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

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

An Amish History Buff

Last summer my Amish friend Glenn asked me some questions about D-Day and World War II, knowing that my father was a front-line infantryman.  I’m not sure what prompted that subject—perhaps something Glenn had read in the newspaper.  I offered to bring along my father’s war mementos the next time I was in Indiana.  Glenn told me that Daniel (not his real name), his minister and a distant cousin, was a real history buff—and we decided we’d include him in my show-and-tell.

So when I was back in the area a few months ago, I met Daniel and his wife and his delightful young children.  We gathered around his kitchen table and I showed him the objects my father had brought back in his duffel bag, after being a part of the Army of Occupation in Germany in 1945.  Daniel had a good knowledge of World War II and asked some very good questions.  His oldest boy, perhaps 8 years old, stayed close and listened to everything—a good opportunity for a hands-on history lesson.

Daniel and my friend Glenn pored over the book about Hitler’s army which was written in German (my father pulled it out of a German home)—comparing the “Dutch” form of German they speak with the modern German in the book.

Since Daniel liked history so much, I offered to do his genealogy at no cost, and he was happy to accept the offer.  (I have a genealogy research business called  He and his wife sketched out the first few generations for me and when I got home, I was off to the races.  I have an ever-growing Amish genealogy database, and this was a chance to add some new branches. 

I found lots of interesting stuff, and last week I returned to Daniel's lovely home to deliver the binder.  As I gave him an orientation to the 350-400 page book, he and his wife were delighted with all the new knowledge about their roots.  It will take them weeks to get through everything I found!  They are related to “White Jonas,” an Amishman who can be found in the history books, and to the Hostetlers who were the victims of the famous “Hostetler Massacre” of 1757.  (I should write about that!)

Once again, Daniel’s oldest son was right at my shoulder, soaking it all up.  It seems like there is one person in every generation who’s interested in family history—and as I said to Daniel (and his son), perhaps this boy will be the next one.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Shipshewana Walldogs, Part Eleven: The Klondike Sawmill

The Klondike Saw Mill mural can be found on one side of the Landmark Woods building on State Road 5 in Shipshewana.  It is the southernmost of the sixteen murals painted in Shipshewana in the summer of 2014 by a group known as the Walldogs

The mural says the sawmill was founded in 1864 and at some point, the proprietor was Abraham Farver.  A little googling told me that the mural was painted by Astoria Design Studio of Portland Oregon.  Their website said that “The original Klondike Sawmill was steam-powered and looked something like an old locomotive.”  I wanted to find out more.

The Shipshewana Area Historical Society website has an old photo of half a dozen men standing on an enormous cut log.  The caption says it was taken at “the original Klondike saw mill near Abraham Farver’s homestead.”  

The Shipshewana town website tells us more.  The town history page says that the sawmill was first located south of where Shipshewana now stands, but the Farver brothers (Jonathan and William) moved their business into town when the railroad came (in the 1880s), and the new railroad built a switch line back to the mill.  Their lumberyard and sawmill were located on the east side of town (the section founded by Hezekiah Davis), where the town park is today. 

I next looked at a book called The History of Northeast Indiana, written by Ira Ford in 1920.  It contained a long biography of the Farver family.  By 1920, Abraham’s son Jonathan was the head of the Farver Lumber Company.  According to the book, Jonathan’s parents, Abraham and Harriet Snyder Farver, had moved the family from Holmes County, Ohio to Lagrange County, Indiana in 1863.  They purchased a farm about four miles south of what later became Shipshewana.  Abraham was a millwright by trade (one who designs or builds mills), but now he spent part of his time working as a cabinet maker as well, and from the information on the mural, he must have started the Klondike Sawmill soon after arriving in Indiana.  The book says that Jonathan learned cabinet making from his father.  After spending 27 years as a building contractor, Jonathan and his brother William opened a sawmill in the developing town of Shipshewana in 1889.   

I wanted to know more about Abraham Farver.  For that, I turned to 

Abraham and Harriet were married in Ohio in 1855.  The 1860 census shows them living on a farm with their three young children (and Harriet’s unmarried sister) in Holmes County, Ohio.  The agricultural schedule shows that they own 40 acres of land valued at $1400, where they are growing wheat, Indian corn, and oats, and raising livestock.

By the 1870 census they are settled in Indiana, and Abraham is listed as a farmer with land valued at $2800.  They have six children, ages 3 to 14.  Sadly, Harriet died the next year at age 43.

1880 finds Abraham a widower and still listed with farming as his occupation.  All six children still live at home, now aged 13 to 24.  The oldest son, the aforementioned Jonathan, is listed as a carpenter.

Abraham died in 1893 at age sixty, surviving his wife by 22 years.  They are buried at Miller Cemetery in Shipshewana.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Shipshewana Walldogs, Part Ten: J. E. Sunthimer Co.

The Shipshewana Walldogs put a mural on the front of the Wolfe Building on Depot Street that honors an early Shipshewana merchant, J.E. Sunthimer – purveyor, according to the mural, of “dry goods, clothing, boots & shoes, hats & caps, queensware, and groceries.”  But who was J.E. Sunthimer, and what is queensware?

