Goshen: The Maple City

Goshen is located in the heart of Amish Country.

A Goshen landmark, the Elkhart County Courthouse is a beautiful structure in the historic downtown Goshen. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
A Goshen landmark, the Elkhart County Courthouse is a beautiful structure in the historic downtown Goshen. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Almost all roads lead to this varied collection of beautifully restored turn-of-the-century buildings and tidy Victorian homes. Goshen is also laced with eclectic shops, specialty boutiques, and cozy cafés set throughout the historic downtown.

In 1983, the downtown Historic District was placed on the National Register of Historic Places. Goshen’s downtown is one of the coolest around—hands down. Few towns this size (about 30,000 residents) can boast about a thriving downtown cultural arts scene, beautiful historic architecture, and intriguing places to eat and shop.

Admire the classic courthouse in the heart of town. Peek into the bunker-like police booth on the Corner of Main and Lincoln dating back to the days when John Dillinger was the bane of bankers.

Admire the artistry and talk with nationally known quilters, potters and sculptors at the Old Bag Factory.

Many residential streets are lined with stately maple trees, giving Goshen the nickname, The Maple City.

Just outside of town, walking and biking paths fan out along the Maple City Greenway and the Pumpkinvine Nature Trail.

The Old Bag Factory

Since 1984, the century-old bag factory has provided a strong foundation for today's artists and shopkeepers. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Since 1984, this century-old bag factory has provided a strong foundation for today’s artists and shopkeepers. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Built in 1896 the Old Bag Factory is home to producing artists, antiques, specialty shops, and cafes. The historic character of the complex provides a unique and charming setting for the specialty shops it houses.

In June 1896, J.J. Burns, an Ohio native opened the Cosmo Buttermilk Soap Company in Goshen. Inside, workers manufactured laundry soap, fine bathing soap, and toilet paper.

In 1910, the plant was renovated and purchased by The Chicago-Detroit Bag Company. A 1924 merger put the building under the control of the Chase Bag Factory, and the factory became part of a colossal enterprise. The range of bags extended from waterproof burlap sacks to the fine, sheer paper used in Hershey’s Kiss wrappers.

The term “bagology” was coined during this period, meaning “to elevate the production of bags to the level of science.” However, after many years of triumph and success, the churning wheels of baglogical science caused the building to become outdated; the Bag Factory closed its doors in 1982, after a long, slow decline.

Address: 1100 N. Chicago Avenue, Goshen, IN 46528

Phone: (574) 534-2502

Website: oldbagfactory.com

Olympia Candy Kitchen

The Olympia Candy Kitchen, “the sweetest little place in town,” has been welcoming visitors for almost a century in its unchanged location in downtown Goshen. Its tradition began in 1912 when Greek immigrant Nicholas Paflas began making his own hand-dipped chocolates and running the soda fountain.

From its humble beginning, the Olympia Candy Kitchen has remained a family business, passed down from generation to generation. And it still welcomes visitors with its old-world charm.

From the red and white awning to the original soda fountain complete with high swivel stools, Olympia Candy Kitchen is reminiscent of the days when the world revolved a little slower. Virtually unchanged for 75 years—since its conversion into a diner and candy shop—the dark polished wooden booths, soda fountain, and candy counter will take you back to an earlier time.

The downtown Historic District is an intriguing places to eat and shop. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
The downtown Historic District is an intriguing places to eat and shop. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The candy counter is what made Olympia famous. Passing in and out of the diner, it is an attraction that is hard to walk by without at least a small purchase. It features seasonal selections, such as solid chocolate hearts at Valentine’s Day and Peanut Butter Eggs at Easter, as well as a large supply of candy that is sold throughout the year.

Among the most popular of the delicious confections and hand-dipped candies are the Turtles, which are made with their own home-made caramel, and Chocolate-Covered Cherries, so popular that they were served at the Inaugural Balls of both President Reagan and President Bush.

Address: 136 N. Main Street, Goshen, IN 46526

Phone: (574) 533-5040

Website: olympiacandykitchen.com

Please Note: This is Part 7 of a 7-Part series on Amish Country

Worth Pondering…

Our children are the only treasures we can take to heaven.
A sweater is a garment worn by a child when his mother feels chilly.
Parents who are afraid to put their foot down usually have children who step on their toes”
If parents don’t train their children, the children will train the parents.
Good character like good soup is usually homemade.

—Amish quotes on Family

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Nappanee: Embrace the Pace

Nappanee’s many shops, beautifully restored murals, and storied architecture can be enjoyed with a leisurely stroll.

The Nappanee water tower reflects the town's heritage. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
The Nappanee water tower reflects the town’s heritage. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A window to another world, the quiet rhythms of Amish life—more than 3,500 Old Order Amish make their homes here—are revealed along back roads dotted with pristine white farmhouses, grazing cattle, and the eclectic Countryside Shoppes, a collection of rural retailers offering everything from quilts to cabinetry.

The town’s colorful history is preserved at the Nappanee Center. It’s packed with fascinating memorabilia and includes a tribute to the area’s celebrated cartoonists and generations of furniture crafters.

