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

Wednesday, December 4, 2019

A New Amish Schoolhouse

In early September I found myself in a new Amish schoolhouse in the area.  I had an hour to kill while my Amish companion talked to the builders about a water system, so I wandered around and took some photos.

It was a rare opportunity to be in a brand-new schoolhouse—one of over 100 Amish schoolhouses which can be seen in the Lagrange-Elkhart-Noble county area.  (I have written about Amish schools a number of times, starting with this post.)

Inside, I found this wall display, below.  It’s a good indication of the typical first names of the next generation of Amish kids.  Since last names are so few and repeated—20% of the local population are named “Miller” and probably nearly as many are named “Bontrager” or “Yoder”—parents sometimes get creative with the first names.

 Four of these beautiful hardwood units (below) separated the back of the schoolhouse from the classroom area in the front.  The back side had hooks and shelves for the children’s coats and things, and the front side had shelving and cabinets for books and school supplies, as well as serving as benches.  The units were on casters, so they could be moved aside for school programs and other special events.

Here is the classroom area.  Notice the double set of alphabet posters (in upper case, lower case, and old German script).  This is because most schoolhouses have two teachers, and the classroom is divided down the middle by a movable curtain.  Each teacher is responsible for four grades.  Occasionally there is a smaller special education classroom off to the side.

Light is provided by piped-in gas, as well as the large number of windows down each side.

Many newer Amish schoolhouses have living quarters for the teachers.  This one was no exception, with a kitchen which led to a living room, two bedrooms with closets, and a full bath.  (The classroom area had two more half-bathrooms for the students.)  The kitchen could also be used for refreshments after school programs and other events.

Something I didn’t expect:  a copier!  I asked my companion where the power came from, and he said it was collected from the solar panels on the roof.  I’d not seen one of these in an Amish school before.

Outdoors, there was a horse barn, along with a baseball backstop out back and some playground equipment out front.  Most children would either walk to school or ride a bicycle, but some ride in pony carts or even full-sized horses and buggies.

Several new Amish schoolhouses are built in this area every year, and this was a good example of what the newest ones look like.

More on Amish schools in a series starting here.

Wednesday, November 20, 2019

Window Stickers

Recently my husband Gary drove half a dozen Amish young people to a wedding in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania.  This is an unusual occurrence; not much intermarriage happens between the Amish here in northeastern Indiana and the Amish in Lancaster County.

He had a few hours to wander around, and he found himself at the Weavertown Coach Shop, where Amish buggies have been made for almost fifty years.  Notice, you can take your horse through the “horse wash”!  (Gary looked around to try and get some photos, but the horse wash was closed.)

Gary took the photo below of the buggies in the lot.  Notice the difference between these rounded, gray buggy tops and the angular, black buggy tops seen in northeastern Indiana.

Below is the “window sticker” for a 80%-new, rebuilt buggy which can be had for $7,995.  (A new one would cost $10,140.)  The buggy has a one year warranty.  Buggies can have thousands of dollars of options and upgrades.  Notice the options listed here, which include a fiberglass body—most of the buggies in northeastern Indiana have a wood body.  This one has upgraded brakes and a swirl navy interior with shag carpeting.

Smaller budget?  Try this older buggy, below, for $2,995.  It is being sold “as is, decent condition.”  It’s a nice buggy, similar to the first one, but probably quite a bit older.

 Some of the local buggies resemble pickup trucks, with an open back for cargo.  (Gary calls them “Amish El Caminos.”)  He took this brief video of one of them:

I’ve written about the Amish buggies in northeastern Indiana, here.

Wednesday, November 6, 2019

Getting Ready for Church

A few Sundays ago, it was time for my friends Emmon and Lily (names changed) to take their turn hosting church—an event that happens once or twice a year for most Amish families.

Above is a picture of their “shop building” on the left, which is where they set up for church when it’s their turn.  Church can be held in a barn, a shop building, a large open basement, or even a rented tent in the yard.  All they need is an area big enough to set up the benches in the traditional way. 

Lots and lots of cleaning takes place in the week leading up to church Sunday!  Emmon had been busy cleaning out the shop, power washing the cement, and lots of other tasks.  Lily and her sisters and other women of the family had been cleaning the house top to bottom, raking the yard, and otherwise making everything shine.  Hosting church is a very big deal in Amish Indiana, and everyone wants to make sure they put their best foot forward.

I happened to stop by the day before, and Emmon and Lily let me take a few photos.  As you can see above, the shop building, where they normally keep their buggies and other miscellany, had been cleared out and cleaned up.  In the back on the left is the area for the married men and young boys (under sixteen) to sit, with the two preachers, deacon, and bishop in the front row.  Often there are visiting preachers, etc. from other church districts—church is held every other week, allowing for lots of visiting—so the front two rows may be taken up with them.

