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

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Shipshewana Walldogs, Part Eight: Hudsons

In my continuing series on the sixteen murals done by the Walldogs group in Shipshewana in 2014, this mural is the only one to be found indoors. 

As of this revised writing (February 2020), the mural can still be seen in the lobby of the former Hostetler Hudson Museum on State Route 5 in Shipshewana—in a building which is now the home of the Blue Gate Performing Arts Center.  The mural shows a wagon and an automobile on the streets of downtown Shipshewana in the early 1900s.

The Hudson automobile was never made in Shipshewana, but the finest collection of Hudsons in the world formerly could be found there.  This is because of an Amish boy, Eldon Hostetler, who grew up to be a wealthy inventor and a dedicated collector of Hudsons. 

Mr. Hostetler died in 2016, and his wife Esta died in 2017.  The museum was closed and all the Hudsons in the collection were sold at auction in December 2018.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Shipshewana Walldogs, Part Seven: W. L. Reifsnider

I have been taking a look at the marvelous murals done in the summer of 2014 by a group of sign and mural painters known as The Walldogs.  This mural, in the Morton Alley area of downtown Shipshewana, says this about W.L. Reifsnider and his harness store:  “Reifsnider’s Harness Store, a Full Service Retail Establishment Specializing in High Quality, Fair Priced Tack and Custom Handmade Leather for Both Horse and Rider.”

I did a little digging about the man behind this business.

Records at told me that Wesley R. Reifsnider was born in November 1869 in Ohio, moving later to the Shipshewana area.  In 1895 he married local girl Rena Yaeger, and they had a daughter named Marian in 1897.  But their story ended sadly; Rena died the same year, so that by the 1900 census, Wesley, age 30 and already a harness maker, was a widower and a boarder in someone else’s home, and his young daughter Marian was not living with him.

By 1910, Wesley was a newlywed.  He lived with new wife Gertrude Young Reifsnider in a rented home with her widowed brother-in-law.  Wesley was a 39-year-old harness maker.

By 1920, Wesley and Gertrude had an eight-year-old daughter, Roline (called Rose) – and happily, he was reunited with his daughter Marion, now nineteen and a stenographer at the hardware store.  They lived in a home he owned with a mortgage on Harrison Street and things were still humming in the harness making business.

By 1930 things had changed.  Perhaps the automobile had made harness making less profitable.  For whatever reason, the census shows that the Reifsniders (Wesley, Gertrude, and Rose) live in a fine home on Middlebury Street, but he is no longer a harness maker.  Ever the entrepreneur, he is now the proprietor of a restaurant, and his wife is the cook. 

By the 1940 census, Wesley and Gertrude are still running the restaurant.  It was not an easy life; they both had worked 60 hours the previous week, and 52 weeks in 1939.  Daughter Rose lives with them, still single at 28, but she has no occupation—for some reason, not helping out her parents at the restaurant.

Wesley Reifsnider died in 1951.  He and second wife Gertrude, who outlived him by thirteen years, are buried at Woodland Cemetery, as are his first wife Rena and his daughters Marian and Roline.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Shipshewana Walldogs, Part Six: The Bank of Shipshwana

The Bank of Shipshewana mural is wedged between two windows, on the Hostetler Drug Store building on Main Street.  It pictures two men, identified as “Levi Miller, Cashier” and “Hewlitt Davis, President” and over their heads, “1904—Bank of Shipshewana.”

Hewlitt Davis was born in 1871.  He was the son of Shipshewana founder Hezekiah Davis, who is the subject of another Walldogs mural and another blog.  According to Ira Ford’s 1920 book The History of Northeast Indiana, at that time Hewlitt was president of the Farmers State Bank of Shipshewana and he was “a worthy representative of this sturdy old [Davis] stock.”

According to the book, Hewlitt finished high school and then attended business college in Toledo, Ohio.  Being the youngest of Hezekiah’s seven children, and Hezekiah having died in 1891, Hewlitt returned home to live with his widowed mother, Sarah Reynolds Davis.  Sarah ran the Bank of Shipshewana, organized by her late husband, with herself as president and her son as cashier, where Hewlitt remained until 1907. 

In 1907 the Bank of Shipshewana was reorganized and renamed the Farmer’s State Bank of Shipshewana, and Hewlitt at last had his own bank.  Through the years of his banking career, he also farmed 800 acres in the vicinity (Newbury Township), where he raised stock.

The 1910 census bears this out.  Hewlitt lives with his widowed mother in an expensive home on Morton Street.  Hewlitt is 38 and still unmarried, and his occupation is listed as “banker and farmer.”  As the youngest son, his mother must have remained his responsibility, even after he founded his own bank.

“Few banks,” said The History of Northeast Indiana, “have ever met with so many misfortunes…  It has been robbed four times…  In November 1897, when the safe was ruined and the contents all taken…  In 1905, when they did not try the safe and got only the change found within the vault…  In June 1916, the safe was not disturbed but they secured $1,100 in postage stamps in the vault…  August 26, 1919, when they made an attempt on the safe and ruined it, but were unable to get inside, but did get $200 in War Savings Stamps in the vault…        While the institution was yet the Bank of Shipshewana in July 1902, the bank was burned.”

In 1911 Hewlitt married Carrie Rogers.  The 1920 census shows them living with their daughter Sarah and son Herbert on Talmadge Street, and his occupation is “bank president.”  By the 1930 census, Hewlitt is 58 and has no occupation listed—he had retired.  (His next door neighbor is the wealthy Edward Wolfe, who I wrote about in another post.)  Perhaps his health was failing, as he died in 1935.  He was buried in Keightley Cemetery, where his wife Carrie joined him, but not before outliving him by 35 years.

And what of Levi Miller, the other man pictured in the mural?  According to The History of Northeast Indiana, he was from an old Shipshewana family whose Mennonite great-grandfather Christian Miller came from Germany to Mifflin County, Pennsylvania, and had over 700 American descendants by 1920.  Levi studied business at Valparaiso University and then in 1901 became assistant cashier of the Bank of Shipshewana.  The history section of the Shipshewana website says that until then, the bank was open only once in a while—but after Mr. Miller was hired, it was open every day.  When it was reorganized in 1907, Levi was promoted to cashier and in 1920 was “the genial and efficient man with whom most of the patrons have done business ever since.”

