History of Amish Acres
Amish Acres History,
Personal Remembrances and Anecdotes
1968 - 2002
Richard L. Pletcher
Amish Settlement in Indiana
Nappanee, Indiana, is located in the southwestern section of Elkhart County. The city was platted in 1873 to serve as a station on the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad. The Village of Locke, located two and one half miles north of Nappanee, was founded nearly a decade earlier. Most of the buildings of Locke were moved to Nappanee after the railroad was completed. Mennonite settlements in Elkhart County preceded that of the Amish by nearly a decade as well. The first Amish to settle in Indiana arrived near Nappanee in 1839 -four sons of Barbara Stahly, an Amish widow from the Bavarian Palatinate of Germany. She brought her family to Stark County, Ohio in 1835. The Stahly family, of Swiss origin, moved to Wayne County, Ohio the following year, and in 1839, the sons, Christian, John, Jacob and Henry, came to Indiana. Christian Stahly appeared at the federal land office in Winamac, Indiana, on October 23, 1841, and obtained a presidential land grant. Barbara Stahly, the widow, died in 1896 and is buried in the Weldy Cemetery where a prominent gravestone still marks the burial site.Christian Stahly
Christian Stahly was born in Rhinebron, Germany, July 27, 1820. His parents were Henry and Barbara Stahly, natives of the same town. In November, 1835, they left Germany, landing in New York, and came to Starke County, Ohio, where they spent the winter, and in the spring removed to Wayne County, Ohio; here Christian lived eight years, then came to this county. He was married in Wayne County, Ohio, February 3, 1842, to Miss Fannie Haussauer, daughter of Peter and Mary Haussauer, of Wayne County, Ohio, who was born August 27, 1822; her father came from Germany and was among the first to settle in Eastern Ohio. Mr. and Mrs. Stahly have a family of 7 children: Peter, born October 2, 1842; Barbara, February 25, 1844; John, September 23, 1846; Moses, July 27, 1849; Magdalena, November 10, 1851; Solomon, July 19, 1853; and Samuel, July 28, 1858.
Mr. Stahly entered his farm in this township in October, 1840, and moved on it in July, 1842; since that time this farm has been his home; here his children were born, and lived until they married and found homes for themselves. In his financial affairs Mr. Stahly has been quite successful -he has a pleasant home and a good farm of 157 acres, besides helping his children to secure homes. He first entered 80 acres, and when he settled on it there were but two settlers within a mile. The roads at this time were not cut out, and he was forced to cut his own road for two miles in order to reach his land. He has long been a member of the Amish Church.
(Christian bought the 80 acres that is today Amish Acres for his son Moses. The first buildings were constructed in 1873. Moses' father-in-law, Noah Nissley, purchased the farm when Moses moved to Reno County, Kansas, and built the main house in 1893. Manases Kuhns, Nissley's son-in-law took over the farm and remained its owner until it was sold at auction following his death. Today the Stahly-Nissley-Kuhns farm is listed on the National Register of Historic Places)
Historical profile of Moses Stahly, founder of the farm that became Amish Acres.
(Taken from A History of Elkhart County, 1881, Chapman)
The 80 acres Manasses Kuhns farm was advertised for sale by public auction in October of 1968. Over fifty heirs shared an interest in the estate. My father, LaVern, a downtown Nappanee furniture retailer, had nurtured a sense of community pride, local culture and heritage in me as a young boy. He had dreamed of preserving an Amish farm and opening it to the public for many years. As unlikely as it sounds we made a trip to Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, around my freshman year in high school to research this dream. The Amish Farm & House, Lancaster's first tourist attraction, was opened in 1955. It became an inspiration for the fulfillment of this dream upon our return to Nappanee. Following my graduation from the School of Business, I returned to Indiana University in Bloomington for an additional semester. During that semester I designed my own schedule of classes which included folklore, art history and interior design. I researched folk festivals, Amish history and folk customs. I had already started, from LaVern's conception, the Village Art Festival surrounding Pletcher Furniture Village on Market Street in Nappanee.
The chance to make dreams become reality are rare. The auction of the Kuhns farm provided the chance for us to create Amish Acres. Three local businessmen, Gordon McCormick, Ivo "Pete" Heckaman and Freeman Borkholder were invited to join in the venture. A corporation was formed and became the successful bidder for the farm. The next closest bid was from Ben Kuhns, oldest son of Manasses, who lived in Arthur, Illinois. Most of the farm's historic features were unknown to us at the time of the auction. Shortly after the farm's opening as Amish Acres, the Pletcher family became sole owners of the farm and its future.
- 1968 Amish Acres, Inc. purchased the Manasses Kuhns farm at public auction.
- 1969 Amish carpenter crew preserves, stabilizes and restores original structures.
- 1970 Original Greeting Barn built, farm opened to the public for tours.
- 1971 Family style restaurant opens with menu still in use.
- 1972 Arts & Crafts Festival moved to Amish Acres from Pletcher Furniture.
- 1974 Meat & Cheese Shop log building relocated to Amish Acres.
- South barn of the current restaurant relocated to Amish Acres.
- Maintenance shop constructed
- 1975 Refreshment Center log building relocated to Amish Acres.
- Wagon shed replica constructed.
- 1976 Mint still relocated to Amish Acres.
- Saw mill relocated to Amish Acres.
- Addition to maintenance shop constructed.
- 1977 Restaurant fire causes total loss, rebuilt in the present location in six months to the day.
- Addition to Refreshment Center.
- 1978 Greeting Barn reconstructed from second relocated barn.
