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

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.

1 comment:

  1. Enjoyed your post, as I was trying to do a little research on J.E. Sunthimer and his store. I just purchased a calendar plate for the year 1911, it was probably a promotional item for the Sunthimer store. I found the plate of interest as my wife started life as a little Amish girl in the Shipshewana area. It really makes me wonder how the plate survived all these years just to show up at a Good Will store here in South East, Ohio. Pete Snellman