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Auction to decide village future

Sunday, September 9, 2012

ROCKVILLE, Ind. (AP) -- A living history village that has drawn thousands of visitors to western Indiana over the last five decades could have its future decided by the highest bidder.

The Billie Creek Village in Rockville, about 60 miles west of Indianapolis, is the focus of an 11-day sealed bid auction that begins Monday.

The sale includes 70 acres, two covered bridges, 30 Civil War-era buildings and a party pavilion, plus antiques, equipment and inventory from a general store, The Indianapolis Star reported.

Parke County Commissioner Jim Meece said the auction is the result of financial struggles that many such sites are facing as donations dwindle.

"All of these living-history kind of places, they just aren't making it," he said. "They can't find the funding."

Jeff Doner, principal broker with Key Auctioneers, which is running the auction, said he hopes someone will step forward to continue the mission Parke County officials embarked on in the mid-1960s: "to preserve, to educate, to entertain."

"Everybody's hopes and dreams is (to) find somebody interested in seeing the thing continue on, to continue to be an institution for the county, the state, a learning institution, a historical destination just like it's been," Doner said.

Doner estimates the winning bid should come in at $800,000 to $1.5 million. The two covered bridges alone could go for $100,000, he said.

"At that price, someone is going to get a pretty unique piece of ground, property and a lot of history," Doner said.

With its future uncertain, the village has gone largely dormant ahead of the fall tourism season.

The village's website says the "2012 season has been suspended." For months, it has been open only for special events. Key attractions, including a broom maker and pottery shop, are gone.

Meece he would prefer not to see the site sold off piecemeal. He said it's a good tourist attraction for his county, even if it is seasonal, and particularly heavy during the Covered Bridge Festival each October.

"We used to have Civil War re-enactments, the biggest in Indiana," he said. "We had (World War II) re-enactments. We used to have school days where hundreds of kids would come."

Residents are divided on what should happen with Billie Creek Village, said Joe Kramer, who owns a local handyman business and The Rockville Paper online.

"The general consensus in Rockville is nobody cares," he said. "I say nobody cares, but some people do. I do. There ought to be something done about it. It's been an icon."

A local businessman, Charles Cooper, helped the nonprofit Billie Creek Village Inc., pay off some bond debt, Meece said. But that still hasn't been enough to keep the venture afloat.

Though Meece prefers to keep the site intact for a new owner, such sales are unusual, said Stacy Klingler, assistant director of local history services at the Indiana Historical Society.

"It's definitely rare for a historical organization to sell off its whole operations," Klingler said. "But while it's rare, with the economic downturn, we do see historical organizations revisiting their missions."

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It is a gem and very viable with the right finacial backing.

-- Posted by coachB on Mon, Sep 10, 2012, at 8:11 AM

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