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Shipshewana Walldogs, Part Five: Wolfe Grain Company

The Walldogs mural on the Wolfe Grain company was easier to write about than some of the other murals; it is one of two that have a mini-biography right in the mural!  This one reads like this:  “Edward A Wolfe was born January 20th, 1890 on an 85 acre farm at CR675 & SR120.  Ed was the youngest of 7 children and died 80 years later, after achieving much during his lifetime.  He was a strong backbone in the community with his grain elevator business (now Hubbard Milling), served as the Bank President of the Shipshewana State Bank for 25 years, and served as an Indiana State Senator.”  The large mural is found near the site of Hubbard Milling, on Main Street.

The painting shows him in his later years, along with his grain operation in Shipshewana, most of which stands today.  Edward’s World War One draft card tells us that, at age 27, he was medium height and build, with light brown eyes and light-colored hair.  (He gives his birth date as January 25th, not January 20th.)  He gives his occupation as “grain dealer” with the firm Wolfe & Bevington.

There is a biography of Edward Wolfe in the book History of Northeast Indiana, which was written a few years later, in 1920, by Ira Ford.  It says that Wolfe & Bevington operate two grain elevators in Shipshewana and that “the members of the firm are men of sterling character and considerable business experience.”  It says that Edward’s parents were born in Wurtemberg, Germany and came to America after their marriage—settling first in Ohio and then coming to Indiana in 1880.  They later moved to southern Michigan, where Edward’s father was killed by a lightning strike in 1896.  This would have made Edward, the youngest, only six years old at the time.

Edward and a brother came to Shipshewana in 1913 and bought a grain elevator.  Edward married Miss Norma Bevington in November of that year.  Soon after that, Mr. Frank Bevington, Edward’s father-in-law, bought a half interest in Edward’s grain business.  By 1920 Edward was the locally elected Justice of the Peace and a member of the Methodist Episcopal Church.

In World War One, the biography goes on to say, “Mr. Wolfe proved true and loyal.”  He enlisted in the Motor Transport Corps and trained at four different army camps—but before he could be sent overseas, the armistice was signed and the war was over.

The 1930 census shows Edward and Norma living on Morton Street in a home valued at $4000—more than twice as much as any of the neighbors’ homes, excepting Hewlitt Davis, president of the bank, whose home is valued at $3500.  No children are listed in the census records for the couple.

The 1940 census shows Edward and Norma’s house as valued at $3000—effects of the Great Depression?  It tells us that Edward finished two years of high school and his wife, the 8th grade.  It also says that he worked 64 hours the previous week and 52 weeks the previous year.  Not exactly the “idle rich”!

Edward died in 1969.  His widow, Norma, had the Wolfe Community Building in Shipshewana built and dedicated it to the town in memory of her husband.  The building houses the Town Clerk and Town Manager, and the City Council Chamber—and on its front is another Walldogs Mural, “Sunthimers Building,” which I will write about in another post.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Shipshewana Walldogs, Part Four: The Davis Hotel

This Walldogs mural is found, appropriately enough, on an exterior wall of the Davis Mercantile Building.  The old building, which included the Davis Hotel and the Davis Mercantile, burned down in 2004 and was replaced by the new Davis Mercantile, part of which is seen here.

I wrote more about this building in a previous blog, found here.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Shipshewana Walldogs, Part Three: Hezekiah Davis

One of the sixteen Walldog murals in Shipshewana depicts Hezekiah Davis.  The mural is found downtown in Morton Alley.  Who was Hezekiah Davis?  The name “Davis” seems to be everywhere in the town, even today.

The mural itself gives us some clues.  He was born in 1825 and died in 1891.  It says, “He ran the first reaper, harvester, binder, and feed mill in Newberry (sp) Township.  He owned a large farm and orchard.  Then sold the latest buggies, wagons, & farm equipment from his hardware store.”  But Hezekiah’s influence was so much more than that.

According to the 1920 book The History of Northeast Indiana, Hezekiah came to Lagrange County, Indiana with his parents when he was twelve.  He bought a farm there in 1851, and by the time of his death forty years later, he owned 1,400 acres of farmland.  He founded the town of Shipshewana in 1888.  In 1889 he founded the Bank of Shipshewana, which he ran until his death two years later.  (After that time, his wife Sarah ran it with son Hewlitt, until Hewlitt reorganized it in 1907 as the Farmer’s State Bank.)  He was also a county commissioner and built two churches.  It was said that “The principles of the Republican party found a strong advocate in Hezekiah Davis.”

The abovementioned book said that “He became a man of importance not just because of [his] business capacity, but on account of his sterling traits of character, which led him to use his wealth in furthering many worthy enterprises, and when bearing the responsibilities of public office, to labor conscientiously for the public welfare.” 

In the 1870 census, Hezekiah is 44 and lives with his wife and five children.  He is listed as a farmer.  Hezekiah’s land is valued at $58,750—an incredible amount of money in those days, and equivalent to around $1,066,000 of farmland in today’s dollars.

But Hezekiah was human, too, as evidenced by information found on the Shipshewana town website (  In the early days of the Shipshewana area’s settlement, Hezekiah owned all the land on the east side of what is now State Road 5, for a mile and a half from north to south.  His rival, Abraham Summey, owned the land across State Road 5 on the west side, from north and south for a mile. 

Both Summey and Davis wanted to found a town and begin to sell lots.  But the two men argued about where the main road should be, so Summey began laying out a town on the west side, and Davis laid out a town on the east side, in one of his 40-acre fields.

Summey’s first buildings were built along State Road 5, facing east.  But Davis, who named his town “Davis Town,” left a 150-foot wide strip of land vacant on his side of State Road 5, and he allowed nothing to be built there—thus creating a wide “no man’s land” between the two competing towns.  After the death of Davis in 1891, according to the website, the wide strip of land between the two towns was laid out in lots and sold at auction, and thus the feud ended.

Hezekiah Davis married Sarah Reynolds in 1851 and they had seven children.  Hezekiah died when the youngest, Hewlitt, was only six years old.  Hezekiah and Sarah are buried at Keightley Cemetery.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Shipshewana Walldogs, Part Two: The Pumpkin Vine Railroad

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 ( for much of the information used in this post.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Shipshewana Walldogs, Part One: Bennett Blacksmiths

In 2014 Shipshewana was fortunate enough to be chosen to host a gathering of painters who left a remarkable set of sixteen murals on buildings all over the small town.