- 1979 Addition to the Greeting Barn.
- 1980 Walnut Street and Market Street houses moved to Amish Acres from Nappanee.
- Sawmill added Amish Acres.
- Additional buildings added to Amish Acres before 1980 include the Chauncy Thomas blacksmith shop, the maple sugar camp, Nappanee ice house and broom shop.
- 1987 Locke Township Meeting House theatre added to the Greeting Barn.
- Plain & Fancy debuts in 165 seat Locke Township Meeting House.
- Addition added to the Meat & Cheese Shop.
- Addition added to the Market Street house.
- 1988 Amish Acres listed on The National Register of Historic Places.
- 1989 64 room Inn at Amish Acres constructed on the farm's grounds.
- 1992 Round Barn theatre relocated to Amish Acres.
- Cow Shed craft shop opened across the county road.
- 1994 66 room Nappanee Inn constructed one half mile west of Amish Acres.
- 1995 Amish Acres opens Holiday Kiosk at University Park Mall.
- Overnight Country Package offered by Inn at Amish Acres.
- 1996 Introduction of repertory Theatre to Plain and Fancy at The Round Barn Theatre: Oklahoma, Fiddler on the Roof, Godspell, Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat and Annie.
- 1997 Encore season of repertory theatre: Tintypes, State Fair (Midwest Premiere), The Music Man, Shennandoah, The Baker’s Wife (newly revised version) and revival of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat.
- Introduction of Theme Buffets in the Barn Loft Grill.
- Marsha Adams, author, hired as dining consultant.
- Stephen Schwartz attends opening night of The Baker’s Wife.
- Joseph Stein Stage dedicated opening night of The Baker’s Wife.
- Joseph Stein visits November 1, 1997.
- Robert Falls, Artistic Director, The Goodman Theatre attends opening of The Bakers Wife.
- Introduction of corporate picnics.
- TIME magazine features Nappanee in cover article, December 8, 1997.
- Bulk food introduced in The Cow Shed.
- Pond dug at Cow Shed and drainage run to US 6.
- Travel Guide magazine names Amish Acres number three of 97 finds for 1997.
- Group Travel magazine names Amish Acres its only recommended destination in the US.
- Christians walk out of The Baker’s Wife.
- Dirk Lumbard plays Harold Hill with Stratford costumes.
- Ray Frewen plays Charlie Anderson in Shennandoah.
- Scott Schwartz directs The Baker’s Wife.
- Introduced mail order gift catalog.
- Expanded banner page advertising into Detroit and Indianapolis.
- Ed Bearss, Chief Historian, National Park Service, Emeritus, attends opening of Shenandoah.
- 1998 Repertory Theatre season Closer than Ever, Big River, My Fair Lady, 1776, Zorba, Plain & Fancy, The Sound of Music.
- Liz's Furniture leases former West Store of Pletcher Furniture.
- Amish Acres open on-line store through Yahoo!
- U.S. News and World Report magazine features Amish Acres on-line General Store in cover article, December 7, 1998.
- 1999 Repertory Theatre season Brigadoon, Hello Dolly, Annie Get Your Gun, Grand Night for Signing, Plain & Fancy, Meet Me in Saint Louis.
- Hollis Resnick plays Dolly Levi.
- Retail Bakery remodeled.
- Amish Acres online store ranked as Top Service Store by Yahoo!
- Amish Acres opens in-line store for Holiday season at Scottsdale Mall.
- 2000 Kuhns family reunion, September 24; 472 relatives attend.
- German School acquired in October, 2000.
- Genesis and Exodus films written by Frank Ramirez and Richard Pletcher produced.
- Round Barn Theatre stage renovate; grand drape, additional lighting circuits, structural posts removed, wings added.
- White House purchased for actor housing.
- 2000 Millennium New Year's Eve party with fireworks.
- Barn Loft Grill created.
- Thanksgiving Buffets first served.
- Stone House purchased.
- Mustard Mansion purchased for staff housing.
- Wood rail fence installed surrounding perimeter of Amish Acres.
- Tower sign replaced with low profile sign surrounded with field stone.
- United States Postal Service selects Amish Acres to host dedication ceremony for First Day of Issue of Amish Quilt Stamps commemoratives.
- Repertory Theatre season Triumph of Love, Man of La Mancha, Fiddler on the Roof, Smoke on the Mountain, Plain & Fancy, and Peter Pan.
- Tricia Sloma from WNDU-TV hosts "Simple Life" series from Amish Acres.
- Amish Acres plays host to 450 Holland Choir visitors for guided tour and dinner.
- Richard Pletcher selected as Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year.
- Amish Acres opens holiday store at Glenbrook Mall in Fort Wayne.
- Amish Acres joins wireless community with T1 Internet connection and fiber optic connection between buildings.
- All inclusive Theatre Escape Weekends.
- Two new Documentary Films created: Genesis and Exodus.
- House located across from Amish Acres purchased and remodeled for actor's housing.
- Theatre costume shop and rehearsal studio moved to School Belfry.
- Amish Acres acquires Amish one room German School House.
- Amish Acres releases first addition Recipe Book, sells out in two months.
- 2001 Repertory Theatre season Carnival, Gypsy, Damn Yankees, Cole, Plain & Fancy, Cinderella.
- School Belfry opens Quilt Gallery and Blue Ribbon Art Gallery.
- Round Barn Theatre stage remodeled, Grand Drape installed.
- Christmas Shop opens in Stone House across county road from Amish Acres.
- Richard Pletcher and Frank Ramirez publish This Wooden O: The Story of Amish Acres, Plain & Fancy, and the Round Barn Theatre.
