February 9, 2009
Meandering Elkhart County, Part 1

[I have so much to write about this “Meandering Indiana” county that I’ll have to do it in two parts, so Part 1 will be up next.]

An Indiana city made the national news this week, in almost the worst possible way. Elkhart-Goshen, according to the U.S. Department of Labor, had the largest unemployment rate increase in the nation in 2008 due to cutbacks in the RV industry. A spokesman for the Greater Elkhart Chamber of Commerce, however, immediately expressed confidence and hope for turning the area’s economy around.

Elkhart County is an area that has experienced a lot of culture shock lately, ironic for a place with such a reputation for traditional ways of life. I’ve been there often on business (which in my line of work usually means history and culture), but I’ve always thought it would be more fun to go as a tourist.

Elkhart is one of a few spots in Indiana known as “Amish country,” and towns like Goshen, Middlebury, Nappanee, and Shipshewana have developed hospitality and attractions centered on this theme. Driving along the country roads you have to watch out for the horse and buggy traffic, and you’re never far away from a good German family restaurant.

The Indiana Humanities Council has worked with many organizations in Elkhart County over the years. One that comes to mind is the Elkhart County Historical Museum, located in Bristol, Indiana.

From the Elkhart County Historical Museum

From the Elkhart County Historical Museum

I’ve been impressed by the support for this history museum from Elkhart County Parks, which created the museum in an old school building, now on the National Register. Nick Hoffman, the museum’s director, writes a blog on their latest happenings, including an upcoming exhibit on Presidential campaigns. The Council helped out recently with a grant for Discovery Boxes, a museum-in-a-box program available to area schools.

Next, there is Ruthmere, a historic house museum in the city of Elkhart, which has also collaborated with the Council. Described as “an experience in history, art and architecture,” Ruthmere was built in 1908 by Albert R. Beardsley, an early manager of Miles Laboratories, and his wife Elizabeth. Ruthmere closes for the winter season but still holds many events and activities.

I once spent an idyllic spring day touring the Bonneyville Mill, another Elkhart County Parks property. This huge and impressive structure, also on the National Register, still produces stone ground flour as it has for over 150 years. You can buy some and take it home, but if it’s lunchtime, you could also look around for one of those Amish restaurants. Needless to say, I did both . . . though my baking skills were no match for theirs.

Posted In: Miscellaneous

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