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Thursday, June 12, 2014 12:01 am

Travel to simpler times

For quilts, family-style food and Amish heritage, visit Shipshewana, Indiana

The free Menno-Hof Visitors Center in Shipshewana, Indiana, is a good place to learn about the history of the Anabaptist movement and modern-day Mennonite and Amish communities. The area in northeast Indiana is the third largest Amish community in the United States.


The horse’s hooves clip-clop along the pavement, pulling the black buggy in the early morning mist. The aroma of cinnamon rolls and berry pie wafts from the bakery, tempting all who pass by. Hand-sewn quilts wave gently in the breeze as the vendor sets up shop.

These and other symbols of simpler times beckon visitors to the Shipshewana area in northeast Indiana, the third largest Amish community in the United States. Settled by Dutch and German immigrants 200 years ago, the area is 300 miles from Springfield.

Even if you have been to the Arthur/Arcola area in central Illinois, you will find the Amish enclave in Indiana worth the trip.

Start your visit at the Menno-Hof, a free Mennonite-Amish visitors’ center operated by several branches of those faiths in an attempt to tell their history in a non-commercial setting. You will learn about the central beliefs of the 16th-century Anabaptist movement, which spurred the birth of Mennonite, Hutterite and eventually Amish communities. The Amish, the newest of the three major Anabaptist traditions, broke away from the Mennonites in the late 17th century and opt to live today without electricity or motor vehicles in small worship communities.

A key belief among all Anabaptists was that adults should choose to be baptized, which went against the prevailing dictate for baptizing infants and caused problems for the believers in Europe.

The visitors center has re-created a dungeon where Anabaptists were persecuted for their faith and a 17th-century ship that brought them to America and religious freedom. Also included are a typical meetinghouse and Amish tools, dress and household goods. Other displays highlight modern Mennonite and Amish groups’ commitment to peace and to helping victims of storms, fires and floods.

At the other end of the area’s commercial spectrum is the Shipshewana Auction and Flea Market. The indoor auction buildings host year-round antique, livestock and hay auctions on Wednesdays and horse auctions on Fridays. An annual carriage auction in June features antique and new carriages. 

Pies of many flavors tempt visitors to the Amish enclave in Shipshewana and surrounding area. Bakeries also offer cinnamon rolls, cookies, cakes and breads.

Open on Tuesdays and Wednesdays from May to October, the sprawling flea market bills itself as the “Midwest’s most popular outdoor” one. More than 900 vendors peddle everything imaginable, including Amish goods such as quilts. A nearby antique gallery is open every day except Sunday all year.

Also open year round are countless small shops and galleries in Shipshewana and surrounding communities. Many shops are closed on Sundays, but on other days you can find locally made wood furniture, yards of fabric, unique musical instruments, artwork and crafts, home décor, jams and jellies, cheese, meat and baked goods.

If you haven’t filled up on goodies from the area bakeries, you can have an Amish lunch or dinner at numerous area restaurants. Family-style meals usually include chicken or roast beef, mashed potatoes, homemade noodles, vegetables, homemade bread and pie.

To work off all that tempting food, head to the interconnecting MapleHeart Trail, Maple City Greenway and Pumpkinvine Nature Trail, linking Elkhart, Goshen, Middlebury and Shipshewana. The hiking and biking trails, totaling 25 miles, pass through woodlands, pastures, farms, wetlands and parks.

Beth Thornburg, executive director of the LaGrange County Convention and Visitors Bureau, recommends canoeing or kayaking the area’s three rivers or 67 lakes.

Horse-drawn buggies carrying Amish families are a common site for visitors to the Shipshewana area in northeast Indiana.

You also can drive the self-guided Heritage Trail through seven communities and view “quilt gardens,” bloom-filled gardens inspired by quilt patterns, from May 30 to Oct. 1. Maps of the Heritage Trail point out other scenic sites.

Concerts, plays and variety shows entertain visitors at several venues, including the Blue Gate Theater in Shipshewana and Heritage Hall, part of the Essenhaus restaurant and inn complex in Middlebury. Another favorite activity is to take a buggy ride and top it off with dinner in an Amish home.

 Area festivals include the Shipshewana Quilt Festival in late June, Old Fashion Farming Days in July and the Shipshewana Fall Crafters Fair in early October. Thornburg says the quilt festival, June 25-28 this year, draws 4,000 visitors for workshops, a quilt shop hop and a juried show. “People submit their quilts from all over the United States, and we’ve had quilters from Germany and Spain,” she says.

Southwest of Shipshewana is Amish Acres in Nappanee, Indiana, a farm turned resort. It features a 100-year-old Amish homestead, lodging, dining, theater, horse-drawn buggy rides, shops and an arts and crafts festival in August.

For information about Shipshewana and surrounding communities, go to www.VisitLaGrangeCounty.org. The website for the Menno-Hof visitors center is www.mennohof.org. Visit www.tradingplaceamerica.com for information on the flea market and auction in Shipshewana. Amish Acres’ website is www.AmishAcres.com.

Mary Bohlen is a freelance writer and editor in Springfield and emeritus communication faculty member at the University of Illinois Springfield. She and Mary C. Galligan of Chicago alternate monthly columns on Midwestern travel for Illinois Times.

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