The event was hosted by an organization of sign and mural painters who are known as "The Walldogs."  (More information about them can be found at  They spent four days in June creating some remarkable work that paints a visual history of sixteen important people, places, and business from Shipshewana's past.

There are two different brochures available which show the location of all sixteen murals, but neither one says much about the scenes depicted.  I did a little digging, and this first post is about one of the largest murals:  Bennett Blacksmiths.

This mural is found on the north side of the Shipshe General Store building, which is at 420 North Van Buren Street (Route 5).  The text reads, “Bennett Blacksmiths.  Miles and Willard Bennett, Proprietors—Shoeing Shipshewana from 1902 to 1954.” 

I wanted to know more about this business and its proprietors.  An old photo in the archives on the Shipshewana town website shows the shop, looking just as it does in the painting at the left side of the mural.  The words on the sign over the door say “Shoeing – Repairing – New Shoes – Miles Bennett.”  The caption says, “The blacksmith shop was built in 1892 by Abraham Summey [one of the founders of the town], and operated by Miles Bennett from 1902 to 1943.  The locals took their horses here to get shod.”

I did some further digging on  Miles Bennett and Willard were father and son, and although the mural names them both as proprietors, Willard must not have been there long.

Miles was born in Indiana in 1897.  He was married in 1894 to first wife Jennie and they had a son in 1895—Willard.  Poor Jennie died in 1899, and in the 1900 census, I found Miles living alone and working as a “ditcher” while his young son lived with his maternal grandparents. 

Miles must have had the blacksmith business by 1902, if the caption on the old photo I found are correct.  By 1910, father and son were reunited with Miles’ new wife Alice—Miles was 40 and a blacksmith, and son Willard was 15 and had no occupation.

By 1917, 22-year-old Willard’s World War One draft card described him as tall, medium build, blue eyes, and blond hair.  He must have already broken with his father’s blacksmith business, as he lived in Sturgis, Michigan and worked as a “furniture polisher” at the Royal Chair Company.

The 1920 and 1930 census records find Miles still running the blacksmith shop.  By 1930 son Willard has married and moved to Westmoreland County, Pennsylvania, where he is an insurance agent.

By 1940, Miles is 70 years old, but still working at the blacksmith shop full time—52 weeks the previous year, according to the census.  His son Willard is a factory machinist in Westmoreland County, so he did not come home to take over the business as his father got older.  Was there a rift?  Or was Willard just not interested in being a blacksmith?  Or did Shipshewana hold bad memories for him, perhaps because of the death of his mother and his shuttling off to live with his grandparents? 

Miles died in 1943 and was buried in Shipshewana’s Sidener Cemetery with both his wives—Jennie and Alice.  When his son Willard died in 1954, his wife had him buried in Shipshewana, near his father and mother.

Is horseshoeing a thing of the past in Shipshewana?  Certainly not.  As long as there are Old Order Amish in the area, there will be plenty of horses.  There is no blacksmith shop in Shipshewana today, but there are a number of local men, both Amish and “English,” who provide this service.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

The Horse Auction

When we visit Amish Indiana, it’s often for a long weekend.  If I’m there on a Friday morning, any time of year, I like to watch the horse auction.  The Shipshewana Auction building is on the main north-south street in town (Route 5).  Every Friday is horse auction day.

You enter the auction pit from the upper level, and below you are wooden platforms and a few scattered chairs.  The first thing you notice is the smell!  Horse auctions are not for the squeamish—it does smell like a barn.  The crowd is mostly male and about half Amish, half “English” on a typical Friday morning.  I learned how easy it is to place a bid one morning when I swatted at a fly and saw the auctioneer point at me and take my “bid.”  I frantically started motioning “No, no!” and the auctioneer just laughed and remarked (over the microphone), “Looks like the lady was just swatting a fly!”  Tack (harnesses, etc.) is auctioned off first, and then later in the morning, the horses—the big draft horses, the relatively smaller buggy horses, and the ponies. 

Most of the draft horses used for field work are Belgians; two of them are shown here, hitched up for a day of work.  They are huge animals, but very gentle.  I asked an Amish friend one time, why Belgians instead of Clydesdales?  He said, “We like the way the Belgians look.”  The Percheron is also used; I saw a Percheron wall calendar in the kitchen of one Amishman who prefers that breed.

The buggy horses are mostly quarter horses and mostly brown.  I was surprised to learn that many of them come from Canada.  Racehorses which are not fast enough to compete on the race track may end up going south to Indiana and becoming Amish buggy horses.  Horseback riding is rare there, though, although one of my Amish friends used to enjoy it when she was younger, before she married.

Ponies are common on the farms and are used with little pony carts.  It’s a great way for Amish children to learn the horse-and-buggy skills they will need as adults.  It also can be their transportation to and from school.  My niece Be used to love riding around in a pony cart with the children of my Amish friends. 

Anyway, getting back to the horse auction:

The main entrance is on the south side, and there is a sign there that says “no photographs.”  This is because of the many Amishmen who attend the auction.  (The Amish don’t like to have their photograph taken, considering a photograph to be a “graven image” and therefore a violation of the Second Commandment.)  But I stopped by after the auction one day and asked if I could take a picture of the auction pit, and the auctioneers had no problem with that.

Side doors lead to catwalks from which you can wander across the “off-stage areas” from up above and look down at the animals yet to be sold.  One Friday morning while wandering around back there, a friend and I saw a pen of horses who looked especially old, tired, and lame.  We asked a man about it, and he said, “Oh, that’s the kill pen.”  My tenderhearted friend turned quite pale—but farm animals can outlive their usefulness.

I never get tired of sitting in the stands and watching the beautiful animals brought in and auctioned off.  Maybe it’s not a typical tourist activity, but it’s real life in My Amish Indiana.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Pumpkinvine Trail

Rode the Pumpkinvine Trail three times last week, from Middlebury east to Shipshewana and back again (13 miles), and from Middlebury west towards Goshen (5 miles and 7 miles).  More on the trail here in a post from last year.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Quilt Garden

A late-season shot of one of the 2014 Quilt Gardens, this one in front of Menno-Hof on Route 5 in Shipshewana.  Read more here, in a blog I wrote last year: The Quilt Gardens of the Heritage Trail

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Yoder, Miller, Bontrager

Yoder, Miller, Bontrager…  Names one sees on mailboxes and home businesses all over Amish Indiana.  Lately I did a little research into the most common names there.  That led me into learning about the two distinct Amish ethnic groups found in Indiana today.  (I am indebted to the book “An Amish Patchwork” by Thomas Meyers and Steven Nolt for helping me to get the details right.)

