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.”