- 2002 Repertory Theatre season Plain and Fancy, Dames at Sea, The King and I, West Side Story, Seven Brides for Seven Brothers, and Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat.
- Rainbow Fabrics, a fabric store owned by Kathy Kohl, moves into the lower level of The School Belfry.
- New Children's film, Bonnets & Britches: The Whys & Ways of the Amish Especially to Children, is shown in the Locke Township Meeting House.
- The Amish Acres Arts and Crafts Festival is rated among to Top 50 outstanding festivals and events for 2002 by Leisure Group Travel Magazine.
- The Amish Acres Arts and Crafts Festival is an American Bus Association Top 100 Event winner for 2003.
The Stahly-Nissley-Kuhns Farmstead
Today the Stahley-Nissley-Kuhns farm, now known as Amish Acres, is the only Old Order Amish farm listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The Kuhns farm was featured on the cover of The Prairie Farmer, a popular Midwestern farm publication in the 1930s during a "name that farm" contest.
First Day on the Farm
Fred Simic, a college friend I had convinced to come to work with me to create Amish Acres, and I started mowing the farm's weeded orchard on Memorial Day in 1969. By noon I went home with both eyes swollen shut from the abundance of pollen. The landscape of the farm was so overrun that rats seemed to own the place and were climbing mulberry trees for the red berries in broad daylight. Fred and I ambushed the varmints with rifles without success. However, in several days we heard about a body found along the B&O tracks at a location that would have been in the line of our futile fire. Rather than having been shot by our misguided bullets, the bum has simply fallen off the freight car upon which he was hitching a ride. The farm was a favorite overnight place for hobos on the trains over the years, particularly during the Depression. It was common for the hay mow to be an overnight home to more than one vagrant at a time, all being fed by the family at each meal.
Shortly after the purchase, but before the farm was ever opened to the public as Amish Acres, a herd of heifers was put out to pasture to begin making money for the new corporation. Because the fences were in relative poor condition, the heifers quickly found the weak points and were on the wrong side of the fence as often as the right side. The end of the heifer experiment came the day after the night that the entire herd ended up on the B&O Railroad tracks heading toward town. Not sure of the herd's whereabouts, I flagged down a west bound train around midnight to ask the engineer if he had seen our cows.
Luckily the heifers had already rendezvoused in the American Legion parking lot at about 2 a.m. just following the bar's last call. By that time Fred Simic, and his horse Shemo, was rounding up the young cows to the delight of several inebriated legionnaires. The drive back down the tracks took two more hours and ended with traffic on U.S. 6 stopped for an extended period as the heifers made their last trip to the farm. Monday morning the truck arrived to move the herd to a farm with more experience in animal husbandry and animal containment. We lost less than $5,000 in the sale. Not bad for a start.
During the same early period of porous fences, the horses got out so often that the police called me at any hour whenever a horse was reported out anywhere in town. As our fences were systematically repaired, more and more of the calls were for horses which were not ours. I now know why brands are important, you get more sleep.
Employees with More Than Tenure
A number of Amish Acres employees have been a part of the farm since its earliest beginnings. One employee, my fourth grade teacher, has been a tour guide for twenty three years. She started her career at Amish Acres after retiring from two school systems. She is over ninety years old and drives her own car to work each day. Her son was awarded an Emmy for his direction of the San Francisco Symphonic Chorus in 1993 and brought the statue to Amish Acres stage as part of the Nappanee Native Sons & Daughters Program sponsored by the Nappanee Public Library. The library won the John Cotton Dana public relations award from the American Library Association for the series.
Another one of our senior employees quilted in the gross daadi house in the farm's historic area for over twenty years. Her prized quilts number in the hundreds. She was the first woman school bus driver in Indiana and I rode on her bus for many years - one of the few bus riding students to ever be the last one on and the first one off. Most of Amish Acres management team has been associated with the farm for ten to fifteen years, many starting their carriers as high school and college students.
Discovery of the Root Cellar
The root cellar, or cave, on the farm was uncovered after Albert Kuhns mentioned its former location while recalling his childhood memories. Upon finding several stones lined up in the grass of the former hog lot, preliminary digging uncovered the four field stone walls of the former cellar and the remains of the brick steps at one end. As was typical practice on similar farms, the cellar became obsolete when the basement in the new house became more convenient and household refuse was thrown into the cellar to fill it in. A dozen medicine bottles, pieces of crockery intact plus many broken pieces of china and glassware were recovered from the cellar. Today the cellar has been rebuilt from the remains and is part of the farm's tour.
Memories of The Open Well
Albert Kuhns, great-great grandson of the farm's founder, recalled that when the open well under the back porch of the main house collapsed in the 1920's and the windmill was installed to pump water from the newly driven deep water well marked the end of typhoid fever's plaguing his family. He lost his mother and stepmother to the dreaded disease. The nostalgic green wooden pump with the well worn red handle over the old well on the back porch of the house carried little nostalgia for Albert. Rather than restoring the well it has been left as silent tribute to the hardships which were endured on this farm along with the beauty and serenity more easily remembered and seen by today's visitor.
The Legend of Tater Losee
Nineteen rural building have been moved to the farm to help tell the story of the past. Tater Losee, Nappanee house mover, moved the ones that were not dismantled. The ice house was originally built in Nappanee where it stored block ice in sawdust for local pick up. The building was later purchased and moved to Milford, Indiana, 15 miles away. Later, Amish Acres purchased it and moved it back to Nappanee. The mover, Tater Losee, was paid for moving it both ways.
