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Elkhart, Indiana - Gem of a Hometown in American Heartland

Updated on July 28, 2017

A Small Town - A New View

Elkhart, Indiana, is a Midwestern city of about 50,000 people, located about 100 miles straight east of Chicago. It was established in the 1830s, and has had its up and downs since then, as people and industries have come and gone.

But dry demographics really don't tell you much.

Let me show and tell you something more about this place, and give you a better a sense of what it is like. Drawing on the past to shine some light on the present. And how to do that in some photos and the tale they can tell.

Along the River Walk in early spring, looking south toward the city, across the Elkhart River.

All photos in this article by kimbesa.

Elkhart Downtown From Lerner Balcony

Elkhart Downtown From Lerner Balcony
Elkhart Downtown From Lerner Balcony
Map showing part of the city where the rivers come together
Map showing part of the city where the rivers come together

Elkhart Stands Where Two River Meet

I grew up around Elkhart, Indiana, then lived away from it for many years. I’m just recently returned, and rediscovering a place that’s both familiar and changed.

Elkhart is located at the confluence of two rivers, and there are a lot of trains due to the rail yard.

I know how to get across the rivers and around the trains. But ask me where the closest pick-a-name is, and I’ll have to look it up.

People are probably sick of hearing me say it: I know how to get around, but I don’t know where anything is.

Having lived in several other places, I can say that this town has some gems that other places would love to have. Seems the city is in the process of polishing them, too, which is good to see.

Footbridge To Island Park - The St. Joseph River At Elkhart

Elkhart Indiana bridge to Island Park
Elkhart Indiana bridge to Island Park

Flags flying on the bridge to Island Park, during the Rhapsody in Green festival

I Love These Postcard Books - The Contrast of Old and New in Photos

Elkhart, Indiana (Images of America)
Elkhart, Indiana (Images of America)

Lots of old postcards, reproduced and organized to give a sense of the place in times gone by.

I like to get these books to assist my genealogy research. They give a visual aid to the times when they lived.

And if you're really lucky and eagle-eyed, you may see your ancestors in some of the images!

 
The Lerner Theater Elkhart Indiana
The Lerner Theater Elkhart Indiana

Elkhart's Lerner Theater Is Awesome!

The Lerner theater dates from 1924, when it was a venue for stage shows. Later, it became a movie theater, the Elco.

The City of Elkhart bought it, renovated it over 20 years, and it reopened in 2011, with its original name, The Lerner. The $18 million restoration was done with local funding. And it IS a gem!

I've been in it a few times now, and to anyone who is coming to town, this is a must-see location. It is the centerpiece of the downtown Arts & Entertainment district. Indiana Landmarks awarded the city its Cook Cup for Outstanding Restoration in 2012.

The Lerner Theater was lavish in its day, and it's lavish again!

Inside The Lerner Theater - Ceiling Detail

Inside The Lerner Theater - Ceiling Detail
Inside The Lerner Theater - Ceiling Detail
Train car part of the New York Central Train Museum
Train car part of the New York Central Train Museum

Elkhart Has a Lot of Trains, and a Train Museum

One of the first things I noticed was the train horns. Other places have trains. This place has a lot of trains. What impressed me was how far away from the tracks you can be, and still hear them. And how, even in the middle of the night, the engineers feel free to exercise them. I suppose there must be a reason. If you live here, you learn to let that sound pass over you, when you don't need to hear it for safety reasons.

If I was a train watcher, like some people are bird watchers, this place would be heaven on earth. You can go to the New York Central Train Museum, right along the tracks near the depot, and watch them all day. You can get really close.

Midwest Museum of American Art

Midwest Museum of American Art
Midwest Museum of American Art
Ruthmere Mansion Museum in Elkhart
Ruthmere Mansion Museum in Elkhart

Visiting Special Places Around Elkhart

One thing I learned, living in other places, is to make an effort to get around and see the special places, like museums, parks, events, those kinds of things. You might miss them if you don’t. And how can you really know a place, if you’ve never seen these places?

My list of places to see is unfinished. But I’ve gotten around to some of them. Some can do with a visit of a few hours. Others are going to take a day, or more than one day. But I will get to them all eventually.

For example, the Ruthmere Museum. This is a 1908 Beaux Arts home which overlooks the river and the city. It has been restored to all its “Gilded Age” glory inside, but I’ve only seen the outside, so far. It’s on my list.

New RV Heading For Alaska

New RV Heading For Alaska
New RV Heading For Alaska
Main Street Bridge from Island Park
Main Street Bridge from Island Park

More To The Elkhart Story - It's Still Being Written

I haven't gotten into the RV industry, band instrument industry, and other stories that Elkhart has in its past and present. Some of my other lenses explore those topics, with more to come.

Like most any story, this one is a snapshot in time, and it continues to be written.

Elkhart has always seemed to me to retain some of its "wild west" roots. This was the wild west in the early 1830s, when the land of the old Northwest Territories was being further organized into states.

Waves of immigrants and migrants have come and gone, seeking opportunity, and had an influence on the city as it is today. Their grit and determination is still discernable, under the surface of current events.

