What questions do you have about our community?
Ask the Truth, a new project from The Elkhart Truth, is working to answer them for you. Here’s the idea: Each week readers send us questions, then you get to vote on which one you’d like to see answered the following week. Then, our reporters figure out the answer to the most popular question.
If you’d like to send in your own question to Ask the Truth, scroll to the bottom of the page and write it down in the blue box, or email it to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Last week, the question that received the most votes was: “What are the oldest things in Elkhart County? What is the oldest building, house, restaurant, bar and person?”
Oldest commercial building
From the collections of the Elkhart County Historical Museum, Bristol, Indiana
After chatting with local historians and representatives from museums around the area, a top contender emerged for the title of oldest building in Elkhart County: Bonneyville Mill.
Bonneyville Mill, a popular tourist attraction and operating mill located in Bristol, is believed to have been built in 1837, its miller and historical interpreter John Jenney said. Edward Bonney, who was the first owner of the mill, envisioned a big city center like Chicago developing around the it, volunteer tour guide Priscilla Hile said.
However, his plan was thwarted when the railroad came through the area and made the mill’s proposed canal system obsolete, Hile said. Bonney soon sold the mill, went into the tavern business and was rumored to have become an outlaw involved in bounty hunting and counterfeiting, Jenney said.
The mill passed through a series of owners, including Hile’s great-great-great grandfather Benedict Miller, and continued grinding corn, wheat, rye, cracked wheat and the like until its temporary closure in 1967. The property was given to the Elkhart County Park and Recreation Board in 1969, which reopened the mill in 1974.
The mill became the first building in Elkhart County to be placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1976, Jenney said.
A bit of a tall tale surrounds the mill, Jenney said. According to local folklore, a team of 100 men raised the structure in just one day. Though Jenney isn’t sure whether or not it’s true, he said it wasn’t entirely unlikely considering there have been about three additions to the original building.
"When you look at the original mill itself, I mean, it was a good sized building, but it would have been put up just like you would have put up a timber-framed barn,“ he said.
Hile said working at the mill is fascinating, considering her family’s connection to it.
"I love it,” she said. “I feel like I”m walking in my great-great-great grandfather’s footsteps. It’s neat, because I’ve learned a lot of secrets of the mill.“
One of those secrets is that a former owner wrote a note on one of the building’s walls about the Titanic sinking. That was in 1912.
"He just wrote it in pencil,” she said. “He wrote about the date and the sinking and the lives lost.”
The mill’s former status in the community is also interesting to Hile.
"It was such a main attraction for the people back then,“ she said. ”All of the farmers came here to have their products ground. It was kind of like a cultural center – like coffee shops now.“
For more information about the Bonneyville Mill’s history, visit the Elkhart County Parks and Recreation Department’s website. The public can tour the mill and buy its products from 10 a.m. to 5 pm. Wednesday through Saturday from May through October.
Following conversations with Liz Haeuptle Fisher of the Elkhart County Historical Museum, Paul Thomas of The Time Was Museum in Elkhart and Dale Garber of the Goshen Historical Society, it became apparent the oldest house in Elkhart County is likely a log home called the Mills-Ryman House.
The Mills-Ryman House (also called the James Mills House) was built in approximately 1834, which could make it not only the oldest home in Elkhart County, but the oldest standing structure in the area. You can see a picture of the house on page 116 of the 2005 Elkhart County Interim Report. It’s listed as number nine on the page.
The home, now located at 20033 C.R. 16, is the personal residence of Tim Ryman. The house was originally constructed near Mount Wawasee in New Paris, but was moved and partially reconstructed around 1970.
James and Nancy Mills originally built the home, which has a steeple that dovetails at its corners and features two 10-foot fireplaces, according to documents from the Elkhart County Historical Society. According to the 1874 Elkhart County Historical Atlas, James and Nancy Mills moved to the area in about 1834. The atlas said the house was surrounded by wilderness, with only three families living within several miles of it. In fact, there was a large population of wolves in the area that would chase the Mills’ sheep up to the cabin’s door, the atlas said.
"They’re living monuments to early county history,” Ervin Beck, a now retired English and folklore professor at Goshen College said of a number of area log homes, including the Mills-Ryman House, in a story The Elkhart Truth wrote about a tour the Elkhart County Historical Society did of them in 1996.
Beck said the craftsmanship of these homes is particularly impressive considering they were constructed long before modern equipment was there to help. Brute strength, as opposed to machinery, was what made them stand.
"When you look at the size of the logs ... how did they lift those logs?“ Beck told the Truth.
The Mills-Ryman House is not open to the public and isn’t quite visible from the road at its current location.
There are plenty of people over 100 in Elkhart County -- 34, to be exact, according to the 2010 U.S. Census Bureau head count.
Pinning down the oldest, though, gets a bit more tricky.
According to the Census numbers, there's one man here aged 105 to 109, at least as of 2010. The census data shows he would live in Osolo Township. Nearly four years after the headcount, though, here's no telling if he's still alive and kicking.
The oldest client currently served by the Council on Aging of Elkhart County is 103.58 years, according to Tammy Friesen, the group's executive director. She can't provide any additional information due to privacy rules, but the age would put the person's birth date at around October 1910, when William Taft was president.
The Council on Aging serves nine people in all who are 100 or older and 224 aged 90 to 99, Friesen said. She noted the agency used to serve a 106-year-old woman until her passing about a year-and-a-half ago.
Two Elkhart County centenarians were featured in a February Elkhart Truth article, Louise Hoeppner, 100, and Frances Thorp, 101.
Helena Bonway, a friend of Thorp's, said she knows of a 102-year-old woman.
Hoeppner, who lives at Greencroft Goshen, the senior living center, said she doesn't personally know any other centenarians in the county.
"I often wonder about that," she said. It would be nice to meet them, she thinks.
Even if she isn't the oldest person in the county, though, Hoeppner is grateful for having made it into triple digits. "It's all the Lord's blessing," she said.
Oldest restaurant or bar
Jennifer Shephard/The Elkhart Truth
Walk into The Olympia Candy Kitchen is a bit like stepping into a time machine and setting the dial for the 1950s.
There’s the long lunch counter with swivel stools, the soda fountain with hand-made syrups and phosphates, and the food is prepared right out in the open.
Kare Andersen, 36, runs the place for his parents, owners Kare and Kathy Andersen. He said people love the nostalgia.
The Olympia is believed to be Elkhart County’s oldest restaurant. The business opened in 1912 as a candy store, but it wasn’t until 1920 that Kare’s great-grandfather, Greek immigrant Nicholas Paflas, bought it and added the diner.
Many of The Olympia’s most popular menu items are older than Kare, and there are regulars who’ve been coming in since before he was born.
"I’ve always thought this was a special place,” he said. "It’s definitely a privilege and honor to be running it the same way and with the same recipes we’ve always used. It’s just a privilege to carry on the tradition.”
The Olympia still makes it’s own mayonaise, potato salad, beef vegetable soup and chili. One of its specialty items, the nut olive sandwich, also dates back to the beginning. It’s chopped green olives and roasted cashews on toasted bread with lettuce and mayonnaise.
"We make the cherry and chocolate syrup, so a cherry Coke here is unique,” Andersen said.
They serve breakfast all morning and into lunch, and close after lunch.
Andersen said he’s proud of his family’s history with the establishment. He once learned in a college class that 98 percent of organizations don’t last more than 50 years.
"We’ve done it twice since we’ve been around for 100 years,” Andersen said. “So that says something about our quality of product and how we take care of customers.”