Have you ever wished you could just press the “pause” button on your life to just slow things down for a while? A trip to Nappanee, Indiana — a community in Indiana’s northern Amish region — is about the closest you will come to that elusive pause.
We started our visit to the small town by checking into The Nappanee Inn. The hotel was cozy and tidy and the staff was very friendly. Amenities such as a pool and hair dryers were there, but were more simple than many hotels we’ve stayed in. The outdoor pool was small and only 4 feet at its deepest point. But it was enough for my 8 and 12-year-old sons to work off some energy collected on our 2-1/2 hour car ride from Indianapolis.
I knew as I was sitting by the pool that the weekend was going to be different because my youngest left the water behind to go chase lightning bugs in the hotel’s fenced courtyard. We don’t often see lightning bugs at home.
After we went inside and I got the boys put to bed, I opened up my laptop to check Facebook. There is WIFI at the Nappanee Inn, but it was secured. I suppose I could have called to the front desk to ask for help, but instead I took the roadblock as an invitation to disconnect from the virtual world for a few days.
The next morning, we took our time getting ready, though we did make sure to head downstairs by 9:00am to take advantage of the continental breakfast offered by the hotel. By 11:00am, we were ready to visit Amish Acres, a former three-generation Amish homestead that was purchased in the late 1960s and restored to allow visitors to explore and better understand Amish life.
It was recommended that we start our visit by watching two brief documentaries that explain the history of the Amish and how they differ from Mennonites. My husband, teenage daughter and I really enjoyed the documentaries, though they did not very well hold the attention of the boys. A third film, which we watched later and which is aimed more at school-agers, was more their speed.
After the documentaries, we boarded a farm wagon for a tour of the grounds. The wagon was not pulled by horses, but by tractor. The guide pointed out the buggy barn, which housed several traditional black Amish buggies as well as a large wagon that carries church benches from farm to farm for the church services that are held every other week. There were several other small buildings we rode by, but a highlight was the stop at the one-room schoolhouse. Separate boys and girls cloak rooms stand at the back of the building, which looks much like you might remember from Little House on the Prairie. Amish boys sit on one side of the building, girls on the other. There are more than 20 Amish one-room schoolhouses still in use in the area today.
After the farm wagon tour, we settled down to the Thresher’s Dinner in the restaurant.
Served family-style, the dinner includes your choice of two meats — broasted chicken, honey hickory ham or roast beef , ham and bean soup, sage dressing, a dish of sweet pickles, cole slaw, green beans, Amish-baked bread with butter and apple butter, beef and noodles, and mashed potatoes and gravy. In case that doesn’t seem like enough, everything above is all you can eat and each person may choose one dessert. I’d recommend the peanut butter or pecan pies, though shoofly pie is an Amish staple.
Several buildings on the grounds offer authentic Amish goods available for sale. My boys were fascinated at the Log Cabin Soda Shop and Fudgery where they made carbonated drinks with soda water and flavored syrup. And we tried the most sour (but yummy!) pickles at the meat and cheese shop.
Almost in an effort to encourage you to take your time, the admission ticket to Amish Acres is good for two days. So rather than rush through and see everything in one day, we opted to make it a two-day visit.
After our Threshers Dinner, my husband and the boys went to visit some nearby friends, while my daughter and I stayed at Amish Acres to enjoy “Plain and Fancy,” a Broadway musical that offers a friendly (and often funny) look at the differences between an Amish family in Lancaster, Pennsylvania and a couple from New York City. The show, now in its 25th season at Amish Acres, is peformed in the Round Barn Theater, the only repertory theater in the area. The theater itself is amazing to look at, as the 1911 barn was meticulously numbered board by board, dismantled and re-assembled at Amish Acres.
The next day, we returned as a family to take the tour of the Stahly-Nissley-Kuhns home and farmstead. It is the only Amish farm to be listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Our guide showed us the garden, outhouse, smokehouse and bakehouse before we even got inside the home. Several of the pieces of furniture in the home are original to the families who lived there. Unlike visiting a pioneer home and imagining this is the way people used to live, it was pretty amazing to walk through this 138-year-old home and realize that the descendants of the Stahly-Nissley-Kuhns families pretty much live the same way today.
Amish Acres is not the only place to learn about Amish culture in Nappanee. Drive down the streets and you’ll encounter Amish families in buggies, Amish men and women riding bicycles and Amish stores open for business. Theirs is a different way of life, for sure. But if you’re in need of one of those “pause” button moments, Amish life in Nappanee, Indiana just might be a welcome change for a few days.
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