Groups touring the towns of Northern Indiana Amish Country could easily spend all their time going from one shop or market to another, looking for special foods, art treasures and one-of-a-kind crafts. For a change of pace, however, a good itinerary will make some detours from the commercial corridors and focus on historical attractions.
Here are four heritage sites that will enhance a group trip:
Amish Acres. Probably the area’s best-known tourist attraction, Amish Acres Historic Farm & Heritage Resort in Nappanee serves up a full plate of sightseeing, shopping and dining, with a nighttime theater performance to top it all off. The Inn at Amish Acres provides overnight accommodations, and a sister property, the Nappanee Inn, is a half mile away.
A well-preserved, 140-year-old farm started by the first Amish family to settle in Indiana is the centerpiece of Amish Acres. In addition to original buildings, 18 relocated and restored structures surround the farm’s pond, such as a blacksmith shop, ice shop and mint mill (for pressing leaves into mint oil). Guided tours of the 80-acre working farm include walking across the oak floorboards of the main house. Buggy and wagon rides are available, too. Guests will see antique farm equipment, an apple orchard, horses in paddocks, barnyard chickens and geese, even a llama. Craft demonstrations include lye soap and broom making, rug weaving and quilting, plus seasonal activities like maple syrup, cider, apple butter and sorghum molasses making. Documentary films discuss Amish history and customs.
Plain and Fancy, the 1955 Broadway musical comedy about Amish life and love, is a permanent fixture in the 400-seat Round Barn Theatre. The resident repertory theater company this year will also produce Hello Dolly! and Ring of Fire (the songs of Johnny Cash), among other shows. The performance space is a 1911 barn that was moved from a nearby farm.
A highlight for many at Amish Acres is an all-you-can-eat meal under the hand-hewn timbers of a cavernous, century-old barn. The family-style Threshers Dinner features fried chicken, ham and roast beef, plus thick ham and bean soup, hearth-baked bread with apple butter, mashed potatoes, giblet gravy, sage dressing, beef and noodles, and sweet and sour cabbage salad. Save room for shoofly pie. Other tempting pie choices: chocolate, pecan, blueberry, peanut butter and coconut cream. And bring something home from the restaurant’s bakery, like cinnamon rolls or whoopie pies.
The Wine Tasting Loft above the restaurant opened last year and presents a new option for groups. Indiana and Michigan wines are featured. (800-800-4942, amishacres.com)
Menno-Hof. This barn-shaped museum in Shipshewana brings to life the story of the Amish and Mennonite people of Northern Indiana, starting with Anabaptist movements in 16th century Switzerland. The Anabaptists were persecuted by Catholic and Protestant authorities for their belief in voluntary adult baptisms at a time when the state allowed only infant baptism.
Exhibits on the guided tour include a dungeon where Anabaptists were tortured and a 17th century ship they took on their journey to America and freedom. Visitors learn the differences between Mennonites and Amish, and also about the Hutterites, a communal Anabaptist group that survives today in Canada, the United States and Japan. You learn that today’s Mennonites drive cars and dress and live much like their neighbors. The Amish, meanwhile, have resisted most modern conveniences.
The Tornado Theater at Menno-Hof replicates the power of a tornado and explains how Amish and Mennonite crews respond to cleanup efforts following disasters. The Mennonite Church, with more than a million members in 66 countries, is known for its relief projects, commitment to world peace and the principle of nonresistance. More than half of its members are non-white. The name Mennonite comes from Menno Simons, a Dutch priest who joined the Anabaptist movement in 1536 and became its most influential leader. (260-768-4117, mennohof.org)
Shipshewana is best known for the Shipshewana Flea Market. Held every Tuesday and Wednesday from May through October, it is the Midwest’s largest flea market.
Bonneyville Mill. Perhaps the most photographed building in Elkhart County, the red-painted Bonneyville Mill is Indiana’s oldest continuously operating grist mill. Dating back to the 1830s, it still grinds flour the old-fashioned way by harnessing the power of water.
Located on the Little Elkhart River in Bonneyville Mill County Park in Bristol, the mill sells bags of stone-ground corn, wheat, rye and buckwheat flour. Tours explain the milling process. The mill is open from May through October. Nearby is the Bonneyville Mill Dahlia Garden, another photo-worthy subject. The best viewing time is mid-August to mid-September.
The county park has miles of woodland trails and picnic areas, including five reservable shelters. (574-535-6458, elkhartcountyparks.org)
Ruthmere. Overlooking the St.Joseph River in Elkhart, this 1908 Beaux-Arts-style mansion provides a peek into the Gilded Age. The elegant home of Albert and Elizabeth Beardsley, once the centerpiece of Elkhart society, was named after their only child, who died in infancy. (He made his fortune as general manager of the company that became Miles Laboratories, known for over-the-counter products like Alka-Seltzer, One-A-Day Vitamins and Bactine.)
Cuban mahogany paneling, Italian marble fireplaces, wall and ceiling murals, gilded woodwork and exquisite plasterwork reflect the home’s sumptuousness. Music from the Choralcelo, a combination player piano/organ in the front parlor, is piped into library. Also a museum of antiques, decorative art and fine art, Ruthmere counts Rodin sculpture and Tiffany lamps among its prized possessions. The grand piano in the game room is a 1951 Steinway that was a practice piano for Arthur Rubenstein (not owned by the Beardsley family).
The garage in back, built with a turntable, houses vintage automobiles—a 1912 Pratt, 1917 Cadillac and 1916 Millburn Electric Car. On the grounds is one of the 18 gardens featured on the area’s Quilt Garden Tour.
For groups, Ruthmere can arrange a lunch or coffee on the terrace, or piazza. The plush game room, decorated with leather and red velvet, also can accommodate group meals. (888-287-7696, ruthmere.org)