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

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Shipshewana Walldogs, Part Fourteen: Amish Heritage

One of the sixteen murals painted by the Walldogs in Shipshewana during June 2014 was this one, with the simple message “Amish Heritage.”  It can be seen on the north wall of Spector’s, a fabric store on State Road 5 which is frequented by the Amish.

The mural says that the Amish “first settled in this area 1841.”  Having done a lot of genealogy research for my Amish friends and written about it on mygenealogy blog, I’m familiar with the history of the Amish in this area of Indiana.  But I looked into the subject a little further to be sure I had my facts straight.

Indeed, as the mural says, the Amish first came to Lagrange and Elkhart Counties in the 1840s, mostly from Somerset County, Pennsylvania.  (These were the “Dutch Amish” who had come to Pennsylvania from Europe in the 1700s to escape persecution, and then moved westward into Ohio and then Indiana in the early 1800s.) 

For more details, I turned to the book History of Lagrange County by F.A. Battey & Company, published in 1882.  I liked having history from the viewpoint of those who might have been alive when the first Amish came.  And this book would have been written at a time when the non-Amish were just as “horse and buggy” as the Amish, so the differences would have been more subtle.

The first Amish settlers in the Newbury Township (later Shipshewana) area, according to the book, came to Newbury Township in 1844.  Brothers Daniel and Joseph Miller came on a scouting tour from Somerset County.  They liked it and immediately purchased farms.  Soon they were joined by Christian and Joseph Bontrager.  More German “Dutch Amish” followed, along with some of their brethren from Holmes County, Ohio.  John C. Yoder was another early Amish settler and patriarch.  The book says he was called “the doctor”—“on account of his skill in healing some of the human ills.” 

The book goes on to say that “This branch of the church [the Amish], which is distinguished by a strict observance of all the old customs, has a large membership among the Germans, who now occupy almost the whole of Newbury [Township]...  each district has its Bishop and two ministers.  The Bishop alone can perform the rites of baptism and marriage.”   The book also says this: 

“The peculiar characteristic of the church is a literal observance of every injunction of the Scriptures…  There are no meeting-houses, but they meet in the homes of the members; no written creed is used by the church; the apostolic rite of feet-washing is observed…  But the most obvious characteristic is that no ornament of any kind is tolerated on the person, nor in the way of paint or plaster in the houses, nor any brilliant coloring about the buildings…  As no conformity to the world is allowed, something like a German peasant costume is still used, and as buttons are under the ban, hooks and eyes supply the necessary fastenings…  German is also spoken continually in their home life, and this is another ‘tie’ and distinction from ‘the world.’”

The authors (members of the Lagrange County Historical Society) seemed to have a high respect for their Amish neighbors, as distinctive as they were even in 1882.  They go on to say, “A marked degree of morality pervades these people…  Financially they are prudent, frugal, and successful.”

The Amish thrived in Lagrange and Elkhart Counties, and today their settlement there is the third largest Amish settlement in the United States.  (There are no Amish settlements in Europe in modern times—only North America.)  Their numbers in have risen to over 14,000 in Lagrange County alone, as of the 2010 census—and although they mainly keep to themselves, they are good neighbors, good businessmen, and good citizens, and—for my husband and I—good friends.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Shipshewana Walldogs, Part Thirteen: Heminger Garage

The Walldogs mural found on the side of a building at the Shipshewana South Campground on State Road 5 is entitled “Heminger Garage.”  No other clues are given, other than a car which looks to be 1930s-vintage.  (My husband has a 1932 Ford hot rod, so I know about these things!)

Who was Mr. Heminger?  My old friend was no help on this one, nor were any local websites.  Turning to, I made a little headway.  Searching the 1940 census, a certain Willard Heminger was the only head of household by that name in Shipshewana, and bingo!—his occupation was “owner/mechanic.”

So then I went back in time, to start at the beginning… 

Willard Francis Heminger was born in Ohio in 1894.  At the time of the 1900 census the family still lived in Ohio, but by 1910, they had settled in Oakland County, Michigan. 

Somehow Willard made his way to northeastern Indiana as a young adult.  On his 1917 World War One draft card, he is 22 and a “machine (wood worker)” at the Crow Motor Car Company in Elkhart.  Perhaps this is where his love of cars was born.  He is listed as medium height and build with brown eyes and medium-dark hair.  He claims exemption from military service due to being a member of the Brethren Church. 