Tater also moved the Chauncy Thomas Blacksmith Shop from six miles south of Nappanee. Everything, including the anvil, forge, stoves, workbench, tools and parts, was left in its place and moved in one piece. Arrangements were made with the B&O Railroad to assist in transporting the building across the tracks on the way to the farm. After waiting for forty five minutes, Tater said, "Lets go. I've got to get home for lunch."
After setting the blacksmith shop on the new foundation which had been prepared for it, the north east corner leaned to the left. Tater analyzed the situation from every angle, then got in his World War II ammunitions carrier, complete with heavy duty wench, backed up, revved the motor, and intentionally rammed the corner of the building, jolting it into a shivering racket. When the swaying stopped, it settled into its new home a second time and every corner was plumb.
The Restaurant Fire
On January 31, 1977, Amish Acres original restaurant burned to the ground. The fire was set in a act of arson as diversion. The purpose was to get the police on the west side of town at closing of the two drug stores on the east side of town. The perpetrators plan was to rob the drug stores of their cash and soft drugs which would be converted into hard drugs for their own use. Several feet of snow and extremely cold temperatures hampered the fire fighting efforts. The first major truck to arrive was stuck in the snow before it got to the scene. Although the building was not protected by a sprinkler system, direct alarms had trucks with sirens and red lights arriving at the scene before the criminals were out of the building. I was the first person in the building and could see fires set in numerous places in the lower level bakery
Following setting the fire, the two confused accomplices involved themselves in several acts of ironic comedy. Upon getting stuck in the parking lot during the attempted getaway, the one who pushed the driver out, was left to his own devises. The stranded man asked the police for a ride uptown because his car was broken down on County Road 52. The police gave him the lift. He wondered around town looking for a pay phone to find his buddy. Finding no phone, he wondered into the police station and asked the rookie cop holding down the station to use the phone. The rookie noticed a switchblade knife in his pocket, proceeded to frisked him, and found blank prescription papers in his possession taken from a medical clinic in Goshen which had been burned the night before to cover the drug robbery which took place there.
Rebuilding in Six Months
The burned restaurant was relocated and rebuilt as a ground floor addition to the two story gift barn. We were already in preliminary negotiation with Mary Jane Deardorf of Syracuse for a large barn on her property for expansion of the restaurant in its original location. My high school friend, John Kendall, West Point graduate, had just returned to Nappanee to live from a career in the United States Army, offered to help. He and I had torn down a small barn for my father while in college. John and a scabbed together crew began dismantling the barn before the insurance claim was settled and the rubble removed. His dedication was instrumental in the rebuilt restaurant's opening six months to the day from the fire's rubble with growth from 150 seats to 400 seats thrown in for extra measure. The new kitchen was filled with used stainless steel equipment from the Indiana Toll Road which was at the time converting from its original cafeteria service to fast food format.
Group Looking for Arcola, Illinois in Nappanee, Indiana
Many groups travel to Amish Acres from Chicago each year. Possibly the most confused was a group that arrived at Amish Acres to discover that they were slated to visit Rockhome Gardens in Arcola, Illinois. The driver of the charter bus had asked the group's leader where they were going, the leader replied, "That Amish place." The driver, more familiar with Amish Acres in Indiana, turned left out of Chicago. The next discovery was that the group's deposit was in Illinois and the group was in Nappanee. High level phone negotiations arranged for the group to be fed and Amish Acres to be paid for the group with money transferred from Arcola.
Restaurant's First Day
Visitors to Amish Acres demanded food service before Amish Acres was organized to supply it. The restaurant was opened on a Sunday in July of 1970, 150 ham dinners were served and I washed all of the dishes in a three compartment sink. With only one place setting per seat, dishes and flatware had to be washed before the next party could be served. Monday morning I was enroute to South Bend to return with a used $125 immersion dishwasher which was installed by the next Sunday. Now the restaurant is operated with the fifth dishwasher, a stainless steel contraption which costs the same as a mid-sized Mercedes automobile.
The barn which is now the lobby, bakery and grill at Amish Acres was relocated from east of Nappanee on Highway 6 and was known as the Long barn. During the removal of the barn, I was researching the Levi Ulery diaries in the historic collection of the Nappanee Public Library. I discovered an entry in the fall of 1876 during the raising of the Long barn. Levi, helping erect the barn as all neighbors did, had injured his leg with an ax and required stitches, the coincidence of the two events made the history of the building come alive in human terms.
Arts & Crafts Festival
Over the years of the Arts & Crafts Festival, the most unusual was the Friday night Nixon resigned as president of the United States on national television. A portable television was set up on the gazebo for the visitors and vendors to watch the historic moment. It goes without saying the festive atmosphere of the event hit its lowest point.
The most difficult festival was in 1992 when a tornado tore through the grounds late Wednesday afternoon during final set up. Nearly every tent on the grounds was damaged. Sixty foot square tents were ripped from center pole to edge cord. Artists individual tents were upended at the rate of over one half. Much inventory was lost as the storm was accompanied by torrential rain and trailing winds. Ft. Wayne Tent crews worked around the clock to sew, patch and replace tents in time for the show's opening day. Within two hours after the show's official opening Thursday morning, a second, similar storm followed the same path inflicting only slightly less damage. The display of human spirit and resolve you only see is such crises.
The first art festival was held in front of Pletcher Furniture Village during Sidewalk Days in the summer of 1962. It featured the red barn water colors painted by budding artists at the city's summer recreation program taught by Josef Wroble of South Bend. Free lemonade and donuts were served to the strolling visitors. The second year's event amplified the first but doubled in size. By the third year visitors began demanding Amish related products, foods and attractions.
