Second in my series on the murals done by the Shipshewana Walldogs last summer is this mural, found on the back side of the D’Vine Gallery shop on Depot Street. (Drive into the parking lot and look around back.) It depicts the LS&MS Railway (Lake Shore & Michigan Southern) train line known as the “Pumpkin Vine Railroad” because of its twists and turns.
The line was built before the town; in fact, the railroad was the reason for the town. After the tracks were laid in 1888 for a railroad running east and north from Goshen to Middlebury, then onwards through northeast Indiana into Sturgis and finally Findley, Michigan, the town of Shipshewana—as it later came to be known—soon sprung up. Traffic on the Pumpkin Vine was brisk; in the first month (November 1888), over 1,900 passengers were transported. The depot in Shipshewana still stands, known today as the Gallarina Arts shop on Depot Street.
The LS&MS operated the Pumpkin Vine Railroad from Goshen, Indiana through Shipshewana to Findley, Michigan until 1914, when it was merged with about five other railroads into the New York Central Railroad Company. By 1928, the train no longer carried mail, and by 1931 it didn’t carry passengers—but business was brisk enough to justify its continued operation. Not so by 1960, when the portion of the line from Shipshewana north to Sturgis, Michigan was abandoned. By 1975 or so, the entire Pumpkin Vine line ceased operations due to low profits and deteriorating facilities.
But this wasn’t the end. There were still two more chapters to be added to the Pumpkin Vine story.
In July 1980, the Lakeshore Historical Railroad Foundation started to offer rail excursions from Middlebury to Shipshewana on Sundays. The restored steam engine pulled five Rock Island commuter cars along the seven miles between the towns. I wish I could have ridden that train! Sadly, profits were low, and the excursions were discontinued in November of that year, and the tracks were removed and sold for scrap in 1982.
But that’s not the end of the story. An organization called "Friends of the Pumpkinvine Nature Trail" purchased the abandoned railroad corridor in 1993. Years later, after much legal wrangling and persuasion of local farmers and other landowners, plans came together for a “rails to trails” type bike trail along the old railroad route. Ownership of the property was transferred to local park departments for trail construction and management.
Today, the Pumpkinvine Nature Trail stretches sixteen miles from Goshen northeast through Middlebury to Shipshewana, almost entirely “off road.” The Shipshewana-to-Middlebury portion was completed in 2012, and it is a delight. Now bikers and walkers, both Amish and “English,” have a safe and scenic way to travel the seven miles between Shipshewana and Middlebury. My husband and I have spent many happy hours on the trail, which is especially beautiful in the fall.
I wrote more about the trail in this blog post. A printable brochure about the trail can be found here.
Note: I am indebted to the Friends of the Pumpkinvine Nature Trail website (www.pumpkinvine.org) for much of the information used in this post.