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Amish bring Old World charm

Courtesy Elkhart County CVB

Amish Country of Northern Indiana

There are scores of fascinating back road tours in Elkhart and LaGrange counties, an area that over 22,000 Amish call home.

“The step-on guides often have an affiliation with the Amish and are wonderful interpreters along the way,” Hughes said. “You can not only have an in-home Amish meal, have a hands-on quilting experience with Amish quilters and enjoy a buggy ride, but also visit a noodle shop, a cheese shop, baker, school and even see how caskets are made.”

Farming and furniture manufacturing are major Amish occupations in Northern Indiana.

“The Amish learned these trades since they sat on their fathers’ knees. But out of necessity, like many of us, they have had to find work outside of their traditional trades so their lifestyle is comfortable and pretty good,” said Hughes.

There are must-sees while negotiating the country roads where horse-and-buggies are frequent sights. Das Dutchman Essenhaus, the largest restaurant in Indiana, offers more than fried chicken and 30 kinds of pie; groups can also spend hours in the adjoining stores and spend the night in the 84-room hotel.

At Amish Acres, visitors explore an 80-acre farm, indulge in all-you-can-eat ham-and-bean soup, beef and noodles, and shoofly pie, and then enjoy a production of the famed “Plain and Fancy” at the Round Barn Theatre.

From late May through September, the area’s Quilt Gardens are the star attractions in seven communities along the Heritage Trail, a 90-mile route of tranquil landscapes.

“Voted an American Bus Association Top 100 Event, Quilt Gardens features 20 huge outdoor quilt murals and 19 gigantic gardens, also patterned after quilts, that showcase more than a million vibrant blooms,” said Hughes.

“Each quilt garden and mural tells a story, and each has its own intricate pattern; some are original. The gardens are all juried, and they change every year. They are magnificent — and free.”

Hughes added that for groups visiting the first few weeks in October, stunning flower carpets consisting of jewel-toned chrysanthemums are on display in Elkhart and Nappanee.

Crittenden County, Kentucky
Bank directors will discover an ideal day-trip opportunity in Crittenden County’s bustling town Marion, home to Kentucky’s largest Amish community and a variety of one-of-a-kind attractions.

“Our Amish are not commercialized here,” said Michele Edwards, tourism director for the City of Marion Tourism Commission. “Just being here, with the operating farms and plows with horses and mules, is an authentic experience.”

Edwards plans a bank group’s day with a step-on-guide and consideration for specific interests. Typically, itineraries include a look at the town’s murals and time at the Crittenden County Historical Museum, housed in the oldest church in Marion. Built in 1881, the structure includes original stained glass and seating, a large Civil War military collection and items from everyday life 100 years ago.

“Our Amish are most visible at a bakery, where visitors love the doughnuts that are the size of dinner plates, and the cookies, bread and pies are the best,” said Edwards. “Then we’re off to Yodar Variety Store — a place I liken to an Amish Walmart. This is where the Amish shop, and there is everything imaginable, from peanut brittle, jellies and jams to leather goods to battery clocks to bulk fabric and spices.

“With no electricity — the store is lit only by skylights — the store is really a window into how the Amish live. But bring cash: They don’t accept credit cards.”

Marion is also home to the Ben E. Clement Mineral Museum, touted to have a world-class collection of Kentucky and Illinois fluorite. The crystal specimens range in weight from a fraction of an ounce to hundreds of pounds.

“The museum features beautiful blue, green and yellow stones and glow-in-the-dark rocks,” said Edwards. “It also has, of course, the best gift shop.”

A ferry that accommodates motorcoaches and crosses the Ohio River between Kentucky and Illinois is also a fun adventure for bank groups as they enter or exit the area.