Chicago's Backyard

I begin this blog to introduce you to the hidden treasures that await Chicagoans just across the border in Northern Indiana. I am the founder of Amish Acres in Nappanee and have spent the last five decades of my life as a self proclaimed booster of the simplicity, beauty and peacefulness of this place. My purpose is to entice you to visit us as your close to home summer getaway destination. We have created a two day, one night, $99 all-inclusive package that has become an overnight hit.

If Michigan and Wisconsin are Chicago’s playgrounds, Northern Indiana is its backyard. Around these parts the backyard is where we relax with the family and spend some time with neighbors and friends. Our backyards can be foolers; you get one impression from the front lawn and happily discover something unexpected when invited in. And so it seems with Northern Indiana; particularly its Amish Country just off of I80/90 in the center of the state. The area is a vibrant blend of Amish heritage and innovative entrepreneurship; as we say in Nappanee: Embrace the Pace.

Nearby Goshen College and the University of Notre Dame illustrate the diversity that the area enjoys. From a small but proud Mennonite liberal arts college to a Catholic international research institution, they seem worlds apart. Go below the surface and you'll find rich cultural history than has defined the area since the mid-ninetheth century.

In addition, we make over half of the RVs in America in Elkhart County. The mixture of motor homes and Amish buggies coming and going can't be duplicated anywhere else. Factory tours and the RV Hall of Fame and Museum are illustrating the industry’s growing recovery from its economic blow of the last several years. From that turmoil, a boom in countryside shops is popping up on surrounding Amish farms. These new entrepreneurs have forgone the factory line to follow their own destiny. From taxidermist, canvas shop, bicycle shops, country stores, clock maker, hardwood furniture and cabinetry built with nearly handmade craftsmanship, you'll find hard to believe experiences along our country roads.

So let me tell you a little bit about Amish Acres. We consider Amish Acres the gateway to the Northern Indiana experience . This historic farm and heritage resort over the last four decades has been steward for the Stahly-Nissley-Kuhns farmstead that is listed in the National Register of Historic Places. The restored main house, bank barn, and out buildings provide insight into the Amish way of life that hasn’t changed much in nearly 300 years. Guided tours, documentary films, domestic crafts and horse drawn rides provide a trip back in time.

Surrounding the historic buildings is a collection of structures moved to the farm, eighteen in all, and saved for the future. Many retain their original purpose, a number have been adapted to new lives.  The most obvious is the Round Barn Theatre, a magnificent structure that now houses a crack regional repertory theatre. Its stage is home to Plain and Fancy, the 1955 Broadway musical about Amish life and love, that was written by Joseph Stein who went on to write Fiddler on the Roof. Alternating with the 26th season of this delightful and humorous musical, are an annual slate of classic musicals (Rodgers & Hammerstein’s State Fair is currently running through July 8th). Read J. Scott Hill’s review of Plain and Fancy at Chicago Stage Reviewer.

The nearby restaurant has served the same family style Threshers Dinner for over four decades. Your table invites you to pull up an antique chair amid the hand hewn beams of the old barn dining room. Once you open the crock of apple butter, you will be served a nearly endless array of Amish cooked recipes that have named the Best Meal in Indiana by Travel Trade magazine.

Two 19th century log cabins now house a meat and cheese shop plus fudgery and soda fountain. A bakery bakes for the table and the shelf so you can take home the breads and pies served in the restaurant. A new wine tasting loft features six regional vineyards from Indiana and Michigan.

The 80 acre farm plays host to a number of special events. WFRN Radio’s Friend Fest Christian music concert is coming June 29th and 30th with 20 major recording artists, with headliners Casting Crowns, Crowder, Tenth Avenue North, Sanctus Real, Mandisa, Sidewalk Prophets, and Stellar Kart.

Close on its heels, Amish Acres Arts & Crafts Festival is celebrating its 50th anniversary, August 2nd through the 5th. This steller event has been named one of the TOP 100 Events in North American by the American Bus Association. 300 artists and craftsmen gather in a marketplace surrounding the farm’s pond. This celebration to the arts has been evolving since 1962 and is now surrounded by four days of festive food and entertainment.

The second of the TOP 100 Events in Amish Country is the ever growing Quilt Garden Tour, a virtual blanket of gardens all planted in both familiar and novel quilt patterns made up of thousands of flowers carefully chosen to bring them to life. A comprehensive map will guide you along the Heritage Trail through the small towns and countryside to each garden’s restful site.

The addition of two country inns, The Inn at Amish Acres and The Nappanee Inn are now your home away from home and let you explore the diversity that makes Northern Indiana a special place.

Leave a comment