New walking tours dive deep into Elkhart, Middlebury history, folklore

By Terry T. Mark

History may not be able to come alive literally, but the next best thing might be guided walking tours of downtown Elkhart and downtown Middlebury that are launching this year.

Steeped in folklore and laced with tales of ambition, intrigue and mischief, the tours take participants inside the hidden history of the families, entrepreneurs and characters who make up the fabric of these towns’ cultures.

A stop on a guided walking tour of historic Elkhart includes this view of an impressive stained glass window at First Presbyterian Church.
A stop on a guided walking tour of historic Elkhart includes this view of an impressive stained glass window at First Presbyterian Church.

There are four one-hour guided walking tours available this summer:

• Kings of the Hill: Elkhart’s early industrialists tamed the frontier and turned their riches into the finest luxuries of the day along Beardsley Avenue. Ambition and rivalry add twists to these tales of the city’s rich and famous. (Tuesdays and Saturdays)

• Tastemakers & Risk Takers: This tour shows how downtown Elkhart’s trendy galleries and restaurants and eclectic entertainment options came to be through a series of ups and downs brought about by artists, philanthropists and political dealmakers. (Wednesdays and Saturdays)

• Gangsters, Saloons & Buggies on Roofs: The town of Middlebury’s colorful past of small-town secrets, hidden passages (maybe?) and youthful antics comes packed in the space of only a few blocks of the center of town. (Wednesdays)

• Giant Toadstools and the World’s Fair: The Krider family built an empire that was encapsulated in an unforgettable display for the 1933-34 World’s Fair, and this tour shares the story behind their story and the legacy the family has left to Middlebury. (Thursdays)

More information, including ticket prices and reservation procedures, can be found on the Elkhart County Convention & Visitors Bureau’s website. The ECCVB developed the guided walking tours with partners in Elkhart and Middlebury.

The idea for the Middlebury walking tours grew from a successful self-guided tour of historic homes and places that volunteers created in 2016 in celebration of Indiana’s Bicentennial. Kim Clarke, one of the principals of that effort, also helped guide development of the Middlebury walking tours.

“Community pride just oozes from the town of Middlebury, and it’s been a pleasure working with the dedicated volunteers who will lead the downtown and Krider Garden tours,” said Clarke. “We’ve learned a lot in planning this and we think everyone who joins us will take away some truly amazing stories about Middlebury.”

In Elkhart, Steve Gruber of Arts on Main (and an Elkhart native with a deep appreciation of history) researched and planned the tours. Gruber will be the primary tour guide on the Elkhart tours.

“Elkhart’s early movers and shakers were fascinating people, and the decisions they made shaped the city we live in today. It’s exciting to explore Elkhart’s past and how it’s reflected in the present with the growth in downtown and the Gateway Mile,” Gruber said.

“These tours deliver wonderful stories that deserve to be heard. They celebrate what is great about our hometowns and build a deeper connection between our present and our past. It’s a reminder that we love where we live because it’s full of character — and characters,” said Diana Lawson, chief executive officer of the ECCVB.


Terry T. Mark is the director of communications and public relations for the Elkhart County Convention & Visitors Bureau.


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