SHIPSHEWANA — A one-of-a-kind antique fireplace built by a founding family of Shipshewana still stands at 125 Talmadge St., and the homeowners are welcoming the public to check it out whenever they’d like.
The fireplace was built using rocks from all over the country.
“To me, this is a piece of history,” homeowner Henry Detweiler said.
The home was built by Hollis “H.J.” Bontrager around the turn of the century and eventually sold to the Davis family in 1943. In 2017, it was sold to the Detweilers.
Bontrager’s grandson Hank recalled fond memories in front of the fireplace.
“During World War II, my mother went to work at Monteith’s generator factory, so after school, being a first-grader, I would go to Grandma’s house and sit at the dining room table in front of the fireplace every day,” he said. “Grandma would not allow me to spend much time fooling around. I was studying. I remember learning the capitals of all the states before I got out of the second grade. Grandma insisted.”
As an adult, Hank read the journals of his father, Maurice, and developed an appreciation for that special fireplace.
“I read that Dad and Grandpa and Grandma, on that trip, one of their goals was to collect rocks to build the fireplace. I was amazed,” he said. “They drove a 1936 Pontiac sedan all over the United States collecting the rocks. When the rocks got too heavy, they would stop and buy a nail keg, put the rocks in it, and ship it back to Shipshewana.”
There are stalactites and stalagmites from Carlsbad Caverns National Park in New Mexico.
“Today you would not carry these out of there,” Detweiler said as he showed off the shiny stones.
There are fossil rocks from North Dakota, and some from Santa Catalina Island in California. There are rocks some from Canada, obsidian from Yellowstone National Park, shells from a beach in San Francisco, fossilized ferns from Joliet, Illinois, trilobites from Toledo, Ohio, an obsidian arrow from New Mexico, and gypsum and a petrified animal tooth from the Badlands of South Dakota.
“The most fascinating one for me was found on the Arizona-New Mexico border. A meteorite hit and made a hole like a mile across,” Hank said. “Dad and Grandpa went right down in there and collected a rock from the meteorite, and they were just allowed to do that at the time.”
Hollis Bontrager and his son Maurice kept all the monthly statements and records, and grandson Hank Bontrager is hoping to bring those records back home with Detweiler next month and see the fireplace one last time.
“I’m glad we found someone that still knows about this,” Sarah Detweiler said.
Henry Detweiler said the Davis family bought the house and their daughter came home to help them in their old age. When they died, she stayed in the home until her passing at 110 years old.
“We knew Davis people had lived here,” Sarah said. “The Davis people had been here a long time.”
Walking through the house in 2017, Henry knew there was a lot of work to be done in the home, but he couldn’t say no to the unique fireplace.
“I’ve laid brick and mortar and blocks,” he said. “Here, these are all the same all around. There’s no stressline cracks or anything. The paperwork was right in the closet. I said, ‘You know what? I believe I want that.’
The perfect design is not what attracts him to the fireplace. Over 100 special rocks are mortared into the wall of the fireplace, picked out just for the project.
“We could not put a fireplace like this together today,” Detweiler said. “It might be the only one like it in the world. Every time I look at it, I find something new.”
Now that he knows the history of it, he wants to protect it, preserve it and show it to the world.
“If someone wants to come by and see this, they can. I’m not going to ever shut my door again,” Henry said.