A newspaper article I came across on told more about this time in his life.  This is quoted from the Indianapolis Star (May 21, 1918): 

Hoosiers on Trial.  A precedent in military courts-martial may be established at Camp Zachary Taylor when a civilian minister appears as counsel for two soldiers on trial.  The Rev. M.H. Deeter, pastor of the Church of the Brethren at Elkhart, Indiana, will represent Willard F. Heminger of Elkhart and George Studebaker of Magley, Indiana, conscientious objectors, who will be tried on charges of violation of the Sixty-Fourth and Sixty-fifth articles of war.  They refused to obey the lawful commands of commissioned and non-commissioned officers…  The cases were then set for Tuesday.”

I didn’t see any records as to what happened at the trial.  Perhaps Willard avoided conviction by agreeing, as some other Mennonites did, to be transferred into a noncombatant unit.

In 1920 Willard is living in Berrien County, Michigan, boarding with the Wilheier family and working as a machinist in a machine shop.  He must have been engaged, as he was married later that year to SaDessa James in Elkhart, Indiana, and they settled in Indiana. 

By the 1930 census, Willard and SaDessa had three small children and were living in a rented house in Shipshewana.  He was listed as the proprietor of a garage and a war veteran.

By 1940, the census shows that Willard and family lived in a house on Middlebury Street.  Willard was listed as “owner/mechanic—auto garage.”  He had worked 56 hours the previous week, and 52 weeks the previous year—reinforcing the idea that owning one’s own business is not a life of leisure.  Willard had just an 8th grade education.  Again, he is listed as a war veteran.

Willard shows up in the records a few more times, next in the “Old Man’s Draft” for World War Two.  His draft card shows that he is 47 and lives in Shipshewana.  He is 5’5”, 170 pounds, with brown eyes and black/gray hair.  He no longer owns his own garage, but works for the International Machine Tool Corporation in Elkhart. 

City directories show that Willard continued to work as a mechanic or machinist in the Elkhart area into the 1960s.  He died in 1968 and is buried at Rice Cemetery in Elkhart with wife SaDessa and their baby daughter Wanda.

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Shipshewana Walldogs, Part Twelve: Mechanized Mail Carriers

The subject of this Walldogs mural post is the mural which can be found on the south side of the Yoder’s Red Barn building on State Road 5.  (Pull into the parking lot of the next building to the south, for the best view.)  This one is the only mural to have a vertical orientation.

A look at the Shipshewana town website told me where the inspiration for this mural came from.  The image of the five mail carriers on bicycles is taken from an old photo which can be found there.  The caption dates the photo 1904. 

Another photo on the same site shows three mail carriers in open-top automobiles.  The caption here says, “By 1915, mail carriers were delivering the mail using early model cars.”

I wanted to know more about this era.  Last year I watched the television series “Lark Rise to Candleford,” about a small-town English post office at the turn of the twentieth century.  I remembered that the local postman was issued a bicycle at one point and told that he was to use it to deliver the mail.  The poor man had never ridden a bicycle in his life and was terrified of the thing…  So he put the mail on the bicycle and then walked the bicycle on his rounds around the village and countryside—until he was caught in the act, and a young person taught him how to ride it.

I found out a little more at the United States Postal Service website.  In the late 1800s, rural mail delivery was done by horseback or on foot, or by bicycle if the roads were good enough.  Because rural carriers in those days tended to abuse their government-issued bicycles, in 1888 the U.S. Postal Service declared that carriers had to purchase their own bicycles.  (They got a $2-3 monthly maintenance allowance.)  So the identical-looking bicycles in the mural were not government-issue; perhaps they were the sturdiest model (or the only model) available locally.

Another note:  American postal carriers were all men in those days.  Women weren’t given a chance until the onset of World War One, when the men went off to war and the postal service was desperate for replacements.

By the turn of the century, bicycles were used for both rural and town mail delivery in many places, as were motorcycles.  But both were eventually replaced by automobiles and mail trucks nearly everywhere—in America, at least.’s article on the Royal Mail says that British mail carriers are famous for their Pashley Pronto bicycles, which only began to be phased out in 2009.