The main Amish ethnic group in Indiana, the one found in Lagrange and Elkhart Counties, is the “Pennsylvania Dutch” (the word “Dutch” actually meaning “Deutsch,” or German).  These people are descendants of early German settlers—Amish and non-Amish such as Lutheran—who came from Europe and settled in Pennsylvania in the 1700s.  Those settlers were called “Pennsylvania German,” or more commonly, “Pennsylvania Dutch,” and they spoke a form of German called by the same name.  The Amish among them retained the old language, but the non-Amish lost it as they adopted English over the years.

Then in the mid 1800s, some of these Pennsylvania Amish moved westward to Holmes County, Ohio, and onwards into northeastern Indiana (Lagrange and Elkhart Counties), where, today, they make up the third largest Amish settlement in America.  Their most common surnames are Miller, Yoder, Bontrager, Hostetler, Lehman, and Lambright.  Their language is still called “Pennsylvania Dutch” or just simply “Dutch.”  (It is quite different from both present-day German and Dutch.)  These are the Amish I am familiar with.

But there was a second stream of Amish into Indiana in the mid 1800s.  Those Amish came directly from Switzerland and settled farther south in Indiana, in Allen County and Adams County.  Their most common surnames are (in order) Schwartz, Hilty, Graber, Lengacher, Schmucker, and Eicher.  Their dialect is usually called “Swiss.”

So the differences go beyond surnames.  The two groups don’t have very much interaction, and tend not to intermarry or live in the same communities.  My friend Glenn once told me that, on the rare occasion that he has interacted with downstate Swiss Amish, their dialects are so different that they must switch to English to be able to communicate.   

The Swiss Amish in central Indiana tend to be more conservative than the Amish farther north in Lagrange and Elkhart Counties.  For example, they drive only open buggies, even in the winter.  They are more conservative in matters of dress, housing, and lifestyle.  They don’t use the hydraulic compressed-air forms of power that are common in northeastern Indiana (nicknamed “Amish electricity” by outsiders).  They mark their graves with simple wooden stakes instead of simple stone markers.  And, remarkably, they still practice yodeling!

Getting back to the northeastern Indiana Amish:  A funny thing about the “Pennsylvania Dutch” language is that it is a spoken language only.  Their written language is English.

Thus, my Amish friends are actually tri-lingual.  They learn “Dutch” as their first language, and it is the language they speak at home and socially all their lives.  They learn English (spoken and written) when they enter school at age six or seven.  And they learn the old “High German” in school, since it is the language of their two most important books—the Bible and the Amish Hymnal (the Ausbund).  Luckily for me, they switch back and forth easily!

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Shopping Misadventures

When we are in Amish Indiana, we often run errands with our Amish friends.  It saves them time, and it’s a good excuse to socialize.  It also has gotten me into lots of Amish homes and businesses I would never have had access to, on my own.  But one favorite non-Amish stop of the Lagrange and Elkhart County Amish is the Walmart in Goshen.  (I read an article in Newsweek magazine years ago about how the local authorities put in a special road coming up behind that Walmart, just so the local Amish arriving in buggies wouldn’t have to attempt to drive on the main boulevard.)

It’s the nearest “big box store” to the Shipshewana-Lagrange County Amish settlement.  And on the same road in Goshen is a Menard’s and an Aldi’s that they also like to patronize.  One time my friend Ruth and I were shopping at the Aldi’s and we had a couple of misadventures.

Ruth is a very organized person, so she has been asked multiple times to be in charge of the food for the Amish wedding of one of her nieces.  This is a huge responsibility.  Special kitchen trailers are rented that have banks of stoves and ovens in them to handle the massive amounts of food that are prepared.  A typical wedding can have four seatings through the course of the day, with well over 1,000 meals served altogether.

So Ruth was buying large quantities of certain dry-goods items in advance, and I came along with my Jeep to lend a hand.  (Shipshewana to Goshen is far too long a trip for a buggy.)  One thing she bought was 50 packets of powdered salad dressing mix, for example.  She had planned very carefully what she would buy that day and what it could cost.  By the time she made the rounds, we each had a cartful of food.  And while she was there, Ruth was picking up a jumbo economy pack of diapers for one of her married daughters.

As we stood in the checkout line, the clerk asked Ruth, “So, planning a wedding?”  It so happened that at the very moment Ruth was answering “Yes, we are!” to that question, she was also heaving the gigantic pack of diapers up onto the conveyor belt.  It was an awkward moment as it really looked like the diapers were being bought for the bride!  (I’ve been asked more than once to re-enact that little moment for the amusement of my Amish friends, since I tell the story more dramatically than Ruth does.)

So…  We finished checking out and the clerk told Ruth the total—around $400, as I recall.  Ruth’s face turned really pale and she whispered to me, “That’s not what I figured at all—I don’t have that much money!”  So we stalled the clerk for a minute while we frantically tried to figure out what to do.  My Visa card was no good, since Aldi’s doesn’t take credit cards.  I didn’t have a debit card, and neither did she.  Neither did I have my checkbook on me, nor enough cash to cover the shortfall.  What to do?

As we brainstormed, the clerk suddenly exclaimed, “Oops, sorry!  I charged you for 500 packets of salad dressing mix instead of 50 packets!”  So the clerk made the correction; the color returned to Ruth’s face; she paid for the purchases; and we were on our way back home.  Whew.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Amish Peanut Butter

I’ve not been a big fan of peanut butter, at least not as an adult…  As a child I was a pretty finicky eater, and I ate way too much of the stuff when whatever was on the table didn’t suit me.  Since then, I’ve had no taste for it—or at least, I didn’t until my Amish friend Ruth introduced me to something they make which is commonly known as “Amish peanut butter.” 

When it’s sold in the local stores it’s often called “Amish Church Peanut Butter.”  This is because it is made as part of the standard after-church meal.  The Amish don’t have church buildings—they hold church in their homes, barns, or out in the yard under a rented tent.  After the three-hour service, the host family feeds everyone lunch before sending them home. 

