Nashville has submitted its application for a grant to help build something residents and business owners have been talking about since 1989: A play area downtown.

The announcement of who wins Place Based Investment Grants is expected Thursday, May 5 from the Indiana Office of Community and Rural Affairs.

Nashville has asked for $50,000. A variety of groups and individuals have pledged more cash to the project than the required 1:1 match, including the Rotary Club of Brown County, Brown County Convention and Visitors Bureau, Brown County Community Foundation and the town.

After grants are awarded, construction must be completed within 18 months.

The grant application describes a “play space” for very young toddlers to “climb upon a sculpted mushroom or perhaps play peek-a-boo” and an area for all ages to sit, rest and enjoy their surroundings.

The committee of local leaders and volunteers has been gathering ideas to “revitalize” all four corners of the Village Green, but the focus with this grant opportunity is on the southeast corner.

Other possible phases include restoring the town pump and adding a child-friendly water feature; installing decorative crosswalks among the corners; and adding a kiosk to promote events in the state park, Yellowwood State Forest and Hoosier National Forest, the application says.

Reservation records show the southeast corner was the one least utilized last year by groups for weekend events.

New public restrooms also are opening the first week of May on that corner. Town Utility Coordinator Sean Cassiday sees a need for a place close by for family members to gather and sit, and for young children to get out of their strollers and burn off energy for a few minutes before they all regroup and continue shopping.

The location — within sight of two candy stores and an ice cream store — couldn’t be better, said Candy Dish cashier Christina Loveday, next door in the Village Green Building.

She said she’s had a few families over the years ask her where they could find a park, and she’s directed them to the former Nashville Elementary School playground, five blocks away, behind a high fence and outside the shopping district.

“I think that would be awesome,” she said to the idea of a play space on the Village Green. “Everybody walks around with their kids, and since there’s a candy store right here, what’s better than to go get some candy and have a park out there?”

How will it look?

Exactly how the play space and the corner will look hasn’t been determined.

Miller Architects has volunteered to draw a site plan, said Town Manager/Economic Development Director Scott Rudd.

For several months, the town’s arts and entertainment, parking and public facilities and food and beverage committees have been talking about what elements would be appropriate to put there. Ideas also were gathered at two public meetings specific to this project in March.

Rudd said the architect, a play space designer and an installer have agreed there’s enough space on the southeast corner to do what they’re planning.

Rudd said they’re looking at putting in “very high-quality” molded play elements that look like they belong in nature, such as trees and mushrooms. Such equipment is in use in national parks and zoos, he said.

Committees are also discussing creating an “artisan play element” from scratch, he said.

“We want the Brown County flavor to stand out,” Rudd said.

“Full-on play equipment” such as swings aren’t in the plans for this space, he said.

But working with the neighboring Nashville United Methodist Church, the hope is to “work together to provide a full spectrum of play elements for local kids,” Cassiday said.

The church has sought a different grant to build play and gathering areas on the former Parents Day Out lot behind the church.

Anything put on the Village Green corners will be designed and placed so as to not interfere with recurring events, such as the Methodist Church’s FallFare which uses all four corners. Rather, the revitalization group hopes to help families stay longer at those events by giving children something more to do, Cassiday said.

A group which included Andy Rogers, Mike Kline, Andrew Huddleston, Jane Ellis, Larry Pejeau, Cindy Steele and others has been brainstorming since last April, Rudd said.

It has grown to include other volunteers as well as members of the Nashville Arts & Entertainment Commission, who are also looking at incorporating Brown County history and art into the nearby Village Green restrooms.

The Village Green used to be the gathering place in town. Historic photos show kids and young men gathered there playing marbles, the lawn consumed with bleachers and streets covered with tents for bazaars.

The play space planners remember more recent days from their childhoods: Rudd hanging out in the old gazebo waiting for a ride home, Cassiday sitting and reading books he checked out from the library.

“We want to reinvigorate our history here,” Rudd said.

“And kind of create our own,” Cassiday added. “It’s been neglected for a long time. It needs to be brought back.”


July 1881: The town board meets to look into grading, fencing and setting trees in the “public square,” now known as the Village Green at Jefferson and Main streets.

July 1889: The town passes an ordinance stating that swine are not allowed to run on the public square. The town marshal was responsible for rounding up and confining them.

March 1915: The town passes an ordinance converting the public square into a park.

1917: Photographer Frank Hohenberger moves to Nashville from Indianapolis, living in the Odd Fellows building which stood on the northwest corner of the Village Green. He took charge of maintaining the public town pump that had been installed on the southeast corner in 1837; he used the water to develop his film.

1934: State Road 135 is built; the majority of traffic shifts one block to the east.

1930s and 1940s: The southwest corner next to the Methodist Church is a place for horseshoe games. The southeast corner is where boys played marbles and mumblety-peg — a game in which one person threw a pocketknife as deeply as possible into the ground and the other tried to extract it with his or her teeth. The northeast corner is used for bigger games, such as stickball.

1940s and 1950s: The Village Green and the surrounding streets are sites of street fairs and other festivities.

1950: The Brown County Public Library is built in 1950 on the southeast corner; the building serves that purpose into the 1960s. It is later converted into retail space.

1970s: The Brown County Rotary Club builds a gazebo on the northwest corner. The building hosts concerts, weddings and other events and attracts locals and visitors to hang out.

November 1989: The town council discusses putting restrooms and a playground at the Village Green. They decide to work on the restroom idea first.

March 1993: Rod Wallace of Nonna’s Trattoria Italian Restaurant in Nashville writes to Town Superintendent Roger Kelso, suggesting that public restrooms be placed on one corner and picnic tables and benches on another; he also suggested placing information there directing tourists to attractions. “The remaining corner could be left as a quiet area for many individuals who would rather just sit on a bench, absorbing the beauty and tranquility of our unique little town, while waiting for the return of their partners that are buying gifts from the town’s shops,” he said.

March 1993: Attorney Heather Mollo threatens an injunction if “any further activity occurs on the Village Green by town officials without the express authorization of the county commissioners.” The commissioners contend that they are the owners of the Village Green, not the town.

April 2011: The gazebo at the northwest corner is taken down; it is replaced that October by a pavilion donated by the Richard Johnson family.

September 2014: The county commissioners transfer ownership of the Village Green to the town. The resolution stipulates that the property shall “be made available for use by the general public and for special events by private and not-for-profit entities consistent with its historical uses” and that “no commercial development will take place on the property, or any other addition, demolition or modification that materially alters the physical characteristic or historical significance of the property.”

March 2015: The town buys the former library on the southeast corner for public restrooms. Construction on the “comfort station” begins in the fall. In addition to restrooms, it is to include a nursing lounge, cellphone charging stations, visitor information, a display of local art and historic photos taken by Hohenberger. It is to open in May 2016.

April 2016: The town applies for a Place Based Investment Fund grant to construct an all-ages play space on the southeast corner.

Sources: Brown County Historical Society, town meeting minutes, Brown County Democrat archives

Sara Clifford has been raising a family in Brown County since 2005 and leading the Brown County Democrat since late 2009. In addition to editor, she is the beat reporter for town government and writes columns, features and general news stories.