2 March 2011

Shipshewana, Indiana: Home of Hostetler's Hudson Auto Museum

Many automotive factories have been reborn as museums. Fans of Studebakers and ACD cars, for example, make their pilgrimages to South Bend, IN, and Auburn, IN. But where do you go if you have a passion for Hudsons? The answer is Shipshewana, IN, even though Hudson manufactured its cars in Detroit, MI.

Shipshewana is located in Northern Indiana, where horse drawn vehicles are the traditional mode of transportation. It is also home to Eldon and Esta Hostetler, owners of what is thought to be the largest and most complete collection of Hudson, Essex, Terraplane, Railton, and Dover cars and trucks, displayed in the Hostetler’s Hudson Auto Museum. This 20,000-square-foot museum is housed in the Shipshewana Town Center, part of a 24-acre development that includes an exposition center, an indoor water park, and a hotel.

Eldon Hostetler’s passion for Hudsons was encouraged by his grandfather, who gave him the $350 he needed to buy his first car, a 1938 Hudson Terraplane. The ability to purchase these cars is a result of Eldon’s success developing more than 60 patents for automatic feeding and watering systems for poultry. But it was his wife, Esta, who encouraged him to collect the Hudsons they drove in their youth. Once they purchased their first car, a 1952 Hudson Club Coupe, they were hooked.

At first, their collection fit into the large chicken house used in Eldon’s business, Ziggity Systems, Inc. When they ran out of space, they distributed the cars among several buildings. The more dispersed the collection became, the more Eldon worried about what would happen to it when he and Esta passed away.

While looking for short-term storage facilities, the Hostetlers loaned 22 cars to the Gilmore Museum. Seeing the cars displayed together convinced them that they should be housed in a museum, and so they began to purchase land in Shipshewana, eventually owning 18 of the 24 acres the Town Center occupies.

In 1999, Eldon approached the town manager with a proposal: he would donate his entire Hudson collection plus the 18 acres of land, and create an endowment to support a new museum if the town would build the museum itself. The idea was so well received that several other organizations joined in to develop the multifunctional visitors’ center. They broke ground on August 25, 2005 and officially opened on October 5, 2007.

The Town Center building is set back from the main road, with a large parking lot to accommodate car shows and museum visitors. The building façade looks like a large red barn with a silo. The foyer reinforces the shared purpose of the facility, with the museum on the right and the convention center on the left. Historic documents cover the walls, and a Hudson sits on display, under a large neon Hudson sign.There are 48 beautifully restored cars that are owned by the museum, laid out in chronological order beginning with the first Hudson, a 1909 Model 20 and ending with the last Hudson, a 1956 Hornet. Vehicles representing every decade are grouped in five display sections with spacious walkways in between. Each car has a placard to identify the year, model, unique features, and significant historical events that occurred during that production year.

The 1920s are well represented, including the family-friendly Essex Coach and a 1928 Hudson Super 6 Convertible Sedan, owned by the Hostetlers, which won first place at both the 2009 Pebble Beach and Glenmoor Gathering shows.

There are 17 cars from the thirties, representing 1930 to 1939. One of the most striking cars in this section is the custom-built 1937 Railton BWW 600 limousine with special luggage cases.

In addition to the cars owned by the museum, several of the cars on display are on loan from the Hostetlers. But the museum holds far more than just Hudson cars: Glass cases with model cars, trophies, and Hudson memorabilia share the space, and there is a play area for children. Those wishing to do research can do so in the Hudson Essex Terraplane Historical Society’s library, located on the second floor of the Center.

Hostetler’s Hudson Auto Museum is open all year from 9:00 am until 5:00 pm, with extended hours on Monday and Tuesday – 9:00 am to 8:00 pm – from Memorial Day through Labor Day. The museum is located in the Shipshewana Town Center, next door to Splash Universe Water Park and the Amish Country Inn. For more information, go to www.hostetlershudsons.com.

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