The meal is pretty standard and unchanging.  I never understood this until I gave it some thought, and then it made all the sense in the world…  Hosting church (a task that may fall to a family twice a year) is a stressful task.  Everything is cleaned and scrubbed as the family tries to put their best foot forward for their guests.  Imagine the added stress if the hostess had to try to equal or outdo the lavish spread put on by the previous hostess, always competing to try to “keep up with the Yoders.”  (And that kind of pride or one-upsmanship is anathema to the Amish.)  It makes more sense to standardize the meal.  And part of that meal is Amish peanut butter.

How does it differ from what we’re used to?  I’ve seen various recipes in Amish cookbooks, but in the Amish community I am most familiar with, it is a blend of peanut butter, marshmallow fluff, and Karo syrup.  So it is lighter and sweeter than regular peanut butter and it is oh-so-good.  It is sold all over Amish Indiana, and it’s not cheap—although it’s more reasonably priced at the places the locals shop, like E&S Foods.  It’s also on the table in many local restaurants.

 My friend Ruth saves me a few margarine-tubs of it whenever she makes it for church, and sometimes I just get a spoon and eat it out of the tub like ice cream.  Lately I’ve taken to breaking off little pieces of dark chocolate Ghirardelli bars and dipping them in the peanut butter.  I suppose a person could also eat it on bread or toast, like it’s meant to be eaten.

Amish Church Peanut Butter.  One more reason I like Amish Indiana.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

A Close Call

Sometimes scary things happen to good people.

Yesterday my husband Gary and I were in Amish Indiana, getting quotes from several local aluminum fabricators on an aluminum box that Gary wants to have custom-made for his hot rod trailer.  Our Amish friend Glenn had recommended three local Amish-run places, and after we made the rounds, we went out for supper with Glenn and his wife Ruth at an Italian place in the next town (Rulli’s in Middlebury).  Ruth mentioned a recent event that nearly ended in tragedy.

It seems that their sixteen-year-old son was out in the gravel driveway a few days earlier.  Several of their buggy horses were hitched there, and the young man reached over to pet one of them.

To digress for a moment:  Buggy horses are not all the same in temperament.  I know this from reading the “horse for sale” ads in a local Amish publication I like to read, called “The People’s Exchange.”  Some are very good-natured and laid back.  They are described in the ads with phrases like “broke safe for women to drive” and “completely traffic safe and sound.”

But others are more high strung and unpredictable.  They are often described with words like “a little uneasy at corners” and “does shy at things beside the road.”

Back to my story:  The horse our young man was petting was of the first type.  But standing near that horse was another horse—one they had just acquired from one of their married daughters.  She had told them to be careful with that one, as it could be skittish.  When he petted the first horse, it jumped a little, startling the second horse—who lashed out with both back legs.  (And this horse was shod with steel horseshoes, being a buggy horse.)  Our young man was right in the path of those legs, and he took a hard kick to the gut and fell to the ground.

Fortunately, Glenn was nearby and saw his son crumpled on the ground.  When Glenn turned him over, the boy had a deathly pallor and looked as if he was dead—but after what probably seemed like an eternity to his dad, the young man started choking and gasping and caught a breath.  But then he immediately started vomiting and couldn’t stop.

One of his parents rushed to the phone shanty and called for a hired driver, and soon they were on their way to the local trauma center.  Not long after that, the three of them were en route to South Bend in an ambulance.  That must have been the longest 53 miles they could remember!

Once in South Bend, the young man was given a CAT scan, which showed internal bleeding, and then put in the Intensive Care Unit.  His blood count for a certain enzyme which should have been about 40 was at 1200 and rising.  The doctors said if it didn’t come down during the night, it might be fatal.

By the next morning our young man was rallying, and later that day he was sent home and told to rest.  I talked to him briefly yesterday, and he seemed none the worse for wear and had a smile on his face.  But I would imagine that every time his parents look at him, they breathe a silent prayer of thanks for their youngest child and the doctors who took care of him.

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Shipshewana Walldogs

The Walldogs descended on Shipshewana last weekend and did over a dozen remarkable murals all over town...

I'll do a post on each one in the upcoming days.  It was amazing to watch them work.

Here is their facebook page for the Shipshewana project:

Monday, May 19, 2014

Town & Country Hardware

My husband and I do some strange, non-touristy things on our weekend getaways to Amish Indiana.  Maybe it’s in preparation for moving there in a few years, I don’t know.  One of the places that we visit regularly is Town & Country Hardware.

This little hardware store sits across the street (Route 5) from Yoder’s Department Store in Shipshewana, just south of Wana Cup Restaurant and north of the Auction Barn.  I doubt too many tourists go there, but it’s a great favorite among the locals, both “English” and Amish.  But we’ve made some strange purchases there—strange for tourists, at least.

It’s an old-fashioned hardware store, with very little that is flashy or fancy.  Like so many things in Amish Indiana, it’s like stepping back in time.  The sign outside says “Gifts – Collectibles – Pottery – Baskets – Crafts”…  but I don’t recall seeing much of those kinds of things in there!   The minute you step in the door, there’s a small checkout counter or two, and then just rows and rows of stuff.  Everything to be found in an old-fashioned hardware store of my youth is there, along with items that have the Amish in mind, and also the local farmers.  I love the seed bins the best. 

One time my husband (pictured above) had his hot rod and trailer along, and a sharp turn severed a woven-wire cable.  He was able to purchase a length of cable there, and the employee on duty took us to the back room, where he looped it around and fashioned a fastener to hold the loop in place.  It was better than the original cable.

Another time my husband was looking for a special kind of chrome fastener for his hot rod, and he needed twenty of them.  He hadn’t found them at home, but he found them there.

We’ve bought felt pads for the legs of our bar stools, tin Christmas ornaments, annuals for the garden, kitchen gadgets, and other items too numerous to mention.

Town & Country isn’t for the typical tourist, but for a taste of real life in a small Amish-English town, take a stroll down the aisles.  You might find something you can’t live without.

Monday, May 12, 2014

Carl and Anthony Visit the Amish

I wrote previously about harvesting the corn with two of my foreign-student summer guests, Oliver and Avo.  Another summer, I brought Carl and Anthony to Amish Indiana.

Carl and Anthony (“The Lads” as we called them) were college students from England who had spent the summer in my home.  Before they went back to England, we headed to Amish Indiana—five of us—Carl, Anthony, my sister, my young niece Bee, and I.  As usual, I ended up at the farm of my main and original Amish friends.  And as usual, they welcomed my guests with hospitality—and the same spirit of curiosity about life in England, as The Lads had about the Amish way of life.

