The Magic of Mill StreetAugust 30, 2019
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Story by Olivia Ingle
Photos by Sarah Ann Jump
History books state that one reason Jasper became the county seat in 1830 was because a mill had been built there along the Patoka River.
The town had sprouted up around the mill — which was built in 1817 and called Enlow mill — because a ford there was the only way to cross the river, according to George R. Wilson’s “History of Dubois County from its Primitive Days to 1910.”
The mill also stood at the foot of what became aptly known as Mill Street.
Today, Mill Street spans nearly 3½ miles north-south through Jasper. It’s a route many take to avoid more congested roads in the city.
There’s new, old and future development. Downtown blocks flow to sprawling countryside.
It’s become a place where people can live, work and play.
The noise of traffic echoes from Third Avenue. Gravel spills from a dusty dump truck as other construction vehicles beep as they move about the site of the future Thyen-Clark Cultural Center at the corner of Mill Street and Third Avenue.
The center will eventually unite the Jasper Public Library and Jasper Community Arts Commission.
The site is located at the southernmost part of Mill Street. The area was once industrial, with the Hoosier Desk building — which started as Jasper Manufacturing Company in 1915 — calling the future cultural center site home.
Catty-corner and across Mill Street from Hoosier Desk was a Coca-Cola bottling plant, the building The Herald occupies today.
As one moves north on Mill Street from Third Avenue, the one-way thoroughfare moves more into downtown Jasper. There’s the Jasper Police Station, Old National Bank and Becher-Kluesner Funeral Home.
Once you reach Robert E. Parker Park at Ninth Street, a short jut to the right pushes you into a more residential area of Mill Street.
Kristina Hundley has lived on Mill Street for 30 years. Her house was built in the early 1900s. With an aging tin roof, the white, two-story home sits up from the road. More often than not, Kristina can be found sitting on her front porch, enjoying the atmosphere she’s created.
Kristina began her flower garden years ago when her now-mostly-adult kids were young. She started in the backyard — she didn’t want her kids near the street — with a friendship garden.
“Mom gave me the idea to get plants from other people, and that’s how I started it,” Kristina says. The garden began to envelop the front yard as her kids got older. It includes a colorful array of a little bit of this and a little bit of that.
“I use it for therapy,” Kristina adds. “It’s therapeutic to be working outside.”
The flowers have taken over her front yard so much, it’s difficult from the sidewalk to even see Kristina sitting on the porch. But she’s there.
“I spend more time outside than inside,” she says.
Less than a block north sits Indiana Furniture. It opened as Jasper Novelty Works in 1906, and according to a company history, “the neighborhood grew as workers soon began building their homes nearby to be within walking distance of their new jobs.”
Around quitting time on a hot August day, Amber Hartley sits on a bench outside the red brick building. She’s worked there five years, and is a lead in upholstery.
The 34-year-old scrolls on her phone as she waits for her husband, Corey, to pick her up. The couple lives in Washington with their four kids, but they both work in Jasper, Corey at Jasper Engines & Transmissions.
“It’s either me sitting waiting on him to get off or him sitting in the car waiting on me,” Amber says.
Carpooling saves the couple on gas.
“It also gives us that little bit of alone time to talk about the day,” Amber says. “Because once you get home, you hit the ground running [with the kids].”
The bench time is also her time.
“My little time to enjoy the sun,” she says.
Farther down Mill Street on another August evening, Chad and Kris Erwin admire their front yard. It’s sort of become famous. Well, their decorations have anyway.
Kris, who has lived on Mill Street since 1994, enjoys collecting the various decor in the yard, such as flags, an old bicycle, windchimes, statues. There’s also lots of Mickey stuff.
A couple of months ago, a Mickey statue went missing, which isn’t unusual. Passersby take things every once in a while, Kris says.
But then, Chad noticed Mickey had returned recently. He was incredulous, and told his wife. She wasn’t as shocked.
“I had another Mickey in the house,” she says, laughing.
People have also left things in the Erwins’ yard. The couple recently became the owners of a toy truck. A policeman action figure also sits semi-hidden in the front flower bed, where they’ve planted marigolds.
The Erwins get the most feedback on the tires Chad painted blue, purple, red, green and pink. He arranged them, and then planted flowers in them after Kris had seen the idea on Pinterest.
“A lot of people stop to take pictures,” Chad says. “People ask me, ‘Have you seen that house on Mill Street with the painted tires?’ I say, ‘Yep, I see it often.’”
Ted Foster has lived a few houses north of the Erwins for 24 years. The U.S. Army veteran served in Vietnam and is currently on dialysis.
The 70-year-old sits in his wheelchair outside his home often to watch the activity on the street.
“Nothing really goes on,” he says of Mill Street. “Just a lot of traffic. And I’m kind of nosey.”
As he sits, Ashley Mitchell walks by, walking her 10-month-old leopard-cur-golden-retriever mix, Loretta.
“She’s energetic, and I like the exercise,” says Ashley. “We have a whole route down Jackson and up Mill Street.” Ashley lives with her husband and three kids farther north on Mill Street.
At the end of Ted’s block sits The Mill House Restaurant, and farther north along the street, the views get a little more scenic and traffic becomes two-way.
At the top of a hill, both sides of the road open up to the Buffalo Trace Golf Course, which plays 5,985 yards with a par 71. Just past the course, the Calumet and Camelot Inn sit nestled in the woods. The inn boasts a “picturesque country setting.”
The Calumet was built in 1941, and through the years, has been a dance hall, skating rink, a restaurant and a bar. And now, it’s a venue for weddings and other events. A lake and home also sit on the property.
Continuing north, there are a few more homes on Mill Street before industry takes over again. There’s Meyer Distributing, Kimball International Logistics Service and G&T Industries.
Just past G&T and across the street sits a City of Jasper electric substation, which warns of high voltage inside — “Keep out.”
Once the road reaches 36th Street, a left takes you to U.S. 231 right in the area of Walmart, however, continuing north on Mill Street takes one out into the country.
The Blocks live just past 36th Street on land that’s been in the Hoffman family for years.
Nathan and Emily (Hoffman) Block, and their two kids, Anna, 3, and TJ, 6, live just up from Emily’s mother, Rose Ann Hoffman. Other family members live along 36th Street, but the family farm is in all their backyards.
The farm — the family has nine cows and a bull, and they also bale hay — is nearly 40 acres, and some of the pasture continues north along Mill Street. One would never know that on the opposite side of the street and through some trees sits Walmart.
Mill Street used to not go that far. At one time, it ended at 36th Street and a private lane continued north.
Emily is grateful her kids are growing up on the same land she did.
In the evenings, the youngsters, along with their dog, Chip, can be found out playing on the farm or helping their dad with various tasks.
One evening last week, they played on a rock pile near a nearly 150-year-old barn the family is fixing up.
TJ acts tough and begins sliding down the rock pile face-first. Anna isn’t so brave.
“Be tough,” TJ says. “Anna, go down face-first.”
“No,” Anna says.
“Be superman,” TJ encourages. “You don’t want to be supergirl?”
Even Chip joins the kids in the rock pile action.
“We used to have a big family garden,” Emily says of a patch of land in front of the barn. “Lots of memories of being up here with my cousins.”
All the adults in the family have day jobs, but they all help with the farm when they can.
As the sun sets that evening, the cows and bull roam farther out into the pasture, beneath the setting sun. Every once in a while a car can be seen on Mill Street, heading even farther into the countryside.
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