Prior to 1800 Nappanee was home to the Miami and Pottawatomi Indians. In 1830, the first white settlers came to the area and by 1870 there were seven farms and a population of forty providing the nucleus of a growing community.

The major catalyst for growth came with the B&O Railroad in 1874. Three pioneer farmers gave five acres to the Railroad for $1 to build a station along its new route to Chicago. This access to a major transportation route brought more settlers to the town that B&O dubbed “Nappanee.”

The families who populated the area were deeply religious and conservative, founding their community on the values of hard work and integrity.

Acclaimed as Indiana's best meal, the family style Thresher's dinner can be enjoyed at Amish Acres. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Acclaimed as Indiana’s best meal, the family style Thresher’s dinner can be enjoyed at Amish Acres. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The B&O has now become CSX, but Nappanee has some ways stayed the Nappanee of the 1880s. The city remains surrounded by many farm families of the Anabaptist religious sects, among them the Amish, Mennonite, and German Baptist.

Many surrounding farms have no electricity, natural gas or telephone lines connecting them to the outside world and horse-drawn buggies the main source of travel. These reminders of the past co-exist side-by-side with a modern American city, boasting a thriving light manufacturing industry focused on recreational vehicles and modular homes, as well as craftsmen who mix old and new in producing fine furniture and other woodwork.

Currently, Nappanee is home to a diverse population of approximately 7,070.

Amish Acres

Experience the restoration of the Stahly-Nissley-Kuhns farmstead, the only Amish farm listed in The National Register of Historic Places. Widow Barbara Stahly and her five sons migrated from Germany to the southwest corner of Elkhart County, in 1839, making them, according to University of Chicago historian James Landing, likely the first Amish settlers in Indiana.

Following a year of meticulous restoration Amish Acres opened to the public in 1970. Enjoy the Award Winning Family Style Threshers Dinner served at your table under the hand-hewn timbers of the Century-Old Restaurant Barn.

Many handmade crafts and locally produced products are featured in Amish Acres’ unique shops. In addition you will find a bakery full of old fashioned breads and cakes, a meat and cheese shop with souse, headcheese, and buffalo meat, and a candy shop as sweet as it gets along with an antique marble soda fountain.

An Amish Acres tradition, Plain and Fancy, now in its 27th season, fills the Round Barn Theatre stage each April through October. This gentle but spirited musical comedy brought the first national attention to the quaint customs, stern morals, and picturesque dress of the Amish. Over 3,000 shows have been performed, and over 300,000 patrons have marveled at Amish Acres nationally recruited cast.

Enjoy a factory tour and watch quality Class A motorhomes come off the assembly line at Newmar Corp. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Enjoy a factory tour and watch quality Class A motorhomes come off the assembly line at Newmar Corp. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Location: Along US 6, 1 mile west of downtown Nappanee

Address: 1600 West Market Street, Nappanee, IN 46550

Phone: (574) 773-4188 or (800) 800-4942 (toll free)

Website: amishacres.com

Please Note: This is Part 6 of a 7-Part series on Amish Country

Worth Pondering…

Don’t hurry, don’t worry, do your best, leave the rest. Bibles that are coming apart usually belong to people who are not. It may be difficult to wait on the Lord, but it is worse to wish you had” Don’t pray when it rains, if you don’t pray when the sun shines. Be like the teakettle; when it’s up to its neck in hot water, it sings. You can tell when you’re on the right track. It’s usually uphill.

—Amish quotes on Faith

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Middlebury: Small Town Delights

The neighborhood butcher, the Main Street hardware store, and the welcoming shop owner capture everyone’s idea of a small town.

Bread, rolls. cookies, and over 30 varieties of pie are available fresh-from-the-oven at Das Dutchman Essenhaus.        © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Bread, rolls. cookies, and over 30 varieties of pie are available fresh-from-the-oven at Das Dutchman Essenhaus. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Middlebury is one of the most popular stops among RV enthusiasts. The massive Jayco manufacturing complex is located there, as are other RV-related production companies.

Pick up 5-star smoked ribs (voted #1Readers Choice) every Thursday at Old Hoosier Meats and shop “the Amish way” at Gohn Brothers, a dry-goods emporium and Main Street mainstay.

Middlebury is also the location of Das Dutchmen Essenhaus, one of the more popular tourist stop in the area. The Essenhaus is an inn and conference center, and home to a renowned restaurant and bakery.

Das Dutchman Essenhaus

Since 1971, Das Dutchman Essenhaus has been a pleasant surprise in Amish Country. Leisurely stroll across the colorful campus; discover Indiana’s largest family restaurant which offers both family-style and buffet and menu dining options. The food is prepared using Amish recipes that have been passed down from generation to generation, and it’s hard not to leave without loading up on Amish pies.

Many other items are also available, such as home-baked breads, cookies, preserves, and homemade noodles. Browse the gift shops filled with unique items and home accessories. Enjoy live entertainment at Heritage Hall.

