For years, my friends and I used to shop at the old Davis Mercantile building in downtown Shipshewana, and occasionally we would stay at the old Davis Hotel which was attached and had shops on the main floor and rooms upstairs. They were not the most modern buildings, but they had history.
According to the official Shipshewana website at www.shipshewana.com, the old Davis Hotel started its life a block away from where it later stood. It was built in 1891 near the site of the old train station in Shipshewana by Hezekiah Davis, one of the early town fathers. In the 1960s the entire building was transported one block down the street. It had been used as many things in its time, including a chicken hatchery! The old hotel was purchased and refurbished by the Alvin Miller family in 1982. There were several shops on the main floor in those days, including the legendary JoJo’s Pretzels and Lolly’s Fabrics, and a big front porch with rocking chairs. Upstairs were six modest guest rooms. Staying there felt like going back 100 years in time!
In 1989 the Miller family added more retail space to the old white clapboard hotel in the form of the attached Davis Mercantile building. It was a great place to shop in bad weather, and upstairs, it had almost the only public restrooms in Shipshewana back in the 1980s and 1990s (whew). And the rocking chairs were often occupied by men who were waiting for their wives to finish their shopping inside.
On February 28, 2004, both buildings burned to the ground in a mysterious fire. To my knowledge, the cause was never determined—only that it most likely started in the basement. But it wasn’t long before the Miller family began to rebuild, bigger and better than before.
The new Davis Hotel building (above photo) looked much like the old, but no hotel rooms on the upper floor. The new Davis Mercantile (below) was much larger than the old one, with four levels of shops. Photos of the building process are on display in the halls at the lower level of the building. A 56-foot Douglas Fir log, 44 inches wide and 370 years old, was brought in from Canada and forms the focal point of the building, with the sturdy staircase winding its way around the log from the basement to the third floor. The doors on the shops were salvaged from various buildings all over the Midwest. Alvin Miller’s background as a sawmill owner and love of fine wood is evident in the way it is used throughout the building. The main staircase is made from four different types of hardwood.
The new Davis Mercantile is the home of many shops, places to eat, some pretty fine restrooms, and a 1906 Dentzel Carousel on the third floor for the kids. The Shipshewana website says that the carousel animals were carved to represent the animals found locally—horses, yes, but also chickens, cows, and dogs. The Davis Mercantile is still a great place to shop and eat, particularly in bad weather. It’s worth a stop just to visit JoJo’s Pretzels, and the Kitchen Cupboard (next door) makes a great latte—but there is something there for anyone who likes shopping or eating.