In the back of the photo on the right sit the married women and small children and the young girls (under sixteen).  Notice the half-row of comfy chairs in the front, for the older ladies!

The young unmarried men sit in the rows at bottom left, and the young unmarried women in the rows at the bottom right.

The bench wagon sits nearby, along with a buggy which had to be moved outside to clear the shop for church.  (I’ve written about the bench wagons before, here.)

I drove by on Sunday and took the picture below of buggies in the temporary parking lot next to the shop building—an area that had been mowed the day before just for this purpose.

After the three-hour church service, everyone gathers for a meal.  The meal has a set menu, in order to avoid the hostesses feeling pressured to compete to outdo each other: 
  • Bread  (maybe homemade)
  • Ham
  • Cheese
  • Maybe egg salad
  • Regular butter
  • Amish church peanut butter  (which I’ve written about before, here)
  • Jelly or jam
  • Canned pickles and beets
  • Coffee  (the Amish drink it black) and water
  • Cookies for dessert

Sometimes the adults sit around under a shady tree and talk all afternoon, while the children play and the young people socialize.  The Sabbath is taken seriously here, and no unnecessary work is ever done on Sunday.  It’s a day of rest and socializing and worship.

Thursday, October 31, 2019

A Boy and His Pony

A boy and his pony!  💗

Taken at a farm in Centreville, Michigan, fall 2019.

Thursday, October 24, 2019


As I write this, last night I went to a performance put on by the Rock Run Amish Youth Program music group.  When I say “youth,” this means single Amish young people between the ages of sixteen and marriage, which can often be mid- or late twenties.  There are several Amish youth centers in the area—the Cove in Shipshewana, and Rock Run near Millersburg are two of them.  They sponsor all kinds of activities and sports leagues for the local Amish youth, and are a place for them to “hang out” and meet people.

Anyway, last night was the first performance—“family night.”  There will be four more performances open to the public, on upcoming Friday and Saturday evenings.  So there I was, with perhaps 300-400 family members of the performers—one of only a handful of  “English” people in the large pole barn at the youth center.  My good friend Joni was one of the youth involved in the program, and I was sitting with a dozen of his family members, ages infant to eighty.

I’ve been to a few of these youth concerts before, but this one was special. 

Last May, there was a terrible accident in Amish Indiana.  A young man named Rudy (names changed) was riding his bike home from an evening with his friends when he was killed by a drunk driver.  The driver was his childhood friend, an Amish kid gone wild.  (Perhaps I’ll write about that another time—that story is still evolving.)  The visitation and funeral lasted two full days and brought together many, many hundreds of Rudy’s friends and family.

Rudy’s best friend was Joni, the young man I know so well.  It’s been a hard summer for all of Rudy’s friends.  They have spent nearly every Saturday night at Rudy’s parents’ home.  In Amish Indiana, friends become like family. And Rudy had been one of the youth participating in the Rock Run music program.

So, back to last night:
I found myself at the concert, and it was a nice one—plays and songs, lasting almost 2½ hours—some humorous, some serious.  The theme on the cover doesn’t seem so ‘depressing’ when you consider what was in the kids’ minds and hearts—Rudy, their absent friend. 

Each performer’s name was also listed in the program, along with the names of their parents—typical of the close family ties in this community.  First on the list was Rudy.  His parents and a dozen other relatives sat together, women in their black dresses of mourning, two rows in front of us.  A side table held a beautiful bouquet of red roses—one for each youth in the program, and one white rose, for Rudy.

At one point late in the concert, the kids sang a song that was particularly meaningful to Rudy.  As they sang it, each one held a lit candle.  After the song, they silently filed down the side stairs of the stage and placed their lit candles on the table in front of the roses.

There were tears in a lot of eyes, including mine.  But it was a wonderful way for his friends to honor Rudy, and I wouldn’t have missed it for the world!

Thursday, October 17, 2019

Firewood Season

I was stopping by to sing to Mrs. R. this morning (I’ve written about her before) and I noticed right away that it’s winter firewood time again!

Not all Amish homes are heated by firewood, but many are, especially older ones.  Mrs. R’s son was doing it as many do – he backed the wagon up to a basement window and put down a ramp, and then slid the firewood down, one piece at a time.  Then he went to the basement to stack it.

I asked him how many draft horses it took to pull a wagon load of wood this big.  He said one Belgian couldn’t do it – it took two. 

He had a log splitter for breaking down the larger logs into usable-sized pieces.  I asked how much wood he would typically use in one winter season for a big old farmhouse like his, and he said probably seven loads this size.  (A newer, smaller, or better insulated home would use less.)

I asked how often he had to go down to the basement and fuel the furnace, and he said usually once in the morning and once in the evening, plus one more time mid-day in really cold weather.  He said a typical zero-degree day might take six logs, split into pieces.

I learn something new every day!

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!