Address: P.O. Box 1217, 240 US 20, Middlebury, IN  46540

Phone: (800) 455-9471

Website: essenhaus.com

For over 30 years quality cheeses have been manufactured at Guggisberg Deutsch Käse Haus. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
For over 30 years quality cheeses have been manufactured at Guggisberg Deutsch Käse Haus. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Rise’ n Roll Bakery & Deli

The bakery was established in 2001 by a young Amish couple. They began by baking high quality baked goods from their kitchen and selling them from their front porch. The word soon got out their fresh preservative free products, and it was no time before they had a small log cabin they were selling out of.

In 2004, a larger bakery was built on the original homestead. The popularity of their fresh baked products had outgrown the cabin and larger facility. The growth included a deal with Hudsonville Creamery & Ice Cream to develop a new flavor utilizing the Chocolate Cashew Crunch produced by Rise’ n Roll. The flavor is referred to as Chocolate Cashew Bark.

In early 2009, the young Amish couple sold their business to a non Amish family and moved it to a new facility. The original founders of the bakery are still active in the day to day operations.

Products include Cinnamon Carmel and Crème-filled donuts, Cashew Crunch, Cinnamon Rolls, Pecan and Whoopie pies, Monster and Chocolate Crinkle cookies, breads, smoked sausage rolls, and bulk foods.

Address: 1065 N 1150 W Middlebury, IN 46540

Phone: (574) 825-4032

Website: risenroll.com

Guggisberg Deutsch Käse Haus

Over 4o varieties of cheese are manufactured at Guggisberg Deutsch Käse Haus. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Over 4o varieties of cheese are manufactured at Guggisberg Deutsch Käse Haus. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Deutsch Käse Haus (Translation: German Cheese House) was started by a local Amish gentleman by the name of Ralph Bontrager in 1979. In its early days, the company made both longhorn style and barreled cheeses.

It was in 1986 that Deutsch Käse Haus began focusing exclusively on longhorn, stirred curd cheeses, and they have been masters of the craft ever since.

Evidence of this is backed most strongly with Deutsch Käse Haus’s award at the 2000 World Cheese Maker’s competition for the world’s Greatest Colby.

In January of 2009, Guggisberg acquired Deutsch Käse Haus. Deutsch Kase Haus is one of the country’s premier manufacturers of Colby, Baby Swiss, Marble, Yogurt, and other stirred-curd cheeses.

View the cheese-making process, sample the many cheeses offered in the store, and shop for your favorite local Amish goods.

Location: Country Road 250 North, about 3.5 miles east of Middlebury

Address: 11275 W 250 N, Middlebury, IN 46540

Phone: (574) 825-9511

Website: babyswiss.com/dkh

Please Note: This is Part 5 of a 7-Part series on Amish Country

Worth Pondering…

There can be no assumption that today’s majority is ‘right’ and the Amish and others like them are ‘wrong.’ A way of life that is odd or even erratic but interferes with no rights or interests of others is not to be condemned because it is different.

—Warren E. Burger

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Shipshewana: A Shopper’s Paradise

Shipshewana is a bustling village with quaint shop-lined streets, specialty retailers, and home-style dining.

Amish horse and buggy outside Yoder's Meat & Cheese Company. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Amish horse and buggy outside Yoder’s Meat & Cheese Company. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Shoppers search for handcrafted items, baked goods, and what-not behind picturesque turn-of-the-century storefronts.

The Midwest’s largest flea market brims with bargains and hundreds of vendors. Livestock and antique auctions attract serious buyers and the simply curious.

Horse-pulled buggy rides through town and into the countryside are a welcome diversion for weary feet. A strong Amish culture ensures a family-friendly atmosphere and closed shops on Sunday.

Shopping at Yoder’s Shipshewana Hardware store is popular, as is exploring the Davis Mercantile building, a huge historic structure with a variety of stores inside. On the top floor of the mercantile is the Shipshewana Carousel Company, where you can take a ride on a fully restored 1906 carousel.

Menno-Hof: See and hear the Amish-Mennonite Story

See and hear the Amish-Mennonite story  at Menno-Hof in Shipshewana. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
See and hear the Amish-Mennonite story at Menno-Hof in Shipshewana. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Multi-image presentations and historical environments offer a glimpse into the life and history of the Amish and Mennonites. Travel through five centuries of fascinating history from their origins in Switzerland to their arrival in America. History unfolds as you explore a 17th century sailing ship and replicas of a 19th century print shop and meeting house. Experience the simulation of a tornado as the wind blows and the theatre shakes.

Admission: $6.50; children ages 6-12, $3.50; family rate available

Address: 510 South Van Buren Street, PO Box 701, Shipshewana IN 46565

Phone: (260) 768-4117

Website:  MennoHof.org

Shipshewana Flea Market and Auction

Shipshewana Flea Market and Auction © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Shipshewana Flea Market and Auction © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Midwest’s largest Flea Market is held every Tuesday and Wednesday (8:00 a.m.-5 p.m.) from the first of May through the end of October, you can find hundreds of vendors selling everything from fresh fruit to handcrafted furniture at the Shipshewana Flea Market. Over 900 vendors on 100 acres offer a variety of products from fresh produce and landscaping to crafts and handcrafted furniture and everything in between.