A press release promoting the Amish theme of the further expanded festival was reprinted by the Chicago Tribune with one slight change--the word "festival" was changed to "fair" in the headline. Thursday morning Nappanee was flooded with tourists from Chicago looking for the "Amish fair." The unrealistic expectations of the visitors and the unexpected size of the crowds made the event less than successful from everyone's point of view. Several letters to the editor in the Tribune complained about the misrepresentation of the event. The local coffee counter crowd shook its collective head and wrote off the Pletcher kid as having finally gone too far.
In fact the experience of that event served as the market research and created the resolve for the creation of Amish Acres. Within several years the festival was moved permanently to the historic farm. Now in its fortieth year, the event draws 900 applicants for 330 booths that surround the pond for the four days of the second full weekend in August. It has become a multi-million dollar event with over 70,000 patrons visiting the festival each year.
Evolution of the Arts and Crafts Festival to Amish Acres
The 1970 festival remained at its original location while Amish Acres was being restored. But the farm was added to the event in a unique way. Frieda Helmuth and her Amish church froze homemade ice cream on the threshing floor of the original bank barn. A large tent was erected in front of the barn near the windmill and festival visitors were shuttled from downtown to the farm in the festival's bus, dubbed the Wilkum Wagon. Preview tours were given through the main house of Amish Acres. It was a glorious beginning to see the farm begin to come to life as envisioned.
The 1971 festival was moved to Amish Acres. The only "new" building in place was the original Greeting Barn, the first of the relocated buildings brought to Amish Acres. Ham dinners were being served in the loft of the barn and souvenirs were being offered below. The risk of moving the festival weighed as heavily as any decision of its nature could. Would people drive the extra mile? Would the artists and craftsmen adapt to the change? The set up that had wound its way around the alleys and side streets near Pletcher Furniture Village now was set up randomly at the west end of the original orchard of the farm. Many of the booths were set up on straw covered ground where construction had disturbed the orchard grass. Amish Acres was still outside of the city limits of Nappanee. There was no sewer and water was available from an old well. Hopefully holding our breath helped the transition happen with a minimum of disruption to everyone involved.
By 1972 the infrastructure to support the growing event had been beefed up considerably. Underground electricity and communication cables had been buried to give the show a more clean appearance. The gazebo took its place in front of the Greeting barn as the expanding booths began creeping up the orchard hill toward the historic area of the farm. The next several years were filled with adjustments to the grounds as the additional buildings were under construction or just opened. These included the Gift Barn, two relocated log cabins--actually two story houses, plus major additions to the Greeting Barn, now become restaurant.
By 1976 the festival had outgrown the confines of the orchard. The gazebo was moved with trepidation to the north side of the gift barn and participants were beginning to be organized in rows between it and the pond. Would we ever have the nerve to think that visitors would go all of the way around the pond visiting all of the booths equally? We never had to make the decision. When the original 150 seat restaurant burned in January of 1977, the present 400 seat restaurant was designed, built, furnished, equipped and opened in six months to the day. The space taken up by this new structure displaced so many artist booth spaces, that there was no alternative other than to surround the pond with the growing number of artists. A growth that soon filled the farm to the capacity of 360 participants each year from nearly 1,000 applications.
The competition tent continues to set the festival apart from all others. Cash prizes have steadily increased to over $7,000, including two $1,000 purchase prizes. In celebration of the 25th anniversary of the event in 1988, the purchase prizes were given in big bags of silver dollars.
The event has become national in scope with participants coming from nearly 200 cities in nearly 40 states. Sunshine Artist magazine ranks the festival in its Top 200 and its Top 20 Traditional Craft shows in the nation.
Bob Ralston, Lawrence Welk's organist, came to the festival in 1992, the year of the storm, to play three concerts each day in a separate tent on a $60,000 Yamaha electronic organ which was brought in from Chicago for the occasion. One of the draws of getting Mr. Ralston was the opportunity for him to stay with an Old Order Amish family. Upon his arrival in a rented Lincoln Town Car direct from Los Angeles International, his world was altered dramatically for four days.
Mr. Ralston is a tall man and found his accommodations in the low ceiling second floor bedroom of an Amish house with a family of eleven. At 5 a.m. the first morning of his visit, the father and twelve year old daughter left on their bicycles for the Bremen Hospital seven miles away to have her tonsils removed. The next day the father returned to the hospital in his horse drawn buggy to pick up his daughter and her bicycle. By Saturday all nine children and the parents were seated in the front row, each with a bag of popcorn, listening to many of Welk's classics, the first time they had ever heard them.
Herman B Wells' Visit
Shortly after the opening of Comfort Inn Amish Acres in 1989, Angie Pletcher, the inn's manager, overheard a reservation being made for Herman Wells. Excitedly she called me and said, "Dad, do you think he is the real Herman Wells?" She was referring to the legendary former president of Indiana University and current chancellor. I called friends in Bloomington who would be in a position to know if he was planning a trip to the area. No one seemed to know anything about his visit. I said to Angie, "Is it Herman B--without a period?" All Indiana University graduates know that Dr. Wells middle initial is his middle name.
On the day of his arrival a red and white IU flag was flown from the hotel's entryway. When Dr. Wells, his nurse and driver arrived, he said, "Oh, Oh, they know we're coming." I knew President Wells, however, he did not know of my association with either Amish Acres or the inn. For the next two days we showed him all of Amish Acres and highlighted his visit here with Plain & Fancy which had several IU music school and drama students in the cast. He sat on the front row and shook with laughter.
