the couple served the food—being chosen as a wedding server is an honor.  There was a large tent set up nearby for the work of the cooks, and a third tent for the gifts.

 The Amish drink their coffee black.  I forgot about that fact, and asked one of the servers for some sugar and cream.  He looked baffled—which caused me to say, “Never mind!”  But a few minutes later, the mother of the bride came around with sugar and cream, which she had gone to the house to fetch, just for me. 

I left after the meal, but Amish wedding celebrations last all day.  There was a second meal sitting for those who weren’t invited to the ceremony due to lack of space; then a third sitting for the cooks and servers; then later in the day, the opening of gifts in a special tent; then in the evening, another meal sitting for the young unmarried people.  At many weddings, a game of volleyball occupies the teens in the afternoon, as the younger kids run around and play.

The wedding season ends about now (late October).  By the time I got around to writing this, the new couple are settled in their new home and, I hope, living Happily Ever After! 

Tuesday, November 13, 2018

Winter Is Here

Saw this at a friend's house this morning... Time to bring in the winter firewood!

Many older Amish homes, like this one, are heated using firewood, coal, or wood pellets in a basement furnace. Newer Amish homes might be heated from a propane tank, or in some districts, perhaps even from the public natural gas utility.

Wednesday, November 7, 2018

Krider World's Fair Garden

Right down the road from our new Middlebury home, near downtown, is an enchanting place called the Krider World’s Fair Garden.  It’s a beautiful place to spend an hour or two, even without knowing the story behind it—but here's the story.

Krider Nurseries was an up-and-coming business early 1900s, and they had big dreams.  They created a display garden at the 1933-34 Chicago World’s Fair.  From the guest register at that display, they collected over 250,000 names and addresses—and using that list, Krider Nurseries became the biggest mail order nursery in the country.  They practically invented the concept!

After the World’s Fair was over, many of the plants and other features were brought back to Middlebury, and the display garden was recreated across the road from the nursery headquarters.  It served as a display garden for the retail business.

At Krider’s peak, in the 1940s and 1950s, they employed over 100 people.  They obtained the patent for the very first thornless rose, which they named “Festival.”  Krider’s shipped plants all over the United States and overseas.  But the rise of big box stores in the late 1900s signaled the end of the business.  Krider Nurseries closed their doors in 1990, and five years later, the family donated the garden to the Town of Middlebury.  It is a popular spot for outdoor weddings.

 The map below shows some of the main features of the garden.  Those marked with * were part of the 1930s World’s Fair display garden, either originals or reconstructions.

1 - The Dutch windmill *

2 - The quilt garden – one in a series of Elkhart County Quilt Gardens
3 - The toadstools *
4 - The Pergola and sunrise benches *
5 - The lily pond *
6 - The “Garden with a Cause”
7 - The English Tea House *
8 - The goddess of youth statue
9 - Three historical markers
10 - The mill house *
11 - The Krider Garden fountain (1935)
12 - The gazebo (2015)
13 - The rose garden
14 - The pavilion
15 - The rain garden
16 - Restrooms
17 - The historic 158-foot trestle bridge, part of the original Pumpkinvine Railroad and now part of the Pumpkinvine Bike Trail, which runs through the park.

For more on the Krider World’s Fair Garden, check out the Middlebury Parks Department website, or go to, where there is a 53-page book (readable online) called “A Walk in the Garden,” several videos, and other information.