One of the most popular destinations in the Midwest, the Shipshewana Auction started in 1922 when six pigs, seven cows, and several head of young cattle were sold at the home of George Curtis. Now, home to two major auction barns, three weekly auctions, and a number of specialty auctions, Shipshewana Auction has a bit of something for everyone.

Address: 345 South Van Buren Street, PO Box 185, Shipshewana, IN 46565

Phone: (260) 768-4129

Website: ShipshewanaFleaMarket.com

Yoder’s Shipshewana Hardware

Yoder’s Shipshewana Hardware is one of the few remaining old-fashioned hardware stores. Since 1968, Yoder’s has provided both local and visiting customers a unique selection of merchandise ranging from hand tools and paint to kitchen gadgets and glassware.

Address: 300 B South Van Buren Street, PO Box 639, Shipshewana, IN 46565

Phone: (260)768-4163 or (877) 988-9309 (toll free)

Website: YodersHardware.com

Yoder’s Meats & Cheese Company

Four generations of experience in meat cutting and raising cattle have made Yoder’s Meat & Cheese Company who they are today.

Yoder’s stock over 100 varieties of cheese products manufactured largely by different cheese-making operations in the Amish Mennonite communities of Indiana and Ohio.

Also available is over 100 cuts of quality farm-fresh meat, hickory wood-smoked meats, 19 varieties of jerky and gourmet food including homemade noodles, jams and jellies, fruit betters, salsas, and seasonings.

Address: 435 S. Van Buren Street (SR5) Shipshewana, Indiana 46565

Phone: (260) 768-4715

Website: yodersmeatshoppe.com

Yoder Popcorn

Yoder Popcorn © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Yoder Popcorn © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In 1936, Rufus Yoder started growing popcorn on his family farm. In the Amish custom, he shared his excess crop with his neighbors and friends. They told their friends and neighbors about the excellent quality of Yoder Popcorn, and soon a business was born.

After Rufus retired, his children Larry and Pauline, continued to market Yoder Popcorn. In 1999, Yoder Popcorn was purchased by Rufus’ great niece, Sharon, along with her husband Richard and their youngest son, Russell. Besides operating the Popcorn Shoppe, they farm 1,700 acres which includes the acreage around the Shoppe.

Location: 4 miles of Shipshewana on SR-5; ¼-mile east on CR200S

Address: 7680 W 200 S, Topeka, IN 46571

Phone: (260) 768-4051 or (800) 892-2170 (toll free)

Website: yoderpopcorn.com

Please Note: This is Part 4 of a 7-Part series on Amish Country

Worth Pondering…

Amish children are usually named after aunts or uncles or some other relation. Keeps the family names going.”
—Sarah Price, Fields of Corn

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A Little Amish History

The Amish people in America are an old religious sect, direct descendants of the Anabaptists of sixteenth-century Europe who challenged the reforms of Martin Luther and others during the Protestant Reformation.

Amish buggy © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Amish buggy © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

They rejected infant baptism in favor of baptism (or re-baptism) as believing adults.

They also taught separation of church and state, something unheard of in the 16th century.

The Anabaptists were regarded as a threat to both Roman Catholic and Protestant establishments.

In the years that followed, Anabaptists leaders were persecuted and tortured for their faith. In spite of persecution, the Anabaptist movement spread through central and western Europe.

In Holland, a Roman Catholic priest named Menno Simons (1496-1561) left the Church to become one of those persecuted for his Anabaptist beliefs. He led a group that fled to Switzerland and other remote areas of Europe to escape religious persecution.

Simons’ followers became known as Mennists, and later Mennonites.

Nearly 150 years later, during the late 1600s, dissension arose among the Mennonites regarding matters of faith and practice.

In 1693, Jakob Ammann, a young bishop in the church, broke away from the Mennonites to follow his own, more stringent, beliefs.

See and hear the Amish-Mennonite story  at Menno-Hof in Shipshewana. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
See and hear the Amish-Mennonite story at Menno-Hof in Shipshewana. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Ammann’s group valued commitments to family and community and sought to be humble in both behavior and appearance. They believed their group should separate from the outside world. Ammann’s followers became known as Amish.

In 1727 the first Amish immigrants left Switzerland to come to America and settled near Lancaster County, Pennsylvania.

Indiana, with the third largest number of Amish people, was settled in 1842.

The Amish are a kind and welcoming people, but you shouldn’t photograph—or ask to photograph—them as it is against their religious beliefs.

Please Note: This is Part 3 of a 7-Part series on Amish Country

Worth Pondering…

The Amish are islands of sanity in a whirlpool of change.
—Nancy Sleeth, Almost Amish: One Woman’s Quest for a Slower, Simpler, More Sustainable Life

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Touring Amish Country

Clip-clop, clip-clop, clip, clop

Clip-clop, clip-clop, clip, clop down the road. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Clip-clop, clip-clop, clip, clop down the road. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

It’s a soothing sound, this steady beat of horse hooves on asphalt. And it’s a sound heard often in Amish Country.

