‘History Sleeps on Main Street’ in FerdinandSeptember 18, 2018
By ALLEN LAMAN
FERDINAND — If the walls of the old grocery store building at the corner of Main and 13th streets in Ferdinand could talk, what would they say?
Two Forest Park High School students tackled that question and will be honored for work they did to highlight the vacant, historic structure — sometimes called the Mehling Building — as part of Indiana nonprofit Great Towns’ “If These Walls Could Talk” high school essay competition. The contest was open to all Forest Park High School students.
Magda Alvis, who was a freshman at the time of her submission in September 2017, penned the winning essay, which detailed the history of and potential future uses of the building. Her essay was titled “History Sleeps on Main Street.” The building is currently for sale by owner Judy Mehling. It was built on land owned by the celebrated Father Joseph Kundek, who, among other notable accomplishments, founded the town of Ferdinand in 1840.
Alvis worked with fellow student and then-sophomore Mayson VanMeter to produce videos showing the history of the building as well as ideas for the future use of the space. Both Alvis and VanMeter will receive $500 scholarships from Great Towns Inc. for their work and Alvis also received a new smartphone for submitting the top essay.
“It’s impossible to care about people, places or things you don’t know about. But, if there is an emotional connection — all of the sudden, a place can take on new significance,” Melissa Martin, managing director of Great Towns Inc., said in a press release. “Many towns in Indiana have numerous historic commercial buildings that played an important role in the rise and growth of that community. They represent the pioneers and their descendants who emigrated west or north with hopes and dreams of a new life — and a new country. It’s easy to forget that Ferdinand was founded only 53 years after (the) signing of the Constitution.”
According to the release, the duo’s ideas for the future of the building included returning it to retail businesses such as an ice cream parlor, a spa, a book store and restaurant; rehabbing the building to make unique loft-style apartments or condominiums; and moving the town hall back to Main Street, with a town museum, art gallery and lounge space for teens.
According to Alvis and VanMeter’s video, the three-story structure has sat unused for more than a decade and is easy to overlook because of its nondescript appearance. It dates back to 1870, meaning it is one of the oldest surviving buildings in the town of Ferdinand. Currently, it has a blue storefront and blue awning, while the sides and upper front of the building are white.
Over the years, it has housed a farmers store, general merchandise store, Bartley Brothers department store, Verkamp’s Red & White grocery store, a fertilizer and lawn mower business, and JJ’s Express Lube oil change service. The students argued that because many of the town’s older buildings have been lost to time, the Mehling building deserves to be preserved.
The council of judges was impressed with Alvis’ insight and suggestions for the building. She and VanMeter produced videos that made a compelling story for the future of the building, Martin said, adding that young people have great ideas that move their hometowns forward and Great Towns is proud to help facilitate that.
“We hope our program leads to investors who will step forward and help make those ideas reality,” Martin said in the release. “Every time a vacant building is restored and put back into use the whole community benefits.”
After walking around the building, Alvis saw how much potential the space still has all these years later.
“Seeing the inside of the building brought the stories I had heard into perspective, and it helped me to understand its future potential,” she wrote. “For more than 130 years, the building has played a major role in the life of Ferdinand. It was a place to buy food and many other useful items, and it was a place where people met. Although it has been empty for over a decade, I believe that the building can thrive again. It has many fantastic features, including a central location and plenty of parking.”
She concluded her essay with: “All it needs is a buyer with a dream.”
Great Towns’ mission is to assist small and rural communities in their planning process, and to connect young people to their historical and architectural legacy.
Those interested in contacting Mehling with questions about the building can call 812-367-1164 or email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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