By Keith Knepp
NAPPANEE — While the physical landscape on the northeast corner of US 6 and County Road 3 on on the west side of Nappanee hasn’t been dramatically changed, the signage, the ownership and the future vision certainly have.
“The Barns at Nappanee, Home of Amish Acres” held its official ribbon cutting ceremony on Friday afternoon, July 24. The northern Indiana tourist attraction was home to Amish Acres for half a century, closing its doors on the last calendar day of 2019. Just over a month later, on Feb. 5 to be exact, the expansive property was put under the auctioneer’s hammer in 16 separate parcels. Seven of the most highly visible parcels, which included the historic Round Barn Theatre, the Restaurant Barn and the other buildings popular to visitors from around the region, were purchased for a reported $1.5 million by a trio of investors, including Marlin Stutzman, a former Congressman from Indiana’s third district, John Kruse and Jason Bontrager.
The official grand opening of the newly branded Barns at Nappanee was delayed by the initial stages of the coronavirus pandemic. Finally, on Easter weekend, the theatre opened its doors with an original production, “Acts: The Three Man Show.” Additionally, LaSalle Farm and Table has taken over the dining part of the operation with hours Thursday through Sunday.
Friday’s ribbon cutting ceremony, hosted by the Nappanee Area Chamber of Commerce, included Stutzman and his wife, Christy, along with numerous members of the new operation’s staff. Members of the Chamber’s board of directors as well as Nappanee City Councilman Denny Miller also were in attendance.
“We are blessed to have the Barns at Nappanee continue the traditions of its forefather, Amish Acres,” said Jeff Kitson, executive director of the Chamber. “We are excited to have them as a part of our Nappanee family.
Miller echoed Kitson’s sentiment, saying, “It is great to see them making a big investment in Nappanee. My family has been (to the Barns at Nappanee) several times since it opened and we love it!
“We are blessed to be here,” said Stutzman in a brief statement to the gathered crowd.. “We are excited to be a member of the Nappanee Chamber and appreciate all the hard work that the Chamber does.”
Following the ribbon cutting ceremony, Stutzman added that he’s excited to be a part of the Nappanee community and pointed out that the former Amish Acres and the Round Barn Theatre always have had a special place in his family’s lore, as it was the place that he proposed to his now-wife, Christy.
“Although I’m from Howe, we have family in Nappanee,” he said. “Amish Acres always has been a special place for us and we’re excited to be part of the next chapter. We invite everyone to come out and see the changes that have been made. We’ve added a hitching post for a place to hitch buggies and hope that the Amish community comes out as well.”
Stutzman also noted that they purchased the property before the pandemic really took hold in the country. That also meant that they were not eligible for the federal Payroll Protection Program since they didn’t have a payroll history on which to present to the federal government. That meant that the delayed opening was especially hard from a financial standpoint for the fledgling enterprise.
Christy Stutzman, who also serves as a member of the Indiana House of Representatives, noted that her primary responsibilities lie within the theater part of the operation. “Because of my background in music and theater, I am thrilled to make sure the traditions of the Round Barn Theatre continue,” she said. “This is a very special place to us.
“We have a commitment to excellence and look forward to welcoming tourists as well as the local community, she continued. “We want everyone to know this is a place for young people to come and use their talents and we’re excited about the future.”