Driving the country roads that zigzag Indiana’s Amish communities, you’ll pass numerous horse-drawn buggies—a visible reminder that life is different here.

You’ll share the roads with Amish buggies and marvel at these quiet people of faith who choose to live a simple, uncluttered lifestyle. Think of it as an opportunity to slow your pace and enjoy the calm of the country.

And that’s one of the best things about Amish Country—taking things slowly.

Time seems to travel backwards, asphalt changes to dirt with 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.

Amish arts and crafts in Shipshewana. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Amish arts and crafts in Shipshewana. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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.

Rows of black pants and pastel-colored dresses flap from the clotheslines in the autumn breeze.

It is 19th century farm life in an area of Northern Indiana called Amish Country.

Each of the communities in Amish Country—Nappanee, Shipshewana, Goshen, Middlebury, and Wakarusa—has its own distinct personality and unmistakable charm.

Amish Country is famous for its wide variety of skilled artisans. In fact, the area has gained a reputation as one of the finest places to shop in the Midwest. Furniture crafting is one of the most widely acclaimed arts in Amish Country.

Hundreds of farmhouses dot the countryside and many of them have signs outside, indicating that you are free to stop there and purchase what it is they may be selling.

You’ll pass houses and cottage industries selling quilts and quilting frames, popcorn, peanut brittle, plants, crafts, oak furniture, baked goods, jam, relish, strawberries, kitchen cabinets, nuts, egg noodles, honey, rabbits, antiques, and brown eggs.

One of the first things you think of when someone says Amish Country is food. Throughout Amish Country, you’ll find bakeries and restaurants that not only serve this wonderful food but also offer items for sale.

Why, you can almost smell the aroma of one-of-a-kind caramel cinnamon doughnuts at Rise ‘n Roll Bakery and Deli. There are sample boxes throughout the store, so you can try the doughnuts, chocolate cookies, caramel rolls, spreads, and just about everything else!

Another specialty food shop that’s particularly tasty is Guggisberg Deutsch Kase Haus, the Cheese House. Located between Middlebury and Shipshewana on County Road 16, this shop offers homemade cheeses, including Colby, Colby Jack, Monterey Jack, and Pepper Jack. In the mornings you can watch as the cheese is made.

Amish fabric store © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Amish fabric store © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Quilting is another craft associated with Amish Country—and rightly so. Beautiful quilt shops can be found throughout the area as skilled quilters patiently create hand-sewn quilts destined to become heirlooms.

Heritage Trail

Driving Amish Country’s 90-mile Heritage Trail takes you on a winding loop along rural highways, down quiet country lanes, through friendly cities and small-town Main Streets.

The Heritage Trail will take you through the towns of Goshen, Elkhart, Bristol, Middlebury, Wakarusa, and Nappanee. You’ll wind through the heart of the Amish communities, passing fast-trotting horses pulling black buggies and Amish children riding bicycles home from school. If you’re wondering which farms and homes are Amish-owned, just look to see whether there are electrical lines running to the farmstead.

A free audio tour DC packed with fun facts leads you to can’t-miss attractions and local gems like Shipshewana’s Davis Mercantile, Elkhart’s historic Lerner Theatre, or tasty finds like the jumbo jelly beans at the Wakarusa dime Store.

Free DCs and maps at the LaGrange County Visitor Center, the Elkhart County Visitor Center, or download both at AmishCountry.org

Please Note: This is Part 2 of a 7-Part series on Amish Country

Worth Pondering…

A wooden spoon compels even the strangest of ingredients to get their acts together.
—Amish Proverb

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RV Capital of the World

Elkhart County is considered the Recreational Vehicle Capital of the World.

The RV/MH Hall of Fame showcases the growth, history, and accomplishments of the recreational vehicle and manufactured housing industries, with displays and restored units dating back to 1913. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
The RV/MH Hall of Fame showcases the growth, history, and accomplishments of the recreational vehicle and manufactured housing industries, with displays and restored units dating back to 1913. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Over 80 percent of the nation’s recreational vehicles are manufactured in Elkhart County. You’ll find everything RV here from manufacturing, service, repairs, parts, and accessories to dealers, campgrounds, and rallies. Take factory tours and watch recreational vehicles being assembled.

Although the majority of northern Indiana RV manufacturers are located in the surrounding communities of Goshen, Middlebury, Shipshewana, Wakarusa, and Nappanee, the city of Elkhart is considered the hub of the RV industry.

How did it all begin?

Its humble beginnings were in 1936 when Wilbur Schult, a dynamic promoter and retailer, bought Elkhart’s Sportsman Trailer Company from Milo Miller and started producing one trailer each day and sold them to consumers for the amazing price of $198.