 We got up close and personal with lots of animals, as the photos show.  The Lads were both from cities—Carl from London and Anthony from Bristol—so this was a new experience for them.  I don’t remember if we had wonderful homemade baked goods, but I’d guess that we did.  Then we all went for a buggy ride.  Carl sat up front with my Amish friend Glenn, with Bee in the middle, and Anthony and my sister got into the back seat with me.  As it turned out, it was a buggy ride like no other I’ve had…

At some point Glenn asked Carl if he would like to drive the buggy.  Carl happily took the reins, and down the country road we went.  At first everything was fine.  But at some point we veered off the road and barreled full speed (such as it is in a buggy) into the front yard of an Amish farm, where two young boys were playing near the house.  As we sped past them through the middle of their lawn, the boys looked up in surprise—but before they could do anything but stare, we reached the other side of their front yard, crossed the driveway, and veered back onto the road.  What amazed me the most was how calm my Amish friend Glenn was.  While I was having a nervous breakdown in the back seat, he just helped Carl get the horses back on the road, as if this happened every day!  And down the road we went, Carl saying something like “Oops, sorry about that.”

All in all, a day to remember.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Dutch Country Market

I like to share places I’ve found in Amish Indiana—places to eat, shop, stay, or see things.  Bringing food home is always a part of any trip we take there; never leave home without a cooler in the trunk! 

One of our regular stops is Dutch Country Market, owned and operated by an Amish family named Lehman.  Norman and Katie can be found on the premises, as can their six children—Merle, Lavern, Devon, Marilyn, Wilma and Wanda.  It is located at 11401 County Road 16, between Middlebury and Shipshewana (a very scenic drive).

One of the specialties there is the wide selection of noodles—four widths, two thicknesses, white and whole wheat, according to their brochure.  The Lehmans make an average of 400 pounds of noodles a day.  You can often see Katie and the kids rolling them out on weekdays from 8:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. through a glass wall in the store.  But you can buy them any time!  (Except Sundays… almost everything in Amish Indiana is closed on Sundays.)

Another  specialty is honey.  According to Melissa Troyer’s book 101 Things to Do in Shipshewana, Norman has tended bees for over 20 years and produces 36,000 pounds of of honey products a year.  The store carries jars of honey in many sizes and varieties: comb honey, honey sticks, bee pollen, beeswax candles and soap, and nine flavors of whipped honey.  My husband has to drag me away from the working honeybee hive that can be seen in the store!  I find it fascinating.

Lots of other products can be found on the shelves.  My husband likes the jellies, pickles, and preserves, and I like the salty snacks.  Another local favorite is the Amish Peanut Butter.  Look for applesauce, fruit ciders, pancake mixes, salsa, apple butter, and 20 kinds of jam.  Outside, local produce of amazingly high quality can be found in season, as well as locally-made lawn furniture.  I’m not a huge shopper as a rule, but I could walk around this place for an hour, just looking at things and reading labels.

Dutch Country Market is also home of one of the area’s many summer  “quilt gardens,” and they always have a nice one on display on a piece of slanted ground out in front of their store.  It’s also a great place to get Christmas gift boxes.  We ask for an empty gift box (they have various sizes), fill it up with things the recipient would like, and then they pack it up nicely.  An added bonus is that their gift boxes end up costing less than those from the better-known places in the area.

All in all, worth a stop.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Harvesting the Corn

Years ago, before I was married, I used to have foreign college students stay at my home during the summer.  Several times over the years, I took some of them to Amish Indiana.  I wanted them to see a little more of the great diversity that makes up America.

The first time it was Oliver and Avo, two young men from Estonia.  Four of us set out for a few days of fun—Oliver, Avo, my friend Queenie, and myself.  We stayed at Green Meadow Ranch, a Bed & Breakfast at the north end of Shipshewana. 

Both young men loved it there from the first moment.  Avo said to me, “I feel like I breathe differently here—I breathe deeper.”  I was amazed, because I had often thought the same thing.

After some sightseeing and lots of good food, we ended up at the farm of my oldest and original Amish friends.  It was September, and Glenn was harvesting the corn.  The green cornstalks had to be cut down at ground level, loaded on wagons, and brought to the chopper that turned the entire plant into “silage”—food for the cattle over the winter.  Glenn put us to work right away.

The first few rows around the edge of the cornfield needed to be cut down by hand.  Glenn, Queenie, Oliver, and Avo tossed the corn onto the flat wagon.  My job was to drive the two-horse team of Belgian draft horses forward about ten feet, then stop them while corn was tossed onto the wagon, then forward again. 

Let me say here, I did not grow up on a farm or around animals—but I did my best.  As I drove forward, I alternately ran into the corn, the fence, the corn, and the fence.  At one point the two horses looked back at me with an unmistakable look that said, “What is wrong with you?!”  Who says animals are dumb?

But eventually we got the wagon loaded and Glenn drove it to the silage chopper, where we threw the stalks onto the conveyor belt—see the photo above—being careful to keep our hands clear of the chopper!

Although tractors are not allowed on Amish farms for field work, they can be used for power.  The conveyor belt and silage chopper were run with an old tractor engine which was connected to the chopper by belts.  The cornstalks became silage, and then we were done.

It felt good to be more than just a guest, a tourist, or a visitor.  And it was a great experience for my young Estonian friends, who were city boys back home.  Afterwards, as we enjoyed refreshments in the farmhouse, Glenn produced an atlas and my young friends showed him where to find Estonia.  Work was done, friendships were formed, and it was an excellent tri-cultural experience for all.

Monday, March 31, 2014

For the Love of Pie

My husband does love a good piece of made-from-scratch pie…  It was how I first talked him into going to Amish Indiana with me.  And just like his love for me, his love for Amish pies is strong, true, and eternal.  But who can blame him?  Look at these pies!

I am not a pie lover, but I am a pie liker.  And I think the ones at Blue Gate Bakery in Shipshewana are the best I’ve ever had.  (The pies pictured here are from Blue Gate.)  Gary would agree.  But there are other good bakeries in the area, and it’s fun to try them all, especially the smaller mom-and-pop Amish places.  Most tourists are familiar with Essenhaus Bakery in Middlebury and the Blue Gate Bakery in Shipshewana.  But there are other pie bakeries in the Shipshe-Middlebury area that are well worth a visit, including Country Lane Bakery and Rise N Roll, along with great homemade pie in nearly every restaurant in Amish Country.

