On the road to Shipshewana, time seems to travel backwards, asphalt changing to dirt and scenes becoming more 1800s than 21st century. Young girls wearing bonnets and homemade cotton dresses maneuver horse and buggies and horse-pulled lorries loaded with colorful fall produce are my fellow road travelers. Green squares of lawn with unadorned white farmhouses advertise fresh eggs, honey and chickens and if the timing is just right, bake sales of just out-of-the-oven breads and fruit pies made by Amish women to raise money for their schools are set up on tables in front of the farms.
Rows of black pants and pastel-colored dresses flap from the clotheslines in the still warm autumn breeze. There may be electrical lines, but homes and appliances are fueled by gas and kerosene. It is 19th century farm life in an area of Northern Indiana called Amish Country.
Fascinated by 19th century “modern” technology, my first stop when I’m traveling here is always the 1832 Bonneyville Mill, Indiana’s oldest continuous operating grist mill. Built on the Little Elkhart River, the red mill is located in the 223-acre Bonneyville Mill County Park and in autumn I walk its woodland paths listening as the red and yellow leaves crunch beneath my feet and watching them bobble along the fast narrow river and over rippling waterfalls.
A quick stop at the fenced in Bonneyville Cemetery to pay homage at the gravesite of William Tuffs who fought with George Washington and participated in the Boston Tea Party. Then on to Krider “World Fair” Garden in Middlebury, one of many wonderful gardens on exhibit at the 1933-34 International Exposition in Chicago and now most likely the only one remaining. Maintained and restored, visitors can, as they did almost 80 years ago, stroll along the brick walkways, past beds of flowers, reflecting pool and fountain, a Dutch windmill and giant toadstools. Open to the public at no charge, the garden stands on the edge of Middlebury’s historic downtown with its stores owned for generations by the same families and picture perfect Victorian and Queen Anne homes.
Though I don’t need a new bonnet, when in Middlebury I always take a peek into Gohn Brothers which for more than a century has been making Amish clothing and home goods.
Traveling on to Shipshewana, I check out the offerings at the largest flea market in the Midwest. The Amish food vendors, the produce and homemade goodies at the farmers market are always first rate and the finds range from unique (to say the least) like deer whistle signals to mount to your car to prevent crashes and offerings from an Army supply vendor, the unbelievable ("genuine Coach purses for $15), the everyday -- Notre Dame jerseys and lots of different socks to Amish hand goods such as custom made furniture, garden ornaments, quilts and other finely crafted goods .
There’s always something to learn about Amish and Mennonite cultures at Menno-Hof with its history displays retracing five centuries of history, Amish crafts and foodstuffs such as the many flavored honey and honey creams made by the Bontrager family whose farm is nearby.
In Shipshewana’s bustling downtown with its retail shops housed in historic buildings, there’s plenty to peruse -- Amish crafts, baskets, pottery and such. Amish women are known for their wonderful quilt work and Little Helpers Quilt Shop offers a nice assortment of locally made ones.
The epicenter of Shipshewana and the reason it transformed from a sleepy little farming town to a popular destination, is the Blue Gate Marketplace where lines sometimes form for the chance to eat freshly made biscuits and Amish-style cooking at the Blue Gate Restaurant and horse and carriage rides to take you through town and country in a manner reminiscent of the 19th century.
Take the side roads and visit the Guggisberg Deutsch Kase Haus, Indiana’s largest cheese factory located between Middlebury and Shipshewana to watch cheese being made, nibble on samples before choosing what to take home from products such as a six-pack of Birch Beer, a soft drink similar to root beer and jars of pickled eggs.
FOR MORE INFORMATION: 800-250-4827,amishcountry.org