1928 Pierce Arrow Fleet Housecar © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
1928 Pierce Arrow Fleet Housecar © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Schult was such a promoter that by 1939, he was the largest manufacturer in the industry and Elkhart was beginning to attract numerous suppliers and more manufacturers. In addition, Elkhart’s major highways and railroad transportation links and central location to large metropolitan markets made it accessible for easy shipment of goods.

By the late 1940s, when things began to boom again after the war, industry magazines began calling Elkhart the “Trailer Capital of the World”.

Today, the RV industry is a multi-billion dollar industry. In fact, nearly one thousand manufacturers of RVs, RV supplies, and parts are located in Elkhart County.

RV/MH Hall of Fame

You won’t want to miss the RV/MH Heritage Hall of Fame in Elkhart.

In 2007 the RV/MH Heritage Foundation moved from its cramped quarters in downtown Elkhart to a new 56,000-square-foot facility easily accessed from either the Indiana Toll Road (take exit 96 off of Interstate 80/90) or from within Elkhart via County Road 17.

There is on-site parking for up to 200 vehicles; the largest recreational vehicles can easily be accommodated.

1974 GMC Motor Home © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
1974 GMC Motor Home © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The RV/MH Hall of Fame showcases the growth, history, and accomplishments of the recreational vehicle and manufactured housing industries, with displays and restored units dating back to 1913. America’s most scenic vistas come to life as you wander the varied exhibits showcasing the evolution of recreational vehicles.

The facility also features a conference center that seats 350 and a theatre with 75 permanent seats, a stage, and screen. After hours, the lobby can accommodate table seating for up to 200.

Details

RV/MH Hall of Fame

Shortly after the RV/MH Heritage Foundation was formed in March 1972, the Foundation honored the inaugural class of inductees into the RV/MH Hall of Fame.

Since that time 347 industry pioneers and leaders have joined the elite group.

Today, the Foundation maintains the national RV/MH Hall of Fame, Museum, Library, and Conference Center at its headquarters in Elkhart, Indiana.

The RV Founders Hall displays trailers, photos, and memorabilia reaching back to the 1920s and 1930s and is open to the public.

1958 Airstream Der Kleine Prinz (The Little Prince) © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
1958 Airstream Der Kleine Prinz (The Little Prince) © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The RV/MH Exhibitor Hall contains interesting displays illustrating the history and products of many of the parts manufacturers and service providers to the RV and manufactured housing industry.

Admission: $10; seniors, $8; youth ages 6-18, $7

Open: Monday-Saturday, 9:00 a.m.-5:00 p.m.; Sunday, 10:00 a.m.-3:00 p.m.

Address: 21565 Executive Parkway, Elkhart IN 46514

Location: From Indiana Toll Road (I-80/I-90) east of Elkhart, take Exit 96 South to County Road 17, turn left (east) on Executive Parkway to RV/MH Hall of Fame

Phone: (574) 293-2344 or (800) 378-8694 (toll free)

Website: rvmhhalloffame.org

Please Note: This is Part 1 of a 7-Part series on Amish Country

Worth Pondering…

Recreational vehicles are wonderful… To travel by RV is to see nature and human beings, towns and churches and rivers, in fact, to see life.
—with apologies to Agatha Christie

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Indiana Beach: More Problems Encircle Morgan RV Resorts

Will Indiana Beach, central Indiana’s beloved summer attraction, open next summer, as it has every year for the past 87 seasons?

ibaphappyholidaysMorgan Recreation Vacations, the company that purchased the amusement park in 2008, says the answer is an unequivocal “yes.”

But some Monticello business owners and former employees of the park — including relatives of Tom Spackman, the late, longtime park owner — aren’t so sure, Associated Press reports.

They tell of layoffs of non-seasonal employees inside the park, utilities shut off for lack of payment, and souring relationships between the park and Monticello-area businesses.

But haven’t we heard all this before?

Across the country, other Morgan RV-owned parks and facilities have been sold or fallen into foreclosure, raising local anxieties even further. To read earlier reports, click here.

“They destroyed, in one year, what the Spackmans developed in 85 years,” said Steve Juntgen, a former park employee and one of Tom Spackman’s sons-in-law.

Hanging in the balance — apart from fond memories and summertime diversions — is an estimated $60 million that Indiana Beach pumps into the Monticello economy each year.

“It’s a hard time for us as a community because we lost (Tom) Spackman this year,” said Janet Dold, executive director of the Monticello Chamber of Commerce, referring to Spackman’s death in November at the age of 100.

ibnascarpopup“The tradition of Indiana Beach and the legacy of it is in the forefront of our minds. When we do hear rumors, it’s unsettling.”

Despite those rumors, Morgan RV CEO and owner Bob Moser, of Sarasota, New York, said any talk of financial trouble related to Indiana Beach or Morgan RV is false.

Earl Spackman founded Ideal Beach on Lake Shafer in 1926. In 1945, Thomas Spackman, his son, took over. He changed the name to Indiana Beach seven years later, Associated Press reports.

During his tenure, Spackman secured the park’s place as the major funnel of tourist dollars into the Monticello economy.