Dr. Wells had just had a tooth extracted before coming and was confined to a rather liquid diet. After a bowl of soup in the soda shop for lunch, my wife Susie, a fellow IU graduate, offered Dr. Wells a strawberry sundae, which he accepted, with his nurse's reluctant permission.
The next day we escorted Dr. Wells to the Eli Lilly estate on Lake Wawasee. Dr. Wells had spent many visits there over the decades. He sat on a park bench overlooking Indiana's largest natural lake reminiscing about his association with the amazing Mr. Lilly. Dr. Wells was the first non-family member appointed to the board of trustees of the Lilly Foundation, now the Lilly Endowment, one of the largest private endowments in the country. Upon departing, the household and grounds keeping staff of the estate presented Dr. Wells with a white Lilly dug from the gardens to take home to his house on 10th Street in Bloomington. It was a special moment.
British Broadcasting Corporation Reporter
Numerous foreign reporters have found their way to Amish Acres over the last quarter of a century. This group ranges from Japanese television crews to German magazine reporters. The most humorous encounter came between a British Broadcasting Corporation radio reporter and Ruth Miller, baker and cook at Amish Acres. The reporter was very short and extremely excited to have the opportunity to talk to an Amish women about their distinctive cuisine. The reporter asked Ruth to name some favorite Amish dishes. Ruth thought a minute, and answered with meat, potatoes, vegetables and fruit.
The frustrated short reporter, looking for romantic recipe names, was by now on her knees begging Ruth for words describing recipes dripping with originality and nostalgia. None were forthcoming. I said, "Tell her about Haystacks." By now the reporter was almost in Ruth's chair with her. Ruth proceeded to describe a popular concoction which is often served at fund raising dinners held to pay for medical bills and catastrophic needs in the community. Ruth said, "You break up chips, cover them with shredded lettuce, then tomato and cheese." The reporter in anticipation asked if this layered mixture was covered with a special sauce from down on the farm. Ruth responded matter of faculty, "We use taco sauce". You could here the microphone switch flip off while you saw the disappointment on the British face descend.
Better Homes and Gardens
In 1986 Better Homes and Gardens came in February to shoot scenes at Amish Acres for background for its December "Farm Christmas" feature. We had the unique experience of cutting Christmas trees from the local tree farm in February, a first and last in the history of the business.
Red Skelton's Visit
While visiting the International Plate Collectors' Convention in South Bend in 1989, Red Skelton, a Hoosier from Vincennes, wished to replace a wooded handmade pitch fork which had been stolen from his collection of primitive Hoosier artifacts from his California home. He was sent to Amish Acres where he found the exact fork he was looking for. While here he purchased three hand made quilts from the farm's display to add to his collection.
State Officials Inspect Barn Restaurant
In the middle of building the original restaurant barn, jurisdiction over the construction transferred from Elkhart County to Nappanee. In the process the State of Indiana became involved and sent two inspectors from Indianapolis to make sure that all codes were being followed. They were perplexed by the open stairway built from native cut oak planks nearly three inches thick: they couldn't find its classification in their code book. After hours of analysis the stairway was approved. During this exercise, a state approved pole building had collapsed while also under construction across the road.
Eight Buses of Swiss at One Time
The most challenging group to be hosted by Amish Acres came from Switzerland on eight chartered buses from Chicago. It was a delightful group with 12 language interpreters. Most memorable was that all of the pie placed on the tables was eaten before any of the family style meal was served. Following the visit the Indiana Division of Tourism called to find out how all of the Swiss had gotten to Indiana. Talk about the tail wagging the dog.
Amish Eat Free
When the Kuhn's farm became Amish Acres, a policy was established that all Old Order Amish could eat free in the restaurant at any time. Every funeral and every wedding in the area brought lines of visiting Amish to the farm for dinner. The policy had to be rescinded within several months after being announced. Early the Kuhns family held a reunion at the West Side Park in Nappanee. They chartered bus to bring the attendees to the farm to show them grandpa's house and farm the way they remember it.
A Vision Quest wagon train of convicted juveniles from Pennsylvania rendevoued and set up camp in the farm's front field for four days. Several years later CBS News 60 Minutes exposed the Vision Quest program for its shortcomings and overblown claims of successful rehabilitation.
Starting the Elkhart County Convention and Visitors' Bureau
While serving on the Greater Elkhart Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors, the late Bill Miller and I served as cochairmen of the tourism committee. When I mentioned to Bill that room taxes could fund a county convention and visitors bureau, I think he contacted every legislator in Indiana within the week and the wheels began to turn to establish the Elkhart County Convention and Visitors Bureau.
In the 1970s Travel Indiana was a not-for-profit tourism trade association representing the industry statewide. Its major project was a brochure map of Indiana. After three successful maps, the paid association manager and lobbyist and the administrative assistant ran off with the money.
As president of Back Home Indiana Attractions, Inc., we single handily reprinted the map and erased a $13,000 printing bill left by the thieves. A number of years later I was visited by Federal Bureau of Investigation agents who flew into Nappanee to concerning violation of lobbying laws by the former manager.
Amish Acres is a registered trademark of the United States government. Twice legal action has been take to protect the mark. Both times the violators were in Ohio. Private investigators were hired to collect evidence to support Amish Acres' claim.
