By Joann M. Ringelstetter
In the spring of 2010, after 11 days of photographing on the backroads of North Carolina and West Virginia, Ruth and I were eager to spend the twelfth day on the backroads of Kentucky. Unfortunately, a short time after we crossed into Kentucky, it began to rain and it rained all that evening and into the next morning.
We headed out that morning and photographed in the rain for a short time and then the lightening began. We continued to photograph in the rain (between bouts of lightening), but then the flash floods began and we decided to give up on Kentucky and head for Indiana. But a steady downpour continued for the rest of the day. Finally, we decided to give it up and headed for our motel.
Thank heavens the rains finally came to an end because we had some serious plans for the next morning. A couple of years ago, a photographer friend of mine had visited the town of Story, Indiana, and had shared some of the photos he had taken there. I was really impressed and asked Ruth to add it to her list of places we hoped to visit someday. And finally, that “someday” was upon us!
We left our motel in the pre-dawn hours and headed to Story. As we drove along in the dark on the hilly and curving roads, we had to take it slowly because thick fog had descended on the area. We were worried that we wouldn’t make it there by first light, but then we realized that the fog would delay the dawn. When we pulled into Story, it was absolutely magical.
The fog was lightly engulfing the old general store building and the old-fashioned street lights were lit, as well as the lights of the inn. Even the vintage Red Crown gas pumps were lit up.
The town of Story was founded in 1851 by Dr. George Story and it was soon to become the largest settlement in the area. At the height of its growth, there were two general stores, a one-room schoolhouse, a church, a grain mill, a sawmill, a blacksmith shop, a post office, and a slaughterhouse.
The Great Depression (1929-1933), however, took its toll on Story and it never recovered. As depicted in John Steinbeck’s novel, “The Grapes of Wrath,” farm families abandoned their farms in search of work elsewhere. During the decade from 1930-1940, roughly half of Brown County’s population left in hopes of finding better opportunities to make a living.
As most of this abandoned land reverted back to the state for non-payment of taxes, it gave the state the opportunity to create the Brown County State Park and the Hoosier National Forest.
The hard economic times during the Depression also spawned a new illegal industry of bootlegging and moonshine stills. Because grain was needed to produce the bootleg liquor, the Story grain mill was kept busy well into the 1930’s. The current Story Still Tavern got its name from the still that was captured at that location in 1932 by Brown County Sheriff Clarence Moore.
Due to a lack of capital following the Great Depression, the town of Story was not modernized and, in 1960, the US Army Corps of Engineers flooded the area, creating Lake Monroe and isolating the town of Story from easy access to Bloomington. In 1980, the general store building was purchased by a couple who created the Story Inn bed and breakfast. Over the next 15 years, they acquired the roughly 23 acres that comprise the entire town.
In 1998, Rick Hofstetter and Frank Mueller purchased the financially troubled town of Story, turning it into a successful country inn/bed & breakfast, which offers fine dining, catering, and lodging. The old general store operates as a gourmet restaurant, known as the Story Inn. The upstairs, which was a Studebaker buggy factory for a short time in the 1920’s, was renovated into four bed & breakfast accommodations.
As we mulled around in the rather mystical foggy atmosphere that morning, a local calico cat kept a watchful eye on us. As I captured the feeling of the inn and its surroundings, the cat patrolled the main street in front of the Story Inn and the Old Mill.
Maybe, however, we were being watched by someone other than the cat. When Mr. Hofstetter purchased the Story Inn in the late 1990’s, he examined the guest books which were kept in the rooms, along with old ones that were found in the attic. He was “flabbergasted to find numerous handwritten stories of ghost sightings, particularly in the rooms above the restaurant.” This ghost is known locally as the “Blue Lady” and is believed to be one of the wives of Dr. George Story, the founder of the town.
If you’re ever in southern Indiana, you might enjoy a visit to the Story Inn. According to its owner, “it is perhaps the best preserved example of a 19th century village in the American Midwest.”