Amish and Antiques

Iconic Communities, On the Road
on August 27, 2007
Horse-drawn conveyances are commonplace in Shipshewana, Ind.

Lewis Hochstetler’s horse-drawn buggy travels down a road fringed with tidy, white farmhouses in Shipshewana, Ind. (pop. 536), where the rhythmic clip-clop of hooves is as familiar as the hum of automobiles.

“George gets new shoes every seven or eight weeks,” says Hochstetler, 71, of his horse, pulling a buggy-load of out-of-town passengers.

Hochstetler is among 20,000 Amish residents in Elkhart and LaGrange counties, home to the world’s third largest concentration of the pious Protestant faith. Among the “Plain People’s” freshly painted barns and well-tended farm fields is Shipshewana, a quaint town that mirrors the Amish values of simplicity and self-reliance. Shops sell handcrafted furniture, quilts and rag rugs, and restaurants serve made-from-scratch meals where Amish egg noodles are standard fare. No alcohol is sold in town and businesses are closed on Sunday in reverence to the town’s faith.

On Tuesdays and Wednesdays, the sleepy town awakens to bumper-to-buggy traffic when as many as 30,000 bargain-hunters arrive to shop for goods from hogs to Hoosier cabinets. The sales extravaganza, which began in 1922 with a small-scale livestock auction, has evolved into a colossal bazaar featuring antique auctions and a giant flea market. With 1,100 vendors spread across 40 acres, the flea market is the Midwest’s largest.

Inside the auction barn, seven auctioneers hawk a hodgepodge of antiques. Amish auctioneer Willis Yoder sells an old iron bedstead for $6, while a nearby auctioneer sings out a “who’ll gimme” for a pink birdcage.

Within two hours, bidder Pat Sutherland of Lerna, Ill. (pop. 322), and her friend JoAnn Dittamore of Montrose, Ill. (pop. 257), buy a truckload of treasures: camelback trunks, crockery, a glass rolling pin and even a little boy’s Amish outfit with a solid-color shirt and trousers with suspenders.

Market days mean business, too, for Amish families who set out signs to advertise baked goods, jellies and crafts. Some couples, such as Joe and Betty Wingard, serve meals in their homes to the “English,” as the German-speaking Amish refer to people outside the faith.

“I enjoy cooking. This is our sixth year to serve dinners,” says Betty as she heaps platters with fried chicken and Salisbury steak for 30 guests at three tables spread across her kitchen. After the blessing, the home-cooked meal, featuring everything from mashed potatoes to rhubarb-custard pie, is served.

People are fascinated with the Amish lifestyle, says Joseph Yoder, director of the Menno-Hof Visitors Center, which opened in 1988 to present the story of the Anabaptists, members of the Amish and Mennonite faiths who immigrated to the United States in the 17th and 18th centuries. The Amish follow a strict interpretation of the Bible and reject technology, such as electricity and telephones, which they believe could lead to a weakening of the family and community.

Of the 200,000 Amish in the United States, the largest concentrations are in Holmes County, Ohio, and Lancaster County, Pa. From these groups, Amish settlers moved westward into northern Indiana in the 1840s.

“People think they’re going to meet pioneers,” Yoder says about visitors to Shipshewana, “but what they see are modern Americans. The Amish dress alike because they are not prideful. They really have the best of both worlds. They live in a modern world, but they have the support of each other.”

Amish children attend either Amish or public schools, but their formal education ends with eighth grade. Thus, eighth-grade graduation is a big ceremony in the Shipshewana public schools. When not in school, Amish children accompany and work alongside their parents.

At the Dutch Country Market in nearby Middlebury (pop. 2,956), Norman and Katie Lehman and their six children make about 300 pounds of egg noodles each weekday. Even 8-year-old Wilma has a job, hanging sheets of dough to dry on wooden racks before the dough is cut into noodles. Made from egg yolks and durum wheat flour, the noodles are a “perfect food, the first food we feed our babies,” Norman says.

From its humble fare to its countryside where plain dark dresses flutter on clotheslines and horses work the fields, Indiana’s Amish country nourishes the body and the spirit. “You get here and realize we move too fast,” says Barb Shiflett of Lapeer, Mich. (pop. 9,072), while taking a leisurely ride in Hochstetler’s buggy. “They have such good values here. It makes you think about how much you miss when life is so hurry, hurry.