Find Quiet Simplicity in Amish Country

Physician's Money Digest, October15 2003, Volume 10, Issue 19

The road to Middlebury, Ind (www.middleburyin.com) travels through this century andinto the past. Women in bonnets steer buggiespast luxuriant green farmsteads andhorse-driven lorries laden with produce and traverse theroadways. Boys topped with black hats bike to school.Hitching posts are as important as parking meters, andat times, the streets resemble more of a 19th- than a21st-century scene.

Trip into the Past

Whenever I want to visit Middlebury's charmingantiquity, I travel down County Road 8 out of Bristol,a small town where the old 1897 opera house stillprovides the locals with entertainment.

My first stop is at the Bonnyville Mill County Park(574-535-6458; www.elkhartcountyparks.org). The redmill, which sits on the banks of the Little Elkhart River,began to grind in 1832, making it the oldest continuouslyoperating gristmill in Indiana. There's no chargeto enter and watch the giant, creaking wheels grindcorn, rye, and buckwheat.

My next step into history takes me to BonnyvilleCemetery, which opened 2 years after the mill. Hererests Revolutionary War hero William Tufts, whofought alongside George Washington and participatedin battles at Germantown, Lundies Lane, and BunkerHill. According to an interview Tufts gave to theGoshen Democrat in 1840, he participated in theBoston Tea Party, dressing in "sundry old clothes, a capstuck full of feather, and painted face."

I'm up to the early 1900s when I stop at KriderGardens (219-825-1499) on the west side of Middlebury.The nursery, which opened in 1896 and gainedfame with their patented thornless rose, created Krider'sDiversified Gardens for the 1934 International Expositionin Chicago. After the Fair ended, the gardenswere brought back to Middlebury and replanted on 2.4acres. It's a lovely little garden where brick walkwayswind their way past fountains, beds of flowers, and anEnglish teahouse.

Middlebury itself is a gem of a town, immaculatewith picture-perfect Queen Anne and Gothic RevivalHomes. I like to take a peek into what I consider a functioningmuseum, which is really a simple store.

Gohn's Brothers (founded in 1904 and owned bythe same family since) is where the Amish buy theirclothes. Glass and wood cases hold the felt and strawhats worn by the Amish men. Bolts of cloth used tomake the plain clothing that they wear line both sides ofthe walls. In the back, a bonneted Amish woman sits ata sewing machine, making the black shawls womenthrow over their shoulders to ward off the chill air. Thefloors are wood and the ceiling is made of pressed tin.

Simplicity in Action

East of Middlebury, Allen and Arlene Bontregerraise grass-fed turkeys and chickens on the Bontregers'Family Farm (57028 CR 43, Middlebury, IN 46540).The couple also grows Ladyfinger popcorn, which is aheritage corn variety that has been around for generations.In keeping with Amish tradition, the Bontregerseschew electricity, cars, and other modern conveniences,and instead build their life around church, family,and hard work.

Though the couple now has a machine that shellstheir popcorn, most of it is still picked by hand. And ifthe idea of harvesting those little cobs by hand doesn'tseem like a big deal, consider this: Last year theBontregers sold 9 tons of their popcorn throughout thecountry. They have a self-serve Ladyfinger distributor ontheir back porch. It's also available by mail (you have torequest your order in writing; in the Amish way, theykeep their phone outdoors and don't use it much). Alsoavailable are brown-shelled eggs from pastured chickensthat are kept fresh in a kerosene-fueled refrigerator.