Spackman announced his intent to sell the park in 2001, said Cathy Juntgen, one of his two daughters and Steve Juntgen’s wife.

“We had maybe three or four other people interested. Unfortunately, we didn’t know Morgan that well — and their situation. Unfortunately, they ended up being the buyers,” Cathy Juntgen said.

“I feel like they’re sacrificing customer service for the almighty dollar,” Cathy Juntgen said. “Especially last year. They had the electricity turned off due to lack of payment. The cable was turned off.”

Part of the concern is fueled by perceived financial troubles with Morgan RV. The company is a division of Morgan Management LLC. An online profile for Moser describes Morgan RV as operating more than $1.5 billion worth of real estate ventures.

In 2011, Morgan operated 42 RV resorts in 14 states and billed itself as the largest privately owned operator of RV parks and resorts in the country, according to an archive of the company’s website.

Flash forward to present day and, after several foreclosures and the selling off of properties, the company counts just five remaining RV resorts in four states among its portfolio — including Indiana Beach.

So what happened to the other parks? Some are easier to account for than others. In recent years:

  • 7 Morgan RV resorts entered foreclosure after the company defaulted on a $36 million loan
  • 3 Maine resorts were foreclosed in 2013 after Morgan RV defaulted on a $38 million loan
  • 13 former Morgan RV resorts were sold to Sun Communities; in all, 16 former Morgan resorts are now owned by Sun
  • 12 former Morgan RV properties were auctioned off and acquired by Janus Hotels

Morgan-Recreation-Destination-logoThe company also has faced controversy in the courtroom.

In 2012, a Massachusetts judge found that Morgan RV Resorts and employees at Peters Pond RV Resort in Sandwich, Massachusetts, had intimidated resort residents into purchasing inflated memberships of up to $16,000 to remain in the resort. The company was required to pay $200,000 in civil penalties and costs.

Last year, a Wisconsin judge found that Morgan RV-managed Crystal Lake RV Resort in Lodi, Wisconsin, violated Wisconsin environmental laws by mismanaging the resort’s three wastewater treatment lagoons. The company was ordered to pay $90,000 in forfeitures, penalty charges, and attorney fees.

Shortly after that, Indiana Beach was found to have neglected more than $350,000 in self-reported property and innkeeper taxes owed to White County. The park paid the entire outstanding amount in April.

Worth Pondering…

Efficiency is doing things right; effectiveness is doing the right things.

—Peter Drucker

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Elkhart’s EV Dream Dies as RVs Surge Anew

Elkhart, Indiana, is known as the RV capital of the world.

Newmar factory tour, Nappanee, Indiana. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The city suffered badly when the recession hit, and demand for recreational vehicles all but screeched to a halt. That’s when local and state leaders started looking for ways to bolster the area’s manufacturing industry, reports NPR.

The northwestern Indiana County saw electric vehicles (EV) as its salvation after its unemployment rate soared to 20 percent—the highest in the nation at the time.

Electric cars were supposed to be the silver bullet to revive Elkhart’s economy. President Obama visited twice, promising stimulus funds to spark a new economic engine in EVs.

A common criticism of President Obama’s $800 billion stimulus package has been that it failed to produce anything—that while the New Deal built bridges and dams, all the stimulus did was fill some potholes and create temporary jobs.

One success the Obama administration duly claimed is the rebirth of the EV industry in the U. S.

Automakers unveiled a number of mass-market EVs, which saw small but rising sales. Battery and parts manufacturers built 30 factories and created new jobs.

It was all part of an effort to promote “green” manufacturing and put a million electric cars on the road by 2015, reports Pro Publica.

The question was: Would it last?

Elkhart once believed it would.

Eager to seed a new industry, the county witnessed EV ventures sprout out of nowhere as the stimulus took off in 2009.

This is Amish Country. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

But by late summer 2011, what had sprouted were mostly weeds. The parking lot of the Think Electric Vehicle factory had an ample supply of them and looked deserted.

There wasn’t a single car in the parking lot. The doors were locked and the windows dark.

At the back of the 200,000-square-foot facility were about 120 road-ready models, called the Think City—a little two-seat fully electric coupe that has a range of about 100 miles before it needs to be recharged.

Hundreds of laid-off factory workers were supposed to have found jobs churning out these Norwegian company’s bug-like, plastic-bodied cars.

Today the Elkhart factory employs two.

That’s right—just two employees are working in this auto plant. At its peak, the plant employed 25 workers. Then two waves of layoffs dropped the payroll down to just two people.

It’s a far cry from the more than 400 that Think Electric Vehicle promised it would hire two years ago.

In June (2011), Think’s parent company filed for bankruptcy.

The decision left the Elkhart plant on the brink of extinction until the American subsidiary was purchased by a Russian entrepreneur who promised to restart production in early 2012.

Then in late January (2012), its largest shareholder and battery maker, Ener1, which received $118 million in stimulus money, also filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy, reporting that the demand for EVs “did not develop as quickly as anticipated.”

