Welcome To Indiana Route 6! It’s safe to say you are leaving the country’s recreation areas and entering the meat and potatoes (and corn, soy, and hog) portion of your Route 6 journey.
In Indiana, Route 6 is studded with agricultural and horse farms, soy and corn silos, lumberyards, and lots of windmills.
But you’ll also find both perfume and RV factories, a professional theater set inside an Amish Village, and a little known former Jewish settlement on this East to West Indiana Route 6 excursion.
(Curious about the rest of US Route 6? Check out this Coast To Coast Route 6 post.)
Mid-America Windmill Museum, Kendallville
Kendallville IN is home to Flint and Walling, Inc., which used to make windmills and now manufactures pumps. No surprise, then, that the 52-windmill collection of the Mid-America Windmill Museum is located here.
The museum, founded in 1992 with 10 antique windmills, displays and preserves the story of wind power from the first American windmill to the modern turbine. Former Chief Justice Sandra Day O’Connor spoke at the dedication ceremony because she’s got a Samson (the largest in the museum’s collection with a 24ft. wheel span) on her property and is a true windmill fan.
Begin with an entertaining short film about the part windmills played in American agricultural history then walk around. A calming exercise, the humming wind-driven blades confer a seashore-tranquil quality to the place. Open April-Oct, Tues-Fri. 10-4, Sat 10-5, Sun 1-5, $8.
Explore Ligonier Indiana
Ligonier’s Jewish History
If you have any interest in obscure Jewish immigrant history, plan a stop in Ligonier. In the mid-1800’s, seemingly in the middle of nowhere 18 miles west of Kendallville on what is now Indiana Route 6, a whole German Jewish community prospered, built, and sustained this town. And then they abruptly disappeared.
Frederick Straus (kin to Levi, of blue-jeans fame) and Solomon Mier moved to the United States from Germany. Like many Jews of the time, they became traveling peddlers. While in Indiana, the friends heard that a new railroad would run through Ligonier, making it a perfect location to open a permanent business.
As they prospered, Meir and Straus invited friends in Germany, with names like Glaser, Weil and others, to join them. By the mid-1800’s, 200 Jews lived in Ligonier, but began to disperse (mostly to Chicago) in the 1930’s.
Take A Photo of Ahavath Shalom Temple
Ahavath Shalom Temple, the former Reform Synagogue, had been the Ligonier History Museum, but is now a private home. Built in 1889, and on the National Historic Register, the last Synagogue service was held here in 1954. By that time most of the Jewish families had died or moved away.
Pay Respects at Ligonier’s Oak Park Cemetery
Though Ligonier is steeped in Jewish history, its sacred and secular sites are now governed and maintained by people of other faiths. “Ligonier could be a Jewish Williamsburg,” one historian remarked. “These physical records are the only things left.” Those include the gravesites of the town’s founders and benefactors in a section of the Oak Park Cemetery, just east of town off of Rt. 5, where, if you care to, you can pay your respects.
You can’t leave Ligonier without visiting the irresistible Annie Oakley Perfumery, (from Route 6, it’s one mile north on Route 5, right on Pigeon St., Left on Johnson).
Annie Oakley is the only perfumery in the United States with all operations (R&D, production, packaging and distribution) under one roof. The fact that there’s a bone-fide perfumery in Indiana (rather than NYC or Paris), let alone in LIGONIER, Indiana (as opposed to say, a larger metropolitan area like Indianapolis or even Bloomington) is staggering enough.
But the further fact that said perfumery is incongruously named after a women known more for her sharpshootin’ rootin’ tootin’ than for a refined, sweet-smelling existence places Annie Oakley Perfumery in the category of “Gotta See This Place and Smell the Goods!” And those goods certainly do smell great.
Owners Renee Gabet and her husband, Charles have carved out a little slice of Provence in the Midwest and imbued it with fragrant panache. All Route 6 travelers are urged to stop in for a personalized scent (or a great one “off the rack.”).
Despite its illustrious past and genteel perfumery, Ligonier is still in transition, with its history literally written on its walls. If it’s a nice day, walk downtown to examine twenty deftly painted murals illustrating everything from prominent Jewish benefactors to local scenes and even one homage to Kidd & Co. Marshmallows, which was headquartered in Ligonier.
Explore The Amish Life in Nappanee
Another 22- mile drive through flat farmland brings you to Nappanee, IN.
There’s a large Amish community in this region of the country and the 80-acre The Barns at Nappanee, Home of Amish Acres interprets their lifestyle exceedingly well, pulling in tens of thousands of tourists a year.
Listed on the National Historic Register, The Barns at Nappanee “preserves the heritage and legacy of three generations of Amish who lived here,” according to one brochure.
Stomp through an original 12-room 1874 Amish residence (interior walls painted in startlingly vivid greens and blues – original colors used by the Amish sect here), and see soap-making demos, outdoor cooking, blacksmithing, broom-making, quilting and the like.
The Barns FarmTable Restaurant Nappanee IN
Anyone who is fascinated by the Amish people will be well served here – and in largest restaurant (two barns linked together) you’ve ever seen. The Barns FarmTable Sunday Brunch Buffett ($19.95 adults, $9.95 kids) stuffs you to the gills with fried chicken, prime rib, egg dishes, breads, pastries, and so much more.
A huge leap from captive-audience-tourist-trap, the Round Barn Theater at Amish Acres AKA the Joseph Stein Stage, is a bona fide professional theater drawing serious theater-goers. Housed within a stunning 1911 round barn, the space is downright lyrical. Imagine seeing a play in the rotunda of the Capitol Building in Washington, DC – if the Capitol was built of wooden beams and rafters – and you’ll have an idea of the venue’s magnificence.
Though the Theater stages several shows a year, the perennial favorite was Plain and Fancy, written by Joseph Stein (who also wrote Fiddler on the Roof). It was sure a natural fit – about a New Yorker’s culture clash with the Amish – and ran here for 25 years.
See One of the Most Luxurious RV Manufacturers in Action
As Covid raged, sales of Recreational Vehicle took off. That made Nappanee RV Manufacturer, NewMar, right on Indiana Route 6, very busy (despite the fact that their highest-end rigs range from $400K to $1.5 million). According to some RV enthusiasts, NewMar is the best in the industry. Perhaps, and most surprisingly, because it’s owned and operated almost entirely by Amish employees. For now, NewMar has suspended in-person tours, but you can sign up for virtual tours here.
Downtown Nappanee keeps the heart of Amish crafts and foods alive in the quaint shops at Coppes Commons, set within a former furniture and kitchen cabinet factory right on Route 6. Among them, Nappanee’s Bakery and Treat Shoppe – one of the originals.
Drive Through An Absurdly Gorgeous Scene on Indiana Route 6
Leaving Nappanee, you’ll drift by Amish furniture and handicraft stores, local quilts and light manufacturing. For a few miles you’re inside a life-size train set. Green hillocks, manicured golf courses, horse and buggies, freight trains cut across your field of vision. It’s a Lionel Set writ large and staggeringly beautiful.