First, the easy question:  Queensware, according to the Oxford Dictionary Online is “a type of fine, cream-colored Wedgwood pottery developed in the mid-18th century and named in honor of Queen Charlotte (wife of George III), who had been presented with a set in 1765.”

As for J.E.—his name was Joseph E. Sunthimer, and he was born in the Shipshewana area in 1863.  I found some details on and in an excerpt from the book “Descendants of Bishop Christian Yoder Sr.”

In 1884 Joseph married Ida May Stutzman from nearby Elkhart County.  Joseph must have been a responsible young man; according to, by 1889 he was appointed the postmaster of tiny Pashan, Indiana—until that post office was closed two years later. 

After their marriage, Joe and Ida had taken over the general store in Pashan from Ida’s parents.  But then, according to the Yoder book, “Joe soon recognized better prospects in the new village of Shipshewana, which was being laid out along the Pumpkin Vine Railroad, hardly two miles away.  He soon moved to the main corner on the Summey side of the town and established the well-known store which sold ‘everything’ for more than a generation.”  (Back then, Abraham Summey and Hezekiah Davis had competing villages on each side of the main road—a story for another day.) 

Joe and Ida thrived in the town that was later known as Shipshewana.  In the 1900 census he is listed as a “merchant,” and he and Ida have been married sixteen years, and they have nine children under the age of fifteen.  (The Pashan cemetery has a small grave for an “Ida May Sunthimer, 1883-1884”—could that have been their first child?  Ida doesn’t say so, stating to the census taker that she has had “nine children, nine still living.”)

By 1910 the Sunthimers have had four more children, and Joseph, age 46, is listed as a “merchant—general store.”  They live in a fine home on Middlebury Street, and their oldest son, Ira, is a clerk at the family store.  The two oldest daughters, Clara and Maud, are high school teachers. 

Joseph ran his store only six more years before dying in his early fifties in 1916.  The author of the Yoder book says this:  “When Joe died of food poisoning, it was a blow to the whole town…  I attended the funeral and I remember how surprised I was that it should have been held in the Forks Church.  I had no idea Joe was that connected…  It was the first time I ever heard of ‘mourning veils,’ which were worn by the mother and the ‘stylish daughters.’”  The book History of Northeast Indiana, written in 1920, says that at the time of Joe’s death, he owned a store in Topeka, one at Milford, and a farm in the country.  It also says that Joe attended the “normal school” (teacher’s college) at Lagrange, and that he taught school for five years before going into the retail business in the 1890s.

The 1920 census finds Joseph’s widowed wife Ida, age 52, carrying on with the store.  She has four children still at home, ages eleven to twenty two, but none work at the store.  By the 1930 census Ida is retired and lives alone in Elkhart, Indiana.  She died in 1952 and is buried with her husband at Forest Grove Cemetery in Middlebury.

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Shipshewana Walldogs, Part Nine: Pletchers Pacing Acres

In Part Nine of my series on the Shipshe Walldogs murals done in June 2014, my subject is this mural, which is to be found on the outside of the recently-built Trading Place Pavilion on State Road 5.  The words say “Pletchers Pacing Acres—since 1935” and there is a photo of a fine-looking older gentleman, named as Lester W. Pletcher.

I looked for Mr. Pletcher on, and struck pay dirt.  His obituary is found there, as it ran in the May 27, 2006 issue of The Elkhart Truth.  Yes, he died in May 2006—Mr. Pletcher lived to be nearly 100 years old!  His obituary tells the story.

Lester William Pletcher was born in Indiana in 1906 and was joined in marriage to Irma Weirich in 1929.  The marriage produced three sons—Delmer, Dwayne, and Donald.  It goes on to say that Lester and Irma founded Pletcher’s Pacing Acres in 1935 and that he “raced many top horses around the Midwest in Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, and Michigan.”  His awards included admission into the Harness Horse Hall of Fame in Indiana and Illinois, as well as the Winning Hall of Standard Breed Horse Racing in both states.  The article says that Lester’s horse-racing legacy has been passed down to his sons and grandsons, who are still involved in horse racing.

Lester was a horse breeder of some repute, the article goes on to say.  Right Honor, Pacing Bay and Sherries Honor were three of his top winners, but not the only ones.  He raced and stabled his horses in Chicago, Detroit, and on the fair circuits.

The obituary mentions Lester’s other pursuits; he was a busy and energetic man and quite the entrepreneur!  He had a canned milk hauling business; a freight-hauling business; and he was a farmer. 

Old census records bear this out.  In the 1930 census, Lester was a 23-year-old newlywed, living with his 18-year-old bride in Clinton.  His occupation is listed as “farmer.”  No doubt his love for horses was already evident.

In the 1940 census, Lester and Irma are the parents of three young boys.  Lester is a truck driver for a “milk condensery” and he worked 35 hours the previous week.  In 1939 he worked 52 weeks and made $1,650—not a bad wage for those days.

Lester and Irma (who predeceased him by eight years) are buried at the Shore Cemetery.