Navistar International had received $39 million in stimulus money to build 400 electric delivery trucks in the first year. But by early 2011, it had hired about 40 employees and assembled only 78 vehicles.

Little remains of Elkhart’s dream of becoming the EV capital?

Elkhart’s economy, however, is on the way back with the RV industry again leading the way.

Welcome to Nappanee, Indiana. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

They’re heartened by a rebirth in the industry that some here thought might never bounce back—the RV business.

“Rumors of our demise have been greatly exaggerated,” says Gregg Fore, president of Dicor Corp. Its companies supply components to RV manufacturers.

Fore says the industry’s downturn was brutal, with business falling off close to 60 percent. But demand for RVs has come back strong, he says.

In 2011, the industry produced more than 250,000 RVs. That’s 100,000 more units than the low-water mark in 2009.

Dicor’s factories are once again humming—and hiring, he says. And Fore believes the market for motorhomes, travel trailers, fifth wheels, and campers is here to stay.

But one thing that hasn’t changed, he says, is that the fortunes of Elkhart and its 51,000 still lives or dies with the RV industry.

Nearly half of all the jobs in Elkhart County are in manufacturing. And fully half of Elkhart County’s manufacturing jobs are in making RVs and their parts.

The “free” money has now been spent.

The RV industry has come back—it always comes back and without stimulus money from the White House.

This is why government should get out of the business of telling the people they should drive.

Worth Pondering…

Keep your eyes on the horizon and blaze a trail.

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Five Things You Need to Know Today: February 17

Since I like things to come in fives (and tens), here are five things YOU need to know TODAY!

1. Tire Inflation

Proper tire inflation is more important to your safety when traveling than many RVers realize.

Under-inflated tires create excessive heat, break down tire walls, create greater instability while driving, and decrease fuel economy. A vehicle with under-inflated tires is slower to respond to steering corrections.

Over-inflated tires, on the other hand, can cause an RV to ride rough. Tire over-inflation can also increase your risk of hydroplaning on wet roads.

Check your tires’ air pressure at least once a month, before each trip, and ideally each morning you drive during a road trip. Inflation pressures should be checked when tires are cold, which means before they are driven.

2. Save money with Georgia ParkPass

Those who love hiking, fishing and other outdoor pursuits can save money during 2012 with an Annual Georgia ParkPass. The $50 pass covers the usual $5 parking fee at all of Georgia’s State Parks.

Georgia’s State Parks offer a wide range of outdoor activities, including swimming, hiking and biking, miniature golf and disc golf, birding, geocaching, and paddling. Park rangers lead an impressive variety of events, ranging from moonlit hikes to bike races. The Annual ParkPass is good for one year from purchase date, and senior and military discounts are available.

The ParkPass program generates around $3.7 million annually for outdoor recreation improvements.

To purchase an Annual ParkPass, stop by any Georgia State Park office or visit the Georgia State Parks website.

3. 2012 Indiana Recreation Guide available

Your guide to Indiana’s best values in outdoor recreation this year is available now.
The Department of Natural Resources (DNR) 2012 Indiana Recreation Guide is an extensive source for information on state parks, reservoirs, state park inns, fish and wildlife areas, state forests, state historic sites, and other DNR properties.

Local retail outlets, state parks, reservoirs and other DNR properties have free printed copies available. The guide is available free online.

4. Texas State Park Fundraising Update

More than $1.14 million in generous donations to Texas State Parks has been received since the appeal for help two months ago. Hundreds of donations have been received from individual donors, as well as a significant donation of $500,000 from the Texas Parks and Wildlife Foundation and a $250,000 gift from the T.L.L. Temple Foundation.

“We’re off to a very promising start,” said Carter Smith, TPWD executive director. “People of Texas truly care about their state parks and want to see them stay open for all to enjoy.”

Now as the weather warms to spring, one of the best ways to help state parks is to visit them with your family and friends. Almost 50 percent of the parks’ operating budget comes from visitor fees, including the sale of state parks passes. For only $70, a State Parks Pass waives daily entrance fees for everyone in your vehicle for a whole year.

The $4.6 million fundraising campaign was triggered by a budget shortfall created by heat, drought, wildfires, and a drop in park visitation.

5. Michigan Announces Newest State Park

Recreation officials say 4,200 acres of land along the shores of Lake Huron have become Michigan’s newest state park.

North of Alpena, Rockport State Park includes a deep-water protected harbor, 300-acre old limestone quarry, series of sinkholes, dedicated Natural Area (Besser Natural Area), and a variety of vegetative cover. The park also features a boat launch facility and several opportunities for recreation, reports CBS Local.

The property had been managed as part of the state forest system before being transferred to the Parks and Recreation Division. Administration of the park will be handled by nearby Harrisville State Park.

A recreation passport is required to enter any state park, recreation area, or boat launch in Michigan.

Have a great weekend.

Until next time, safe RV travels, and we’ll see you on the road!

Worth Pondering…

It isn’t what you have, or who you are, or where you are, or what you are doing that makes you happy or unhappy. It is what you think about.

—Dale Carnegie

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