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

Wednesday, July 15, 2020


I got these flowers the other day, from an Amish farm wife down the road.  They’re fading now, but I wanted to take a picture while I could.  Her reason for giving them to me?  I have been singing to her daughter Katie.

Katie is seventeen years old.  A year ago she turned sixteen and began “running around with the young folks.”  One of her favorite activities was the Sunday night singings, and soon she knew many of the “fast songs” by heart. (Many of those are the gospel songs and hymns that some of us know).

But in March 2020 (it is now July as I write this), she was stricken with paralysis.  The cause turned out to be a fast-growing malignant tumor on her spine. The doctors said there was nothing to be done and sent her home with no hope of recovery. At one point she was given three weeks to live.  At first she was paralyzed from the neck down, but after a blood clot dissolved in her upper spine, she can now use her arms and hands again and can sit in a wheelchair, when she feels up to it. 

She is in good spirits these days, after some dark times at the beginning.  Her faith in God is strong.  When she expressed a wish to join her church and be baptized, her Amish bishop expedited the usual instruction sessions.  So a couple of weeks ago, she came to church in her wheelchair, affirmed her faith, was baptized, and became a full member of the Amish church.

I heard about Katie (not her real name) from another Amish friend of mine a couple of months ago.  My first thought was, “Maybe I could sing for her, like I sing for Mrs. R.”  I had met her father last year when I bought some books from him, so I knew where she lived…  But every time I thought about driving over there, my cowardice held me back.  What would they think?

But my little voice wouldn’t let me forget about Katie, and eventually I listened and pulled into her driveway one afternoon.

The whole family was sitting outside under a shade tree having lunch.  I plunged ahead and asked if she would like me to stop by and sing to her some time soon.  Both she and her mother said that would be very nice.  Whew!  I felt good that I had finally listened to my ‘little voice’ instead of my fear.

So, now I stop by their farm with my hymnal every week.  Sometimes Katie is weak and bedridden, and the tears in her eyes tell me everything…  but sometimes she is stronger and can sit up a little and sing along with me.  Sometimes some of her little brothers and sisters gather around their sister’s hospital bed, set up in a corner of the living room along with her oxygen tank.

Her mother tells me over and over how much she appreciates my coming, but I tell her it’s my privilege to be allowed to be there!  I don’t know Katie’s future, but I’m glad to be a part of it.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Update:  More on Katie here

Wednesday, April 15, 2020

The Heritage Trail

Things have been a little slow as of late, so the husband and I decided to do something I’ve had on my back burner for years:  Drive the Elkhart County Visitor Center’s “Heritage Trail.”  I had a copy of the map and 2-CD set, so why not give it a spin?

We drove from our new home in Middlebury to the Elkhart County Visitor Center (ECVC) near the tollway, and started from the beginning, driving clockwise through Elkhart, Bristol, Middlebury, Shipshewana, Goshen, Nappanee, Wakarusa, and back to Elkhart.  Three hours and 95 miles later, we were back around to the beginning.

One important note—the ECVC has changed locations since this map and CD set was created!  It is still near the Cracker Barrel, but in a different building, at 3421 Cassopolis Street now.

The two CDs gave very nicely detailed instructions for each turn—and there were dozens!  We found it took two of us to navigate the trail, and even then, we missed a few turns.  We spent about half our mental energy on this task alone!  The map was less helpful than it could have been—in the towns, particularly Elkhart, a more detailed, close-up map was sorely needed to find all the many twists and turns not shown on the big map.

Much history of the area was given along the way—the businesses and industries, mainly, and famous residents.  (Take note—very few of the trail’s total miles go through “Amish Country,” and most of the places that they do are in Lagrange County, not Elkhart County.) 


Elkhart:  Follow the CD here, not the map, and listen closely!  The route goes along the St. Joseph River and gives the general history of Elkhart.

Bristol:  There were six stations of the Underground Railroad around the Bristol area—who knew?  The Elkhart County Historical Museum is there.  It is one of many suggested stops along the trail.  By stopping at these suggested places, as well as stopping for food, the entire Heritage Trail could take several days to complete, rather than three hours.

Bonneyville:  The history of Bonneyville Mill (still open to tourists a few days a week) and its very colorful founder Edward Bonney are the main focus here.

Middlebury:  Approaching Middlebury, the Amish are first mentioned on the CD, but few Amish farms are to be seen in this part of Middlebury.  Suggested stops here include Krider Garden, Essenhaus, and Jayco (they give tours).

Lots of information about the Amish culture is given on the CD starting at this point—most of it accurate.  (Exceptions I noticed included:  (a) weddings are not held just after harvest time, and not only on Tuesdays and Thursdays; (b) there is some limited use of tractors by the Amish these days; and (c) half of local Amish kids are no longer in public schools—nearly all of them are in Amish one-room schools now.)

