From Elkhart Campground – Elkhart, IN
WAKARUSA, IN……as we drove through this small community on the Heritage Trail drive earlier this week we saw its tree lined residential streets and a main street that called out for you to remember a younger more innocent America and we knew we had to return to do the “Waky Walk” and see this town up closer.
The town was established in 1852 and was first named Salem. It is said to have gotten its current name when an Indian maiden fell from her horse and sank in mud. Her comment at the time of this mishap was that the town should be called “Wakarusa” meaning “knee deep in mud”!
Today the “knee deep mud” is long gone and in its place are quiet paved streets winding in and out of quiet neighborhoods with two of these streets; Elkhart and Waterford meeting at the center of downtown. It is here that a single stoplight marks the center of downtown with its old fashioned street lights and brick pavers at the corner crosswalks. You will find it lined in all directions with family-owned businesses where you can find anything from an antique armoire to a brand new crafted oak hutch, a handful of Jumbo Jelly Beans to a large pizza or a bag of chips to a bag of nuts and bolts.
This is where you pull out your bright orange and yellow rack-card you got at the visitors center when you arrived and let it guide you to all the local merchants in the downtown area…….this walk down Elkhart and Waterford is your “Waky Walk” (a marketing name from the Wakarusa Chamber of Commerce is the only connection I could find for the name).
Amongst the merchants listed on the rack-card, were two that we knew we wanted to visit. First was the Wakarusa Dime Store home to the Jumbo Jelly Bean and over 350 other kinds of candy. It has been in downtown since 1907 where it was originally known as Wolfberg Department Store and sold a variety of wares. Why today it is called a “Dime Store” and sells only candy, your guess is as good as mine. But boy oh boy do they have the candy. Some of the brands I have not seen since the 60’s & 70’s….quite a nostalgic trip back in time.
The Jumbo Jelly Beans were developed in the 1960’s when a candy was needed for the newly created Maple Syrup Festival….Louie Wolfburg came upon the idea of these very large jelly beans and sold 100 pounds of them at the 1st festival. Today they sell more than 50 tons a year of these Jumbo Jelly Beans.
The other merchant that has been in business since 1904 in downtown Wakarusa is the Pro Hardware store. As you enter the front door you feel as if you have entered a time capsule from the original tin ceiling above you to the rolling ladders running down each side of the store. But it is the 100s of wooden drawers made in and shipped from Lancaster, PA that brings visitors to this store. Known as the “Wall of Drawers” they still hold all kinds of hardware treasures; from nails to screws to washers and more today.
Walking the sidewalks of this small town’s main street and having your memory step back in time for fleeting moments made this a wonderful day. Till Later……………….