SMALL TOWN CHARM DRAWS MANY TO ITS SHORES
story by ELIZABETH GRANGER
LOCATION: NORTHERN INDIANA PLACE: CULVER
ABOUT: LOCATED NEXT TO LAKE MAXINKUCKEE, CULVER DRAWS
MANY TO ITS SHORES. THE TOWN IS A LAID-BACK ESCAPE WHERE YOU WILL FIND YEAR-ROUND ACTIVITIES, DINING, ARTS & CULTURE, SHOPPING, ANTIQUES, AND MORE.
First came the lake, formed ages ago when glaciers slid through Indiana and created a large spring-fed body of water. The Potawatomi would name it Maxinkuckee. Indiana’s second largest natural lake, after Lake Wawasee, it draws many to its summer shores. Culver’s population of 1,500 more than doubles in the summer.
“We have one of the nicest public beaches in Indiana on one of the cleanest lakes in Indiana,” says town manager Jonathan Leist.
But right now winter is on the town’s mind, with the annual Culver Winter Fest on Feb. 8-10. If Mother Nature does her part, the festival’s star will be ice. On the lake for ice fishing. On the rinks for skating. In ice sculptures spread throughout the small town.
And if Mother Nature decides to take a break and the weather stays warm, well … the festival is still fun. The town makes snow, and maybe the ice sculptures just melt a little faster.
No matter what, says Liz Beauchamp, owner of The Garden by Elizabeth and Chamber of Commerce president, “The stores are warm if you don’t like the cold.” Cupid’s Crawl entices shoppers further with the chance to win a shopping spree.
Beauchamp has had a flower shop in Culver for a couple decades; she recently moved to South Main Street from a block off Main. “I wanted to be in a smaller building that was more quaint, and I wanted neighbors,” she says.
Culver has three distinct populations: the townspeople; the summer residents typically along the lakeshore; and Culver Academy, a boarding school for grades 9-12. There’s a year-round presence in only the townspeople.
“We need to get stronger on our 12-months-of-the-year basis,” Beauchamp says. “The goal of the Main Street program is to make towns stronger so people in town won’t have to leave.”
The business district is full, but it hadn’t been that way for a while. It means the welcome mat is out for visitors, partly, Culver Coffee Company owner Dawn Brockey says, because townspeople “are used to having an influx of people they’ve never seen before (because of the lake and the Academy).”
Danielle Mavrick, executive director of the visitor center, adds, “Culver is one of the only towns I’ve ever been in that is fully walkable, has fine dining, a coffeeshop, shopping, antiques, homemade ice cream, … The lake is definitely a draw. And it’s a real lake. … There’s a real small town charm about us, where things slow down. Culver is an escape. The way it used to be.”
Beauchamp says businesses complement each other with different product lines. Strolling along and stopping at those businesses is big with visitors, who typically find store owners to welcome them.
Sue McInturff owns Diva, a clothing/gift/home décor boutique. “It’s a labor of love; I buy what I love and hope it sells,” she says. Items range from sweaters and scarves to jewelry to dining ware. Socks with thick linings are popular. “People love them because they have cold feet.”
The urban boutique named “civvies” came about because of Culver’s ties to the Academy and, says manager Jenna Workman, the joy of military personnel in being able to wear civilian clothing on Saturdays. Its clothing is youthful and upscale and plays well with souvenir items touting the Academy as well as Lake Max. Think pillows, mugs, other giftables.
Additional shops include Fisher & Company for clothing, Gail’s for souvenirs, Phresh Refind ReSale Shop for repurposed items, Jonathan’s for antiques.
Heather Widner’s Main Street Studio is a crafting studio/party and event space with project options for drop-ins and pre- arranged events for both kids and adults. Topics have included wine and painting, pottery, jewelry, photography. Events have been a fairy garden party, royal ball, wizard school, murder mystery.
For many, the day starts at the Culver Coffee Company. The owner graduated from Culver Academy, then returned after college. She offers not only coffee but also sandwiches, soups, ice cream and gift items. She also delivers.
Café Max serves breakfast and lunch daily, and dinner twice a week. Culver native Susie Mahler opened the restaurant in 1985. Sinful French toast, made with a cinnamon roll, is extremely popular. So are bang bang shrimp tacos and the Bowling Alley Tenderloin, and in the evening, fried chicken.
Other eateries include the Lakeshore Grille, Lucrezia Trattoria, and Bourbon Street Pizza.
Nostalgia is big with M.J. Kutch; the Victorian era is her favorite so she dresses the part at MJ’s Sweet Tooth. Lots of candy from the past as well as current items for adults as well as kids. “If it catches my eye, it comes here,” she says.
DeBrand chocolates are her best sellers—“I always run out” —but there are also international candies. And 65 flavors of taffy thatincludemaplebacon,and chicken and waffles.
Sallie’s by the Shore is all about small-batch homemade ice cream. Catherine Evans,
aka Sallie, and her husband share the business with Sallie’s parents. The Evans couple are both entertainers; when they performed a song he wrote titled “The Legend of Johnny and Sallie,” Johnny and Sallie became their stage names.
Evans and her mom, Jenny Knebel, opened their first shop in Rochester, Indiana, in 2015. They served ice cream out of a vintage camper at Lake Manitou—thus the business name Sallie by the Shore. TheCulver outlet opened two years ago.
A downtown lodging option is the Culver Cottage B&B, recently purchased and renovated by newcomers Steve and Katey Wehmeyer. The home is a 1906 Queen Anne Victorian built for Culver Academy’s first physician. It offers 10 rooms with Old Hickory furniture and dormer nooks with private bath, internet, individual climate control.
Other lodging (for as short a stay as one night) is available downtown, at Culver Cove, and just outside of town. Hotels in Plymouth are about 15 miles away.