Shipshewana:  This is the only heavily Amish area on the tour, and very little time is spent here.  (Shipshewana is actually not in Elkhart County, but in Lagrange County.)   Suggested stops for those who want to make the tour a multi-day experience include the downtown shopping district, the 50-acre Flea Market (open seasonally), and the Menno Hof museum, as well as Yoder Popcorn – south of town on this tour, but soon to move to the corner of Routes 5 and 20 in Shipshewana.

Goshen:  It’s a long drive to the next town—Goshen—and some of the scenery is pretty.  Much history of Goshen is given, highlighting the Old Bag Factory, a suggested stop.

Nappanee:  Nappanee is the home of the former “Amish Acres,” now morphing into “The Barns at Nappanee” under new ownership.  The Amish are mentioned during this part of the tour, but very few of their homes or businesses can be seen from the Heritage Trail.

Wakarusa:  This is a small town north of Nappanee and south of Elkhart.  It is home to a maple syrup festival in the spring, and much info is given about the maple syrup making process.  It is also home to the old Wakarusa Hardware Store and the Wakarusa Dime Store, home of the jumbo jellybean—a suggested stop.

Elkhart:  Driving north back into Elkhart, more information is shared about the history of the Elkhart area, including the railroads and the band instrument industry, as well as the charming story of “Curly Top,” a little girl who became famous for waving at the train as it went by.

In summary, this tour might be good for someone who is a museum/history buff, since it’s heavy on the [non-Amish] history of Elkhart County—spend three hours or three days!  But for Amish culture and history, I’d stick to Lagrange County instead, particularly the Shipshewana area—and read my blog posts for places to go and things to see.  Hmmmm… maybe I’ll design my own road tour!

Tuesday, March 31, 2020

The Cove

I stopped in at the Cove a few weeks ago with my new boss Sharla, the head of Down the Road Tours, for whom I will be doing tour guide work this summer.  I’ve often taken our “adopted” Amish son “Junior” and his friends there for Saturday night volleyball and socializing—but I’ve always wanted to get in there when it was empty so I could take some pictures, and this was my chance!

The manager of the Cove, an Amishman named Harley Yoder, was there to show us around and answer our questions.  I also owe a thank-you to the November 2019 issue of “The Connection,” a newsletter which had a feature article on the Cove.

The official name of the facility is “The Cove Plain Community Youth Center.”  It is one of a number of such places found in Amish Indiana and southern Michigan (what we here call “Michiana”).  It was built in 2015 on four-acre plot and was funded by donations.  Since then, it has been self-supporting. 

Recently, ten more acres were purchased and two beautiful softball diamonds were added to the campus.

What is the purpose of the Cove?  According to Mr. Yoder, there are around 3,000 “youngie” (young folks in their teen years) in the Shipshewana area.  The Amish community wanted to provide a place for youth activities, socializing, and special events.

 Entering the front portion (above), there is a dining area with tables and booths.  Off to one side are restrooms, and nearby is a food concession area.  To the left of this area, the rest of the front portion is a large room for relaxing and socializing, with a fireplace, couches, tables, and game tables.  This front portion of the building is 60 by 80 feet.

 Proceeding through to the larger back area of the building, there is a beautiful gymnasium, normally set up for volleyball but also equipped for basketball and other sports.  The gym area is 100 by 110 feet with a 29-foot ceiling.  The whiteboard below gives an idea of how many activities are going on at any given time, including volleyball, softball, basketball, chess, cornhole, and rook.  Saturdays are tournament days, and Saturday night is open gym night.

The youth center operates under a 7-man board and is staffed with volunteers—2 or 3 couples per evening—who prepare and sell food.  Mr. Yoder says he is very thankful for the 200+ families who volunteer there!

Monday, March 23, 2020

Burkholder Country Store

So, last week I took two Amish friends to visit a couple of their elderly aunts, and while we were in Nappanee, we stopped at Burkholder Country Store.  I’m rarely in the Nappanee area, and I had half an hour to kill while they shopped, so I decided to take some pictures.  A store like this is a very good picture of Amish daily life.


The men’s jacket section had any color you’d like, as long as it’s black!  But don’t think the men dress only in black…  They make up for it with their shirts.


Need some suspenders, or a straw hat for everyday wear?  They’ve got them here. 
Limited styles, but plenty of inventory!

The women usually make their own clothes, so there were several aisles of the polyester fabric they favor.  A variety of colors, but rarely red, and never prints of any kind.  On the other hand, the ladies’ socks display was noticeable for its lack of color; generally socks are dark and shoes are black.

This display shows the nets, pins, and clips necessary for the basic Amish hairstyle (under the white “kapp” that is always worn outside the home).  If the weather is cold, a black bonnet like these is worn that fits right on top of the kapp.  Some women make their own kapps and others purchase them, but the black bonnets are generally bought.

Crocs:  the basic summer footwear of the Amish!  Very practical on a farm to have washable shoes.

This book display shows the basics that every Amish home might have.  On the top shelf, copies of the “Ausbund,” the Sunday morning hymnal, and a lesser-known hymnal that some Amish groups use.  Both are hundreds of years old, and written in Old German.  On the middle shelf, English/Old German parallel Bibles.  On the bottom shelf, Old German Bibles, among other useful things. 

