There’s an Elk and a Heart in Elkhart

Today’s post is 1700 words, 26 photos, an 8 minute read. Enjoy

Hi everyone,

This week I take you to Elkhart, Indiana located along the Indiana Tollway, east of South Bend and very near the Indiana/Michigan state line. Over the past twenty years, we’ve driven past Elkhart many times as we headed east to visit The Eldest and the Son-in-law. Our usual stop along the Tollway is Shipshewana in the heart of Amish Country about 25 miles east of Elkhart. Besides having a couple of pretty good quilt shops, Shipshewana has the best Amish grocery, E & S Sales Bulk Foods. My Traveling Partner likes shopping for bulk baking supplies for her weekly baking for Habitat for Humanity of Dane County. More about Shipshewana later in the post.


Elkhart, Indiana, population about 54,000, is known as the “RV Capital of the World” and the “Band Instrument Capitol of the World.” About 80% of all the recreational vehicles sold in North America such as travel trailers, fifth-wheel trailers, and motorhomes are built in or around the Elkhart area. Suppliers of component parts used to fashion a RV are spread throughout the surrounding area. About 20,000 people are employed in the RV manufacturing industry in and around Elkhart. It’s interesting to note that many Amish men and women are employed by RV and parts manufacturers. Early every morning, the roads are filled with buggies and bicycles heading to work at one of the plants. In the afternoon, the migration reverses with the return to nearby farms. I should point out that the RV/MH Hall of Fame and Museum are located about 15 minutes east of Elkhart along the Indiana Tollway. I haven’t been there but for RV aficionados this is a must stop at least once during a lifetime.

The Conn-Selmer company of Elkhart is the largest manufacturer of musical instruments in the US. They make many types of brass and wind instruments such as flutes, trombones, trumpets, clarinets, tubas, and many others as well as string instruments like violins, violas, cellos, basses, and a line of guitars. In the 1970s, about 40% of worldwide bands instruments were made in Elkhart. During our short visit, I didn’t see any instrument manufacturing facilities but I’m told they are there.

The name Elkhart is often associated with the now extinct Eastern Elk once prevalent but there are other theories for the name’s origin. It is thought that French explorers derived the name from a nearby Miami village with the name roughly translating to “elks heart.” Soon the area became known as Elkhart including the river that flows through the city. During our brief stay, we saw the city flag that prominently included both an elk and a heart.

The main reason we were in Elkhart was to hand back The Eldest’s dog. Shiner spent about six weeks with us while The Eldest and the Son-in-law traveled to Uganda for a month of work. Both the dog and her human were happy to see each other, although it took a few minutes for the dog to recognize her master. We rented an AirBnb that accepted dogs on the south edge of Elkhart. We had one full day to explore the city and surrounding area.

My Traveling Partner and The Eldest are quilters, so the day’s activity was easy for them to select. Every year, the Elkhart County Visitor Center sponsors the Quilt Gardens and Murals challenge along the Heritage Trail. This year there were 25 locations along the Trail. The concept is simple, download the Quilt Gardens Passport app, register, and document when you visit one of the locations. The app with its location services verify that you are within viewing distance of the garden or mural. Visit at least six sites and win swag. I was out voted 2 to 1, besides that I didn’t have a better alternative.

We set off to find the quilt gardens and murals. The first one was very close to our lodging at the Elkhart Environmental Center.

After parking, we walked over to the nearby quilt garden. We opened the Passport app and documented our first quilt, only five more to go to win a prize.

Beyond the quilt garden was a short trail around a shallow pond. Note the abundance of turtles in the pond. We saw several as we walked around the pond.

Back at the parking lot, we admired the butterfly garden. And off in the distance, we saw the windmill that generates electricity for the center.


Middlebury is about 15 minutes directly east of Elkhart. A town of about 3500 people, it’s known for the abundance of German architecture. Note the interesting name of the chiropractic office, “Backbone.”

Our stop in Middlebury would yield us several gardens and murals. Our first stop was at the Ace Hardware where we saw and recorded the Country Patriotic Flag Mural.

Across the parking lot from Ace Hardware is The Carpenter’s House, a place to pray. Built by the owners of the hardware store as place for locals and tourist to stop for contemplation and meditation. The grounds are beautifully landscaped and the log cabins cozy and relaxing.

