Anyone who wants to own a part of history has a chance to buy an entire historic village — if the price is right.
A sealed-bid auction begins today for the historic Billie Creek Village property just east of Rockville on U.S. 36. The bidding continues through noon Sept. 20. A purchaser could be selected on Sept. 21.
Billie Creek Village — a long-time staple on the school field trip circuit and certainly an interesting visitor destination since it was founded in the mid-1960s — consists of about 70 acres. Located on the eastern edge of Rockville, it includes two covered bridges, 30 buildings from the Civil War era and a modern party pavilion. The Billie Creek Inn located nearby is already under private ownership.
The village originally was owned by a nonprofit organization. Farmer and retired businessman Charlie Cooper purchased a controlling interest in the village about four years ago after financial struggles threatened the local landmark.
Cooper told the Tribune-Star on Friday that many factors caused him to shut down the village this year and offer it for sale — including declining finances of the not-for-profit, and higher cost of operation and maintenance for the property.
“I’m 80 years old, and we farm out here. I got my hands full with the farm operation,” Cooper said of one reason for the sale. “I want to get it [the village] into the hands of younger people.”
Cooper said that since he posted sale signs at the entrance to the property on U.S. 36, he has received inquiries from several people interested in purchasing the property. But so far, no one has said the magic number.
Cooper declined to state his asking price for the property. However, an advertisement from Indianapolis-based Key Auctioneers states that bids must be submitted with a deposit of $50,000.
He said he hopes that individuals or an organization in Parke County can come up with the financing to purchase the property, which also includes antiques, equipment, furnishings and the inventory of the General Store.
“Really, it needs to be in the hands of the local community,” he said. “There’s a lot of opportunity there.”
That sentiment was echoed by Kathy Harkrider, executive director of the tourism group Parke County Inc.
“It’s a wonderful asset to the community,” Harkrider said, “and it shows the best of Parke County and the people who live here.”
She said she was aware that the not-for-profit group operating the village had been struggling for some time, but with the current economy, that was no surprise.
“My hope is that if it goes to public auction, that someone who purchases it sees the value of the operation, and does what needs to be done to make it into a viable attraction again. We hope to get it open again and in operation for next year.”
The village — which includes multiple buildings such as a blacksmith, broom shop, pottery, school, livery, churches, candle shop, merchantile, farm house and a print shop — was staffed by volunteers and artisans who paid a portion of their profits to the village.
The village used to be a seven-day-a-week operation, said wood carver Thomas Makosky, but near the end of its operation, the village was open only Fridays through Mondays.
“It’s a loss for the community, for the whole of Parke County,” Makosky said of the closing. “Billie Creek Village kept a lot of the local history alive.”
Makosky, like potter Chuck Wagoner and others who demonstrated and sold their work, has moved his shop to Bridgeton.
“I think I’ve found a new home,” Makosky said of his new site near the Bridgeton Mill when asked if he would consider moving back to the village if a new owner plans to rejuvenate the site.
On Friday, the village sat silent while a few visitors walked among the buildings, peeking in windows and checking out the condition of the structures.
One couple from Illinois, who declined to give their names, said the property has great potential, but will take a sizable investment to bring it up to the standards of public wear and tear.
Ted Pike of Key Auctioneers told the Tribune-Star in a telephone interview that if the property does not sell as a result of the sealed-bid auction, a live liquidation of the property will be conducted during the Covered Bridge Festival in October, and items will be sold separately.
Pike said the property will likely be divided as the village area of about 27 acres, the farmstead property of about 42 acres, and all antiques and equipment sold individually. That sale is planned for 10 a.m. Oct. 20, with a preview set from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Oct. 19.
He said selection of the Oct. 20 date was intentional because of the attention Parke County receives during the festival. It is still possible on that date that someone could submit an acceptable bid for the entire Billie Creek Village operation, with the intention of reopening the attraction, he said.
Anyone wanting more information on the sealed bid auction can go online to www.keyauctioneers.com or call the auction company at 317-353-1100.
Reporter Lisa Trigg can be reached at 812-231-4254 or email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @TribStarLisa.
Anyone who wants to own a part of history has a chance to buy an entire historic village — if the price is right.
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