Fresh fruit pies heaped with whipped cream (strawberry, blueberry, and peach) are available seasonally around here.  The pecan pies are also very good.  Another Amish specialty is chocolate peanut butter pie.  Then there are the other cream pies, like lemon and chocolate and banana; and the pumpkin pie; and the baked fruit pies of every conceivable kind; and then there’s coconut, and rhubarb, and who knows what else?  And the lemon meringue in the photo below certainly speaks for itself!

We never go to Amish Indiana without a cooler in the back of the car.  My husband likes to bring home a few smaller-sized pies and take them to work.  He can polish off one of the smaller ones during a twelve-hour shift.

Some local treats you can order online, but not the pies...  For those, you need to travel there yourself.  My husband would say that it’s worth the trip.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Starting Over

Years ago I attended the wedding of a young Amish couple—we’ll call them Gordon and Kate.  I watched as the young couple began their lives in Amish Indiana.  Gordon took over the family farm.  He was a bright young man, and out in the barn, he began a business of his own making lawn furniture—at first from wood, and then plastic lumber, which was a new trend at that time. 

The business grew, and soon he was employing his father, brothers, and cousins.  When I had a tour of the business around 2008, he was selling to retailers all over the country and was on the verge of a contract with a local university to make special furniture for their sports training room (in the school colors!).  Business was booming.

The next time I visited, Kate’s mother told me that Gordon and Kate were leaving it all and moving to southern Michigan.  Their new farm would be about 17 miles away—a long distance in their culture, considering that a horse and buggy aren’t good for a trip that long.  Kate wasn’t thrilled with the decision, as she was leaving everything she’d ever known to be a newcomer in an Amish settlement unfamiliar to her.  But there had been Amish in southern Michigan for generations; in fact, Gordon’s ancestors had lived there before coming to Indiana.

Later that year I visited their new farm in Michigan.  They owned 8 acres with house and outbuildings and were renting 100 more.  They hoped to make a go of it as dairy farmers.  The house and barns were in bad shape and needed lots of work!  In the winter they slept on the living room floor, gathered around a potbelly stove. 

Later I asked Kate’s mother, why would Gordon leave his thriving business and family farm to move to such a relatively faraway place and start over?  She said, “I don’t know…  I think it was all just too much for him.”  Recently I talked to Gordon about it, and he said, “The furniture business involved a lot of paperwork.  Whenever I could get away from that and be outdoors or doing the farm chores, I felt so much happier.  I could see that as the business grew, it was going to be more and more paperwork, so I decided to make a change.”

One interesting thing:  The farm had been owned by an “English” farmer, so it was wired for electricity.  Amish families who move into homes with electricity are allowed to use it for one year, by which time it has to be removed.  Kate remarked at one point, “I sure will miss that dishwasher!”

Whenever we can, my husband and I like to grab some fresh baked goods and head up there to visit them, and sometimes we bring Kate’s parents along.  Gordon and Kate don’t get a lot of visitors from home, since normally it involves hiring a driver to make the trip.  Amazingly, although a horse and buggy cannot make the trip, Kate’s parents, who are in their late fifties, regularly make the round trip (17 miles each way) on their bicycles!

Gordon and Kate have seven children now.  They are making a go of it in Michigan.  Slowly they are fixing up their house and outbuildings and making a life there.  (And they have a fine new heating stove which heats the entire house!)  At first, during the winter, Gordon had to take a job in a recreational vehicle factory to make ends meet, leaving Kate to run the farm by herself during the day.  But before long their dairy herd grew, and they were able to purchase the 100 acres they had been renting, adjacent to their farm.  Presently they are milking 50 cows, and they have passed the three-year prep period beyond which they can sell their milk as “organic,” meaning more income.  Their two oldest boys are now big enough to help out.  Soon Gordon will purchase more land across the road—he needs to grow more corn to feed his herd.

Witnessing their courage and their struggles reminds me of the stories of my pioneer ancestors on the Nebraska prairie.  I admire Gordon and Kate, and I’m glad I’ve been able to watch their story as it unfolds.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Winter in Amish Indiana

I used to avoid visiting Amish Indiana in the winter, but not any more.  Our recent trips to search for a retirement home there have caused us to visit Shipshewana and Middlebury all winter long this year.  We’ve found that the winter season has a charm all its own.

Of course, there are disadvantages.  If you come for the flea market (we don’t), then you have to wait until May.  If you come for the bike trail (as we sometimes do), then stay home for a few more months.  But we have enjoyed our winter visits.  The days are shorter, but that just gives us more time to enjoy a leisurely dinner, a piece of pie, and then a long evening at one of our favorite Bed & Breakfasts or country inns.

We have always liked to take long drives through the countryside, and winter is a good time for that.  The scenery is different, and we get a glance of Amish life during a different season.  The roads are snowy, so everyone drives more slowly, which suits us fine—we like to slow down and look at everything.  It’s a good time to visit our Amish friends, because they have more free time in the winter.

It’s easy to buy food to bring home in the winter—we just set it on the back seat and don’t have to worry about having a cooler for everything.

Shopping?  Walking up and down the streets in the shopping district of Shipshewana in the winter is too cold for our taste, but there are alternatives.  The Davis Mercantile has lots of shops of all kinds, and also places to get a pretzel, a latte, sweets, or even a meal.  Yoder’s Department Store and Hardware Store is always good for an hour of shopping or people watching.  (There’s also an excellent quilting shop there, and a place to get a snack.)  The Red Barn Shoppes building is another good winter shopping destination, and a few quick steps away you can stop at Yoder’s Meat and Cheese Shop.  (And all these places have decent restrooms!)   In Middlebury, the shops at the Essenhaus are in separate buildings, but at least they’re grouped close together.  Or drive down to Warsaw Cut Glass Company; call ahead to be sure you get a tour and demonstration.

Mix these up with an hour or two at a good dinner place, and then it’s time to head back to the Bed and Breakfast or inn and hunker down for an evening of relaxation.  Some of the area B&B’s are closed in January, February, and March, but some are open—and Essenhaus Inn in Middlebury is not only open, but it has lower winter rates on weeknights.  They have several public areas there with fireplaces.

So we’ll keep visiting Amish Indiana in the wintertime, and maybe we’ll see you there.