Back Home Indiana Attractions Association
Richard Pletcher was founder and president of Back Home Indiana Attractions, Inc., a not-for-profit association that included Amish Acres, Indiana Beach, International Friendship Gardens, Santa Claus Land (now Holiday World), Marengo Cave, Squire Boone Caverns and Auburn-Cord-Dusenburg Museum. The group actively promoted together until the advent of the convention and visitors bureaus across the state realigned the methods of promotion.
Disappearance of the Ford Mustang
During the restoration of the farm's original structures, the Amish crew was made up of farmer-carpenters. The group included deacons and preachers. They came to work each day in a Ford Mustang fastback with about 400 horses under the hood owned by one of their own. He was allowed to have such extravagance because he was not married and unbaptised. One day halfway through the project, the young man came to ask permission to use our pick up truck to transport the crew to and from work. The Mustang had been sold. The young man was taking a wife and within several months has a full beard, owned a horse and buggy and was living by gas light.
Ivan Hochstetler, the Harness Maker
Ivan Hochstetler, an Amish harness maker, has supervised his Amish carpenter crew through the dismantling and reconstruction of three barns, two log houses, the round barn, mint still, maple sugar camp, sawmill in addition to the restoration of the farm's original buildings.
Josef, the Opera Tenor
Among the more than 100 actors who have performed in Plain & Fancy at Amish Acres, one of the most unique was an actor wishing to become an opera star. Throughout the summer he would walk the streets of Nappanee practicing his auras at the top of his developed lungs. At first curtains would close, blinds would come down and door locks would click as he sang by. As these nearly daily occurrences musical outbursts became more common, the communities attitude changed and by the end of the summer before school restarted, Josef could be seen like the pied piper leading groups of children through the maple shaded streets of Nappanee.
Resurfacing of Highway 6
During the resurfacing of U.S. Highway 6, several Nappanee businessmen and I lobbied for the state to widen the asphalt berms to eight feet wide to accommodate horse drawn vehicles and bicyclists relieving the highway from the slower traffic which Amish transportation causes. Upon hearing of the effort, Mrs. Schmucker, Amish Acres' nearest neighbor to the north, stopped to ask if a petition from the Amish would help in the effort. I said I thought it would help.
Two weeks later I was presented with over 200 names from ten Amish church districts in support of the project. The Bishops, deacons and ministers each identified themselves. Almost miraculously within a half an hour of receiving the petitions a letter came stating the berms would be widened. I took a copy immediately to Mrs. Schmucker who was elated. The next day she returned to my office to ask if I could do anything to get United Telephone to install an outdoor pay phone at Amish Acres so it would be available to her for emergency purposes. So it was installed.
Maude and Fanny Kuhns' Cabinet
Maude and Fanny Kuhns were unmarried sisters of Albert who took care of their father on the farm during his extended illness. Following Manasses death they moved to town to take care of another elderly man. The glass doored antique cabinet they owned together did not fit in their new rooms. It was filled with lifelong collections of glassware, silverware and china. I was asked if we would keep the cabinet in the main house at the farm for them until they found space for it. Space never came and following Maude's death, in preparation for her household sale, I was asked if Amish Acres would be interested in purchasing the cabinet and its contents.
We met that night in the unlighted living room with the appointed committee of Amish in charge of Maude's affairs. A meticulous inventory was taken of every item in the cabinet. Then huddled in the corner with a single flashlight, an asking price was agreed upon. I quickly agreed. I feel certain the Amish were relieved to have the cabinet and its contents stay together rather than being spread across the auctioneers table the next day to be further spread among the dozens of buyers who would have split the collection piece by piece.
Plain and Fancy
Albert Hague, Composer
In 1990 Amish Acres invited Albert Hague, Plain and Fancy's composer, and his wife Rene, a member of the original cast, to help celebrate the eclipsing of Broadway's run of 461 performances. They had not seen the show for over twenty five years. Following the milestone Saturday night performance, Albert took the stage surrounded by Amish Acres cast to reminiscence about the show. He recalled how he got the job by mistake. After the first round of auditions for composer, Albert's name was on the rejection list. The secretary reversed the lists and called Albert back by mistake. The producers became somewhat confused as well and out of some frustration concluded that because Albert was German and the Amish were German, he would have natural instincts for the show and gave him the job. In fact Albert had never heard of the Amish.
Albert escaped Nazi Germany just before its borders were sealed. He arrived in Cincinnati to live with a relative a young, yet accomplished pianist. He attended the conservatory of music there. He was rejected from every musical job for which he applied because he didn't know American "tunes." Finally Albert joined the musicians union knowing that any contract he would get would prevent his firing for a specified period of time. He proceeded to lie his way into a pianists job. When his shortcoming was discovered, through his contract, he bought enough time to learn literally hundreds of "tunes" by ear so quickly, that he was kept working.
How Do You Raise a Barn?
Albert and Arnold Horwitt were stumped by the rousing barn raising scene that opened act two of the new show. While walking down 7th avenue of New York, Horwitt kept pounding his fist in frustration saying to himself, "How do you raise a barn?" Upon finally hearing him, Albert replied, "That's it!" and so the show stopper became "How do you raise a barn" from Horwitt rhetorical question along the sidewalks of New York.
During Albert's visit I asked him if he was aware that his long dormant royalty checks had been rising now that Amish Acres had revived the show for several years. He nonchalantly replied that he had people that take care of such things. Two years later, however, it was Albert himself who called to inform me that the original cast album had been re-released on compact disk and that we might wish to sell them in our gift shop. I was able to tell him that we had constructed a new theatre from an old round barn. Within a week Albert called me again. This time he wanted to verify how many seats the new theatre had. Presumably he was indeed checking up on the people he has who take care of these things.
