MIDDLEBURY — The Middlebury Then and Now walking tours are helping residents discover the town’s vibrant history.
“I think Middelbury has so much to show and so many people are unaware of what is here,” said organizer Kim Clarke. “We get overlooked a lot.”
One of the many tour guides for the program, Marla Krider, a 39-year resident of the community, agreed.
“A lot of people call this a conservative town, but we had a lot of the same things that any town would have,” Krider said. “One of the more interesting things is that (State Street) at one time had six or seven saloons on it. During temperance time, one night there was a fire and they were all destroyed and they assumed it was the ministers and the women that burned them down.”
Two walking tours are available in Middlebury. The Elkhart County Convention and Visitor’s Bureau helped to start the tours many years ago and continues to support the tours through advertising.
The first tour, hosted downtown, is called “Gangsters, Saloons and Buggies on Roofs.”
“It’s fun to learn about the town and the businesses and the people who started them, the families that I know,” Krider said.
The downtown tours take participants on a walk encompassing about four blocks of downtown, near the main intersection at Main Street and Warren Street.
“I refer to that as Old Town Middlebury, because that’s where so many of the original buildings are,” Krider said.
Just one of several guides who volunteer for the tours, Krider said she’s taken the tour with other guides and learned things she never knew.
“We’ve got a script that we use to tell about the buildings, but you could take this tour with each guide and get different stories because a lot of them talk about their own experiences,” she said, adding that when locals take the tours, participants often hear even more stories, and tour guides are likely to learn something as well.
“Middlebury was really very self-sufficient back in the day,” she said.
The second tour, “Giant Toadstools and the World’s Fair,” is available at Krider World’s Fair Garden Park.
“We call that the jewel of our town parks,” said Krider, who married into the family. “It was part of Krider Nurseries, the largest employer in Middlebury for many years. That was the display garden for the nursery. When they sold the business, the stockholders deeded that to the parks department.”
Many of the structures that were in the garden were displayed at the 1933-34 World’s Fair in Chicago, Krider said. The structures were built in Middlebury and shipped to the fair during the beginning of the Great Depression to serve as display advertisements for the company. After the fair, nursery founder Vernon Krider brought them back to his nursery and implanted them into their current permanent location, where they were used to show the quality of workmanship offered by the company.
“Both of these tours are so unique and different,” tour organizers Clarke said. “I travel a lot and I try to do guided tours wherever I go for history reasons and to get into the culture.”
Tours are generally small groups of just a few people, but large groups can be accomodated with reservations.
“Gangsters, Saloons and Buggies on Roofs” tours take place at 10 a.m. Wednesdays and the second Tuesday of each month at 6:30 p.m., beginning at the Middlebury Public Library, 101 E. Winslow St.
“Giant Toadstools and the World’s Fair” at Krider Gardens takes place at 10 a.m. Thursdays and the second Tuesday of each month at 6:30 p.m., beginning at the Middlebury Historical Museum, 310 Bristol Avenue.
Tours are $5 per person and private tours outside of normally scheduled times are available for groups of 15 or larger. The tours are a part of the Heritage Trail.
More information and tickets are available at the library at 574-825-5601. Group reservations are available at www.middleburythenandnow.org/guided-tours.