An honest review of Shipshewana

shipshewana welcome sign

For some reason, I’ve always been fascinated with the Amish.

Maybe it stems from trips with my parents to visit my grandparents in Rome City, Indiana, when I was a little girl. I recall occasionally seeing Amish people out and about in certain towns we passed through and I wondered about their mysterious lives. I also remember once stopping at Amish Acres in Nappanee and it left an impression on me.

Though my fascination with the Amish has been frequently forgotten over the years, occasionally I will think about them again and have especially wanted to travel to Shipshewana, the heart of Northern Indiana Amish Country.

So my husband and I (and our little petunia) decided to take a road trip and visit the town. We were also very interested in the Shipshewana Flea Market, which I was led to believe was fantastic.

The drive was about four hours from where we currently live.

Upon arrival, I was immediately impressed with the multitude of horse-drawn black buggies everywhere. Even if it was also a bit startling to see the horses trotting precariously close to the busy highway. When we pulled into town, I was happier still as I saw lots of little shops where I was expecting to find Amish wares, antiques, and homemade goods.

amish buggy

We’d decided to stay at the Farmstead Inn & Conference Center, which was attractive from the outside — the barn room that housed the pool was bright and appealing. We checked in and once we’d unloaded our bags, we decided to explore. We drove down the main street and stopped at a grocery store way down the road.

Farmstead Inn
Farmstead Inn

 

We made our way down some side streets and noted the shops and restaurants and the location of the flea market. Then we stopped at the welcome center. The employee at the front desk suggested the Blue Gate Restaurant and Bakery for dinner, which is where we went shortly after. The restaurant served home style Amish fare and was actually quite good. Steve ordered a sampler and I had the Amish chicken and noodles and baked apples. Tasty homemade bread was also provided (our baby enjoyed bits and pieces too!).

blue gate restaurant shipshewana

The restaurant also featured shopping areas where visitors could find carved wood wall hangings, books, and various trinkets.

exploring shipshewana

The rest of the night was pretty uneventful. We mostly hung out at the hotel and took a dip in the pool.

In the morning, our little one woke us bright and early, but we didn’t mind. We were eager to get to the flea market, which was set to open at 8. After the hotel’s complimentary breakfast, we headed out.

We arrived at the flea market and walked onto the grounds with high hopes. Steve and I were both expecting booths full of antiques and Amish people selling their wares.

Instead, we found a great multitude of vendors selling plastic household items, socks, gaudy dresses, cheap sportswear and useless doodads. I could not believe my eyes. We’d traveled all that way to discover a flea market full of cheap junk! It reminded me of the shopping areas in some of Taiwan’s night markets — except the markets in Taiwan were much better!

Gloomy filter because it felt gloomy. :(
Gloomy filter because it felt gloomy. :(

 

After strolling around for awhile, disgruntled, we headed over to the auction barn, hoping to find unique antiques inside that would help us feel better. Instead, we encountered a crowded room full of people looking very confused (and perhaps, also disappointed) as they mulled around gazing at mediocre pieces that no one really seemed to want.

Sadly, our visit to the flea market probably lasted about an hour. Feeling ripped off, we headed back to the truck and decided to explore some of the shops in town, hoping our Shipshewana shopping experiences would improve.

Unfortunately, there was nothing special about the shops. There were a few antique stores and bakeries, but the main shops were selling things such as expensive light fixtures, clothing and froo froo items that one could get at any number of boutiques anywhere else in the country. There were also a couple of places selling Amish furniture, but they were ridiculously expensive, even if they were fun to browse. Mostly, I just enjoyed watching the Amish locals out and about around town.

A few quaint shops
A few quaint shops

 

amish lady on bicycle

amish carriage

At that point, Steve and I were both feeling ready to move on. We stopped at the meat and cheese shop on the way out of town. It was OK. We did pick up some apple butter and salsa.

I suggested we stop at Nappanee and visit Amish Acres on the way home. This part of the trip –the drive to Nappanee — was very nice in the beginning. We loved driving through the countryside and seeing all the Amish farms, Amish garb hung out to dry on clotheslines, and people at work. My heart melted as we drove by a farm where three little Amish girls in their simple dresses played on the grass, one toddler running across the yard trying to get our attention as we passed.

To make a long story short, in the end, Amish Acres was not the place I remembered. In fact, it seemed a bit run down and lonely. :(

Overall, this was not the best trip we’ve taken. With that being said, I would like to highlight some positives of our adventure.

Positives of Shipshewana

  • The opportunity to be among the local Amish folk and see how they engage with society. Many individuals work at the local stores and restaurants, so visitors frequently have the chance to talk with them. We found most to be friendly and welcoming.
  • Blue Gate Restaurant had delicious food.
  • One of the local grocery stores was interesting. Lots of Amish had their buggies parked in the parking lot and were shopping inside. On the way in, I overheard bits and pieces of a conversation I probably shouldn’t have been listening to — a father was lecturing his teenage son and telling him if he was going to pursue certain interests he would have to “leave the church.” I am ashamed to admit that I found this intriguing.
  • Amish books – what I’m assuming were Amish romance books. They were everywhere! And some of them even looked a little scandalous. I was tempted to purchase one in particular … the cover pictured an Amish girl standing next to a guy who was clearly not Amish. He looked to be some kind of rebel and the girl was evidently smitten with him. But for all I know the book could have been a cautionary tale.
  • The buggy tours. Many buggy tours of the area were available. There are apparently other tours as well, which, if we had more time, we would have enjoyed.
  • The Farmstead Inn Hotel. The hotel was nice. It did seem to cater to an older crowd, but this was perfectly fine with us. Staff members were friendly. The pool area was also nice and clean.
  • Theaters in town. Plays and musicals seemed to be quite popular.

That about sums up our trip. As a side note, I  just discovered that this summer, the flea market will have a special section where vendors will sell antiques and other in-demand items. Perhaps it is not entirely horrible after all.

While I’m sure there is plenty to see and do in and around the area, I thought Shipshewana itself was just OK. My husband and I both agreed our favorite part of the trip was actually just driving through the countryside and seeing all the Amish farms.

I didn’t have the chance to take photos of the countryside, but the images were a little like this:

amish people walking

amish farm children

amish farm road

Beautiful and serene!

If you’ve been to Shipshewana or the surrounding area and have suggestions for things to do (or know of any noteworthy places we missed), feel free to comment below! Happy Midwestern travels!

 

 

 

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