Friday, June 3, 2011

Waterloo, IN to Nappanee, IN on US Route 6

Ketch Kan Tavern
Waterloo, IN
A scent was named for me today: Malerie No. 6 by Renee Gabet – owner/founder of Annie Oakley Perfumery.  And, for the first time on this trip, I was interviewed by the local press – in Kendallville, IN. But I get ahead of myself here.

Mural in Ketch Kan Tavern
Waterloo, IN

Restored Train Depot
Waterloo, IN
Eighty to one hundred trains – mostly freight, two Amtrak, pass through Waterloo every day.  It was a town literally built by the railroad.  So of course there was public outcry when the old Train Depot was slated for demolition (this seems to be a recurring theme in Route 6-land), and the town and elected officials banded together to restore it. It now serves as an ersatz “Community Center” and is beautiful inside, down to burnished original floorboards. In the 1950’s, a train derailment cost the depot its charming set of bay windows.  Even those were restored.  Last year, when 38 coal train cars derailed in the same spot (“they jumped 40 ft. in the air and pancaked one in front of another,” Candi Sturber said), the depot was thankfully spared.

Before leaving Waterloo, I stopped into the diviest of dives, the Kech Kan Tavern – where the few shabby patrons reminded me of Simpson’s characters.  Inside this bar, however, are murals done by an itinerant in 1938 who worked off his room and board by creating art.  Even in their nicotine-stained state, these paintings are a wonder – worth the stares you might get from locals there.

Route 6 is all agricultural and horse farms; soy and corn silos, lumberyards, then the larger town of Kendallville.  Kendallville is home to Flint and Walling, Inc. – which used to make windmills and now make pumps.  No surprise, then, that the Mid-America Windmill Museum is located here.  Of course, I visited.  All is takes is one person with a passion to create a place like this and that person was Russ Baker - a windmill fanatic.  In 1991, he swayed local developers to his way of thinking – and the Windmill Museum was launched with just 10 antique water-pumping pre-turbines.  The museum acquired 55 more from a private collector from Texas in 2000 and managed to lure Sandra Day O’Connor here for the dedication ceremony because she’s got a Samson windmill (the largest  in the museum’s collection at 24ft. wheel span) on her property. Wouldn’t you know our former Chief Justice is a windmill fan, too. There’s something so serene and lulling in a place like this; the wind-driven blades humming away in the breeze.  It was almost like being at the shore. I quite enjoyed it.

While I was traipsing around the windmills, a local newspaper reporter, Bob Braley (the News Sun) came to interview me about my Route 6 adventures.  This was my first interview, but I know not my last.  I’ve had requests to speak to journalists in Iowa, Nebraska and Colorado so far.  An interesting turn of the table.

Aharath Scholom Temple
On National Historic Register
Ligonier, IN
Aharath Scholom Temple
Ligonier, IN

Headstone in Ligonier, IN

Jewish Cemetery, Ligonier, IN
Next on Route 6 – the former German Jewish settlement of Ligonier.  I began my tour of the town at Aharath Scholom Temple – a former synagogue now used as the Ligonier History Museum.  Built in 1889, the last service was held in 1954. (It is now on the National Historic Register).  By that time most of the Jewish families had died or moved away.  But there are archives of the families who built Ligonier, with names like Straus (kin to Levi of blue-jeans fame), and Mier.  Jacob Straus moved to the US from Germany and like many Jews of the time, became a traveling peddler.  In Indiana, he learned that the railroad was coming to town and understood that it would be an excellent place to set up shop.  He thrived here and sent word to friends and family in Germany who left Europe to come to Ligonier.  Now, the town is in transition. There are 20 wonderful murals on buildings around a shabby main street. The best restaurant, Daniel’s is a simple soup and sandwich cafĂ© owned by an Ethiopian man who serves Ethiopian food on Friday nights.  There are two B&B’s. One is Solomon Mier’s Manor – featuring a gorgeous and stately interior beautifully preserved. A mezuzah on the doorpost had not been removed yet no-one seemed to understand its significance.  The town is steeped in Jewish history though maintained by people of other faiths.  “Ligonier could be a Jewish Williamsburg,” said my Nobel County Tourist contact, John Bry.  “This physical record is the only thing left.”  Those include the gravesites of the town’s founders and benefactors. I paid my respects on my way out of town, and took some pictures.