There are plenty of stories, new and old, of people bootstrapping businesses in their garages. Some of those companies grew very large, and some of them are still here. Even today, when you drive down Main Street, you will see a lot of banks, investment companies, accounting firms, and law firms.

As I drive around Elkhart, I see it from a new perspective. There is lots to explore, in a city that's reinventing itself, and I'm liking what I see.

Elkhart Mural Features City History

Elkhart Mural Features City History
Elkhart Mural Features City History

Have You Ever Been To Elkhart?

Are You Inspired To Check Out Your Local Area?

See results

Elkhart Is All Over Facebook

Elkhart Elks Seen Around Town

Elkhart Elks Seen Around Town
Elkhart Elks Seen Around Town

Mr. Elk Goes To The Lerner

Mr. Elk Goes To The Lerner
Mr. Elk Goes To The Lerner

Elk-Royal

Elk-Royal
Elk-Royal

How Is Your Home Town Doing These Days? - Do You Still Live There, Or Visit Often?

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    • profile image

      EpiphanyLondon 4 years ago

      Thanks for the great lens! :-D

    • profile image

      aquarian_insight 5 years ago

      My hometown is a part of London about 30mins away from where I live now. My parents still live there, so I visit often. I really enjoyed exploring Elkhart with you - thank you! *blessed*

    • kimbesa2 profile image
      Author

      kimbesa 5 years ago from USA

      @TonyPayne: Thanks! I appreciate that!

    • TonyPayne profile image

      Tony Payne 5 years ago from Southampton, UK

      @kimbesa2: Got you added to my directory, hope this helps http://poddys.com/the_united_states.htm#IN~SouthBe...

    • kimbesa2 profile image
      Author

      kimbesa 5 years ago from USA

      @TonyPayne: Thanks for stopping by and sharing your Elkhart connection! I do think things are looking up. There has always been grit and innovation around here, even when it takes a while to become visible. Maybe you'll visit one day!

    • TonyPayne profile image

      Tony Payne 5 years ago from Southampton, UK

      It's nice to see things picking up in Elkhart a bit after the economic problems. I wrote about my home town too (Bournemouth) and my wife wrote about hers (Southampton) where we both now live. Maybe I ought to create a lens on South Bend as I lived there for 12 years. I miss the Midwest in a lot of ways, great folk there.

    • anne mohanraj profile image

      anne mohanraj 5 years ago

      Enjoyed your lens very much. Thanks for sharing.

    • aesta1 profile image

      Mary Norton 5 years ago from Ontario, Canada

      I have not been to Elkhart so this is a very informative lens.

    • profile image

      JoshK47 5 years ago

      This looks like a beautiful place! Thanks for sharing - blessed by a SquidAngel. Also, my original hometown is not really in the best of states these days, unfortunately.

    • Gayle Dowell profile image

      Gayle Dowell 5 years ago from Kansas

      Great lens. I love visiting towns across the U.S. Each has its own personality.

    • Gypzeerose profile image

      Rose Jones 5 years ago

      I've actually been here! With a sweetie from my youth: what a strange romantic site. Sweet memories. Love what you are doing here, well presented - blessed.

    • Ardyn25 profile image

      Ardyn25 5 years ago

      I still live in my home town, but over the years we have gone on holidays to other places and when we return home I am awestruck by the natural beauty, hills and lakes I'm so fortunate to live by. Wonderful lens btw.

    • andreaberrios lm profile image

      andreaberrios lm 5 years ago

      I do not live in my hometown for many years now. But I do visit sometimes. Great lens.

    • profile image

      anonymous 5 years ago

      My home town is actually the country and is even part of a National Park area but I never get there often enough and am always surprised to see how some things have change so much while others remain the same. It sounds to me that you are very much enjoying the new Elkhart though you don't know where anything is, a fun treasure hunt! I love the Elkhart Elk and that view of the theater ceiling is just gorgeous, how wonder that the Lerner has been renovated. Thank you for sharing your memories and adventure.

    • ecogranny profile image

      Kathryn Grace 5 years ago from San Francisco

      I have not been back to the town of my birth since we moved away when I was two. I have often wondered what I would find there. I believe it is a tiny, rural town.

    • profile image

      seegreen 5 years ago

      I returned to my hometown, Melbourne, three years ago after 25 years away. It's still a weird feeling living here.

    • profile image

      SteveKaye 5 years ago

      My home town is far, far away in another galaxy. I live far away from it. And it's been a long time since I was there.

    • Scarlettohairy profile image

      Peggy Hazelwood 5 years ago from Desert Southwest, U.S.A.

      It sounds like Elkhart is a great place to live.

    • Charmcrazey profile image

      Wanda Fitzgerald 5 years ago from Central Florida

      The elks are cute. We have lizards in our downtown. Not exactly sure why. Sounds like a great place to call home.

    • piedromolinero profile image

      piedromolinero 5 years ago

      It seems to be a beautiful place, where you can find peace and a quiet time. A bit like my hometown, just that Elkhart is bigger. I like it.