Amish Acres Arts & Crafts Remembrances
By Richard Pletcher
Amish Acres Founder/CEO
Three seemingly unrelated events occurred in 1955 that foretold the beginnings of what has become Amish Acres Arts & Crafts Festival that is celebrating its 52nd
Anniversary. Walt Disney opened Disneyland in Los Angeles, The Amish Farm and House opened for tours in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, and Plain and Fancy, a musical about Amish life and love opened on Broadway. I was in the eighth grade. I had never heard of a festival, but grew up with ragged traveling fairs and circuses stopping through Nappanee. I got 25 cents per hour to help set up the big top, watched screeching motorcycles in creaky hippodromes on Main Street, and remember the faded tents, stands, and people, too.
My father, Lavern, took me to Lancaster in 1957 to visit the Amish Farm and House. He sensed potential demand for Amish tourism in Nappanee. I remember vividly observing the similarities between the Amish community of Lancaster and Nappanee. The idea of an Amish farm as a tourist attraction fermented for a number of years. Then in 1962 between my junior and senior year at Indiana University, we added a clothes line art show to sidewalk days around our family furniture store in downtown. People came. The enjoyed the free lemonade and donuts, but began asking for Amish related products; jams, jellies, smoked meat, buggy rides, and tours of Amish farms. The art show began to take on the atmosphere of a country fair, but as it grew was renamed the Village Art Festival. I pretended it had the color, cleanliness and pizzas of Disneyland, which I had not seen. I spent an additional semester at IU following my own course of study that included folk lore, art history, and interior design in both the home economics and art departments; no small feat for a business major.
Hours were spent in the main library researching folk festivals and traditions. As if on cue, The Nappanee Civic Theatre performed Plain and Fancy in 1967, the year before Amish Acres was created.
Here these events, ideas and experiences merged until the Manassas Kuhns Amish farm came up for auction at the west edge of Nappanee. Lived on by three generations of Indiana’s first Amish settlers, its historical value was known only to the family. In a leap of faith, with the support of a trio of Nappanee’s movers and shakers, we purchased the farm for the purpose of preserving, restoring and developing the farm’s buildings into a visitors’ attraction. Finally after seven years the festival moved to its rightful place at what became Amish Acres. By then the event began to resemble today’s annual festival but as it grew it saw the iconic gazebo move four times to its perch over the water of the farm’s pond.
Now this 55 year milestone event has seen over one and a half million visitors and artists have been recipients of over $250,000 in cash prizes and artists sell several million dollars worth of their creations each year. 300 artists and craftsmen make the annual pilgrimage to Nappanee from over 30 states and 250 cities. Four generations of shoppers, admirers and buyers have walked the aisles. The most prolific and popular artists are enshrined in the hall of fame, the Best of Show Blue Ribbon Museum of the purchase prizes is now located in Amish Acres Barn Loft Wine Room. Amish Acres has become an international tourist attraction that is listed in The National Register of Historic Places. Plain and Fancy is in its 26th year in the Round Barn Theatre and for the fourth time the festival is named one of the TOP 100 Events in North America by the American Bus Association.
In recognition of the 50th anniversary festival in 2012, Senator Ryan Mishler presented a Senate Resolution from the Indiana General Assembly, commendations from the Indiana House of Representatives, with a personal letter from Governor Mitch Daniels who also presented founder Richard Pletcher with the governor’s Distinguished Hoosier Award. Additional recognition to the half-century achievement included a key to the City of Nappanee presented by Mayor Larry Thompson and recognition from the Nappanee Public Library and the Elkhart County Convention and Visitors' Bureau.
Now the fourth generation of the Pletcher family carries on the festival’s decorated traditions. I remain the CEO of Amish Acres and the Festival, our daughter Jenni Wysong is the president of Amish Acres and the Festival’s marketplace director and five grandchildren have inherited the passion for the festival.
Come help us make this golden anniversary one of remembrance, mutual congratulations, and celebration. As Chubby Checker crooned in 1962, “Come on let’s twist again like we did last summer.”
Richard and Susan Pletcher
Jennifer and Andrew Wysong
Angela and Jeff Stillson