When Peter was Papa
When Plain and Fancy opened at Amish Acres the show had four actors. In fact the parts of Papa Yoder and Peter Reber, the stars of the show were played by the same actor. To our amazement it often took audiences until Act two to figure out the slight of person. Papa/Peter would run from the stage entrance outside to the theatre entrance, putting on or taking of his beard on the way, often with an umbrella in the other hand.
Inspiration and Perspiration
The most inspiring event in the life of Plain and Fancy at Amish Acres resulted from an unfortunate accident. Katie was being played by an actress who lived north of Goshen and drove to the theatre every day and night along SR 19. On a particular evening in July, she ran a stop sign and collided with another automobile receiving lacerations on her forehead and a slight concussion. There was good reason for the accident, the stop sign had just been installed that day. The show had to be canceled for the evening. Friday morning a stand-in actress arrived from Chicago at 9:00 a.m. With a script, a tape player of the show's music, at a picnic table in the orchard she began memorizing her lines. By 8:00 that evening she went on stage, script in hand, and played the part of Katie to the audience's amazement. By Saturday matinee she carried only the music lyric book, but I don't recall her referring to it and by Saturday's evening performance she never missed a cue, line or lyric. An amazing feat.
Irony of Amish Mennonite Ways
The Amish Mennonite general contractor, a minister, and carpenter crew who built the round barn theatre are not permitted to see Plain and Fancy in the theatre they built, not because it is about the Amish, but because it is theatre, a forbidden entertainment of their church. During the hurried construction of the theatre to meet the scheduled deadline, the contractor took a week off to teach school in his church's parochial school.
The Round Barn's Steel Frame
The round barn stood for eighty five years before being dismantled to be moved to Amish Acres to become the theatre. Upon submitting plans for the reconstructed barn to the State of Indiana for a building permit, we were told that the barn's structural engineering was insufficient. Therefore a thirty two ton tubular steel frame was required from which to hang the old barns structured.
Patrons have given the cast an original playbill from Broadway, sheet music of Young and Foolish, and a 45 rpm album of the cast album
Barn Swallows Join the Chorus
In 1995 toward the end of May barn swallows found their way into the roof and rafters between the round barn and the stage barn. So for several weeks the baby swallows would screech along with the cast and the Steinway.
Joseph Stein Prediction
Daryll Lombard, a member of the 1995 cast, related during the cast's first meeting of the season that in 1987 while he was working as a masseuse during the day in Manhattan, he was giving a massage to a man who said he was a writer. Daryll, after indicating his acting profession, asked if he might recognize anything his patent had written. Nonchalantly the man, face down on the table, with his arms crossed under his chin, said, "I've written Zorba the Greek, Fiddler on the Roof and Plain and Fancy. Daryll's hands froze above the man's back as he apologized, "Mr. Stein, I'm so sorry I didn't recognize your name." Joseph Stein said, "Don't worry about it. Perhaps some day you'll have a chance to act in one of my plays."
The Tonight Show with Jay Leno
In 1992 Jay Leno on NBC's Tonight Show noted Amish Acres in one of his newspaper advertisement features, pointing out the inconsistencies in a Broadway play about the Amish being shown at the historic farm. That segment is part of the Amish Acres orientation film.
Dinner with the Steins in Manhattan
Dick, Susie and Jerry O’Boyle had dinner with Joe and Elisa Stein in New York in January. Informed him of the scheduling of The Baker’s Wife. He was very pleased. We asked for a recommendation for a director. He, actually Elisa, recommended Scott Schwartz, son of the show‘s composer, Stephen Schwartz, the Academy Award winning songwriter for "Colors of the Wind" for Disney’s Pocahontas film. He wrote Godspell, Pippin, the theme song for Butterflies are Free and the English lyrics for Leonard Bernsteins Mass. We also informed Stein that our stage was to be dedicated to him. He was very pleased as well.
Dedication of the Stage to Joseph Stein
The stage of the Round Barn Theatre was dedicated to Joseph Stein, opening night of The Baker’s Wife, Saturday, October 11, 1997. Stephen Schwartz, responded on Mr. Stein’s behalf. Sara Jane Mullins, Annie of 1996, assisted Richard Pletcher in the dedication. Both Schwartz and guest director Scott, were given Keys to the City of Nappanee, and proclamations from the Mayor declaring it Stephen and Scott Schwartz Day.
Call from Season Subscriber
Mrs. Wanda Callahan called to ask if she could come early to The Baker’s Wife, October 17, 1997, to try out an invention of hers. It is a diaper for Amish horses to wear when harnessed in their buggies. Amish in her area are too suspecting of her to let her try it on their horses. She is interested in this diaper because five counties in Ohio have passed laws prohibiting Amish horses from leaving their dropping in the roads of the counties.
Robert Falls, Artistic Director, The Goodman Theatre, Chicago visits
Robert Falls came to the opening night of The Baker’s Wife. He was not aware that Stephen was coming. Stephen has seen a production of The Rose Tattoo that Falls had directed and was very impressed with it. Stephen had recommended Falls to a group of New York producers to possibly direct a revival of The Baker’s Wife in New York.
Aida tickets returned
The Round Barn Theatre (2005 season) was the first in Indiana to mount a production of Elton John & Tim Rich's Aida following its close on Broadway after a four year run. In the promotional scheme to educate Hoosiers to Aida, the theatre's promotions department arranged for WVPE Public Radio to give away pairs of tickets to the show. Winner Alex V. returned his tickets when he learned he had not won tickets to an Elton John concert in Nappanee.