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Sunday, April 14, 2024

Hidden Story

The story of 200-year-old Story, Indiana, is a charming one.

Like any beloved tale, its characters adhere themselves to your heart.

There’s Kevin Allen, an engineer-turned-handy man, whose weathered hands have taken broken and cast aside objects and crafted them into some of the town’s most beloved structures.

There’s Clyde, an orange cat that acts as Story’s official town greeter, and Snow, a shepherd-mix dog that chases bees around the garden or takes a dip in one of Story’s many creeks.

But perhaps none of Story’s characters are so colorful as Rick Hofstetter, an attorney and law professor at Butler University in Indianapolis who took a chance 16 years ago on this picturesque, albeit neglected, small town.

“It was a dump,” says Hofstetter. “But it was a dump with potential. So when I bought it at a sheriff’s sale, I knew one of two things would happen. I’d either get my money back or get a town. In the end, I got a town, and I had no idea it would change my life so profoundly.”

Nestled on the western edge of nearly 16,000 acres of lush Brown County State Park forest, Story, about a two and a half hour drive from Evansville, got its start more than 200 years ago when then Indiana Gov. William Henry Harrison signed a treaty opening it, and 3 million acres around it, up to European settlement.

It wasn’t until 1851 — some 50 years later — that Dr. George Story, who hailed from a clan of Ohio timber harvesters, decided to make his home there. He and his family built many of its structures, and it quickly grew to be the largest settlement in the area.

However it never recovered after the Great Depression, and when the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers flooded the area in 1960 creating Lake Monroe, the little town was basically cut off.

Story sat for years, deteriorating and decaying. Attempts to breathe new life into it often fell just short until Hofstetter came along in 1999.

The entire 23-acre property is now one big bed and breakfast. The 18 surviving buildings, including its old grain mill and Doc Story’s original wood clap-sided home, have been fully restored and converted into guest cottages, each with its own story to tell. The former general store has been converted into the famed Story Inn Restaurant, known for its delicious, locally-grown produce — much of which comes from Story’s own gardens — and Indiana-raised meat.

“We come every year on our anniversary,” said Lynn Rogers of Bloomington, Indiana, as she clutched the arm of her groom of 25 years, David. “Sure, it’s a little off the beaten path, but the ambiance is amazing, the food fantastic, and the service wonderful. There’s just so much historic charm here.”

Story also is a common wedding destination, hosting upward of 75 weddings per year. The town draws thousands to its two biggest annual events, the Wine Fair held each April and the Hoosier Hops craft beer event each September. This year’s is Sept. 12.

“We get a lot of repeat customers, people who come back year after year,” says Hofstetter. “And on an any given Saturday in October, it becomes a study of demographic. We’ve got Harley riders to horsemen and even snooty professors. And they all mingle.”

Hofstetter and his devoted team of employees recreated Story’s history in an effort to allow visitors an opportunity to disconnect and discover.

That is, if they’re willing to make the drive.

“We call it ‘one inconvenient location since 1851’ because it is,” he said raising his wine glass. “But once you’re here, you’re in love.”

For more information about the Story Inn, call 812-988-2273 or visit storyinn.com.

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