Elkhart and the surrounding area comprises the second largest Amish community in the United States. Gayle and I had visited the Pennsylvania farming area in 1991 and found it at that time to be very much what one expected an Amish community to be—neat, well-tended farms and houses and many horse-drawn buggies, usually with just the driver, traveling the roads. What we discovered in the Elkhart community in 2015 was the expected neat, well-tended farms and houses, plus a very much commercialized shopping and tourist area. The horse-drawn buggies were there, but many in this region were now carrying tourists throughout the area, for periods of fifteen minutes to several hours, perhaps including a tour of a farm and dinner in an Amish family home.
Some of our RV factory tours were scheduled in the afternoon, and we discovered that all the factories are basically closed for production after 3:00 p.m. The reason? Most, if not all, of the workers are Amish farmers, and they need to take advantage of the remaining daylight hours to tend their farms. Factories, like the rest of the businesses, remain open all afternoon for tours and tourists, except on Sundays, when everything is closed.
Although not founded like Amana, the Amish community is a group of towns, seven in this case, including Elkhart. Bristol was established next to the Little Elkhart River, and a gristmill, built in 1837, still in operation, was erected in anticipation of a railroad and a new canal line, neither of which materialized. Settlers arrived in Middlebury in 1832, and in Elkhart in the late 1800s. In addition to its automotive manufacturing, Elkhart produces more than fifty percent of the nation’s band instruments. Goshen, Wakarusa, and Nappanee all have lures for tourists, like hand-crafted linens and hand-crafted furniture, and restaurants and quaint lodgings. Shipshewana in addition offers the Menno-Hof Mennonite-Amish Visitors Center, located in a house originally built in a six-day house-and-barn raising by Mennonite and Amish groups. The one-hour tour covers the history, backgrounds and persecutions over the years, and the differences between the Mennonites and the Amish.
And, if anyone has seen one, there is nothing to compare with an Amish quilt, exquisitely designed and hand stitched. There are traditional, time-honored patterns, and there are quilts with amazing original designs for sale throughout the area. We had all been looking forward to seeing the “quilt gardens” scattered throughout the towns, planted replicas of quilt blocks with their blazing colors. However, because of the exceptionally cold winter the plants in the one we did see were drab and just beginning to show a little color, so we bypassed that adventure.
An Amish house is not difficult to recognize, with its star and no sign of electricity running to it. We encountered a surprising number in states we visited subsequently.
Trivia: No engines of any sort can be sold on Sunday in Indiana. (But large engine-propelled machines can speed around the Indianapolis Raceway on Sundays!)