Treasures are just waiting to be discovered along Indiana's self-proclaimed Antique Alley.
The towns along old US-40 east of Indianapolis harbor something like 900 dealers in a 60-mile stretch. But while the selection of stores is vast, acquiring doesn't need to be the point of a weekend getaway here. Search for treasures of another sort--ideas, inspiration, some relaxing moments, excuses to abandon calorie counting--and, then, maybe a memorable find or two to take home.
Slides 2 to 14 explore some of the highlights of Antique Alley; see slides 15 and 16 for other Midwest antiques destinations.
Pictured: Midwest Living editors (from left) Carol Schalla, Barbara Morrow and Joan Luckett browse White River Architectural Salvage and Antiques in Centerville, Indiana.
"We each have to find at least one treasure to take home."
That's the advice Carol Schalla gives two other members of Midwest Living's travel staff, Joan Luckett and Barbara Morrow, as they set out to explore Antique Alley.
Their getaway focuses on Centerville and Richmond, which offer the lion's share of antiques dealers. But shops also are sprinkled throughout Knightstown, Lewisville, Cambridge City and other hamlets along US-40, aka the National Road, one of the oldest highways in the nation (dating to the early 1800s). Allow two full days for a visit, spending the night either in Centerville or Richmond.
Pictured: Vinton House (765/478-9371) in Cambridge City holds three floors of antiques.
At Centerville's Lantz House Inn, a stately 1823 Federal-style rowhouse, owner Marcia Hoyt (left) gets guests in the spirit for visiting the area with a candlelit breakfast and her signature lemon ricotta pancakes. "They're a splurge," she says, "but that's what you're here for."
Midwest Living's Carol Schalla, who has 30 years of antiquing credentials, inspires her traveling partners with ideas for interesting ways to use antiques discoveries. "I like to feel I'm saving something," Carol says. "A bit of beauty or craftsmanship from the past."
Carol rattles off suggestions during two days of trooping through Antique Alley shops. Try askew wire baskets as wall art. Morph 1800s dough bowls into centerpieces. Recycle English jelly molds as an artful display. Move past specific styles like "country" or "Victorian." Go for eclectic self-expression using "organic" pieces with elements of nature or fine handcrafted treasures.
The next slides give more of Carol's ideas and show some of the group's finds.
Pictured: Barbara, Carol and Joan all find treasures at White River Architectural Salvage and Antiques in Centerville.
Local, unique pieces invite conversation--and can even be worthy of designing a room around. In the dusty piles and stacks in dimly lit Wheeler's Antiques in Centerville, Carol manages to find a stunning oil portrait of a young woman (left). It's even marked down. Carol modestly attributes the find to long practice.
Wheeler's Antiques and Wheeler's Furniture (765/855-3400)
Lined up on a windowsill, these tiny bottles (left) from Doublehead Trading Company in Cambridge City would make sweet single-blossom vases.
Doublehead Trading Company (765/478-3800)
Look for once-utilitarian items that can become personalized gifts for friends and family. At Centerville's White River Architectural Salvage and Antiques, a pile of wooden shoe forms (left) fascinates Joan. She searches for one in each of her children's sizes.
Sometimes your antique treasures turn out to be even more special than you thought. Carol recalls: "At Christmas, I treated myself to a gold pocket watch. Once home, I noticed a notch to open the back of the watch. Inside, I found the inscription: 'To Marie from Harry. 12-25-1910.' It was pretty amazing to find that I had 'rescued' a treasured, century-old Christmas gift."
Pictured: Pocket watches at Foster's E Street Gallery (765/935-9055) in Richmond.
Restaurants and specialty eateries along Antique Alley can sway your resolve to keep shopping. At Ghyslain Chocolatier in Richmond, the sculptural desserts are just too good to pass up.
"Just coffee" can quickly turn into sampling: a glistening crimson raspberry-chocolate creation; a vivid orange carrot cake; a miniature tiramisu as pretty and perfect as a Fabergé egg.
"This may be the best thing I find on the whole trip," Joan observes, savoring the tiramisu. That's OK. Exceptional tastes and experiences of all sorts make the best souvenirs.
Pictured: The Bresilien is a ganache-covered stack of almond cake, mousse, coffee custard and praline.
Ghyslain Chocolatier 
For a detailed map of local antiques shops, plus information on lodging, restaurants, historical attractions and festivals in the area, contact the Richmond/Wayne County Convention and Tourism Bureau (800/828-8414). Look for overnight specials including "Just Us Girls" weekend packages.
Other tips for your trip:
-- Check shop hours before you go; stores are usually open most weekdays and Saturdays. Sunday hours vary, but larger antiques dealers are typically open by noon.
-- Drive or rent a car with plenty of storage space to haul oversized treasures.