Our next stop was at the Middlebury Chamber of Commerce and Visitors Center in downtown Middlebury to a look at the Star Burst quilt mural.

Around the corner from the Visitor’s Center were the six murals titled “Memories of Middlebury” high up on the side of the Varns and Hoover Hardware Store. Note this stop counted as only one visit on our passports. Four down, two to go to be eligible for a prize.

While I was waiting to take the above photo, I observed this traffic jam at the intersection. They were doing some road work on Main Street so a flag man was posted at this main intersection. The horse patiently waited to make the left hand turn. We saw lots of horses and buggies on the move as well as tied up at nearby businesses.

It was past noon and we were ready for lunch. We ordered take-out at The Hilltop restaurant located a block off Main Street. It was too hot to leave the dog in the car while we eat. We sat out on the patio and the nice Amish woman delivered our meals and checked on us periodically. The food was great and the service fantastic.

The next stop on our quest for at least six quilt gardens and murals was in Middlebury’s Krider’s World Fair Gardens. We wondered about the unusual name. Here’s the explanation: at the 1933-34 World’s Fair in Chicago, one of the exhibitors were Middlebury residents Vernon and Kenneth Krider. Their exhibit drew the attention of gardeners from around the world. At one time, the Kriders were the largest employer in Middlebury sending plants by mail to far flung locations. When the business closed in 1990, the land became a town park. The Pumpkinvine Nature Trail and a bike trail runs through the park. It’s a beautiful setting and a fine place for a garden quilt.

Here’s a view of the Tree of Life Garden in Krider park.

Nearby was a replica of a dutch windmill that was featured at the World’s Fair. It’s well maintained with an abundance of flowers encircling the windmill. This garden had many more features, unfortunately, we were short on time and needed to move to our next destination.


The village of Shipshewana is located in the heart of northern Indiana’s Amish Country. With a population of about 900 people, the village entertains about 500,000 visitors per year. The day of our visit, some of the parking lots were full and there was a traffic jam at the one stop light in the center of town. The city was named after Potawatomi Chief Shipshewana.

While my Traveling Partner and The Eldest checked out one of the quilt shops, Lolly’s Fabrics and Quilts, Shiner and I walked around town. I admired the Hubbard Feed Mill near the downtown. On the side of one of the grain warehouses is a mural dedicated to the founder of this mill and elevator, Edward A. Wolfe. He was a strong supporter of the community until he passed away in 1970.

Our next stop in Shipshewana was E & S Sales on the south end of town. The parking lot was packed, parking was at a premium. While the women shopped inside, Shiner and I watched the many horses and buggies enter and leave the store. There’s a long hitching post on the side of the building where shoppers can tie up their horses. As I observed the horses, I noted the seasoned horses were more cautious about entering the flow of traffic. The younger horses were frisky, sometimes the driver had a hard time controlling the horse. They were ready to run as the first opening in the flow of traffic.

Soon the shoppers were back with several sacks of supplies. Of note, if you stop at E & S bring cash, no checks or credit cards are accepted. They do have an ATM inside the store for those who are low on cash.

Back to Middlebury

After leaving busy Shipshewana, we headed back towards Middlebury and Elkhart. We stopped at the Dutch Country Store, an Amish run store that specializes in jams, jellies, candy, honey, homemade noodles, and other Amish inspired foods.

In the parking lot was the Friendship Bouquet Quilt Garden. The weather for the past several weeks was hot and dry, not exactly conducive to flourishing flower gardens. But it was nice all the same. Six down, we met our goal.

Elkhart County Visitor’s Center

In the morning before heading back to our home, we to the west, she and Shiner to the east, we stopped at the Elkhart County Visitor’s Center to claim our prize. Lo and behold we added another quilt to our collection, the Aurora Mural. The original quilt was hanging in the visitors center, we admired the creativity and handiwork of the maker.

We each had seven quilts on our passport. For this we earned a nice water bottle. While we were there, a group of ladies came in and claimed their prizes for checking in all of the quilts, they said it took them three days!

That does it for this week. If you missed last week’s post on our time in northeast Wisconsin, click here.

Join me next week for another addition of Traveling With Tom. You never know where I will take you.

Until then, happy travels!