Day Journey: Enter Historic LaPorte, Indiana; Go to the 19th century courthouse, museum, miniature horse farm
LAPORTE, Ind. – LaPorte is the perfect portal for day trips. Since “porte” means door in French, best friend ever, Dave and I walked right through that door and found a remarkable history museum, great food in a historic cafe, and adorable miniature horses.
Arrive 30 minutes before
, 2405 Indiana Ave., we had time to explore historic 813 Lincolnway District Court, built between 1892 and 1894 from the red sandstone of Lake Superior.
We love old Indiana courthouses, so we went inside even though we had to go through a metal detector to get it. There are beautiful stained glass in one of the courtrooms and you can look into the tower with its 272-piece glass skylight.
The courthouse visit set the stage for more history at the museum, housed in a beautiful building reminiscent of colonial Williamsburg. It was created by Dr. Peter Kesling built to accommodate his classic cars. In 2005, LaPorte County bought the building for its historical museum.
The museum incorporates history into its design with bay windows and shop windows once found in LaPorte’s Lonn Block in 1898.
It’s a splendid museum with three floors full of vintage cars, replicas of early airplanes, model railways, 15 rooms depicting various historical eras, ancient weapons, and the story of Belle Gunness, LaPorte’s infamous serial killer.
The historical museum also hosts special exhibits, such as the current “Life in America: The 1940s”, which runs through May.
We just hiked. Dave found several model railroad layouts, all of which were activated by turning a switch.
We got to know Kesling and his family better through a video below. Nearby were some of his inventions, including a bright yellow, egg-shaped solar car.
Kesling, who made his fortune through orthodontic patents, has several cars in the museum, including a 1903 Winton that he and his wife drove from New York to San Francisco in 2003 for around 100 states.
As fans of mystery and true crime stories, we were intrigued by the Belle Gunness exhibition. A Norwegian immigrant who came to the United States in 1881 lured lone Norwegian immigrants to her farm in LaPorte. After they arrived with their savings, she married them and then they either disappeared or died. A fire broke out on her farm in 1908, but it was never determined whether the body of a headless woman found after the fire was Belle. Authorities found the bodies of more than 40 men and children in shallow graves on the farm.
WHEN YOU GO
LaPorte is about 100 miles, or 1 hour 45 minutes, from Kalamazoo.
• Travel west on I-94 to Exit 1. Turn left on M-239 / LaPorte Road and cross Indiana where M-239 becomes IN-39. Turn left on Pine Lake Avenue. Follow US 35 (Indiana Ave.) to the museum.
To the restaurant:
Go back to LaPorte. Turn right on Lincolnway.
To the farm:
Travel north on Lincolnway / IN-2. Turn left on N. County Road 450 E which becomes Prairie Street and then 425 N. County Road.
LaPorte County Historical Museum,
B & J’s American Cafe,
219-362-3474, open until 2 p.m.
Knapps knee-high miniature horses,
• Central summer time applies in LaPorte.
We drove to LaPorte for lunch. Stepping into B & J’s American Cafe, 607 Lincolnway, is like stepping back in time to the 1940s. It is a family owned restaurant since 1922, now owned by Billie and John Pappas. Billie was our waiter that day, assisted by John who briefed us on the history of the restaurant.
We filled up with the cafe’s wonderful homemade food starting with a delicious thick corn soup. Dave opted for meatloaf and I had the special of the day, a chicken cordon bleu sandwich on a croissant, accompanied by sweet potato fries. I didn’t think the food could get any better until I tried the café’s signature dessert – a freshly baked cinnamon bun with vanilla ice cream and caramel sauce. Ecstasy!
Next up was our outdoor adventure, Knapp’s Knee-High Miniature Horse Farm, 7368 N. 425 E, Rolling Prairie. Owner Lisa Knapp introduced us to her miniature horses. She has 24 horses and soon there will be a dozen foals.
No taller than thirty-four inches, these cute horses vied for our attention, sticking their noses through the fence, trying to eat Dave’s purse and nibble on his shoes. Of course he loved it.
If you reserve in advance, you can visit the farm and let your children ride horses or plan a birthday party on the farm. Or you can buy a miniature horse and take it home as a pet.
Despite the cold, rainy day, we were happy to have opened the portal to LaPorte.