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Elkhart, Indiana - Gem of a Hometown in American Heartland
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 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
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
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!
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
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
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
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
Have You Ever Been To Elkhart?
Are You Inspired To Check Out Your Local Area?
Elkhart Is All Over Facebook