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

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.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Lorin's Amish Adventure

Even though my family is from the Midwest, my sister lives near Los Angeles now, and has for many years.  She married a wonderful California native named Frank, and I gained four nieces and nephews in the bargain.  One of them is Lorin, and a couple of summers ago, she accompanied my sister, Frank, and I to Amish Indiana.  (One of these days I should tell the story of Frank helping to milk the cows.)

Anyway—Lorin, in her late teens at the time, is a California girl through and through, but she loves animals, so we thought we might be able to entertain her there for a couple of days.  We stayed at one of my favorite B&Bs (Hidden Creek), visited some local shops, and had a homemade pretzel at JoJo’s—a local specialty.  We decided that the best place to find animals was at an Amish farm, so off we went one afternoon to hang out with my Amish friends. 

I have brought all manner of friends and family around to meet my Amish friends, and they invariably greet my newest arrivals with hospitality (and some measure of amusement, I think).  After touring the farm and meeting farm animals of every size and description, we piled into the buggy for a ride.  I took this first photo while the buggy horse was being brought from the barn.  (The Amish don’t pose for photos, but they don’t mind if I photograph their buggies, animals, or farm.)

An Amish buggy is a great way to see the countryside.  Lorin sat in front with my Amish friend, and the rest of us squeezed in the back, and off we went.  It wasn’t long before Lorin was driving the buggy.  From my seat in the back I was able to take photos unseen, and I got this second one during our ride.  (I even got a video!)  Lorin took to it like a native.

Today I emailed Lorin and asked her what she remembered most about the trip.  She mentioned the pretzels, and the fact that the young Amish kids she met didn’t speak English.  (They speak only “Dutch” until they start school at age six or seven, but that’s a story for another day.)  And of course she remembered the various animals, and watching the cows be milked, and the little pony cart she rode around in at another Amish farm we visited.

Lorin took to the entire experience as few other California teenagers could have done, and it was a fine visit to Amish Indiana.  She’s a fan of my blog now, and a fan of Amish Indiana, too—and I’m glad.