There was also lots of fiction (all “rated G”) and some nonfiction topics as well.  This shelf had some books on home/folk/herbal remedies—all of which are very popular among the Amish, who will often try home-doctoring before seeking professional help.

For the kids: Lots of stuff!  Aisles of board games and puzzles and farm toys, and this display of dolls and doll clothes, made from the same fabric and in the same styles as real Amish children’s clothes.  Even little white kapps to complete the look!  (The tradition of faceless Amish dolls made of fabric is no longer followed, at least among the mainstream Amish around here.)

There was lots more, but this will do...  I could wander for hours in these places!

Wednesday, January 15, 2020

Selling Walnuts

Did you ever wonder where your grocery-store walnuts come from?  They may have come from Amish Indiana.

I have an Amish friend who we’ll call Lily, who cleans a few wealthy people’s houses for extra income.  At one of them, one of her yearly tasks is to remove the hundreds of fallen walnuts from the lawn.  This year, she collected them in old feed bags and brought them home.

A few days after this task was completed, Lily phoned me, and we loaded six or seven bags of walnuts into the back of my SUV.  Off we went to a nearby Amish farm located between Middlebury and Shipshewana, Indiana.  (Or should I say, she loaded them—I’m a city girl by birth and I have about one-tenth the strength of the average Amish woman!) 

The farmer had an ancient Hammons black walnut huller – a big green machine that could crack the tough outer hull but leave the inner shell that we’re all familiar with, intact.

So, the gas engine was fired up, and the bags were unloaded into the machine one by one.  The walnuts went up a conveyor belt and into the depths of the machine. 

Down a chute on the left side came the walnuts 
and into green bags.

Out the other side came the shredded hulls, which went by conveyor belt into an old wooden farm wagon, to be spread on the fields.  Nothing is wasted! 

In the end, Lily sold a little over 200 pounds of walnuts, so at $15 per 100 pounds, she was written a check for $32.  I remarked that it was a lot of work for $32—but as she pointed out, the homeowner she cleans for had paid her by the hour to pick up the walnuts, so this was just frosting on the cake! 

She said that sometimes, on Amish farms with walnut trees, selling walnuts is a nice project for the children of the family—they can all help gather up the walnuts into bags, and then the money can be used for something special and fun.

By the time we were ready to leave, there were two Amish buggies in line behind my SUV.  The owner said that last year on the last day of walnut season, there were buggies lined up all the way down the gravel driveway and then down the road—a three-hour wait!

The walnuts are then sent off for further processing along the farm-to-table food chain.  So think of that next time you buy a bag of walnuts!

Wednesday, January 8, 2020

The Day Before the Wedding

Several months ago, one of my Amish friends was one of a group of women who were cooks for a wedding.  It takes a large team of cooks to get this done, since a typical all-day Amish wedding event involves serving around 1,000 meals over the course of the day!

The other cooks had arrived by buggy, but my friend lived too far away, so when I drove her there, I got a chance to look around.  One farm building and a large rented tent were used as the food preparation areas.  I wanted to stay out of their way (and I couldn’t have taken pictures of them anyway), so I headed over to the building being used for the post-wedding dinner.  Here the tables were already laid out:

Nearby were racks holding additional rented china—after the first seating, there would be two more later in the day.  Everything needed for such a large event can be rented.

An Amish bride and groom choose ten single young men and ten single young women to be “servers” for their wedding dinner.  This means a long day of work, but it is considered a great honor to be chosen to be a wedding server.  Each paired-up couple has specific assigned tasks.  I saw ten of these signs all over the room, at the different serving stations, helping the servers know what to do.  Notice the menu varies slightly for the first sitting (for those who attended the three-hour wedding ceremony) and the two later sittings (the first one for guests who didn’t attend the ceremony earlier in the day, and the last one for the young Amish singles).  The servers responsible for each station also change.

I stopped to look at the area where the wedding party would sit—bride, groom, and two pairs of witnesses (similar to our best man and maid of honor).  It had been done up beautifully in silver and white.

How is so much food cooked in a farmhouse kitchen?  It isn’t.  A wedding wagon (or two) is rented, which contains multiple stoves, refrigerators, and sinks.  The day of the wedding, the hot food can be prepared there.  I got a chance to take a peek inside the wagon while the women were doing the food prep in the other building.

The entire farm was a beehive of activity, as the men did their part to prepare for parking many dozens of buggies, bicycles, and probably a few cars, and finished other outdoor tasks, and the women prepared the food.  The bride circulated around, taking time to introduce herself to me before heading out to the lane to talk to her groom.

I was amazed at the organization, the teamwork, and most of all, the overall atmosphere of calm!

I wrote about attending an Amish wedding here.

Wednesday, January 1, 2020

My Favorite Dozen

Happy New Year!  Here are a dozen of my favorite photos from the last year, taken and posted on my Amish Indiana facebook page during 2019.


Happy New Year from My Amish Indiana!