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Frank Milks the Cows

My sister’s husband is a native Californian named Frank.  They live in suburban Los Angeles, where Frank works in the dairy industry as a vendor of cleaning products and trainer of dairy workers.  But he loves to visit Amish Indiana when he and my sister come to the Midwest.

From the very first time he met my Amish friends, they hit it off.  We spent the afternoon visiting and talking and eating, and Frank had plenty to talk about, since he works in the dairy industry and they are dairy farmers.  Soon it was 4 p.m.—milking time—and my Amish friend Glenn asked Frank if he wanted to come out and watch the milking.  Frank replied, “No—I want to help with the milking.”  Glenn said, “Are you sure?  You will get really dirty!” and Frank said, “That’s okay with me.”

So out they went…  My sister and I watched from behind the red gates you can see in this picture of the milking barn, as Frank put on tall boots and went to work.  The first group of eight cows were brought into the barn and put in their places.  Frank’s job was to clean the udders and attach the milking machine to each animal.  Health regulations require the use of milking machines; the Amish farmers power them with electric generators set up out behind their barns.  They also use the generators to power the big metal cooling tanks where the milk is kept.

Frank worked his way from animal to animal, working alongside Glenn and his sons.  The second group of cows was brought in, and then the third.  Frank was having the time of his life.

Soon the work was done, and the men took showers in the special washroom at the back of the farmhouse.  Frank was all smiles, and he understood in a new way where the milk came from that was processed in the plants around Los Angeles where he worked every day. 

Since then Frank has been back to visit my friends, and the next time he was able to give them some helpful advice on how to get the already-low bacteria count in their milk even lower.  (The lower the count, the higher the price they get for the milk.)  And I am always glad for yet another connection between my Amish friends and my own “English” family.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

A Little Gift

My young Amish friend Esther made this for me last weekend.  She's five.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

The Davis Mercantile Tree

There’s a curious thing to be seen in the Davis Mercantile building in downtown Shipshewana, Indiana.  Running up from the basement to the third floor, with the stairways winding around it, is a huge log, with its bark still in place.  I took this picture from an upper level; that is my husband smiling up from the basement.  But photographs cannot do it justice; it has to be seen in person.

The story of the log is told in a framed document which begins, appropriately and obviously enough, with the words “This is a large log.”  It goes on to say that the log was brought here from British Columbia, Canada, and it comes from a Douglas fir, and it now measures 44 inches in diameter and 56 feet in height.  It was estimated that the tree from which the log came was over 370 years old.  The official Shipshewana website ( adds that the log weighed over 18,000 pounds and that, immediately upon its arrival, the rings were counted to come up with the age of 370+.  The tree came from a place called Kin Basket Lake and in order to cut it down, the top was first attached to a helicopter!  After it was cut, the helicopter lifted it out of the dense woods to the loading area.  That must have been some big helicopter!

The Davis Mercantile building burned to the ground on February 28, 2004 (including the beloved JoJo's Pretzels shop) and was rebuilt later that year, bigger and better than before.  (That is a story for another day.)  When the Mercantile was rebuilt, this log was placed here, and then the staircase was built around it.  The staircase connects the stores on the four levels in grand style.  The wood used to build the stairs came from four different types of native hardwood.


According to the document, the log was brought in on a large semitrailer with a packing slip that said “One Large Log.”  A heavy duty crane then lifted it from the trailer, high above the 50-foot-high new building taking shape, and then lowered it into place in its new home.  The crane had to be counter-balanced with weights equaling the weight of the log; the counterweights were brought to the site on a separate tractor-trailer.

Thirty inches had to be trimmed from its base to make it fit in its new home.  As it was lowered into the building, workmen guided it down into the spot created for it.  Later, the grand staircase was finished all around it.  It is quite the focal point, and it makes the building interesting and unique, and connects its wood interior to the trees from which it was built, in a very special way.

Was all of this effort really necessary?  No.  But I’m glad that someone had the idea to do it. 

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Out of the Ashes: The Davis Hotel and Mercantile

For years, my friends and I used to shop at the old Davis Mercantile building in downtown Shipshewana, and occasionally we would stay at the old Davis Hotel which was attached and had shops on the main floor and rooms upstairs.  They were not the most modern buildings, but they had history.

According to the official Shipshewana website at, the old Davis Hotel started its life a block away from where it later stood.  It was built in 1891 near the site of the old train station in Shipshewana by Hezekiah Davis, one of the early town fathers.  In the 1960s the entire building was transported one block down the street.  It had been used as many things in its time, including a chicken hatchery!  The old hotel was purchased and refurbished by the Alvin Miller family in 1982.  There were several shops on the main floor in those days, including the legendary JoJo’s Pretzels and Lolly’s Fabrics, and a big front porch with rocking chairs.  Upstairs were six modest guest rooms.  Staying there felt like going back 100 years in time! 

In 1989 the Miller family added more retail space to the old white clapboard hotel in the form of the attached Davis Mercantile building.  It was a great place to shop in bad weather, and upstairs, it had almost the only public restrooms in Shipshewana back in the 1980s and 1990s (whew).  And the rocking chairs were often occupied by men who were waiting for their wives to finish their shopping inside.

On February 28, 2004, both buildings burned to the ground in a mysterious fire.  To my knowledge, the cause was never determined—only that it most likely started in the basement. But it wasn’t long before the Miller family began to rebuild, bigger and better than before.  

The new Davis Hotel building (above photo) looked much like the old, but no hotel rooms on the upper floor.  The new Davis Mercantile (below) was much larger than the old one, with four levels of shops. Photos of the building process are on display in the halls at the lower level of the building.  A 56-foot Douglas Fir log, 44 inches wide and 370 years old, was brought in from Canada and forms the focal point of the building, with the sturdy staircase winding its way around the log from the basement to the third floor.  The doors on the shops were salvaged from various buildings all over the Midwest.  Alvin Miller’s background as a sawmill owner and love of fine wood is evident in the way it is used throughout the building.  The main staircase is made from four different types of hardwood.

The new Davis Mercantile is the home of many shops, places to eat, some pretty fine restrooms, and a 1906 Dentzel Carousel on the third floor for the kids.  The Shipshewana website says that the carousel animals were carved to represent the animals found locally—horses, yes, but also chickens, cows, and dogs.  The Davis Mercantile is still a great place to shop and eat, particularly in bad weather.  It’s worth a stop just to visit JoJo’s Pretzels, and the Kitchen Cupboard (next door) makes a great latte—but there is something there for anyone who likes shopping or eating.