Renee Gabet At Work
Annie Oakley Perfumery
Ligonier, IN

Before leaving Ligonier, though, I had one last stop to make.  The Annie Oakley Perfumery!  The only remaining perfumery in the United States with all operations under one roof, owners Renee Gabet and her husband have been concocting natural perfumes here for 30 years, but just last winter opened the Perfumery up for tours.  A cross between the South of France and Marlboro Country, the place is starting to attract lots of attention.  Annie Oakley Perfume already sells well around the world, but with this new “shop” and “visitor’s center,” Gabet is sure to help attract people to Ligonier.  Chic and attractive, Renee is a Grandma 15 times over – and I can tell she has a ball with this business.  While I interviewed her, she sized me up, scent-wise, and before I left fashioned a blend specifically for me.   She called it Malerie No. 6, “The smell of the open road.”  I love it and urge all Route 6 travelers to stop in for your own special scent (or a great one “off the rack.”). 

Original Amish Interior Colors
Amish Acres, Nappanee, IN
Barn Restaurant, Amish Acres
Nappanee, IN

Courtney Serving Dessert
Amish Acres Barn Restaurant
Nappanee, IN
My last stop of the day was 22 miles from Ligonier  - Nappanee, IN. There's a large Amish community in this region of Indiana and  Amish Acres is the Big Attraction here.  I arrived too late for the works – a 2 hour Wagon/House and Farm Tour and Amish Dinner, but I walked around some of the 80 acres with a guide and got the gist of it. And the grist of it – Amish Acres is now home to the oldest Grist Mill in Indiana (it was moved here).  Visitors tour an original 1874 Amish house (interior in startlingly vivid greens and blues – original colors used by the Amish sect here), and see lye soap making demos, outdoor cooking, blacksmithing, broom-making and the like. Anyone who is fascinated by the Amish people would be well-served here – and that extends to the largest restaurant (within two barns put together) I’ve ever seen.  I tried the “Threshers Diner” ($17.50) and was stuffed to the gills with three meats, potatoes, stuffing, salads, and pies. 

The biggest surprise about what I had believed to be “tourist trap bus-group productions” at Amish Acres; The Round Barn Theater is actually a professional theater housed within a stunning 1911 round barn.  It’s like seeing a play in the rotunda of the Capital Building in Washington, DC (if the Capital was built out of wood).  Though the Theater stages several shows a year, the perennial favorite is Plain and Fancy, written by Joseph Stein (who also wrote Fiddler on the Roof).  It’s a natural fit – about a New Yorker’s culture clash with the Amish – and has been running here for 25 years.  Too bad it wasn’t performed on the night I arrived.

Dianne Debelak, owner
Homespun Inn B&B
Nappanee, IN
Candlelit Breakfast
Homespun Inn
Nappanee, IN
Stay: Homespun Inn. Nappanee, IN.  Chicago natives, Dianne and Dennis Debelak, run a country-cute B&B with adorable antique-filled rooms and surprisingly large and updated tile bathrooms.  It is definitely true to its name.  My hosts clued me in about local Amish craftspeople in town, and as happens at a “shared breakfast table” B&B, I learned something about the RV Manufacturer, NewMar – based right here in Nappanee – from a guy who was having his serviced.  According to some RV enthusiasts, it’s the best in the industry – made almost entirely by Amish employees.  Dianne does a candlelit, nicely presented hot breakfast – stuffed French Toast, a little heart-shaped muffin and fresh fruit, and will send you off with a bottle of water.  A nice warm and fuzzy find in this hand-crafty town.


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