-- Some shops take only cash or checks, so be prepared with more than just a credit card.
Pictured: Richmond's historic Depot District is home to cool shops and restaurants.
Where to shop: Depot Antiques (317/693-4400) spotlights pieces ranging from salvaged bars to file drawers in an old Richmond train station (left). Foster's E Street Gallery (765/935-9055) sparkles with a wonderful collection of vintage jewelry. The Secret Ingredient (765/966-0990) offers a tempting selection of contemporary women's fashions and accessories.
Where to eat: "Dessert" doesn't do justice to the works of art that chef Ghyslain Maurais creates for Ghyslain Chocolatier (765/966-3344); plus, country French influences infuse dishes such as La Pissaladiere, an onion tart with pine nuts and garlic-wilted spinach. Little Sheba's specializes in downright seductive sandwiches; the menu lists more than 40 (765/962-2999).
Where to stay: Philip W. Smith Bed and Breakfast, a Victorian mansion, has impressive touches such as hand-carved woodwork (765/966-8972).
Little Sheba's 
Where to shop: Wheeler's Antiques and Wheeler's Furniture (765/855-3400) feature a large collection including dolls, original artwork, curios and furniture pieces both large and small. White River Architectural Salvage and Antiques (765/855-1908) has a nicely organized, even inspirational, collection of cornices, doorknobs, vintage windows, jewelry (left) and more. Webb's Antique Mall claims to be Indiana's largest, with more than 500 dealers (765/855-5551). At Warm Glow Candle Outlet, some 65 candle fragrances are among the choices at this 11,000-square-foot store (765/855-2000).
Where to stay: The Historic Lantz House Inn has antiques to ogle, a soothing garden and an upstairs sitting room for gathering (800/495-2689).
Webb's Antique Mall 
Where to shop: Doublehead Trading Company (765/478-3800) sells a mix of primitive and country antiques, salvaged architectural pieces and Native American merchandise. Vinton House Antiques (765/478-9371) is a treasure trove of vintage furniture and accessories.
Where to eat: Pour House Antiques and Sweets serves coffee drinks, freshly made soups and salads, and excellent homemade fudge in a cozy cafe/shop (765/478-4000).
Pictured: Tupelo Troxell, son of Doublehead owner Marty Troxell, commandeers an antique truck.
The Heartland is home to many genuinely rich antiquing destinations, including:
Irish Hills, Michigan Just 40 miles southwest of Ann Arbor along US-12, this pastoral region has dozens of antiques shops and malls tucked into small towns. In Brooklyn, Irish Hills Antiques (left) offers old brass typewriters, hand-carved furniture and country store collectibles. The annual Heritage Trail Garage Sale happens along US-12 on the second weekend in August.
Door County, Wisconsin This beautiful peninsula jutting into Lake Michigan (150 miles north of Milwaukee) touts 11 antiques stores. In Baileys Harbor, a 135-year-old barn houses Bailey's Barn Antique and Gifts, a 5,000-square-foot space filled with furniture and home decor.
Oronoco, Minnesota In 1857, miners found gold here. Visitors to this tiny town of 883 feel that way about the antiques malls and shops (10 miles north of Rochester). Stop by on the third weekend in August for the annual Gold Rush Days, a celebrated antiques festival with about 400 vendors.
See the next slide for antiques destinations in Illinois, Iowa and Kansas.
Paxico, Kansas Built in the early 1800s, this town of 277 (30 miles west of Topeka) houses a dozen antiques shops in the former general store, bank, funeral parlor and other historic buildings. Mill Creek Antiques claims an unusual specialty, with hundreds of cast-iron, wood-burning stoves (left).
Alton, Illinois This Mississippi River town (about 20 miles north of St. Louis) offers first-class antiquing. Among the highlights: Alton Antique Center, with items arranged in dozens of appealing vignettes; Country Meadows Antiques, which offers an exceptional collection of Depression glass and classy vintage clothing; and Prairie Peddler Antiques, a high-end antique furniture store specializing in 18th and 19th century American furniture.
Kankakee River Valley, Illinois This area 20 miles (and beyond) south of Chicago comes packed with antiques shops and malls that could easily fill a weekend. Located in an old Woolworth's store, Three Sisters Antique Mall in Blue Island offers two floors to browse. In Bourbonnais, Indian Oaks Antique Mall shows off 150 dealers.
Walnut, Iowa This hamlet of 857 (90 miles west of Des Moines) attracts 80,000 antiques-seekers each year. Walnut has nearly 20 antiques shops, and the popular Amvets Antique Walk and Show packs 25,000 visitors and more than 300 dealers each June.
(A version of this story appeared in Midwest Living® July/August 2009.)
Walnut, Iowa