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

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

101 Things to Do in Shipshewana

Last year I discovered a wonderful little book. It was written by Melissa Troyer in 2010 and is called “101 Things to Do in Shipshewana.”  I picked it up and put it back without buying it several times, but eventually I spent the ten dollars, and it was a very good investment, even for someone like me who has been to Amish Indiana countless times.

Melissa Troyer grew up in the area, and her father was raised Amish until he was seven.  She has spent ten years working in the local tourism industry, and she has a lot to share about “Shipshe,” the town she calls home, and the nearby communities.   

She shares information about local business large and small, both Amish- and English-owned.  She talks about the local traditions, local crafts, local foods, and what a visitor needs to know.  She gives information about the not-to-be missed shops that everyone has heard of—like The Blue Gate and Das Dutchman Essenhaus.  But she also points out the back-roads spots that most visitors never see, such as Owl Toy Craft, B-Honey, Plyley’s Candy, B&L Woodcrafts, and Ragtime Rugs.  She talks about weekly events such as the auction, the horse auction, and the flea market, as well as special events like Old Fashioned Farming Day, May Fest, and Pajama Sale Day.  She identifies local foods not to be missed, such as mush, Amish Peanut butter, and whoopee pies.  She identifies local characters like “Norm the Painter,” Jim Rubley the blacksmith, Amish artist Marlene Miller, and Eva and Mariah, the carriage horses at the Blue Gate.  She suggests where to try your hand at local opportunities such as picking blueberries, creating a custom doll, riding an old-fashioned carousel, or watching furniture be made.  She points out where to get a buggy ride, a tour, or dinner at a real Amish farm.  She talks about places to stay, places to eat, and places to relax or see the sights on Sundays, when almost everything is closed.   

Although a few of the businesses are no longer open, I still throw this little book in my suitcase every time I travel to Amish Indiana.  You’re never too old, or too seasoned a Shipshe traveler, that you can’t learn something new.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Shipshewana: Tough on Crime

This Shipshewana street runs through a fairly new subdivision on the south side of town—one of the few actual ‘subdivisions’ in Shipshewana—after all, it’s a farming town of only about 500 people and heavily Amish.  It also happens to be a shortcut into town for the Amish who live southeast of Shipshe (and there are plenty).  They can get off of eastbound Route 20, cut through this subdivision, and arrive at E&S Bulk Foods, a favorite shopping destination (for both them and for my husband and I—I’ll talk about E&S Bulk Foods in another post.)  I’m not sure what the residents think of the Amish traffic and the “road apples” the horses leave behind, but anyone who lives in Shipshewana is more than familiar with road apples!  I would hope that everyone gets along.

Anyway… While driving through here in our Jeep with Amish friends one day, my Amish friend Ruth mentioned to me that they have been “pulled over” by the police in this neighborhood twice!  Needless to say, I was eager to know the details.

It turns out that the first time, Ruth was alone.  She pulled up to a stop sign and stopped the buggy.  But her horse didn’t come to a complete stop—he jumped out a little.  The next thing she knew, the police pulled her over for not coming to a complete stop.

The other time, she and Glenn were coming home from town at twilight.  Amish buggies have a large orange reflective triangle on the back and also other safety features, including battery-powered blinking red lights at each corner.  As the sun set and it started getting dark, they forgot to turn on their blinking red lights.  And soon they found themselves pulled over by a local officer of the law.

“Shipshewana: Tough on Crime.”  Luckily for them, my friends got off with a warning both times...  Whew.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Signs Along The Road

Want to go for a drive, see some beautiful sights, meet the locals, and perhaps find a bargain?  Then drive to Shipshewana, grab your local map, and head into the countryside, especially to the south, but any direction will do.  It’s easy—the free local tourist booklets all contain maps, and the roads run mostly in a square-mile grid, with the roads in all of Lagrange County numbered in a wonderful, easy-to-understand, hard-to-get-lost system.  (Besides, most of us have GPS.)

Anyway… head into the countryside with some cash in your pocket and see what you can find.  It is said that only a small percentage of Shipshewana’s one million annual visitors head off the beaten path—most don’t get past the flea market or the downtown shopping district.  But it’s out in the countryside that the real beauty, peacefulness, and good shopping can be found.  Just drive slowly, watch out for buggies and bicycles, and watch for signs—they’re everywhere.

What can you find?  Start with roadside produce and bakery stands—that’s easy enough.  But don’t stop there; head up the lanes also.  Remember—the sign would not be out on the road if they did not want you to drop in!  Be brave, drive up the lane, and see what you discover.  It might be rag rugs, maple syrup, honey, homemade wood items, apple butter, bread, eggs, or candles.  It might be a small Amish general store, filled with all kinds of things.  It might be a small greenhouse with seeds, annuals, bird feeders, and more.  It might be a bookstore, a quilt shop, or a furniture maker.  You just never know.  But one thing is for sure—you’ll probably meet the locals and understand their culture better.  And you’ll get away from the crowds, the tourist traps, and the high prices found “downtown.” 

Another thing to think about:  The Amish are finding it increasingly more difficult to support their families by their traditional lifestyle of farming.  As more and more go to work in the RV factories, some have turned instead to small cottage industries on their own farms.  By patronizing these small mom-and-pop businesses, we are helping the Amish to maintain the way of life that drew us to Amish Indiana in the first place!

Monday, November 4, 2013

Losing a Good Horse

Last time I was in Amish Indiana, I drove my friend Ruth to Menard’s in Goshen to buy a vacuum cleaner.  Since she’d never bought one before, she was glad for my input!  (Note: They typically plug a vacuum into a gas-powered generator.)  The Amish don’t have a lot of carpets—they like linoleum the best—but a few families will share a vacuum cleaner for those times when it’s needed.

What does this have to do with losing a good horse, you may wonder?

I was using my husband’s pickup truck, which I’ve driven only a few times.  He’s very fond of it, and he doesn’t even like dust on it, so he rarely allows it out of his sight.  As we parked at the far end of the lot as I had promised to do, I explained to Ruth that he is very fond of this truck; I showed her the “pinstripes” that he had hired someone to paint on it.

She remarked that her husband Glenn was similarly fond of their main buggy horse.  He had raised the horse himself, and she said he once remarked, “I wouldn’t take $5,000 for this horse.”  (Typical prices currently are $1,500 to $3,000.)  Whenever one of their children needed a buggy horse, he always held that one back if he could, and sent them out with a different one.

But a few weeks prior, Glenn’s special horse (not the one in the picture) had died from West Nile Virus.  The horse was only four years old—the prime of life for a buggy horse.  She said her husband didn’t usually get emotional about animals, but this had been a hard thing for him to take.  

They had noticed the previous Friday that the horse seemed lame in one back leg.  By Sunday they realized something was very wrong, and they suspected West Nile Virus, which had killed a few other horses in the area.  First thing Monday morning Glenn phoned the veterinarian, but she didn’t show up.  He called four times that day, asking her to come as soon as she could.  By the time she arrived, at 8 in the evening, it was too late, and the horse was too far gone.  Ruth said that Glenn couldn’t stop wondering whether his favorite horse could have been saved if the vet had arrived sooner.

There is a vaccine for horses which prevents West Nile Virus, but it’s very expensive.  The vet said the best thing to do is to keep the horses pastured as far as possible away from the woods.  At any rate, it was too late for Glenn’s favorite horse.